Nationals Arm Race

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Who is the Best HS player the Nats have ever drafted?

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Would you believe that A.J. Cole is the best prep draft prospect ever for the Nats in the Rizzo era? Read on. Photo AP

A comment about Mason Denaburg in the last thread, with MarkL wondering/speculating on whether our 2018 1st overall pick may possibly pitch in 2021, made me think, yet again, about the folly of drafting high school arms (or HS players in general) and then made me wonder..

Who is the best HS player we’ve ever drafted?

By “best” I mean possible one of two things:
1. Most successful for our team or for someone else, since (as we’ll see) we’ve had a tendency to trade prospects before they matriculate.
2. Most successful for the Nationals themselves.

So, we’ll answer both.

I’ll also divide this into the “Rizzo” era and the pre-Rizzo era, since you can almost count on one hand the total number of HS players Mike Rizzo has drafted since taking over in mid 2009, whereas the Jim Bowden regime was quite heavily skewed towards HS players.

Using the Draft Tracker as a reference, here are your nominees for best ever HS draftee by the Washington Nationals, moving backwards in time (note; i’m omitting some HS draftees like 20th round signees who happened to sign and subsequently flame out; this mostly is a value play of top-5 round picks plus other notables we over-paid).

  • 2020: Samuel Infante, SS/3B from Florida: too early to tell obviously, but the reaction in the Natmosphere was mixed to begin with. We’ll see.
  • 2018: Mason Denaburg, RHP from Florida. $3M signing bonus for getting selected 27th overall in the 1st round. Has been plagued by injury since his arrival, and his limited stats have not been promising. What is even more indicting about this selection is the fact that the next three arms drafted who signed ( Shane McClanahan, Jackson Kowar and UVA’s Daniel Lynch) were all college arms (like what the Nats normally draft this high), are all now considered top-100 prospects, and had all reached AA by the end of 2019. Opportunities lost.
  • 2016: Carter Kieboom, SS from Georgia. Held the #1 Nats prospect label for years, but has struggled in two call-ups now that have the team looking at 3B candidates in free agency, a pretty severe indictment of what they think they have in Kieboom right now.
  • 2016: Jesus Luzardo, LHP from Florida. Traded as the centerpiece prospect of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madsen acquisition in 2017, then became a top-10 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2019 season. Pitched in Oakland’s rotation as a 22yr old in 2020 with league average results, projecting to be a #2 lefty starter. It was a lot to give up for relievers (at the time I was “ok” with the trade, but did note that it would look pretty lopsided if Luzardo turned into precisely what he’s projecting to become), but flags fly forever and Doolittle was an integral part of this team for a while.
  • 2015: Blake Perkins, OF from Arizona. Traded to Kansas City as part of a prospect group to acquire Kelvin Herrera, has a career .236 minor league BA as a glove-first CF.
  • 2015: Tyler Watson LHP from Arizona. 34th rounder paid like a 4th rounder that year. Traded to Minnesota to acquire Brandon Knitzler as part of the great mid-season bullpen construction job in 2017. Pitched all of 2019 in High-A’s rotation with decent results, likely in AA in 2021. Knitzler of course ran himself out of town in mid 2018, so the team didn’t get a ton to show for this trade.
  • 2014: Jakson Reetz, C from Nebraska. Has passed through three Rule-5 drafts now and was part of the 60-man extended roster in 2020. He stepped up his power and his offense in 2019 in High-A; is he turning a corner? Re-signed as a MLFA this off-season to do his 8th pro season in our farm system.
  • 2014: McKenzie Mills LHP from Georgia. This 18th rounder blew up in the spring of 2017, dominating Low-A and getting flipped to Philadelphia to acquire Howie Kendrick. His 2018 was solid in High-A, but he struggled with the jump to AA and got released in the minor league purge of June 2020. I wonder if he’s worth a MLFA flier in 2021 for someone.
  • 2013: Drew Ward, 3B from Oklahoma. 3rd rounder who was good enough to get promoted year after year, but not to escape “org player” role. Released in the 2020 player purge.
  • 2013: Travis Ott, LHP from Pennsylvania. showed some promise in his 2nd pro season in Short-A as a 19yr old, enough so to be the secondary piece in the huge 3-team trade that netted the team Trea Turner and Joe Ross. (more on that later when we talk about Souza). He continued to pitch well in Tampa’s org, but then curiously was moved to the bullpen in 2018 and then was stuck on the restricted list in apr 2019, where he presumably remains today. No idea what happened here.
  • 2012: Lucas Giolito RHP from California. Perhaps the most controversial candidate on this list. He had TJ surgery the year he was drafted, recovered, raced through the minors and debuted for the team as a 21yr old in June of 2016. His Minor league career looked too good to be true. But, in MLB 21 innings that year he pitched to an ugly 6.75 ERA, an even worse 8.21 FIP … and then got flipped in the off-season as the centerpiece to acquire Adam Eaton from the White Sox. I hated the move when it happened. There were rumors about how the Nats talent evaluators thought that Giolito had “plateaued” or that somehow he wasn’t someone they could work with. And, to be fair, it took a full year of awfulness in the majors for the White Sox before Giolito modified his mechanics and turned into a pretty good starter. His last two seasons have been ERA+ of 134 and 128 respectively, and he’s gotten down-ballot Cy Young voting. Did the Nats give up on him too early? Yes. Did we get equivalent value in return from Eaton? No …. but it wasn’t entirely Eaton’s fault. Who could have known that Eaton would blow out his knee, which would blow out his defensive value, which was a huge reason he was such a WAR darling prior to his trade? Does the 2019 WS title make every move between 2015 and Nov 2019 worth it regardless of the transaction? Most would argue yes. Flags fly forever.
  • 2012: Hayden Jennings, OF from Louisiana; a 6th rounder that year, he lasted just two years in the system and never got out of the GCL. Seemed like a quick release frankly; I wonder if there was some off-the-field issues.
  • 2010: A.J. Cole RHP from Florida. Just could never cut it as a starter for this team, with spot start appearances across 4 MLB seasons for the Nats. Finally flipped for cash after his DFA ahead of the 2018 season when he ran out of options and the team ran out of patience. He’s bounced around since, pitching for the Yankees bullpen in 2018, getting claimed off waivers by Cleveland for 2019, then signing on as a FA for Toronto in 2020, each time putting up decent numbers as an 8th/9th inning non-closer type. Why he could never do this for us is … a mystery. Certainly we could use a competent reliever right now.
  • 2010: Robbie Ray, LHP from Arizona. A 12th rounder given 2nd round money, Ray was the centerpiece prospect in the Doug Fister 2013 trade (which shocked the baseball world and made the Nats look like a genius), then was flipped again to Arizona ahead of the 2014 season. From there he turned into a solid starter, putting up huge K/9 numbers but featuring as a guy who struggled to get through 6 innings thanks to elevated pitch counts. He’s a FA this off-season and could be a decent 4th starter for someone.
  • 2010: Bryce Harper: you could technically count Harper here since he was a HS-aged player in Juco, but it isn’t like selecting him 1-1 was any great piece of decision making on the Nats part. He was destined to be a 1st overall pick from the moment he appeared on the cover of SI as a 16-yr old.

So, in the Rizzo Era, I’d say that the most successful HS drafted player for us or any other team is clearly Lucas Giolito (even though Ray has more career bWAR), with Luzardo projecting right now perhaps as having the capabilities of supplanting him in the future.

The most successful HS drafted player for the Nats? Only three have even played a game for the Nats: Cole, Giolito and Kieboom. Read that sentence again; in a decade of drafting, just three prep-players have ever suited up for this team. I guess you’d have to say Cole has the most impact for the Nationals themselves at this point, with high hopes for Kieboom going forward.


Rizzo was named the GM in August of 2009, so technically the 2009 and prior drafts were not on his resume (yes he was involved in the 2009 draft, but it was still Jim Bowden‘s show) You can see the effect that Rizzo had on draft strategy, because prior to 2010, the team was much more apt to draft prep players. We’ll run through them below.

  • 2009: Michael Taylor, SS from Florida. Quickly converted to OF, where he was a fantastic defender who hung around for years as 4th OF for the team. Finally non-tendered this past off-season, and he’s heading to Kansas City for the 2021 season. Some were sorry to see him go; if his arb salary hadn’t inflated so much, maybe he’d still be here.
  • 2009: Roberto Perez SS from Puerto Rico. Played three minor league seasons and (in my opinion) got a quick release after a stint in 2011 at Short-A.
  • 2008: Destin Hood, OF from Alabama. The 2nd round pick played out the string in our org, then bounced around for four more years as a MLFA. In his “make or break” year as a 23yr old in AA he slashed .224/.278/.327 and his fate was sealed. Eventually got some MLB time with Miami.
  • 2008: Graham Hicks, LHP from Florida; never got out of low-A, flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, out of baseball by age 22.
  • 2008: Adrien Neito, C from Florida. Had a great-looking season in High-A as a 23rd old, then the team left him unprotected in Rule-5 and he got plucked by the White Sox. I went back and looked at my analysis of the 2013 rule-5 draft and discovered that the team was sitting at 39/40 and really didn’t have the room to protect someone like Nieto, who was considered a long-shot to get taken despite going to the AFL that year. Nonetheless, after spending all of 2014 on the 25-man roster, he was went back down and never re-appeared. He has bounced around as a MLFA ever since and is still active today.
  • 2008: J.P. Ramirez, OF from Texas. Ramirez played out his 6-years with the Nats, then jumped to indy and eventually Mexican league ball.

In 2007 alone, Bowden drafted no less than 8 prep players in the top 10 rounds. Did any of them pan out?

  • 2007 Michael Burgess OF from Florida. He was beginning to blossom in 2010 as a 21 yr old, making it to AA and playing in the AFL, so he was used as the centerpiece prospect to get Gorzelanny. He didn’t do much afterwards, bouncing around orgs and eventually going to indy ball.
  • 2007: Jake Smolinkski 3B from Illinois. Very quickly became a solid prospect, succeeding in Low-A as a 19yr old and became the centerpiece prospect sent that off-season to acquire Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. Interestingly, he washed out of the Miami org as a MLFA, caught on with Texas and had several years as a MLB utility player with Texas and Oakland after that.
  • 2007: Steven Souza, OF from Washington State: a middling prospect for years, he started to show some serious pop as a 23yr old in High-A, culminating with a blow-up season in AAA as a 25 year old that allowed the Nats to pull off perhaps their greatest ever trade heist; packing Souza with Travis Ott and interjecting themselves into a trade between Tampa and San Diego to fleece San Diego out of two first round picks in Trea Turner and Joe Ross. Souza had his best season in 2017 for Tampa, a 3.5 win team, but has struggled with injuries
  • 2007: Derek Norris, C from Kansas. 5 seasons, 5 promotions for Norris in our system, before he was included as perhaps the 3rd piece of 4 in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Once he got to Oakland though, he blew up and had several solid seasons, even making the 2014 all star team. But he declined quickly, got moved to San Diego, then the nats re-acquired him back for Luis Avila … only to DFA him a few weeks later.
  • 2007: Josh Smoker, LHP from Georgia. Played out his string with the team without ever getting out of A-ball, then made it into the Mets’ bullpen in 2016 and 2017, where he put up below replacement level numbers.
  • 2007: Jack McGeary, LHP from Massachusetts. Paid like a mid-1st rounder in the days before bonus slots, McGeary seemed like a potential steal. Unfortunately, he just could not compete, suffering injuries multiple times. Mercifully taken in the minor league rule-5 draft by his hometown team Boston in 2013, he didn’t do much better there, eventually washing out of indy ball in 2014 as a 25-yr old.
  • 2007; PJ Dean, RHP from Texas. Looked awesome in Short-A as a 19yr old, throwing 10 starts with a 1.97 ERA. Was the lead prospect in the Willingham/Olsen trade that off-season… then, nothing. I have no idea what happened to the guy; he never played another game of baseball for the Marlins or anyone. Does anyone have any idea what happened to him?
  • 2007: Patrick McCoy LHP from Arizona; struggled as a starter early, moved to the pen, played out his string with the Nats as an org guy, signed on as a MLFA with Detroit and got a call-up where he put nearly 2.5 runners on base and was waived. Bounced around after that, never made the majors again.

It is notable that Jim Bowden nearly signed more HS players between these last two years than Rizzo has done in a decade in charge. Just a completely different mind-set of drafting.

In 2006 it was more of the same: the first 6 players he picked were all HS players.

  • 2006: Chris Marrero, OF from Florida. Made his way up to the big club in 2011 as a 22yr old, never really made it back. Was the quintessential 4-A guy for years, profiling as a corner guy w/o great defensive skills but missing the big bat.
  • 2006: Stephen Englund, OF from Washington State. Seems like a huge scouting miss; he just could not hit pro pitching. Career minor league slash line of .188/.308/.252. Cut from Low-A in 2009 after starting the season 11-101 with 48 Ks.
  • 2006: Stephen King, 3B from Florida. Played for years in the low-minors as a light-hitting infielder, eventually leaving as a 6-yr FA. Got to AA twice, was never able to even hit .200 there.
  • 2006: Colten Willems, RHP from Florida. The 1st rounder was ok his first couple of years in pro ball, never could really compete above low-A, then abruptly retired at age 21 when he struggled upon getting demoted back to Hagerstown. A huge draft bust.
  • 2006: Sean Black, RHP from New Jersey. Drafted in the 2nd round, refused to sign. Went to Seton Hall, 7th round pick by the Yankees three years later. Was a solid starter up to AA, got flipped to Cincinnati and his career fizzled.
  • 2006: Glenn Gibson LHP from New York. Had a great pro debut in Short-A as a 19yrold, then was traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes. Tampa dumped him two seasons later, and the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  He didn’t go much further and was released from affiliated ball in 2011 as a 23yr old.
  • 2006: Sam Brown, RHP from North Carolina. Did not sign, went to NC State, signed with Texas, then signed as a MLFA with the Nats in 2011 after his release. Pitched one year in the Hagerstown bullpen and was done.
  • 2006: Brad Peacock, RHP from Florida. A 41st round pick selected under the previous rules of “Draft and Follow.” He was drafted in June of 2006, but not signed until May 30th of 2007. It took him a while to get going professionally, but he blew up in 2011, rising from High-A to the majors with a sterling debut. This led to him being included in the player package to acquire Gonzalez from Oakland. After a year there, he was moved again to Houston in the Jed Lowrie move, and from there he flourished in a swingman role, winning a World Series there in 2017.

In 2005, just one top-10 round HS player drafted, but a few more signed on in the later rounds.

  • 2005: Ryan DeLaughter; OF from Texas. he never really succeeeded outside of complex ball, giving Short-A a try multiple times. Hooked on briefly with Milwaukee and indy league baseball as a 22yr old.
  • 2005: Deryck Johnson, CF from Florida; this 14th rounder played just one season in rookie ball, hit .185 and was cut.
  • 2005: Michael Watkins, RHP from Rhode Island. Pitched parts of two rookie league seasons and got cut.
  • 2005: Eduardo Pichardo, RHP from Florida. This 17th rounder threw 13.2 innings across two rookie league seasons and posted a stellar 20.41 ERA and was released.
  • 2005: Brad Clark, RHP from Florida. This 19th rounder got hurt, didn’t pitch until 2007, threw 5 1/3 total innings and got cut.
  • 2005: Ryan Butchter RHP from New Jersey: signed as a 33rd rounder, somehow survived two seasons with ERAs north of 7.00, then got traded after his third pro year for Matt Avery. Avery pitched one year of relief for our AA team and got cut. Meanwhile, Butchter hung on for years, finally debuting as a 27 yr old, and then as a 29yr old rookie excelled in the San Diego bullpen.

So, in the pre-Rizzo era, who’s the most accomplished HS drafted player for any team? Best candidates are Peacock, Norris, Souza, and Taylor. I’ll go out on a limb and say its Peacock.

For just the Nats? Has to be Taylor.

Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Ask Brittany 9/10/20

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Rizzo (finally) gets paid. Photo via mlb.com

Man, it seems like its been forever since we’ve seen a Nats beat reporter do a mailbag. And unfortunately the one I found is behind the Athletic’s paywall, By Athletic Nats beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli. No worries though; you’ll get the gist.

Q: What are your reactions to the (Mike) Rizzo contract?
A: It’s about damn time. I just do not understand why either Mike Rizzo or Davey Martinez entered this season w/o an extension. The only thing I can think is that both had had informal discussions with the ownership group that promised them extensions at a later time.

Brittany’s take: Finally. 3yr extension, with a big bump in pay from $4M/year on his previous deal. But she also notes how disrespectful this delay was to the rest of the front office staff, who live and die by Rizzo’s contract status. Hard to disagree.

Q: Have you heard about any extension talks with (Juan) Soto?  
A: I hope they have … but it seems unlikely. Juan Soto has already established himself as one of the league’s elite players, so there seems to be little incentive for him to sign away any flexibility. He got a “big” pre-arb raise, which frankly is still peanuts compared to his value, and he’s already guaranteed to be a Super-2 guy, meaning four arb years. If i’m the Nats maybe i’m doing what they did with Harper and Rendon; buy out the arb years with sizeable raises so they’re not arguing every off-season, see if they can get one post-arb FA year thrown in (he’s FA after 2024 season), and make it worthwhile to both sides.

Brittany notes that Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, so forget about an extension. She is unaware of any extension talk, but points out a couple of Braves deals that could serve as landmarks.

Q: Any details on whether the front office has moved on from competing this year to preparing for a stronger ’21 season?
A: Well, we saw no trades this year, meaning zero attempts to shore up multiple areas of need on the current roster. But then again, that might have been a factor of the price tag and our own depleted farm system. I mean, would you have wanted to give up Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge for a month of a #3 starter hitting free agency after the season? Hell no. Meanwhile on the field, the team has been frisky this week, but (as of this writing on 9/11/20) remain 5.5 games out of a wild card spot and still projected for either the #6 or #7 overall pick next July.
Brittany notes the same thing: the lack of moves at the trade deadline tipped their hand.

Q: Any insight on moves Rizzo should consider in 2021 free agency?
A: man, it exhausts me to even start considering this. But here’s 2 minutes on their FA outlook. Using COTS site, they are set to lose Eaton, Sanchez, Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Thames, Holt, Cabrera, Zimmerman and Freeman to FA (yes some of these guys have options but … right now its hard to see any of these options exercised).

So that means the team is in need of: 1-2 Starting pitchers, a corner OF, two veteran lefty relievers, a starting quality catcher, and a big chunk of their infield depth. Assuming they go young in 2021 the infield could be anchored by Kieboom, Turner and Garcia, so they’d be in the market for a 1B/DH platoon, plus a couple of utility guys who can move around. So, not a ton but also some work to do. the have $126M committed before arb raises of roughly $25M (could be more depending on how much Soto gets), so that leaves about $50M of FA room to work with. We can’t get a good SP and a solid catcher for that, but we should be able to get the edges covered.

Brittany repeats the same list of players, and says the priorities will be similar to what I put.

Nats Arbitration Results: guesses versus actual

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I was way off on my salary prediction for taylor. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

I was way off on my salary prediction for taylor. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Each year various pundits put out projections on Arbitration salary figures.  I put my own simple guesses in early in the off-season to do payroll projections.

Lets see how everyone did this year guessing the Nats cases?

You can see these guesses on the Nats 2020 Payroll page on the Big Board here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/ .  I’ll take them one by one and talk through my guess versus the pros versus the actual settled number (they’re in the order they are on that page, not alphabetical or by salary amount).

Note: I tend to use the 40%/60%/80% guess for salaries, meaning in a player’s 1st arbitration year their salary should be 40% of their fair market value, in the 2nd year 60%, in the 3rd year 80%.  For those Super-2 players I guess what really happens is something like a 40/60/80/90 range.  I also figure players can’t get a salary cut, so even a poor player once tendered gets a salary increase … or so I thought.  Read on.

1. Trea Turner.  I guessed $8M even.  Cots guessed $8M as well, while MLBtraderumors guessed $7.5M.  Actual 2020 salary: $7,450,000.

I was off by more than $500k, as was Cots, while MLBTR was right there, just $50k off.  Great guess.  In his 2nd arbitration year I figured he’d get to about $8M, meaning he’s projecting to be about a $14M/year player.  He definitely improved his overall stock year over year after earning $3.725M last season.  Its hard to imagine what he dealt with in 2019, basically playing the entire season with a busted finger.  Can he explode in 2020?  I bet he can; he had as many homers in 2019 (19) as he did in 40 more games in 2018.  Can he return to his crazy stats from his rookie season?

2. Michael Taylor: I guessed $4.5M, Cots guessed $3M, and MLBTR guessed $3.25M.  Actual 2020 salary: $3,325,000.

This was my worst guess; I’m not sure why I thought he’d improve so highly on his 2019 salary of $3.25M.  I’m guessing that the team probably made him a deal and offered to tender him (and guarantee his 2020 salary to some extent) but that he had to agree to just a nominal raise.  Interesting how MLBTR predicted he’d get zero raise from 2019; how did they project that?  Nonetheless, MLBTR was just $100k off here, while I ended up more than a million dollars off.  What was I thinking?  I”m not sure; perhaps I was thinking that Taylor’s improved 2019 numbers and his now-recognized defensive prowess would be worth a decent amount on the open market.  I dunno; if he was a FA right now, i think he’d be looking at a MLFA contract and one last “show me” season starting in AAA.  Will he make the 2020 team?  I still sense there’s some detractors out there who think he’ll get cut.  I don’t: I think he was improving in AA, he shone in the post-season and is an excellent guy to have on the bench who can play the OF at gold-glove levels as a late inning replacement.

3. Hunter Strickland: I guessed $2.5M, Cots guessed $2M, MLBTR guessed $1.9M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,600,000.

So, three for three, MLBTR is closest in their guesses.  I think i’m over valuing Strickland for past performance, not what he did in 2019.  I know that there are those who think Strickland should have been non-tendered; i think those people forget he was hurt in 2019 and may not have really recovered.  If he’s anywhere close to his 2017 self, then $1.6M is an absolute steal.  We’re talking about a back of the bullpen guy who can take over games.   I also figured he’d get a decent increase over his 2019 $1.3M salary, especially given that he’s worth $8M/year if he’s in his past form on the open market.  If if if.  2020 will be an important year for Strickland.  Plus he gets to pitch against Bryce Harper all the time!  🙂

4. Roenis Elias: I guessed $1.3M, Cots guessed $2M, MLBTR guessed $1.9M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,975.000

This one kind of confused me; i didn’t think Elias’ 2019 season merited more than a doubling of his 2019 salary of $910k.   So I predicted an incremental increase … but both Cots and MLBTR were spot on here, with both being within $100k of the eventual figure.  These guys are good.

5. Wilmer Difo: I guessed $800k, Cots guessed $900k, MLBTR guessed $1.2M.  Actual 2020 salary $1,000,000

I guessed that a completely replacement-level middle infielder would get basically the “MLB veteran FA minimum” of around $800k.  MLBTR went $200k to the other side.  A flat million for a guy who a lot of readers here don’t think makes the team over an even lesser hitting replacement middle infielder we have on our roster in Adrian Sanchez.  If he’s released mid-spring training they’re only on the hook for 1/6th of the figure … so there’s that.

6. Joe Ross.  I guessed $1.4M, Cots guessed $1.25M and MLBTR also guessed $1.4M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,500,000

My closest guess, and I still couldn’t beat MLBTR, which guessed the same.  I like this as a salary for Ross, still a 50% raise over last year where he barely contributed though.  In his sole healthy, solid season he was perhaps the best 5th starter in the game; here’s hoping he can return to that form in 2020.

———–

All told, I was more than $3.6M off on salaries one way or the other for these six players, an average of $600k wrong.  I’m not good at this.

Cots was a cumulative $1.625M off one way or the other, an average of $275k wrong per player.  MLBTR was off by a cumulative $1.1M, or an average of just $183k per player.  Their system continues to be the best and predicting these kinds of things.

Written by Todd Boss

January 22nd, 2020 at 10:47 am

State of the Nats 40-man roster and Payroll post Arb-settlements

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Turner last arb case to settle. photo via wp.com

Turner last arb case to settle. photo via wp.com

The Arbitration deadline has come and gone, and for 2020 there’s no Club vs Player disputes.

Here’s how the payroll looks now.  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/ is the 2020 Payroll worksheet on the Big Board.  You can see the details there but quickly:

  • 14 players under FA or established contracts: $154,772,709 in 2020 luxury tax salary
  • 6 players arb eligible: $16,850,000 in negotiated salary
  • 6 additional pre-arb players at an estimated $575k each: $3,450,000
  • 14 non-active 40-man roster players at an estimated $150k each: $2,100,000
  • Estimated player benefits figure for 2020; $15,000,000

Total right now: $192,172,709

Room under the $208M cap: $15,827,291

This figure is slightly off of Cot’s figure, which I think has an error when calculating the non-active roster guys (if 26 are active, then 14 are non-active 40/man guys; they currently are calculating for 15).   This salary guess is going to be slightly off of reality; we don’t know what our 6 pre-arb guys will get assigned as salaries but we can probably guess that Juan Soto and Victor Robles in particular will not just get assigned the minimum.  And, technically we’re only at 38 on the 40 man right now, so  you could theoretically subtract 2 * $150k from the salary figure to be exact.

The Arbitration salaries came in under what Cots, Mlbtraderumors and I all predicted as a whole.  MLBTraderumors is usually the closest and was spot on with several of their guesses.  I was way off on most of my guesses.

So, $15M left to play with.  You have to think $4M or so of that will go to Ryan Zimmerman.   Or maybe not?   If you look at the make-up of the roster right now … i’m not sure where Zimmerman fits in.  Position players now under contract:

  • Catchers: Suzuki starter, Gomes backup
  • Starting Infield: Kendrick 1B, Castro 2B, Turner SS, Cabrera 3B
  • Backup infielders: Difo, Thames
  • Starting OF: Eaton, Robles, Soto
  • Backup OF: Taylor
  • Minor Leaguers: Read, Barrera, Sanchez (if he makes it through waivers), Kieboom, Noll, Stevenson.

Ok so that’s 12 position players on the active roster plus another 6 in the minors.  So I guess there’s a Zimmerman-sized hold on the bench for the 13th position player, since with the new expansion you can’t carry more than 13 pitchers.  Who are those pitchers by the way?

  • Rotation: Strasburg, Scherzer, Corbin, Sanchez, Ross
  • 8th/9th inning guys: Doolittle, Hudson, Harris
  • 6th/7th inning guys: Rainey, Strickland, Suero, Elias
  • Long man/spot starter; Voth
  • Minor leaguers: Fedde, McGowin, Braymer*, Finnegan, Barrett, Bourque, AWilliams

So that’s 13 major league arms plus another 7 in the minors.

18 position players, 20 pitchers = 38 on the current active roster.

Still room for Zimmerman, and coincidentally still room for Sterling Sharp (oh whoops, he’s gone).

how we feeling about the roster?

 

Written by Todd Boss

January 14th, 2020 at 9:34 am

Non-Tender analysis for 2019

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To Non-tender or not to non-tender, that is the question for Taylor tomorrow. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

To Non-tender or not to non-tender, that is the question for Taylor tomorrow. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

We’ve already covered this topic a bit  in the payroll and options analysis spots, but since the official non-tender deadline is this week (tomorrow, 12/2/19 at 8pm EST to be specific), I thought i’d throw out the players, give some external opinions and then my own.

Like a lot of posts, this is an annual tradition.  Here’s versions of this post from previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.  Must have been busy in Dec of 2016.

First, here’s our list of arb-eligible players; 9 in all.

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollarsMy Guess
Turner, Trea1 year/$3.725M (2019)372500037250008000000
Taylor, Michael1 year/$3.25M (2019)325000032500004500000
Strickland, Hunter1 year/$1.3M (2019)130000013000002500000
Elias, Roenis1 year/$910,000 (2019)9100009100001300000
Guerra, Javy1 year/$800,000 (2019)8000008000001200000
Difo, Wilmer1 year/$581,100 (2019)581000581000800000
Ross, Joe1 year/$1M (2019)100000010000001400000
Glover, Koda1 year/$564,300 (2019)564300564300750000
Barrett, Aaron1 year/minor league150000150000750000

Here’s external analysis links to the same:

 

——————-

So, lets go player by player and talk about what I think will happen (in the order of the table above):

  • Turner, Trea; obvious tender.
  • Taylor, Michael: I’m torn.  I just can’t see spending $3.5M or more (he made $3.25M last season) on a guy who you had to send to AA because he was so bad last year.  But, its also notable that he featured prominently in the playoffs, and not his likely replacement if we non-tender him Andrew Stevenson .  When Victor Robles went out, it was Taylor who played the entire LA series and performed well.  Maybe the team still rates him.  Its interesting that Taylor was specifically not listed by MLBtraderumors … maybe $3.5M for a 4th OF that you grew at home and who you know is a fantastic defender and who can string together solid streaks at the plate is worth keeping.  I’m coming around on Taylor and think we keep him.
  • Strickland, Hunter: i just can’t see non-tendering him a half a season after acquiring him.  Even if he wasn’t terribly effective in 2019 for us, he was also coming off injury and was a closer-quality guy for years in SF.  His salary only projects to about $2-$2.5M and that’s a good gamble.  Keep him.
  • Elias, Roenis: as with Strickland; we just got him and then he  got hurt.  Stupidly running the bases (please, can we have a universal DH yet??), he pulled a hamstring that basically never healed.  Easy tender for 2020.
  • Guerra, Javy: numbers weren’t great, but he handled his DFA with grace and apparently this won’t be forgotten by management.  Made the WS roster and pitched.  I like the guy, think he’s a fighter, and i think he’s a good middle relief candidate.  I’d tender him.
  • Difo, Wilmer; first year arb eligible; split time between AAA and MLB this year.  I mean, you need a backup infielder, and his numbers aren’t terribly bad for a guy who can play a number of positions.  I’m not sure why he’s a NT candidate; i’d rather have him at $800k than Adrian Sanchez at $550k.
  • Ross, Joe: obvious tender
  • Glover, Koda: tough one here.  Glover has closer quality stuff, but now has two straight seasons of injury and faces arbitration.  I’ve got him projected at just $750k (MLBtraderumors even less): why not tender him at that price then if you cut him in ST you’re on the hook for 1/6th of it ($125K).  That’s peanuts for a guy who you know can be an 8th-9th inning reliever.
  • Barrett, Aaron: well, it’d be pretty cynical for the team to call him up in Sept for the sob story of redemption then ruthlessly NT him to save $750k right?

One last note: even if you tender a guy, if you drop him mid-spring training you’re only on the hook for a small portion of his salary.  So some of these non-tenders may turn into “tender now, do arbitration then use spring training as a tryout on the cheap.”  None of our real NT candidates really are that expensive, so It wouldn’t surprise me to tender all of them in some respects.

I’m predicting zero non-tenders.  I thought initially we may NT at least 4 of these guys, especially Taylor, but team actions seem to indicate otherwise.

Agree?  Disagree?


12/3/19: post NT deadline, here’s what the team did:

  • Non Tendered Guerra and Glover (who announced his retirement)
  • signed Strickland and Difo to 1yr deals
  • tendered Turner, Taylor, Ross, Elias
  • ?? on Barrett; i thought he was arb-eligible but maybe not.

Written by Todd Boss

December 1st, 2019 at 8:36 am

Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic

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Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans.
Photo allansgraphics.com

Happy Thanksgiving!

You guys know I love mailbags.  I havn’t seen one in a while from the usual sources (MASN beat reporters, mlb.com beat reporters, etc).

But, the Athletic has assigned a beat reporter to the Nats, one Brittany Ghiroli, who was hired away from MLB.com a couple years ago (where she was the Baltimore beat reporter).   And guess what?  She’s doing chat responses to questions received on twitter.  I know the Athletic is a pay-for service, but I’m in and I love it and you wouldn’t believe how much content they’re producing.  Its almost overwhelming at a macro level now that they’re covering the EPL fully.

So, here goes.  Here’s Questions Brittany took on Nov 25th and Nov 26th in a two-parter.  Its got a ton of questions worth exploring as to where we are.

————–

Q: Would it make more sense for the Nationals to adopt the same methodology they did with (Bryce) Harper for Rendon? Take the huge price tag Rendon will demand and spread it among several positions like (Mike) Moustakas, (Yan) Gomes, and a couple of arms? 

A:  For me?  I think the answer might be Yes.  Not because I don’t want Anthony Rendon  back or because I don’t rate his abilities … but because (as we discussed in the payroll piece) I see no evidence that this team is willing to broach the salary cap, and if you bring back both Stephen Strasburg and Rendon, each for the 30M+/year they will cost … it doesn’t leave a whole lotta room for what this team needs.

What does this team need this off-season?  Squinting at the current roster, we need:

  • A starter
  • A backup catcher (Late breaking news; we re-signed Yan Gomeslast night so that’s done; good move).
  • Probably three relievers unless you trust Hunter Strickland/Javy Guerra, or unless you’re convinced that Koda Glover will be healthy
  • three starting infielders: 3B and 1B (I’m assuming that Carter Kieboom can play 2B ably at this point)
  • A bench bat or two to replace what we got out of Howie Kendrick/Matt Adams

So, that’s a lot.   Can you get all of that on about $20M  I don’t think you can.  So the Nats may have to make some hard choices.

Ghiroli doesn’t equate the Rendon situation with the Harper situation, noting that Robles was waiting in the wings.  Fair enough.  But I think she underestimates  how much we need to fill out the rest of the roster.

—-

Q: If Rendon leaves, is Josh Donaldson a player the Nationals would have an eye on? 

A: Absolutely.  He’d probably take a shorter deal, still is an elite defender, still hits the heck out of the ball, and weakens a division rival if he signs here.  I’d be all in, assuming we could get him for roughly $25M AAV and use the delta between his AAV and Rendon’s AAV to fill out roster holes.

Ghiroli agrees i think, and talks about Donaldson’s firey approach that often rubs people the wrong way.

Q: Is the media downplaying the likelihood of the Nats going after Gerrit Cole? I have heard next to nothing connecting the two sides, but you have to think that Cole is the type of free agent ace that Mike Rizzo dreams about.

A: I don’t think the Media is driving anything here.  Cole’s the #1 target on the market, and has the wealthy teams salivating.  I think the Nats decision is simple:  you want the home grown guy versus the hired gun.

Ghiroli notes that the reason there’s no Nats-to-Cole buzz is … because there’s none to be had.  We have two major FAs, and that’s where we’re focusing.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign Rendon and Stras, do you see them winning the division? Too many people seem to be counting them out already by assuming that Rendon is gone.

A: Keeping both guys and assuming they have the same production really helps the 2020 projection … but lets be honest.  When this team was 19-31, they had both guys as well and were projecting for dead last.  Its a big team, its a long season, and you can’t just give them the division title if they retain both players.  Injuries happen, both guys are on the older side, etc etc.

Ghiroli agrees.

Q: Realistically, how much money will be available for the payroll? Is there any appetite for exceeding the luxury tax? 

A: well, we just discussed this.  I came up with roughly $80M and am pessimistic about broaching the CBT.

Ghiroli came up with $90M available, which I’m not sure how she arrived at that b/c right now Cots and I are only about $800k apart in our analysis.  Like KW and others, she notes that of all the years to do so, next year is the right y ear to blow past a luxury tax.

Q: Will Joe Ross be a member of the rotation next season?  What’s your take on the young arms — Ross, (Erick) Fedde, (Austin) Voth and bullpen prospects? Some of the younger starters started to shape up.

A: hard to see it.  I’d peg it Voth, then Ross, then Fedde for a 5th spot competition right now.  Gotta go with performance on the field.

Ghiroli doens’t even mention Voth in the discussion, which I think is a mistake.

Q: What clutch role players are the Nats targeting to re-sign? Of the non-premium free agents, who do you see as most likely to return? How do you see first base shaking out?

A: who knows who they’re targeting.  I’d love to have Zimmerman back and Kendrick but it seems like the latter may be more appropriate for an AL team at this point.   They need a lefty bench bat to replace Matt Adams.  I would like to upgrade the backup SS.  I guess I like our backup OF in-house options right now if they can sign Taylor to something reasonable.

Ghiroli agrees

Q: The Nats have two young catchers on the 40-man and another couple in the farm. Do any of them look like potential long-term everyday catchers?

A: I don’t think so.  I don’t think the team trusts either catcher on the 40-man (Read or Barrera), and their catcher depth chart from there is thin.  Here’s our current Catcher depth chart all the way to High-A:

Suzuki, Gomes, Barrera, Read, Gushue, Reistetter, Reetz, Dunlap, Pineda, Perkins, Cropley

Read is out of options with 63 total days of MLB service time.  Gushue was left off the roster and is exposed to the Rule-5 draft.  Barrera has 3 weeks of service time and spent all of 2019 at AA.  Reistetter is a classic “org guy injury cover” catcher who played in a grand total of 9 games in 2019.  Now you’re at A-ball catchers like Reetz (entering his 7th year of pro-ball, never been above high-A), Dunlap (a backup in high-A), Pineda (who took a big step back this year), Perkins (who hit .209 as a backup in low-A) and Cropley (a 2018 senior sign who hit .187 last year in low-A).

Sooooo not a lot of catcher depth in the farm right now.  Reetz was a  high round pick who has struggled, Pineda had a lot of prospect shine in 2018 that he squandered in 2019; can either take a 2020 step up?

I think they’re buying a backup on FA market.  (update; they just did)

Ghiroli says same as I’m saying, thinking perhaps Gomes comes back on a cheaper deal.

Q: How close is Luis Garcia from making the Nationals roster and where would he slot in if Rendon returns? He seems to be behind Kieboom in the pecking order and they both play the middle infield.

A: I think he slots in as a 2B/SS, moves Kieboom to 3B but he’s years away.   He was 19 in AA and struggled; he needs to go back to AA and thrive before moving up to compete in AAA.  That could take another two years.  Maybe he replaces like for like by the time he’s ready?  Its also worth noting that, despite his lofty rankings in our system and on top 100 lists, there are some who don’t rate him as a prospect at all.  So i don’t think we can count on him to be much more than a Wilmer Difo guy in the end.

Ghiroli says don’t look for him  until mid 2021.

Q: Will Michael A. (Taylor) be traded or stay as the fourth outfielder?

A: Better question; is a guy who spent most of the year in AA worth paying north of $3M/year?  That’s the decision.  He’s not going to get a pay cut.  Arbitration doesn’t work that way; so either you tender him and negotiate or you cut him.  Sure you can try to trade him; who’s giving the team value for him?   He’s now got a career 80 OPS+ across six years and more than 1700 PAs.  Whatever he figured out to hit so well in 2017 is clearly gone; i think he’s non-tendered and cut loose.

Ghiroli says traded or non-tendered and is a little pricey for a 4th OF.  yeah.

Q: How much was the World Series win worth financially to the Nationals franchise, in terms of ticket sales (including projected rise in season plan holders and general ticket interest next year), merchandise, and, well, anything else?

A: Its impossible to tell.  But i do know this: in order to secure 2019 playoff tickets, you could buy 2020 season tickets… and a lot of people did so.  So you’re going to see a bump next  year in attendance, which is great.

Maybe you also acquire some fair weather/bandwagon fans too.  One would only hope.

There’s studies out there showing financial impacts to the franchise with long playoff runs like the Nats just had; its worth tens of millions of dollars, both tot he owners and the players.  The players just split some $30M in bonus money … and the owners get much more than that.  Its one more argument towards having the Lerners blow past a CBT to “use” that money towards next year.  Will they do it?  We’ve been discussing it.

 

Nat’s 40-man Option Status for 2020 and what it means for the off-season

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Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

We’ve alluded to this point in multiple comments under past comments, but its time to put pencil to paper.

Right now (ahead of any FA signings), the Nats 40-man roster sits at 31 players, with Ben Braymer having been added to avoid Rule-5 exposure yesterday … and one third of those players are out of options for next season.  A number of those players also seem to have little chance of actually making an active roster of a major league team, which means that they could be early off-season outright fodder if the team wants to try to slip them through waivers and outright them back into the system.

Lets take a quick run through each of the categories of Nats 40-man players and option status.

(by the way, yes I know its a 26-man roster in 2020; all my XLSs need updating).

Category 1:  Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service) – 6 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Scherzer, Maxx11.079May 200720082
Eaton, Adamx7.030Sept 201220132Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Doolittle, Seanx7.122Nov 20102011,20121Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Suzuki, Kurtx12.113Jun 2007none3
Corbin, Patrickx7.105Apr 201220122Achieved 5yrs svc in 2017
Sanchez, Anibalx13.083Nov 200520062

Interestingly, the Nats roster last  year had no less than 16 such players; Veterans with 5+ years of service who could refuse demotion/make any available options immaterial.  Indeed, it was a veteran team.  Now 10 of those guys are FAs or out of the organization.

Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched – 5 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Turner, Treax3.135Aug 201520162still pissed he was called up so early, but he's in AAA to start 2016, which preserved an extra yr of control but did not save Super2 status for 2019
Soto, Juanx1.134May 2018none3yet to be optioned
Robles, Victorx1.052Sep 201720182
Suero, Wanderx1.123Nov 201720182
Rainey, Tannerx0.158Apr 20182018,20191
Jk

Not much to see here; all 5 of these guys are important parts of next  year’s team.  As noted, the early call up of Trea Turner eventually came back to bite the team, and probably costs them in the range of $10-$12M in payroll over the course of his four arbitration periods.  An expensive mistake.

Category 3: Options Available, jeopardizing 2019 25-man roster status – 3 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Glover, Koda3.051July 201620162No option used in 2018 or 2019; either hurt or on roster
Stevenson, Andrew1.063July 20172018,20191Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Kieboom, Carter0.012Apr 201920192

I suppose one could make the argument that Carter Kieboom should be in the Category 2; right now we don’t really have a 2B or a 3B on the roster and he could play either.  But for now, i’m going on first impressions … and he did not make a good one early in the season.

Category 4: Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2018 – 7 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
McGowin, Kyle0.069Sept 201820192
Williams, Austen1.028Sept 2018none3
Bourque, James0.005Nov 201820192
Barrera, Tres0.022Sept 2019none3
Barrett, Aaron2.170Nov 201320142
Noll, Jake0.017mar 201920192

I’m guessing that if any of these six players start on the active roster next opening day, then we’ve had a huge injury spike in Spring Training.  Is Austen Williams healthy?  Was Aaron Barrett‘s call-up more than just a feel-good story?  We’ll see.  Nonetheless, it seems like all 6 of these guys are in AAA next year to start.

Note: I wrote this prior to the rule-5 additions Ben Braymer.  So technically this section is 7 current players, not 6.  But I think its safe to say that our new rule5 additions are guaranteed to both start the year in the minors in 2020.


 

Which leaves us with…

Category 5:  No Options Available – 10 current players of the 30 on the active roster.

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Guerra, Javyx4.415Nov 2009?0
Strickland, Hunterx4.163Nov 2012?0
Taylor, Michaelx4.129Nov 20132014,2016,20190
Elias, Roenisx4.069Mar 2014?0
Ross, Joex4.018June 20152015,2017,20190Optioned for roster reasons in 2017.
Difo, Wilmerx3.016Nov 20142015,2016,20180Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Fedde, Erickx1.099July 20172017,2018,20190
Sanchez, Adrian1.083June 20172017,2018,20190
Voth, Austin0.127Nov 20162017,2018,20190
Read, Raudy0.063Nov 20162017,2018,20190

So, this is kind of the point of this article.  Which of these 10 players are going to stick, which are players the team has to make some tough decisions on?  Lets go player by player in the order they are in this table (which is sorted by Service time):

  1. Guerra, Javy: the team outrighted him mid-season, then recalled him the next day and he eventually made the post-season roster.  An odd set of circumstances for a DFA.   His overall 2019 numbers weren’t great; I wonder if he’s thrown into a general “RH middle reliever” competition in Spring Training 2020 and then either makes the team or gets DFA’d again.  He can’t be outrighted again, so he’d have to choose whether to stay with the org.
  2. Strickland, Hunter: seems like a guarantee to make the 2020 roster, irregardless of his option status.
  3. Taylor, Michael: you have to think his time has some to an end with this team.  Optioned to AA despite being on a $3.25M contract; they can’t possibly tender him for 2020 can they?   Hit kind of an empty .250 this year (1 homer in 53 games/97 PAs), and is arbitration eligible so he’ll “earn” an increase in pay.  But he played really well in the post-season, hitting two homers while covering for an injured Victor Robles.  Do you tender him and pay him $4M to be a 4th outfielder?  He’s undoubtedly solid defensively.  But he offers little to no value as a PH.  Do you save $4M and use Andrew Stevenson as a 4th OF instead?
  4. Elias, Roenis: another guy like Strickland who wasn’t acquired to get cut.  He’s on the 2020 roster … and oh, Davey Martinez?  Don’t f*cking let him hit this year.
  5. Ross, Joe: Well, the 2020 Nats need a 5th starter right now (and, technically also need a 2nd starter if they don’t resign Stephen Strasburg).  Is Ross the leading candidate right now?  I think so: in 6 starts last year after the team finally figured out that he couldn’t be a reliever he was competent: 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA but a 1.455 whip that probably made his FIP look awful.  Is that 5th starter material?   I’ve always thought so … but now he has competition, mainly from two guys on this list.  If he doesn’t make the rotation, I don’t know what you do with him.  Clearly he can’t be a reliever; and if he is facing an options crunch DFA … nobody’s going to trade for him.  They’ll just wait for him to declare FA and pounce.
  6. Difo, Wilmer: everybody needs a utility guy who can play SS in a pinch; is Difo that guy for us?  He has been, traditionally, for years now.  But without options he’s gotta earn his spot.  There’s a slew of guys out there who can do what he’s done: play competent middle infield and hit above the Mendoza line.  I’m guessing, like Guerra above him, he’ll face competition from NRI veterans and Sanchez (see below) who do the same thing he does and if he makes the team so be it, otherwise he faces the DFA deadline come 4/1/20.
  7. Fedde, Erick: this one is tough.  Like Ross, he was called into reliever duty in 2019 and was not great at it.  And he was in the rotation for a bit, with weaker numbers than Ross.  Fedde now has 26 starts across three seasons with ERAs and FIPs north of 5.00.  I know he has his defenders … and maybe you could argue that his relief numbers in 2019 weren’t as bad (he did have just a 1.132 FIP in 9 relief innings), but the clock has run out.  What do you do here?  I’m guessing he competes with Ross and Voth for the 5th starter (again, going under the assumption we re-sign Strasburg) and if he doesn’t make it he becomes the long-man in the pen and begins life as a reliever.
  8. Sanchez, Adrian posted just an OPS+ figure of 23 for 2019.  In 32 ABs he did not have one extra base hit.  I’m guessing, like Difo, he’s in ST2020 competition and gets DFA’d on 4/1/20.
  9. Voth, Austin: he’s got the least service time of any of the three starters he seems likely to compete with for the 5th starter job, but easily out-performed both of them in his 2019 starts.  8 starts, 3.30 ERA, 1.053 whip; he got it done this year.  I think Voth has the inside track on the 5th starter job right now over both Ross and Fedde, which puts both of them at a disadvantage.
  10. Read, Raudy; He’s got the least amount of service time here (just 63 days) and seems the least likely to make the opening day roster (i’d have to think the team is investing in a veteran FA catcher).  I’ve got Read ahead of Taylor Gushue on the Catcher depth chart; they both hit well in AAA this year with the PCL parks and the inflated ball, but Read has also shown a solid bat all the way up the chain.  Is that enough to get him onto the opening day roster?  I don’t think so; i just don’t think he’s got enough experience to merit a 2x/week backup catcher role to a starter in Kurt Suzuki who’s on the wrong side of 35 and will miss time.  I sense Read comes to ST, helps out with the catching load, sticks around just in case there’s an injury, then hits the DFA trail.

Summary of what I think eventually happens to all 10 guys in one (or two) words:

  1. Guerra, Javy: DFA’d
  2. Strickland, Hunter: 2020 bullpen
  3. Taylor, Michael: Non-tendered
  4. Elias, Roenis: 2020 bullpen
  5. Ross, Joe: DFA’d
  6. Difo, Wilmer: 2020 bench
  7. Fedde, Erick: 2020 bullpen
  8. Sanchez, Adrian DFA’d
  9. Voth, Austin: 5th starter
  10. Read, Raudy; DFA’d

I mean no offense to any of these players of course; its just that options crunches force teams into tough decisions.  But I see half these guys getting shed at some point.

Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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

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

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

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

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please 🙂

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

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

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

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

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

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

Players with 2020 Options

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

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

Signed for 2020/longer term:

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

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

Arbitration eligible next year: 

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

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

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

Pre-Arbitration players:

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

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

—————–

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

—————–

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