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What is the benchmark for a “good” or “bad” draft?

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Will Fedde make the 2014 draft a "success?"  Photo via chicagonow.com

Will Fedde make the 2014 draft a “success?” Photo via chicagonow.com

The title of my previous post was pretty simple: “Nats 2014 Draft == failure.”  And it resulted in a rather spirited debate in the comments about the 2014 draft, the 2008 draft in hindsight, etc.

In that debate, I postulated my benchmarks for judging whether or not a team’s draft was “good” or not.  Here were the six guidelines I stated for judgement, going round by round/section by section in the draft:

  • a. 1st rounder: future MLB above average regular to all-star
  • b. 2nd rounder: future MLB regular
  • c. 3rd-5th: expect at least one future MLB player in at least a backup/bullpen role
  • d. 6th-10th: hope for at least one player to reach the MLB level.
  • e. 11th-20th: hope for at least three players who matriculate to AA or higher
  • f. 20th and above: hope for one-two players to matriculate to AA or higher

Lets go back through all 10 Nats drafts and see whether these guidelines hold up.  For each of the 6 requirements, we’ll give a quick “yes/no the condition was met” for each year.  Critical to this analysis is the Nats DraftTracker XLS, milb.com and baseball-reference.com for searching for old players.  Also useful is the Baseball America executive database, which populated the staff in charge of each draft.


2005: Owner: MLB.  President: n/a.  GM: Jim Bowden.  Scouting Director: Dana Brown.

  • a. Yes: 1st rounder Ryan Zimmerman: MLB above average regular (former all-star)
  • b. n/a: we had no 2nd rounder; forfeited for Vinny Castilla
  • c. Yes:  4th rounder Justin Maxwell turned into a 4th outfielder.  No 3rd rounder.
  • d. Yes: 6th rounder Marco Estrada has turned into a decent starter (albeit for someone else after we released him)
  • e. Yes: 11th rounder John Lannan and 12th rounder Craig Stammen turned into MLBers, far above expectations here.  18th rounder  Tim Pahuta had long ML career for us, playing 3 years at AA.
  • f. Yes: 33rd rounder Ryan Butcher was a 6yr MLFA who left the org but now has MLB experience with Atlanta.  No other 20th+ round draftees made it out of A-ball, but Butcher’s MLB matriculation makes up for it.

2005: Success, inarguably.  6 guys matriculating to the majors is a winning draft, especially considering the lack of a 2nd or 3rd round pick, the ownership confusion, and the budget restrictions put on the team.


2006: Owner: MLB.  President: n/a.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown

  • a. No: 1st rounder Chris Marrero looks like a 4-a guy at best and 1st rounder Colten Willems never made it above A-ball.
  • b. No: the team failed to sign 2nd rounder Sean Black and 2nd rounder Stephen Englund never made it out of low-A.
  • c. No: none of their 3rd-5th picks made the majors.  The highest one of these guys got was 5th rounder Corey VanAllen, who did pitch in AAA after passing through the rule-5 draft and finished out his 6-years with the org.  VanAllen is in Indy ball in 2014.
  • d. No: they didn’t even sign their 7th, 9th or 10th round picks.  The closest they got to a MLBer here was 6th rounder Zech Zinicola, who played at AAA for quite a while, was rule-5 picked and returned, and now sits in Baltimore’s AA team.
  • e. Yes: 12th rounder Cole Kimball made it the majors briefly, while 17th rounder Erik Arnesen, 18th rounder Adam Carr and 13th rounder Hassan Pena all toiled in AAA for several years. 
  • f. Yes, sort of.  We’re all well aware of the success of 41st rounder Brad Peacock, but he was picked under the “draft-and-follow” system that no longer exists.  So while yes it was a 41st round pick, in our current system Peacock wouldn’t have been picked at all and/or wouldn’t have signed but would have been picked the subsequent year based on his great first-college juco season.   Of the rest of the 20th+ round picks, one guy had a couple months in AA (26th rounder Brett Logan) to serve as a backup catcher; he hit .102/.170/.122 in 20 games in 2007 and was released.

2006: Failure: 3 guys who have MLB appearances but near zero impact for this team.  Peacock enabled the Nats to get Gio Gonzalez but I think we see now that Peacock wasn’t the driving prospect in that deal (now that Derek Norris has made an all-star team).

For as much as went right for the team in the 2005 draft, it went wrong in 2006.  Was the lack of signing their 7th, 9th and 10th round picks evident of “fiscal restraint” demanded by the other 29 owners?  Clearly to me, the focus on HS drafted personnel in this draft has Bowden’s hands all over it, and almost none of them panned out in the slightest.

 


2007: Owner: Ted Lerner group.  President: Stan Kasten.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Assistant GM/VP, Baseball Operations: Mike Rizzo

  • a. No: The team went one-for-three on its first rounders: Michael Burgess got to AA in his fourth pro season but never further, was flipped for Tom Gorzelanny.  Josh Smoker‘s failure has been well documented here.  But Ross Detwiler, for all the complaining about his usage and role in this space, did make the majors and looked like a good 4th starter (in 2012).  I still believe he could start in this league and is better than a long-man.   However, the condition is that a first round pick turns into a successful regular, and this crop failed in all regards.
  • b. Yes.  2nd rounder Jordan Zimmermann is now a 2-time all-star and is probably the best 2nd round pick the organization has ever had.  His successes make up for their other 2nd rounder Jake Smolinksi who has made his MLB debut but not until he became a 6-yr MLFA.
  • c. Yes.  4th rounder Derek Norris made the 2014 all-star team for Oakland.  3rd rounder Stephen Souza has debuted in the majors and looks quite promising (albeit blocked) for our AAA team.  5th rounder Brad Meyers toiled for us in AAA for years before being released this spring after a long injury recovery.
  • d. Yes: 10th round pick Patrick McCoy made it to AAA for us, signed with Detroit as a MLFA and debuted this year.  We should note for the record though that 6th rounder Jack McGeary was paid as if he was a low-1st rounder and failed pretty spectacularly here.
  • e. Yes: 20th rounder Jeff Mandel was a long-serving org arm at AA and AAA.   11th rounder Bill Rhinehart was looking like a find, appearning on Nats system prospect lists for a while and getting to AAA before getting flipped for Jonny Gomes.
  • f. Yes: 28th rounder Boomer Whiting made it to Syracuse before getting released in 2011.   48th rounder (!) Kyle Gunderson was flipped for Logan Kensing in 2009 and made it to Miami/Florida’s AAA squad before getting released.  

2007: Success: despite the 1st round failures and the McGeary disaster, the breadth of success in the other categories and the production of the remaining guys weighs out.


2008: Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Assistant GM/VP, Baseball Operations: Rizzo

  • a. No: as is well documented, the Nats failed to sign 1st round pick Aaron Crow.
  • b. No/Inc: 2nd round pick Destin Hood has already passed through Rule-5 waivers once, but has found himself in 2014 and is hitting great for Syracuse (2014′s AAA line: .308/.353/.502).  It does make one wonder if he’s worth adding to the 40-man once the season is over to keep him; he’s finishing his 7th pro year and is in line for minor league free agency.
  • c. Yes: 3rd rounder Danny Espinosa has his critics, but he’s at least a MLB backup or possibly more.  5th rounder Adrian Nieto has stuck with the White Sox after getting plucked in the Rule-5 draft last year and hasn’t been half bad.
  • d. Yes: 10th rounder Tommy Milone has shown his capabilities as a MLB starter.  d. 6th-10th: hope for at least one player to reach the MLB level.  6th rounder Paul Demny remains in the system (on the D/L in Harrisburg) but doesn’t seem like he’ll go much higher at this point.
  • e. Yes: 16th rounder Tyler Moore has put in meaningful at-bats for the Nats for a few years now.  And 19th rounder Steve Lombardozzi looks to be a solid utility/backup infielder in this league for years.  Lastly I wonder if the team gave up on 15th rounder J.P. Ramirez too soon; he was paid like a 2nd round pick but was released prior to his MLFA period.  He may have only made it to high-A, but his last season was somewhat decent.
  • f. No: as far as I can tell, nobody of note came in rounds 20 or above from this draft.

2008: Failure: How would you judge this draft?   We failed to sign the first rounder, which for me is a huge negative.  The second rounder may or may not ever debut in the majors, which is also for me a huge negative because of the huge prevalence of 1st and 2nd rounders on MLB rosters.  But we got four (5 counting Nieto) other MLBers out of the rest of the draft, including some very deep-dive picks that you rarely find (Moore and Lombardozzi, aside from Peacock, are the two lowest round picks to ever make it to the majors for this team).


2009:  Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten. GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director: Brown

  • a. Yes: no arguing about either first round pick here: both Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen have pitched at all-star levels in their careers.
  • b. No: 2nd Rounder Jeff Kobernus may have made his MLB debut, but he’s nowhere close to being a “regular” in the majors right now and doens’t seem to be trending that way either.
  • c. No: 3rd round pick Trevor Holder was a gross over-draft (albeit with known reasons; the team committed an *awful* lot of money to the first two guys on this list) and was released in 2013.  4th rounder A.J. Morris looked quite promising for us, was flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, and this year is pitching effectively for Pittsburgh’s AAA squad after being taken in the minor league Rule-5 portion last off-season.  And the Nats failed to sign their 5th rounder.  So even if Morris pans out as a MLB-capable player, he’s doing it for someone else.
  • d. Yes: 9th round pick Taylor Jordan was effective for the team last year and may yet figure in the team’s plans despite his mysterious D/L trip right now.  And 6th round pick Michael Taylor has rocketed up the prospect lists for this team, is crushing AA pitching right now, is on the team’s 40-man roster and may very well get a look as 2015′s starting center fielder.
  • e. Yes: 12th rounder Nathan Karns made the org look quite intelligent when he gave spot starts in 2013 after rocketing up the farm system after finally recovering from arm issues.  I wonder if the success they had with Karns was the first impetus for Rizzo to take more gambles on high-end-but-injured arms.  13th rounder Patrick Lehman has bounced around as an org arm for years.  11th rounder Juston Bloxom played a couple years in AA before getting released this year.  16th rounder Sean Nicol is splitting time between AA and AAA this year.   Finally, I wanted to note something I never knew before studying this: the Nats drafted Marcus Strohman in the 18th round out of HS; this is the same Strohman who went in the first round three years later to Toronto and who is currently holding down a rotation spot for the playoff-pushing Blue Jays.  Wow.  He’s listed as a SS on the draft-tracker but clearly is a MLB-calibre starter.
  • f. Yes: 22nd rounder Danny Rosenbaum has been Syracuse’s “ace” for three seasons now.  And a slew of guys drafted in the 20s stuck around for years as middle relievers (Mitchell Clegg, Matt Swynenberg, Evan Bronson, Rob Wort, and Shane McCatty).  You just can’t ask for more out of your picks in rounds 20-30.

2009: Success: I’ll take a couple of misses in the 2nd and 3rd rounds given the amount of talent they picked up in the middle and late rounds.  Great draft.  6 guys who have debuted in the majors with at least another one likely coming soon.


Note: from 2010 onwards, most of the judgement calls are still “in progress.”  We’ll use projections and “small sample sizes” to pass judgement.  It is what it is.  Feel free to criticize in the comments about using projections and national pundit scouting reports to make judgements.


2010:  Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten.  GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director: Kris Kline

  • a. Yes: 1st rounder Bryce Harper has turned into everything the hype suggested.  Fun fact; when he went on an rehab assignment in Potomac, he was the 2nd youngest guy on the roster.  Remember that when you criticize the guy for not being better than he already is: if he was “playing by the rules,” he’d be jsut finishing his junior year of college.
  • b. No/Inc: 2nd rounder Sammy Solis has been one injury issue after another.  He missed all of 2012 with Tommy John, came back slowly in 2013, but now sits on the AA D/L with another “elbow” issue.  He was protected on the 40-man roster last fall, but you have to wonder what’s to come of him.  He’s finishing his 5th pro season and he’s got exactly one start above A-Ball.
  • c. Yes/Inc: 4th rounder A.J. Cole was paid like a late first rounder, and after some struggles he’s really come onto the scene this year.  He was already really young for AA and “solved” it, and is now in AAA holding his own.  The other guys in this category are less impressive: both Rick Hague and Jason Martinson are repeating AA and not really hitting well enough to push for promotions.  This could be a side-effect of the huge amount of money committed to Harper and Cole.
  • d. Yes: 9th round pick Aaron Barrett went from unknown/unrecognized prospect to the Nats 40-man roster last fall to being lights-out middle reliever in the major league pen this year.  As a 9th round college senior pick.  8th rounder Matthew Grace may be next; after toiling as a mediocre starter, he became a reliever in 2013 and has been lights out in AA and AAA this year.  And he’s not just a LOOGY: 56 IP in 33 appearances and he’s given up just 6 ER in that time.
  • e. Yes: 15th round pick David Freitas, after getting traded to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki, got traded again to Baltimore and now is in AAA.   12th round pick Robbie Ray has made his MLB debut for Detroit after going over in the Doug Fister deal.  11th rounder Neil Holland toils in the Harrisburg pen admirably.
  • f. Yes: 23rd rounder Colin Bates and 26th rounder Christopher Manno both are in the Harrisburg pen.  22nd rounder Cameron Selik made it to AA before hitting his ceiling and being released earlier this year.   And 32nd rounder Randolph Oduber is a starting OF in Potomac with decent splits and a shot of moving up.

2010: Success: It may have been a no-brainer to take Harper, and it may have been an example of the “checkbook” winning in their picks of Cole and Ray, but you have to hand it to this team; they bought two high-end prep guys out of their college and they’re both looking like huge successes.   And they got a MLB servicable reliever out of a college senior sign who they paid just $35,000 in bonus money.  Great work.


2011: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline

  • a.  Yes: 1st rounder Anthony Rendon was on everyone’s “all star snub” lists this year, while their other 1st rounder Alex Meyer remains one of the top pitching prospects in the game and seems likely to debut later this year.   Their supp-1st rounder Brian Goodwin remains on every pundit’s prospect lists even if he seemingly has been passed on the organizational “future starting Center-fielder” depth chart.   There’s no chance the team leaves him exposed in the upcoming rule-5 draft, so he’ll have at least three more years to prove he belongs.
  • b. n/a: forfeited for Adam LaRoche signing.
  • c. No/Inc: Right now our 3rd through 5th picks are looking iffy; 4th rounder Matthew Purke was paid like an upper first rounder and has been a massive disappointment.  Right now he’s recovering from Tommy John and faces an uncertain future.  4th rounder Kylin Turnbull has gotten lit up in high-A this year, his second crack at the league.  5th rounder Matt Skole may be the most promising of the bunch; he crushed 27 homers in his first season of full-season ball only to miss all of 2013 because of a freak injury.  Can Skole continue developing and make the majors on a full-time basis?  Can Purke at this point?
  • d. Yes: With the call-up of 6th rounder Taylor Hill earlier this year, this category is met.  Which is good because the rest of the 6th-10th rounders from this year are struggling.  Two are already released/retired, one is MIA and the lone remaining active player (Brian Dupra) is struggling as a starter/swing-man in AA.  But Hill is a huge win; a college senior draftee on minimal bonus rocketing through the minors and forcing his way onto the 25-man roster.
  • e. Yes/Inc:  It is far too early to fully judge this category, but it is looking promising despite the fact that the team failed to sign SIX of its ten picks beween the 11th and 20th round.  11th rounder Caleb Ramsey is already in AA.  16th rounder Deion Williams is on the mound (not a SS as in the Draft Tracker) and is struggling in short-A.   18th rounder Nick Lee is struggling in Potomac this year but has shown a huge arm and seems like he’ll eventually convert to loogy (especially considering his undersized stature); I can see Lee making it far as a matchup lefty reliever with swing-and-miss stuff.  The lone failure at this point is 12th rounder Blake Monar, sort of inexplicably released after a decent 2012 season in Short-A.   
  • f. Yes: 30th round pick Bryan Harper earned his way to Harrisburg.   45th round college senior pick Richie Mirowski also made it to AA, where he wasn’t half bad last year, though at the moment he’s back in Potomac.   And there’s three other players drafted in the 20th or higher who are active on Potomac’s roster this year and who may get moved up.   Decent production out of the bottom of this draft so far.

2011: Projected Success: As discussed before, I believe the selection of Rendon was a “no-brainer” based on a unique set of circumstances that occured on draft day, but credit the management team for having the stones to pick him when other GMs didn’t.   I’m sure the Mariners (especially) would like a re-do on that draft (they picked 2nd overall, got soft-tossing local product Danny Hultzen, who was sidelined last year with all sorts of shoulder issues and is no sure bet to ever make it back.   They rolled the dice with Purke and so far seem to be losing, but Purke was himself a 1-1 talent at one point (remember, he had his $4M+ deal with Texas pulled thanks to MLB-stewardship at the time) and was probably worth the risk.   I’d like to see Skole reach the majors in some capacity before declaring this draft a full success.

 


Note: from here onwards, everything is a projection and is based on scouting the stat lines.  I’m going to sound negative where others sound positive and vice versa.  Hey, its better than writing nothing.


2012: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline

  • a. Yes/inc: 1st rounder Lucas Giolito (so far) has shown himself to be at full speed post TJ surgery and is mostly in the top 10-15 of every professional scouting pundit’s list for best prospect in the entirety of the minors.  He’s got a #1 starter ceiling, a huge frame and three plus pitches.  He’s projecting to be everything you’d hope for from an upper first rounder.
  • b. No/inc: It is hard to squint at 2nd rounder Tony Renda at this point and project him as a future “MLB regular.”  Sure he’s hitting .297 in Potomac, and sure his numbers at the plate have not varied much in his three pro seasons.  Unfortunately he’s vastly undersized and he has no power in a time where pro middle infielders are expected to provide serious pop.   Maybe he can forge a career like Jamey Carroll or like a Jose Altuve, but the odds are against him.  I don’t mean to discount the guy because he’s 5’8″ but we all know there’s a significant bias in the industry towards undersized guys.  Heck, a pitcher is considered “short” if he isn’t 6’2″ these days.
  • c. No/inc: So far the guys picked 3rd-5th are also struggling.  3rd rounder Brett Mooneyham‘s struggles are well documented here.  4th rounder Brandon Miller continues to show great power but has missed much of this season with a hamstring injury (he’s on rehab in the GCL as we speak).  Lastly 5th rounder Spencer Keiboom suffered a blown UCL that basically cost him the whole 2013 season.  He’s got great numbers in low-A this year but is two years too old for the league.  Keiboom’s talents more centered on his defense than his bat, so he may still push forward as a future backup catcher.  But until he does, this category falls in the “no” side.
  • d. Maybe/inc: The leading hope for some MLB success out of our 6th-10th round picks right now resides in one of two middle relievers: 7th round pick Robert Benincasa or 9th round pick Derek Self.   You never know; one of these guys could turn into the next Aaron Barrett.  8th round SS Stephen Perez made the all-star team this year in Potomac and could feature as a future utility infielder.  The team has already released its 6th round pick Hayden Jennings, and their 10th rounder (local Rockville product Craig Manual) was a college senior catcher who is backing up other catchers in the system for the time being).  He may continue to hang around but unless he gets a starting gig he’s going to get replaced by someone newer.
  • e. Yes/inc: 17th rounder Blake Schwartz has already made it to AA, where he struggled and he now sits back in Potomac (where he was great last year, go figure).  11th rounder Brian Rauh got a spot-start in AA last year but has bounced in and out of the Potomac rotation this year.  16th rounder Ronald Pena is working his way off injury but faces a long road to move up thanks to a lack of swing-and-miss stuff.   The team has already released four of its 11th-20th round picks; the remaining out-field players (12th rounder Carlos Lopez and 19th rounder Bryan Lippincott) both seem to face long odds as college senior draftees still residing in the low minors to even make it up to AA at this point.  To be fair, Lopez missed most of 2013 with an unknown injury, so we’ll give him a slight pass.   Lippincott sits in XST right now.
  • f. No/inc: 33rd rounder Mike McQuillan has hung around and currently serves as a utility guy/bench player for Potomac.   A couple of relievers remain on squads: 29th rounder Leonard Hollins is hurt but is on a full-season squad, and 30th rounder Robert Orlan was with Hagerstown to start the season but is back in Auburn.   The rest of the 20th round and up guys features carnage; eight college senior draftees already released to go along with 10 unsigned (mostly high schoolers) picks in the later rounds.  One unsigned pick looks interesting; all-american freshman UNC player Skye Bolt may be a big-time 2015 draft pick.   But otherwise, I’m predicting that we dont’ get even a AA player out of the last  20 rounds of this draft at this point.

2012: Projected Failure: Frankly, this is looking like it may be a one player draft.  At this point, I don’t think you can look at *any* other player in this draft and project even a bench/fringe 25-man roster guy besides Giolito.  Now ask yourself: if Giolito fulfills expectations and becomes an “ace,” a top 15-20 arm in the majors while the rest of this draft basically becomes high-A and AA filler, does that change your opinion of the draft success/failure?


2013: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline

  • a. n/a: No 2013 first rounder thanks to the supurfluous signing of Rafael Soriano.  As noted at the time, the Nats missed out on players like Sean ManaeaRyan Stanek or Ian Clarkin, all of whom were available at the time of their lost 1st rounder.  Manaea in particular has flourished, rising up prospect list charts and sporting a healthy K/9 rate in high-A this year.  I’d like to call this in and among itself a failure (given my reservations about paying for saves in general), but have to admit that Soriano has been pretty durn good this year.
  • b. No/inc: 2nd rounder Jake Johansen thus far has not lived up to advance billing in his first year in full-season ball.  He’s averaging just 4.5 innings per outing and sports a 5.00 ERA and less than a K/inning.   I can understand the difficult adjustment to pro ball, but I don’t get how his vaunted velocity and size combination aren’t resulting in more swing-and-miss.    He’s given no indication that he can avoid what scouts have been saying all along (that he’s destined for the bullpen), he’s way too wild and way too hittable.
  • c. Yes/inc: the Nats collection of 3rd rounder Drew Ward, 4th rounder Nick Pivetta and now especially 5th rounder Austin Voth are making this management team look very smart.  All Voth has done since forcing his promotion to High-A is give up 10 hits and ONE earned run in 33 innings over five starts.  That’s just ridiculous.  And he’s doing it while maintaining a 36/5 K/BB ratio.  There’s zero reason for him to still be in Potomac at this point.  I don’t know what Voth’s ceiling is, but its getting pushed.
  • d. No/inc: Thanks to the new CBA’s rules, most 6th-10th rounders are throw-away/college senior picks these days.  So it’ll be awfully hard to depend on one of them turning into a 25-man roster guy.  The best bet out of this draft will be having either 6th rounder Cody Gunter or 7th rounder James Yezzo eventually matriculating to the majors.  The other guys in this category were 15k bonus college seniors, one of whom (9th rounder Jake Joyce has *already* been released).  Do we think either Gunter or Yezzo projects as a major leaguer?  Not right now: Gunter’s struggling in short-A for the 2nd year in a row and Yezzo is an undersized 1B showing little power.
  • e. Maybe/inc: Right now the pickings for the guys taken 11th-20th look pretty slim too.  Three were senior signs who have already been released and we failed to sign our 16th round pick Willie Allen (though can’t fault the Nats for that: doing research on him for last year’s draft review showed all sorts of inconsistencies with him, including whether he’s even still playing baseball in college).  But 11th rounder John Simms is looking like a great find; he’s already in the AA rotation and holding his own (though you could argue it was out of need, not performance).  Among those left, 10th rounder Brandon Middleton and 15th rounder Isaac Ballou are starting and playing well in Hagerstown, 12th rounder Andrew Cooper is strugging in low-A, 13th rounder John Costa has yet to debut for the team thanks to TJ surgery, and 17th rounder Geoffrey Perrott was a senior catcher who got a grand total of 13 at-bats in 2013 and has remained in XST so far thisyear, perhaps to serve as a bullpen catcher for others remaining in Viera and perhaps because he was hurt most of last year and may still be recovering.  If Simms continues to rise and we get a couple more longer-lasting prospects out of this crew, we’ll convert this to a success.
  • f. Maybe/Inc: The Nats picked seven college seniors in the 21st round or above and so far they’re all with Hagerstown.  Middle infielders Cody Dent (22nd rounder) and Willie Medina (31st rounder) both hit in the .220s last year, are hitting in the .220s (or worse) this year, and seem like they may not last the season.  However the pitchers in this bunch are looking better and better.  28th rounder Joey Webb has a 2.53 ERA, 30th rounder Ryan Ullmann has as 3.10 ERA and got a high-A up-and-back call-up, and 34th rounder Jake Walsh dominated Low-A and earned a call-up to Potomac.  Only 29th rounder Michael Sylvestri seems to be in trouble among these senior signs; after struggling in Short-A last year, he gave up a ton of runs in 6 mid-relief outings and is currently in re-assignment purgatory.  What of the non senior-signs?  24th round pick Matthew Derosier is struggling in short-A and 23rd round outfielder Garrett Gordon seems like he’s a bench player in Auburn.  But a revelation may be 25th round prep draft pick Travis Ott.  He holds a 2.10 ERA through 6 starts in Auburn despite being quite young for the league.  So, the trend seems good that we’ll get value out of the bottom part of this draft.

2013: Projected Failure: Sorry to say; no first rounder, a middle reliever out of your 2nd rounder, perhaps a 5th starter out of the 3-5 rounds, and some org filler from the bottom of the draft?  How many players from this draft do you realistically project to make the majors?


2014: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline

  • a. Maybe/inc: 1st rounder Erick Fedde may project as a MLB rotation guy, but he’s not projecting as an ace level arm.  So if he comes back from surgery 100%, if he keeps moving up the chain, if he makes the majors and if he has an impact we’ll give this a yes.  Lots of ifs.
  • b. n/a:  we failed to sign our 2nd rounder Andrew Suarez.
  • c. Maybe/inc: The hopes here fall on 3rd rounder Jakson Reetz and 4th rounder Robbie Dickey, since our 5th rounder was a senior lefty out of non-baseball powerhouse Duke.   How do we dream on Reetz and Dickey?  Maybe Reetz turns into our next Derek Norris while Dickey turns into the next Austin Voth.  Lets hope so, because both so far have had rather inauspicious starts in the GCL (Reetz batting .220 and Dickey posting an ERA in the 12s).   To be fair Reetz is a kid and Dickey isn’t much older, so we have a long way to go before passing true judgement.
  • d. No/inc: We failed to sign the 8th round pick Austin Byler (and from reading the tea leaves, it didn’t seem like we were ever even close).  Our 7th, 8th and 10th round picks were low-bonus college seniors with little hope of advancing.  So this category falls squarely on the shoulders of 6th rounder Austin Williams, who looks ok so far in Short-A.
  • e. Far too Early: most of these guys who did sign are 15 games into short seasons.
  • f. Far too Early: most of these guys who did sign are 15 games into short seasons.

2014: Not promising: An injured first rounder, no 2nd rounder, really just a handful of non senior-signs elsewhere in the draft.  As I opined in the previous post discussion, I just don’t like the looks of this class.


So.  5200 words later, I think I actually like my guidelines.  I think though that the new CBA forces teams into making a bunch of “throw-away” picks in the 6th-10th rounds, so my criteria needs to be adjusted downward for that category in the last few years.  Otherwise I think it holds.

What say you?

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Draft

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Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

22 comments

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

Ladson Inbox 1/9/14

14 comments

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

You know spring training is coming close when Bill Ladson does two mailboxes in two weeks.  Here’s 1/9/14′s version.

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Most of the talk about a middle infielder for the bench is centered on Danny Espinosa. What are your thoughts about Jeff Kobernus? I would play him and trade Espinosa.

A: I think the talk is focused on Danny Espinosa since, right now he seems like the best option thanks to the trade of Steve Lombardozzi and the lack of any other real competitors.  Zach Walters hit 30 homers in AAA … but by some accounts is a very poor defender.  I can’t find his minor league fielding stats but others have pointed out that he made 30 errors last year in AAA.  Jeff Kobernus has been playing outfield lately; he played 2nd in college and earlier in his pro career but can he even play short stop?  New signees Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot can both play 2nd and SS … but aren’t exactly MLB quality guys any longer; Fontenot spent the entire year in AAA in 2013 and Carroll is a guy on a minor league contract nearing 40 who hit for a 40-something OPS+ in 2013.

Ask yourself; what do you ideally want out of a backup infielder?  They have to be a plus defender (apparently knocking out Walters), they have to be able to play 2nd and SS (knocking out Kobernus).  Espinosa is a fantastic defender, a short stop in college with a rocket arm who many once upon a time thought was a better short stop than Ian Desmond.  Right now, I want to see if Espinosa can re-gain his former self and use everyone else in this discussion as a fallback plan.

Trade Espinosa?  Can you define the term “selling low?”  That’s the last thing the organization wants to do right now.  That being said, Ladson continues to be insistent that Espinosa will be traded before opening day.  His prediction for the opening day backup infielder is “lets see what happens in spring training.”  Strong stance.

Q: Is Bill Bray still with the Nationals? If I remember, he had health issues. Any chance he could be in the mix for a lefty slot in the bullpen?

A: Bill Bray is a Minor League Free Agent, and according to Baseball America is still unsigned.  Even if he did re-sign with Washington, it’d be on a minor league deal, meaning he’d have to be added to the 40-man to be in the mix for the loogy.  That already puts him behind several guys; Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno for sure, and likely Sammy Solis if the first two guys failed.  Bray also has to show he’s healthy, which he hasn’t really done in quite a while now.  I hate to say it, because i’ve got a soft-spot for him (he’s from Virginia Beach and i’m friends with his cousin), but he may be looking at retirement.  Ladson says he’s not ready until May but wants to stay in the organization; lets hope they throw him a bone and give him a minor league deal.

Q: Are the Nats pursuing any other lefty relievers, or is Jerry Blevins all there is to it?

A: I’d guess the team is pursuing other lefties, but not actively.  I’m sure there will be a couple of MLFA signings here and there to provide some competition in Viera.  Ladson reminds us that they’re thinking about both Solis and Ross Detwiler as lefties out of the pen.

Q: Any word on F. P. Santangelo re-signing for the 2014 season?

A: No idea.  I thought he was a fine broadcaster so I hope he comes back; didn’t realize there was a question.  Ladsons says they’re both back for 2014, after which Santangelo’s contract expires.

Q: Tyler Moore is an enigma. He seems to have all the tools to be a regular .280 hitter with 20 homers. Why does he appear to only be in the Nats’ plans as a bench player?

A: Moore is an enigma; is he the power hitting slugger (one homer every 15.6 ABs) in 2012 who bashed his way to an .840 OPS or is the overmatched, strike-out-one-out-of-every-three times guy we saw in 2013?  I’d hope he’s closer to the former than the latter, and thus can still be a servicable righty power bat off the bench.  Why is he just a bench player?  Because he’s not better than any of the guys ahead of him?  I would have thought this was kind of obvious, looking at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and their accomplishments and status on this team.  Ladson assumes Moore is a backup firstbaseman, I guess, but says Moore isn’t going to be platooning with Adam LaRoche either.

Q: Do you think it is likely that the Nationals will sign both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to contract extensions this offseason?

A: Likely?  No.  I think at least one (Desmond) gets done, and we may see the other guy (Zimmermann) get moved in a cost-containment move with the team thinking ahead to its rising minor league players and its need to pay both Harper and Strasburg sooner than later.  Ladson sort of agrees.

 

 

Ladson’s inbox 12/19/13

9 comments

Harper behind the plate?  Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Harper behind the plate? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Well, it isn’t like I didn’t have enough content to publish this week (with 7 seasonal reviews coming out, each of them between 1500 and 3000 words).  But Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson had to come out with an inbox on 12/19/13, so lets do some rare weekend posting so we can talk about the system-wide pitching staff projections on monday.

As always, these are real questions from (presumably) real people.  I write my response here before reading his to avoid bias, and edit questions for clarity.  Here we go:

Q: Are the Nationals done as far as improving the team for next year?

A: I don’t think so: I still see a veteran catcher, a better backup infielder, and another lefty in the pen as possible acqusitions.  On my little “off-season Nats todo-list” the only one of these that I think *must* happen is the backup catcher.  Per mlbtraderumors.com 2014 FA Tracker I see some names still out there that could work: John Buck i’ve heard in rumors somewhere, and someone like Kelly Stoppach could work.  Honestly I havn’t done a ton of research on veteran backup catchers, so these may be awful suggestions.

Right now whose your backup infielders?  Are you ready to go to war with either Zach Walters or Danny Espinosa in that role?  Steve Lombardozzi got 300+ plate appearances in 2013, more the year before.  Jerry Hairston got 238 PAs in 2011 while Alex Cora ot 172.  Basically the point is this: your backup infielder is going to get a LOT of at-bats.  You need to have someone reliable.  I would not entirely call either Walters (lack of experience) or Espinosa (apparent lack of capability) proven right now.

I don’t see the need to go all out for another lefty reliever, but i’m also not Mike Rizzo.  We have some options internally that we could use.

Ladson mentions middle infield and a backup catcher as well, and then surprises me with his mention of Shin-Soo Choo, a personal favorite of mine who I’d love to see here hitting lead-off and playing LF in the short-term.  But not in center, where he proved he was awful last year, and not for 7 years and 9-figures like he seems to be set to get.  I’d be absolutely shocked if the Nats committed those kind of dollars for Choo, given his age and likely fall-off.

Q: With MLB looking to ban home-plate collisions, could you see the Nats giving Bryce Harper a chance behind the plate if Wilson Ramos can’t stay healthy? 

A: No way.  It isn’t just about collisions; its the wear and tear, its taking a guy’s bat out of the lineup once or twice a week.  Harper was never going to be a full time catcher, not with his once-in-a-generation premium bat.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Do you think pitchers Nathan Karns, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole will be used in spot starts this season?

A: Karns yes, Cole doubtful and Giolito no way.   It all comes down to 40-man roster manipulations.  Right now Karns is on the roster so he can get called up and down every week and it has no effect on anything but his service time accumulation (which teams have shown lately that they’re less and less concerned about).  Cole, if he dominates in AA could see a similar call-up to what Taylor Jordan and Karns got last year … except that the team has significantly more starter depth this year.  Maybe Cole can be a 9/1/13 call-up; he is rule-5 eligible after the 2014 season and will have to be added to the 40-man roster anyway.  As for Giolito, there’s just no way he’s sniffing the majors until he’s ready.  Right now he’s the prize asset in the farm system and he needs to develop so that he can arrive in the majors right as the team needs to make some key decisions on personnel.   Ladson agrees.

Q: Could you please explain to me why Zach Walters is only No. 11 on the list of the Nats’ top prospects? The numbers he put up last season are pretty amazing.

A: Mostly people seem to be concerned about his OBP, which has dropped at every level and was only .286 in Syracuse last  year.  He has always struck out a ton; 134 in 134 games last year, more or less averaging a K/game for his ML career.  That being said … you don’t find guys who can hit 29 homers and play Shortstop on trees.  And last I checked, you trade off some OBP and some excessive K’s for guys who can hit a ton of bombs.  Maybe scouts are just in denial.  Lots of people think the team should flip him now based on his 2013 season, but if he can do anything close to those numbers in the majors he’s doubly-valuable.  Ladson thinks he’ll be ranked much higher in the 2014 rankings.

Q: Who do you think will win the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation?

A: That’s the question of the off-season.  We’ve argued about it over and again here, and will again next week when I post system-wide predictions.  We’ll save the arguments for then.  Ladson says Tanner Roark, which surprises me frankly.  Lets save arguments on this for my big prediction piece next week.

Q: Do you think Espinosa will be a valuable backup for the Nats?

A: Boy I hope so.  But something holds me back; what has changed from the point he was demoted til now?  He hasn’t gotten his shoulder fixed.  He hasn’t stopped switch hitting.  All he did was go to Syracuse and continue to hit poorly.  Why at this point would we think he’s going to do anything better than what he’s already shown us he can do?  Ladson expresses some doubts too.

 

Fister acquisition thoughts and fallout

24 comments

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation.  AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation. AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

Wow; I got into work today and opened up the Washington Post and saw that the Nationals pulled off what I think is a huge steal of a trade, getting Detroit’s Doug Fister for three fringy guys in Steve LombardozziIan Krol and Robbie Ray.

Taking the very glass is half empty view of the guys we just sent away: we get an accomplished starter for (frankly) two edge-of-the-25 man roster players in Lombardozzi and Krol, and a prospect who I like but who scouts never have really taken to in Ray.  Lombardozzi took a step back this year offensively and despite being the kind of flexible, multi-positional player that teams crave this year (think of how Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist) he was exposed at the plate and may have already shown what his peak is (backup infielder).   Krol flashed up the farm system and looked fantastic in his early MLB appearances, but slumped enough to be demoted back to the minors in search of some consistency; he’s got a great arm but clearly is a one-out lefty.  Robbie Ray is a very young and accomplished starter who has operated in the shadow of his fellow high school draft-class mate A.J. Cole and has mostly out-pitched him, but the scouting reports on Ray seem bearish on his eventual ceiling (4th starter at best?).  

If i’m a Detroit fan, I’m scratching my head here.  A backup infielder, a matchup-lefty with just a few months of MLB experience, and a AA prospect who is probably still 2 years away?  That’s the return for a cost-contained, effective 4th starter for a team who’s oft-repeated mantra is Win now?  I just don’t get this deal for the Tigers.  Yes Fister faces arbitration, and his salary may rise up to the $6-$7M range, and yes I guess Detroit has a ready-made replacement in Jose Alvarez or perhaps Drew Smyly, but why are you trading away depth at a time like this?  Is this simply a money-saving deal?   The team saves somewhere in the range of $6M in arbitration for Fister (paying MLB mins or less for all three guys they got back).  As others have pointed out, the Tigers really must have liked what they saw in Robbie Ray to make him the clear centerpiece of this deal.

Some other quick responses in the Baseball analysis world: Keith Law hates the deal for Detroit with this quote summing it up nicely: “A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”   Jayson Stark thinks Detroit made this deal for payroll relief and seems to indicate that Detroit’s GM Dave Dombrowski is already on the defensive.  Matt Fillippi at HardBallTimes questions Detroit’s mindset.   Grant Brisbee wishes his team (the Giants) could have done this deal.  Dave Cameron says the Nats “stole” Fister in this deal.    So, I’m not being a homer in saying that, on the face of it, this is a fantastic deal.

Fister posted 3.67 ERA in 2013 pitching in front of a horrible Detroit defense in the American League, so you would have to think that he’s going to immediately get that typical 1/3 to 1/2 point improvement on his ERA moving to the NL and facing weaker lineups and pitchers on a regular basis.   Not to mention going from one of the worst infield defenses to one of the better ones.  Meanwhile, despite being called a “4th starter” Fister quietly has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last three years; in Cameron’s fangraphs post he has a list of the top pitchers by various measures over the last three years and Fister easily makes the top 15 arms in the game by most measures.  He’s a 4-WAR arm slotting into a near-replacement level WAR slot (Dan Haren) for half the price.  And the team basically gave away spare parts and a decent but not elite prospect to get him.

Other positional fallout from this for the Nats off-season:

  • Lombardozzi was still penciled in a backup infielder/utility guy.  Does this open up an opportunity for Zach Walters to earn a spot?  Will the team buy a cheap utility guy on the FA market to couple with Scott Hairston?  Does this pave the way for Danny Espinosa to return to the majors?
  • Krol’s departure thins the already thin internal loogy ranks to choose from, which to me indicates that one of two things now happens.  We either try to buy one of the limited remaining professional lefties on the market or we go into 2014 planning on converting a here-to-fore starter (either Ross Detwiler or Sammy Solis) into a left-handed option out of the pen.  Unless we think Xavier Cedeno is the answer.

Summary; Great move by Mike Rizzo, and I have to immediately agree with Law’s sentiment that this easily gives the Nats one of the 2-3 best rotations in either league heading into 2014.  I didn’t think Starting Pitching was an area of greatest need necessarily … but boy he’s upgraded over the 4th starter/$13M experiments the team has been running out for the past two years in a hurry.

 

Ladson’s inbox 11/13/13

13 comments

I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade?   Photo AP via mlb.com

I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade? Photo AP via mlb.com

The Hot Stove League is in full effect; Bill Ladson has done two mailbags in two weeks!  Here’s his 11/13/13 edition, hot on the heels of his last one on 11/5/13.  Lets get to it.  Lots of “what-if” scenarios involving Nats players are already being rumored by big-time names in the industry.  Lets get to them.

As always, I answer here before reading his response and edit questions for clarity if needed.

Q: Do you think Anthony Rendon will be in the regular lineup in 2014, or is there a possibility of him being traded?

A: Honestly, despite Anthony Rendon‘s name prominently being mentioned as a centerpiece for rumored deals for the likes of Max Scherzer and/or David Price, I don’t believe these kind of deals are going to really happen.  I can’t see Detroit trading away Scherzer, not in their “win-now” mode.  And I can’t see Mike Rizzo pulling off a deal with the ultra-competitive executives in Tampa Bay, not after he’s done such a good job re-stocking the farm system and getting everyone healthy.  For now I see Rendon right back as the starting 2nd baseman in 2014, with the Nats facing a tougher decision on what to do with deposed starter Danny Espinosa.  Ladson “doesn’t know yet.”  Thanks for the “going-out-on-a-limb” prediction there.

Q: What do you think about Drew Storen‘s future with the Nationals? And with that said, what do you think the Nats could get back in a trade?

A: I think that as long as this team is competitive Drew Storen (and to a lesser extent this also goes for Tyler Clippard at least for one more year) will stay here and hold down their spots in the back-end of the bullpen.  If we suffer another down year (or, more likely, if we suddenly see an influx of home-grown replacements) these guys and their escalating salaries are ripe for trading to contenders with bullpen holes.  They’re both good pitchers, “closer quality” who aren’t being used in that capacity in Washington thanks to the luxury signing of Rafael Soriano and his $11m/year salary.  What can they bring back?  Well if you use the Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos trade as a blueprint, the team should hope for a near-majors prospect.   I don’t think you can always get that; teams now are far more protective of their prospects than they used to be.  But for either player i’d take a top-10 prospect even if he was further down in the minors.  Ladson says he thinks Storen is getting traded … but doesn’t say when.  But he does mention the Scherzer rumors…

Q: Do you think the Nationals will go after free-agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty to improve their bullpen depth?

A: Maybe.  If they can get him on a minor league/cheap deal sure.  The Nats tried this route last year with Bill Bray (taking a formerly effective loogy in FA who was coming off of injury) and Bray finished the year on the AA disabled list.  So that didn’t work out so well.  I’m sure there’s more than a few teams in the lefty reliever market, and if its like 2012 the Nats might shy away from the prices these guys command.  Remember; they’ve got more than a few decent in-house options already, guys who proved they could pitch last year.  I don’t perceive the “need” to get a lefty reliever in free agency to be as critical for this team as others seem to think.  Yes I know the team is already calling guys (as they should), but somehow I think they’re going to end up shying away from the prices they see (much as they did last  year with their trio of lefty FA relievers).   Ladson says the team wants healthy players, not guys coming off of TJ surgery like Chien-Ming Wang.  Fair points.

Q: Wouldn’t a bench of Steve LombardozziTyler MooreZach Walters and Scott Hairston give the Nationals a balance of lefty/righty bats and much more field flexibility than they have had in recent seasons?

A: This bench, comprised entirely of in-house solutions, would give the team this profile:

  • Two righties , two switch hitters
  • Two corner outfielders  but nobody who could really play center
  • Two middle infielders who could cover at least 2nd, SS, 3rd.   Moore could cover 1st if needed.
  • Demonstrated right-handed power off the bench … but not so much lefty power
  • Just one real proven major leaguer (Hairston)

We just don’t know what to make of Moore at this point in his career.  Great in 2012, awful in 2013.  We know he can hit it a mile … can he do it when he gets just a few ABs a week?  I don’t know.  Lombardozzi fills the “utility guy” role who can plug in at 5 positions … so where does that leave Walters?  I know Walters hit 29 homers last year in AAA; if he replicates that in the majors he’s a $100M player.

Where’s the lefty power?  That’s what this bench misses, and that’s why I think the team looks for some lefty pop off the bench.   Ladson repeats the need for bench power.

Q: Reportedly the Nats are looking for an elite starter, and it’s been said that Scherzer is a better fit than Price because of Mike Rizzo’s history with Scherzer. I don’t understand why a relationship with the general manager makes a player or manager the best choice. What does liking him or knowing him have to do with it? Shouldn’t the choice be made by determining who is the best pitcher for the Nats?

A: Good question.  On some levels, GMs seem to fall in love with the guys they drafted, especially guys they scouted.  We saw this with Jim Bowden‘s obsession with his former players from Cincinnati, and we see it with Rizzo and his former players from Arizona on some levels.  Makes sense right?  How many of us have seen executives hired who brought in “their guys” to help out?  You’re comfortable with the known commodity, guys who you feel like you have a relationship with, guys who you know can get the job done as you think it needs to be done.

But that only explains why Rizzo may like Scherzer moreso than Price at a personal history level.   That has nothing to do with a) the ability to actually make a trade for the guy, or b) the fit for the team.  Now, any team in the league would take a healthy Cy Young winning pitcher, and that’s why trading for either guy will take a significant investment in prospects.  In reality any team in the league would love to have either guy at their pre-FA salary levels; they’re steals.  The “value” of a win on the FA market is now estimated to be about $7M or so; even if these guys are paid double that in 2014 they’re going to produce more than 2 wins.  Ladson speculates that because Scherzer’s agent is Scott Boras that the Nats would for some reason have a better shot at signing him long term.  See, I dont’ believe that either.  If the Nats offer the most money, they’ll get the player no matter who his agent may be.  People like to say the Nats are Boras’ “bitch” team because we sign so many of his players … but if you check the Player Agent database, the Nats have as many Boras clients as a few other teams (Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore) and most of them are draftees, not FAs.  You’re going to draft the best player no matter who his agent may be.

Q: With Adam LaRoche having a bad season at the plate, do you think the Nationals will end up trading him along with possibly Danny Espinosa and others to the Rays for Price?

A: Genesis of a dumb trade proposal; hey, lets see if Tampa, one of the shrewdest and most forward thinking organization in the majors, will not only take on two of our most disappointing players from 2013 (LaRoche and Espinosa) but also will they take on more than $15M in anticipated payroll for a former Cy Young winner and inarguably one of the best 10 arms in baseball?!  Yeah that’s a great trade!  Hey, lets see if we can trade, oh I dunno, Yunesky Maya and a bunch of guys from AAA who hit .220 to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw!  Yeah, that’ll work.

I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but this is just such a stupid trade idea given how we *know* the Rays work that it just isn’t worth addressing.  If you proposed this in a chat with a professional talent evaluator they’d ignore it, or post it just to ridicule it.

The Rays want prospects back.  Always.  They don’t want guys with 8 figure salaries who are already on the wrong side of 30.  Espinosa’s trade value is near worthless right now.  Anyone who thinks they’re going to be the centerpieces of a trade with an organization as smart as Tampa is a fool.

Ladson doesn’t even address the proposal, just saying confidently that LaRoche will be back.

Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

Nationals 2013 post-mortem

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This may be the last time i use Haren's picture in a Nats uniform on this blog.  Photo via Zimbio.com

This may be the last time I use Haren’s picture in a Nats uniform on this blog. Photo via Zimbio.com

They say success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  Well, here’s a whole slew of orphan-causing problems that befell this team this year.  I started this post months ago, when the team sputtered in July and suddenly sat at 54-60.  None of these bullet points are surprises.  Maybe I forgot some key points; feel free to tack ‘em on.   This is a cathartic, washing my hands of the 2013 season, where so many things conspired to go wrongly.

  1. Davey Johnson, for continued pitching/bullpen mismanagement episode after episode, for seemingly losing the clubhouse (see below), for sticking with severely under-performing players (Espinosa, Haren especially) far, far too long, for failing to react to repeated beanings of his best player, and for generally looking old, tired and out-matched this year at press conference after press conference.  This team needs a new voice, a disciplinarian who will command more respect than what Johnson was commanding from this team.  My vote is for Matt Williams.
  2. Injuries.  Every team has injuries; I’m not going to write some simplistic statement that says “well if we had So-and-So healthy all year we’d have won the division.”   Look at St. Louis: they’re missing Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia basically all year and still won the best division in the game.  I think the issue most people will have with the Nats is the way their players’ injuries were handled.  Bryce Harper missed the whole month of June after several wall collisions finally caught up to him and he was clearly in pain the rest of the season.  Did the team not allow him to get healthy at the end of April?  Meanwhile you have to take serious issue with either the team, Danny Espinosa or both over the handling of his injuries.  What good did it do anyone to allow Espinosa to try to play through the significant shoulder injury he apparently has?  Why has he STILL not had the surgery done to fix it?  It sounds to me like there’s some serious stubbornness on both sides of this fence.  Ross Detwiler looked to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2012 … and now he’s back to being the broken down starter he’s mostly been during his time here.  In his 6 pro seasons he’s not pitched full seasons in 3 of them.   This isn’t necessarily on the team .. but I will ask this: at what point do you go into a season counting on Detwiler to break down instead of the reverse?  It goes to proper roster planning (also mentioned later on).
  3. Bench production, for regressing so far past the mean from last year’s over production.  Did you know that Steve Lombardozzi got more than 300 plate appearances this year with this slash line: .255/.276/.337?  I know you need backup utility infielders, but man, that’s a huge 68 OPS+ hole getting a ton of ABs.  Our opening-day bench of Lombardozzi/Moore/Bernadina/Tracy posted these OPS+ figures in 2012: 82/123/111/111.  In 2013?  69/66/43/55.  Wow.  That’s just a startling drop-off in production.  To add insult to injury Kurt Suzuki‘s OPS+ went from a respectable 95 last year to 64 this year.  Basically every pinch hitting spot or guy off the bench covering for a starter turned into an 0-4 outing.  We know that at least 3 of these 5 bench guys are gone; who will replace them?
  4. Dan Haren.  $13M for one of the worst starters in the game, even given his little August rebound.  The team finished 4 games out of the wild card, 10 games back of Atlanta.   In Dan Haren’s 30 starts, the Nats went 11-19.  In every other pitcher’s starts, the team went 75-57.   That’s a .568 winning percentage, which equates to 92 wins.  Even a #5 starter who gave the team a 50/50 chance of winning on any given sunday would have basically put the team into the WC game.  Haren was just a really really poor FA acquisition who contributed a huge part to the downfall of the team.  I wonder at this point if the Nats didn’t fail to do the proper medical due diligence on Haren; there was a reason the proposed trade to the Cubs fell through and there was a reason the Angels did not give him a qualifying offer.  I fully admit: I was completely on board with the signing, thinking we were getting the pre 2012 Haren.  Wrong; something clearly changed for him after the 2011 season and I wonder how much longer he can stay in the league after his last two seasons.  I’m sure he’ll get another one-year deal for 2014 based on his stronger finish, but another 5+ ERA season may finish him.
  5. Offense in general: The team scored 656 runs on the year.  That’s down fully 75 runs from last year, when they were 10th in the league in scoring.  Had they produced like they did last year in 2013 (about 10th in the league in runs scored and other key indicators),  they’d have scored around 700 runs, probably good for at least 10 more wins (under the rough estimate that it takes about 4 “extra” runs per win).  With 10 more wins … they’re winning the division again (since some of those added wins come at the hands of Atlanta).
  6. Hitting in the Clutch: Ask any sabre-nerd and they’ll tell you that “clutch” doesn’t exist and that all aspects of batting (good or bad) with RISP is merely coincidence (this came up again recently with David Ortiz’ game-changing NLCS homer).  I don’t entirely buy it. I think hitting with runners on base is a skill that can be practiced and honed.  I think there’s importance to driving runners in when you have the opportunity.  I think a batter with a runner on third and less than one out can absolutely look for a ball that he can hit into the air, thus driving in the run.  Anyway: let’s look at how well the Nats offense hit in the clutch this season (see this team-stats split link at tFangraphs).  The Nats team batting average with runners on base is ranked 19th in the league; its wRC+ as a team 17th.  However, change “runners on base” to “high leverage” in the Fangraphs split and you get this: Nats were 29th in high leverage batting average, 28th in wRC+. That’s right: almost dead last in the league in high-leverage hitting for the year.  When they came to bat in situations that mattered, they were one of the worst teams in the league.  Any way you slice it … that’s not “clutch.”
  7. Clubhouse Issues: I know that many readers here get irritated with presumptions of “chemistry” issues, writing comments about how we have no idea what really goes on in the clubhouse.  Fair enough; we don’t need to rehash the argument.  Absent any proof, I believe something might have been amiss.  Reporters have noted the losses of free-spirit Morse and the level headed DeRosa.  The Soriano acquisition brought a known surly loner with behavior problems into a tight knit bullpen and resulted in the chain reaction demotion of two guys (Storen and Clippard) who didn’t necessarily deserve to be demoted.  I believe Harper was fed up with Johnson’s message and was caught on camera more than once clearly ignoring or showing disdain to something he was being told.  To say nothing of the ridiculousness of Harper getting hit over and over without any of his teammates getting his back.   Can a new manager fix this?  Probably.  Can a leadership void fix this?  Definitely.  Perhaps with Jayson Werth‘s great season he can step up in the clubhouse and be the voice of reason moreso than it seems he has been before (either because he was struggling on the field or collapsing under the weight of his contract).
  8. Rizzo’s mis-management of the 2013 roster: Rizzo just had to have his speedy leadoff/centerfielder, and Span underperformed when it counted (I’m on record stating over and over that the team is wasting Harper’s defensive capabilities in left and blocking a power-hitter acquisition by sticking with Span in center.  But what’s done is done).  The opening day roster had no left handed specialists, a move that I quasi-defended at the time but which turned out to be disastrous.  We relied on a MLFA (and frankly, we over-relied an incredibly short sample size) for the long man (Duke) and he failed. We had absolutely no starting pitching depth in the high Minors and got rather lucky that Taylor Jordan materialized out of the thin air of high-A and Tanner Roark suddenly added 5 mph to his fastball and turned into an effective MLB hurler.  We had a $120M payroll but were depending on bargain basement acquisitions in key roles.  That just has to change for 2014.  Don’t go looking to save pennies on the proverbial dollar by non-tendering useful guys (as they did with Tom Gorzelanny last year); do the right thing and lock these guys up.  You had enough to waste $30M on Soriano but couldn’t find the scratch to keep around half of 2012′s bullpen?
  9. Pressure. this team had no pressure last year, and all of the pressure this year.  Nearly every baseball pundit with a blog, microphone or column picked them to win the division (me included), and lots picked them to win 100+ games (me included).  Look at how awfully they fared this year against the NL playoff bound teams:
  • Stl: 0-6, scoring just 8 runs in 6 games.
  • LA Dodgers: 1-5
  • Atlanta: 6-13.  Outscored 73-49
  • Pittsburgh: 3-4
  • Cincinnati: 4-3 but outscored 36-27 thanks to a 15-0 spanking the 2nd week of the season.

When the chips were down, they folded.  Especially against Atlanta, who pushed the team around, continually threw at us, and we had no reaction (that is until Strasburg suddenly had a fit of wildness which some will argue was less about standing up for his players and more about being off that day).   I lay this at the manager’s feet again.  Atlanta has proved time and again (and again) that they’re capable of acting like bullies when it comes to “unwritten rules” of the game, and Johnson let this go unchecked far too long.  A new manager with some balls will put an end to this nonesense, fast.  Sorry to sound crude, but it is what it is.  Johnson had no balls and made his entire team look weak in the face of the Braves.

Yes its great the team had a run in August and September.  What does it really mean?  Their schedule was cake in August and then filled with teams with AAA callups in September.  Who is the real Denard Span?  The guy who hit .235 in the middle of the summer or the guy who hit .303 in September?  Can Werth keep this kind of production up in the face of father time in 2014?  Can LaRoche return his OPS to something better than what a middling 2nd baseman can produce?  Can Harper stop running into walls and stay on the field?

I think the scarier part for Nats fans is the fact that this team is basically going to be the exact same team next year. Nearly every position player, likely the entire rotation (simply replace Haren with a healthy Detwiler), most all of the bullpen. There’s not a lot of holes here, not a lot of wiggle room.   Unless there’s a major trade on the horizon that drastically reshapes the roster, this is your team in 2014.  Can they turn it around and make up the 14 games they declined in the win column?

In summary; which of the above points IS the real issue behind 2013′s disaster?  And how do you fix it?  Because if you don’t address it, then 2014 is going to be the same story.

 

Ladson Inbox 9/26/13

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Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Phew.  I was running out of things to talk about lately.  Well, other than the ridiculous John Feinstein article this week or perhaps a missive on what a bunch of a-holes the Atlanta Braves seem to be.  The federal end of year cycle has consumed all my time recently, so I’ve been late to post end-of-season minor league pitcher reviews.  We’ll get there; its a long winter.

But thankfully a gift arrived via an unexpected Bill Ladson inbox dated 9/26/13.  Lets see what questions Ladson took this time around.  As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: How disappointed were you in the 2013 Nationals?

A: Not so much disappointing as frustrating; when you’ve claimed “World Series or Bust” and your team isn’t gelling correctly, why not try to do more to fix the problem mid-season?  What was the sum total of the changes this team tried to make after it was clear the team was consistently playing .500 ball?  Replace a hitting coach?  Demote a couple guys who deserved demoting?  Trade for a 25th guy/bench player?  I dunno.  Why massively increase payroll and sign luxury players like $15M closers and then do nothing when the team is clearly mired in a malaise for 4/5ths of the season?  Ladson says he was disappointed too.

Q: What do you consider the team’s greatest need in the offseason?

A: A better question may be this: where *can* you upgrade this team as it sits now?  There’s not a single starting fielder who is a FA or who really needs to be replaced.  The two worst performing hitters (Span and LaRoche) are both under contract for 2014.  I’ve already seen quotes that say that Rendon will have “competition” for 2nd base next spring; from who exactly?  Lombardozzi and his 68 OPS+ or Espinosa and his 27 OPS+?  Right.  How about the starters?  The 3 main guys are not going anywhere.  Getting rid of Detwiler would be selling very low.  It seems clear from the FA market and from the Haren experience that the team should have a #5 starter competition between RoarkJordan and Karns.   How about the bullpen?  Not really; maybe you tweak it and find a 5th or 6th guy who may pitch better than Mattheus did this year, but by and large the bulk of it already seems set (Soriano, Clippard, Stammen all seem like locks, Storen will be given a chance to rebound, one from Ohlendorf/Roark probably fits in nicely as a long-man, and your lefties Abad and Krol have both been good).  So you’re left with bullpen scrubs and the bench.  Not exactly high-impact spots to improve.

I was talking about this with friends recently; one thing I’d do if I was GM would be to sign Shin-Soo Choo.  He posted a .424 OBP with 21 homers for Cincinnati from the leadoff position this year.  Career .389 OBP.  You put him in LF (since his defense in center is atrocious) and install Harper in center where he belongs.  Dump Span somewhere, anywhere.  Instantly you get power and a significantly improved OBP at the top of your order.  The knocks on Choo are that he’s older (30 this year), that he doesn’t hit lefties (true … but his OBP split versus lefties is STILL higher than Span’s season long OBP, even given the run he’s had the last 6 weeks), and that he’ll be expensive.  A move like this likely never happens; Choo will command probably 4/$40M or more, and I doubt the team wants to pay him that much or block an OF spot given the guys coming up.

I wonder if we’re not going to see something bigger and unexpected happen.  A big trade that opens up a spot and lets the players move around.  Or a big FA signing that forces a trade of one of these entrenched players.  Because otherwise its hard to see how this team dramatically improves this off-season.   Ladsons says the team needs dependable loogies, bench and the back of the rotation.  Safe, obvious statements.

Q: Do you think Adam LaRoche will be traded after this season?

A: I don’t see it; I think LaRoche is a team favorite.  Rizzo wants plus-defenders manning the positions and that’s how he views LaRoche.  But here’s a dirty secret; LaRoche wasn’t that great this year defensively at 1st.  His UZR/150 was negative, he was ranked 18th among first basemen with more than 500 innings at the position this year, and only slightly better than the very sedentary Ryan Howard and equally glacial Chris Davis on the year.  And we have all seen his throwing arm; accurate but weak.  But if you jettison LaRoche, who’s taking him after he hit just .230 this year?  And who are you replacing him with?  The FA crop is weak; who on that list would you want?  Mike Napoli maybe?  He can rake … but he also probably earned himself a ton of dough with his performance in Boston this year.   Ladson says LaRoche is going nowhere.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals sign Michael Morse? He has been injured, and they could get him for a cheap price.

A: …. and they’d play him, where exactly?  He can play left field and first base, and last time I checked we’ve got those positions covered.  I like Michael Morse like every one in DC else but he was *awful* this year.  And he picked an awful time to do it; age 31, in a contract year, playing in the relative media obscurity of Seattle.  If he had just hit a couple bombs down the stretch for Baltimore, maybe that would have helped.  Now you have to wonder if he’s just looking at a minor league deal.  Would the team consider him for a bench role?  Probably not, he likely still considers himself a starter and may not handle the bench well.  Ladson says it isn’t happening.

Q: Is Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats next year just a rumor or a realistic possibility?

A: Just a rumor.  What experience does Ripken have managing?  He’s not like other former players like Don Mattingly (who cut his chops watching the great Joe Torre for years in New York) or Ryne Sandberg (who worked his way up the minors and earned his job in Philadelphia).  I’d be worried about him being completely out of his element.  What proof is there that he can handle a pitching staff or manage a game?  Give me a serious, experienced, no-nonsense guy to manage this team and get the guys in line after this year’s season-long drift.  Give me Matt Williams.  Ladson says it isn’t going to be Ripken.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in signing Robinson Cano?

A: Not at these prices; he reportedly wants 10yrs/$305M!!  And already turned down 6/$144M.  Phew.   I wouldn’t pay him $24M/year in his decline years.  He’s no doubt a great player; is he that good?  Whoever signs him (Dodgers?) is going to really, really regret any deal longer than 6 years.  Well, unless it IS the Dodgers, who may make a complete mockery of the game in the next few years in terms of payroll.  Fun fact: The Dodgers already are committed to $165M in payroll next year … for just ELEVEN players.  They still have to handle arbitration for Clayton Kershaw (who may command $20M) and fill out the rest of the lineup.    Ladson also mentions this contract demand.

Q: How about Jayson Werth as player-manager next year? It worked for the Senators, after all, with Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin.

A: Well, if we don’t Cal Ripken can manage, what makes you think Werth has any such qualifications either?  Baseball has come an awfully long way from the days where teams thought a player/manager was a workable idea.  Now a-days, the money involved and egos involved almost necessitate an experienced, veteran guy for nearly every team.  Ladson thinks Werth would make a great manager.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of the Nats’ struggles this season, and do you think they will be better next year?

A: (see upcoming blog post that I’ll hit “publish” on when the season is over).  Ladson says in order injuries, bullpen, bench, and St. Louis.

Q: At this point, how would you handicap the likely 2014 Nats managerial candidates?

A: Who knows.  Is this really the pressing issue on the minds of Nats fans like Ladson makes it out to be?   Somehow I don’t think its going to be anyone on the current field staff (sorry Randy Knorr).  I think it will be either a big-name manager who gets the axe this off-season unexpectedly (Mike Scioscia or Joe Girardi would be decent choices) or a former player that Rizzo knows (which is why I keep coming back to Matt Williams).  Ladson says Knorr is the leader but also mentions Williams and Trent Jewett.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

4 comments

ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.