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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?

Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history.  And he's only 20.  Source NYPost

Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history. And he’s only 20. Source NYPost

So, i’ve been critical of the Nats top-end drafting lately in this space, as it has contributed to our overall paltry farm system rankings.  And i’ve been critical of the handling of the farm system in general.
But a counter argument is, if you do well in the IFA market … you can paper over bad drafts.  Absolutely true!  So, lets take a look at the fruits of the Nats IFA endeavors over the years.
Here’s an overview of the best products from each IFA July 2nd signing class.
Before we start, its worth reviewing the CBA rules set forth that govern IFAs over the years.  Full CBA details here: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/cba-history/ .  As the rules change here i’ll put in a note, because they drive context for various IFA years.

IFA starting point for 2005: no rules; free-for-all, no spending limits, its the true wild west.
The Nats, of course, are a steward of the MLB and were barred from even attempting to improve the 2005 roster mid season, let alone spend big money in the IFA market.
  • 2005: Jhonatan Solano only real prospect
  • 2006: Smiley Gonzalez; $1.4M bonus: all eggs in this one basket; nobody else from class ever appeared as a prospect

In July 2006, the Lerner’s took over.  But retained the existing management team and (as was frequently noted at the time), did not really invest in the team for some years (“Lerners are cheap!”)

  • 2007: Adrian Sanchez, Sandy Leon, Eury Perez; not bad in that three players made the majors; none really an impact player
  • 2008: not one signee ever appeared on any prospect ranking; fall out from the Smiley Gonzalez situation
  • 2009: No prospects of note and none remain, still fall out from rebuilding of entire DR operation under Rizzo
So, we’ll take a break here to discuss the obvious.  For basically three years as the team transitioned away from the Smiley Gonzalez scandal we had basically nothing come from international scouting.  The team had to cut ties with all its DR operations, it fired its staff in-country (Jose Rijo) and fired its general manager Jim Bowden.  So, its worth a quick discussion as to the context the team and Mike Rizzo began with starting in 2010.
  • 2010: Big money signing in Yunesky Maya that didn’t really pay off.  Also got Difo and Suero, each for almost no money.  Ruiz in AA remains in org.  Pretty good class.
  • 2011: 7 players from class appeared on rankings at some point: Raudy Read, Pedro Severino best players, several guys got to AA or AAA.  Jose Marmolejos in this class too.

When you’re signing 16yr olds … it may very well take 7 years to see any progress.  Here we are in 2020 and Raudy Read still has options, is still in the mix.  Difo an edge-of-the-roster backup middle infielder, Suero a solid middle reliever.


Starting for the 2012 season, the new CBA attempted to put limits onto IFA spending, imposing taxes and penalties for those who went over the bonus limits.  But what teams discovered was that the pathway forward with these new rules was to pick a year and “blow it out,” basically spend without limits and then take the penalties for the next two seasons.  You saw lots of teams attempt this strategy, including the big-money teams like New York and Los Angeles.
  • 2012: Reynaldo Lopez for just 17k biggest win, Rafael Bautista still in org
  • 2013: 7 guys on prospect lists, Anderson Franco biggest money signing for $900k, Steven Fuentes probably highest ranked prospect at this point.  Still several guys on AA and high-A rosters from class.
  • 2014: Victor Robles big win for just 225k.  Pena, Baez still in system.  Gilbert Lara was the big money guy, but he’s not exactly lighting it up in A-ball right now.
So, the first 5 years of the Rizzo regime featured a big swing and miss on the Cuban Maya.  I always liked him; loved that he had 8 pitches, but his fastball was just never as advertised.  We thought we were getting the next Livan Hernandez (age 23) but instead we got the next Livan Hernandez (age 35).  But, they had some HUGE wins here: Lopez for $17k is fantastic.   We still have some Fuentes fans who think he may succeed.  Robles for just $225k is perhaps an even bigger win than Lopez, given his development path and all star projection.  Plus we still have a ton of guys who might feature as role players.  So the rebuilding plan is back on track.
  • 2015: Juan Soto for 1.5M; obviously a win.  but little else from class to note.  Taveras, Chu, German, Alastre at various lower minors stops.
A change in strategy; the Nats went for an “all eggs in one basket” approach for the first time since 2010.  And it has paid off in spades.  $1.5M for Soto, who is now an MVP candidate.  One hit like this from your IFA makes up for more than a few classes.  We still may see something out of someone like German, who got an NRI this year and may be the next Wander Suero.
  • 2016: a TON of money spent: Garcia (1.3), Antuna (3.9m), Pineda (450k), Sanchez (950k); so far, plus Yadiel Hernandez as an older signee.  The potential is there for sure, as at least four of these guys are listed as top prospects.  Niomar Gomez in low-A rotation a sleeper.
This was finally the year Washington exploded their bonus pools, and the timing was solid.  They figured that the new CBA would eliminate the “binge mode” loophole so they spent and spent.  Lots of these acquired prospects remain in the system now and will for years to come.    Garcia is our #2 prospect, Antuna should return to the prospect fold after he gets over his injury-riddled 2019.  A lot of people look at Pineda as a sleeper; his star dimmed in 2019 but it might improve with a solid bounce back season.  I know there’s Hernandez fans out here who point at his massive 2019 AAA numbers … but the dude is 32 now, limited defensively to a corner at best; how is this a prospect?

In late 2016, a new CBA was signed that changed the rules here yet again.  The complete rules are detailed here: http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/international-amateur-free-agency-bonus-pool-money, but basically we went from the soft limit with penalties to more hard caps.  So the IFA market now operates more like the Rule 4 draft; no going over, no chicanery.
It also means that, like the draft, you have to hit on your money picks.  Of course, its also far, far too early to pass any judgement on our three classes since.
  • 2017: way too early to tell; the 4 guys getting prospect love from this class are all at GCL.  Yeah, Arias leading guys right now.
  • 2018: Jeremy De La Rosa only top-30 prospect so far but the GCL/DSL is littered with 2018 IFA signees
  • 2019: Already getting prospect love for Andry Lara and Roismar Quintana; we spread more money around this year so promising.

Conclusions?
So, since moving to Washington really they’ve had just two stars out of IFA work; Robles and Soto.  they’ve had a couple more slightly better than replacement players (Lopez, Suero).  And they’ve had a ton of guys who have hit the majors in some fashion or another at the replacement level (Difo, Solano, Perez, Leon, etc).
The nats will probably roll out a 2020 lineup that contains at least three and perhaps four IFA home-grown signings (Robles, Soto, Suero for sure, perhaps Difo or Sanchez).  That’s pretty darn good, considering that the 2020 25-man roster likely only features 5 players that the team drafted (Stevenson, Taylor, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Voth) and only one of them will be in the “core 14 players” that comprise our starting 8 positional players, 5 rotation mates and closer.
but you have to ask; in 15 years they’ve generated precisely two above-replacement level WAR guys.  Is that a failure?

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.

 

Solis out; what does this mean for MLB bullpen?

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Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

As many expected, Sammy Solis was cut loose on 3/10/19, given his unconditional release.  Solis was a very long-serving player for this team, a 2nd round pick in 2010, and for a time was a very valuable lefty option out of the MLB bullpen.  But his 2018 struggles led many to believe he’d be non-tendered last fall, and more to believe that he had basically a 3 week try-out this spring.

It was this last scenario that led us to this point; This was a key cut-off point for cutting players and only being responsible for 1/6th of the agreed-upon salary.  So Solis departs with a $147k check for his time and faces a tough future.  He’s a tough sell to put on the 40-man roster b/c of his lack of minor league options, but should have no issues getting a MLFA deal and go pitch out of someone’s AAA team to try to re-establish his ability to get lefties out (which left him for some reason in 2018).

So, ripple effects on the Nat’s bullpen.

Here’s  the bullpen I predicted we’d go with at the beginning of spring training.

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: JMiller, Suero, Glover
  • LH Middle; Grace

other 40-man options in camp: Rainey, AAdams, AWilliams, Cordero, Bourque

Primary non-40man candidates to discuss: Nuno, Copeland

But,  there’s been some developments.

  • Glover has been hurt; he’s thrown just a third of an inning so far, and seems more and more likely to be hitting the D/L.
  • Miller has thrown just two innings … also struggling with injury.
  • Joe Ross, our supposed 6th starter … has yet to start a game.  But he’s looked pretty darn good in relief.  Is he angling to make the team in a longer relief role?  It may also be meaningless; Voth and McGowin also aren’t starting a ton of games in MLB camp and are expected to be the bulk of the AAA roster.
  • MLFA Scott Copeland has looked excellent and may be pushing for a 25-man spot if Miller/Glover start on the D/L.
  • Tanner Rainey has gotten shelled, and for all we’ve heard about his arm, has zero Ks.
  • Vidal Nuno seems to be the most likely person to benefit from the Solis release; who else in camp is a lefty reliever?
  • J.J. Hoover is still out there too as a veteran MLFA who may get some opportunities based on past track record.
  • Only Miller and Grace now remain without Options … but both seem nearly guaranteed to make the team (or the D/L).
  • As noted elsewhere, Austen Williams has been great … can he make the team?
  • We do have a free 40-man spot for the taking.

One other note.  Not that we’re talking about starters right now … and yes I know you’re supposed to ignore spring training stats, but you just cannot ignore what’s going on with Erick Fedde.  7 innings … SIXTEEN hits allowed to go along with five walks.  That’s nearly a 3.00 whip.  Is it time to pull the plug on the Fedde-as-starter experiment?  Is he better served throwing in relief?

If I had to predict the bullpen today?

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: Suero, Copeland
  • LH Middle; Grace, Nuno
  • D/L: Miller, Glover

What is your reading of the ST bullpen tea leaves this week?

Spring Training 2019 NRI Discussion

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

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

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

Here’s the list:

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

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last four seasons (through 2018):

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

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

So lets squint and make some predictions.

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

 


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs for 2019 (post season update): 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

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

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

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

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

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

 

Ask Collier 12/26/18 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what i’m hoping for.

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

 

Minor League Staffs – one month check-in

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Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

I havn’t been doing regular check-ins with the minor league staffs for a few years, but I have always maintained little “cheat sheet” notes on the staffs of the levels day in/day out (thanks in no small part to the daily work of Luke Erickson over at Nationals Prospects of course).

It occurred to me, doing updates this week, that the four full season rotations have been about as stable as I can ever remember them this year.  So I thought i’d do a quick swing through the four staffs, with quick notes on who has looked good or bad and what we may see in terms of movement going forward.

Syracuse (stats link here: http://web.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&cid=552&stn=true&sid=t552)

  • Opening day rotation: Voth, Milone*, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • Current rotation: Milone*, Voth, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • spot starts/swingman: Simms, Goforth
  • bullpen: Collins*, Cordero, CSmith, Miller, Adams, Valdez
  • promotions: Torres, Gott, Suero
  • up-and-back: Adams, Voth
  • demotions: Long,
  • dl/restricted/TIL: Barrett, Satterwhite

Rotation thoughts: A month in and the only change we’ve seen to the AAA rotation was the flipping of Milone and Voth thanks to Voth’s brief call-up earlier this week.  Voth has absolutely re-made his career so far this year, going from possible “first man to be DFA’d” off the 40-man to a guy who is forcing his way into the conversation the next time the Nats need a starter.  For May he’s posted a 0.76 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, has a 30/3 K/BB ratio in 23 innings and has given up just 13 hits.  Man, is he found gold for a team who has traded away an awful lot of pitching prospects over the past couple of seasons?

The veteran insurance policies Jackson and Milone are both pitching about as I’d expect them to be: Milone slightly better, with better base-runner control, Jackson with more wildness and worse stats.   Erick Fedde has not been either good or bad, giving up a hit an inning and maintaining a 4-1 K-BB ratio but not showing any real dominance.  My guess is that he’ll be sticking in AAA for a while.

The last guy in the rotation may be the most interesting: Cesar Vargas was a low-key spring MLFA signing after bouncing around San Diego’s system last year.  He’s come out in 2018 looking serviceable and might be putting himself ahead of the veterans in the pecking order.

Bullpen thoughtsJohn Simms has looked great in a long-man role.  He’s quietly been serviceable at every level in his journey upwards and you have to wonder if he’ll eventually push for a 9/1 call up.  Most of the rest of the bullpen is too SSS to make real judgements, though we have seen three relievers get pushed to the majors right now (Torres, Gott, Suero) and fourth who was up and is now in AAA (Adams).  Cordero still shows the same issues that have plagued him for a while; he’s got 16/8 K/BB in 11 innings.  Barrett remains  with the system and we hope he can get back to his former self; he’d certainly help out at the MLB level.

Who is making a push for promotion?  Voth

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Smith, Cordero


 

Harrisburg (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=547)

  • Opening day rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Darnell*,  LReyes, Estevez
  • Current Rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Long, LReyes, Estevez
  • spot starts/swingman: AWilliams, Darnell*
  • bullpen: Fleck, Guillon*, BHarper*, RMendez, Self,  Ames
  • promotions: Valdez
  • dl/restricted: Brinley, Bacus
  • Missing from 2017: NLee*

Rotation thoughts: The only substantive change in the rotation from the first pass through was to replace Darnell with Long.  Dragmire and Jefry Rodriguez  have both excelled thus far, though Rodriguez’s stats look more like a guy who might be pressing for promotion (more Ks, fewer hits).  Dragmire is showing more of what he displayed last year at AA and he may need the additional challenge of AAA soon.  Estevez and Reyes are not faring as well thus far, with elevated ERAs and WHIPs.  And Long, upon his demotion from AAA, has been poor in his three AA starts, with just 6 punch-outs and a 1.85 WHIP in 13 innings.  Rodriguez seems like the first starter in line for promotion.

Bullpen thoughts:  Austen Williams has looked great since getting moved out of the rotation.  Kaleb Fleck has some interesting stats: he’s got an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 10 innings but has an ugly 5.91 ERA (I’m sure his FIP is like 3 points lower).  Fleck is too good for AA; he spent all last  year in AAA and isn’t proving anything here.  Bryan Harper‘s return from injury is going ok .. he’s got nearly a 2.00 WHIP though.  Long serving Nats farmhand Dakota Bacus got shelled in four appearances and currently sits on the D/L; he had excellent numbers in 2017 but is getting a bit long in the tooth for AA and I wonder if he’s running out of time.  One big name still sits in XST: Nick Lee, who looked promising before injuries derailed his progress.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Fleck, JRodriguez, AWilliams

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Bacus



Potomac

(stats link: http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=436)

  • opening day rotation: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, Mapes, Crowe
  • starters: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, ?, Crowe
  • spot starts/swingmen: Pantoja, Howard*, Guilbeau*, McGowin
  • bullpen: JMills*, Bourque, Klobosits, RPena, Peterson, Rivera
  • demotions: Fuentes
  • dl/restricted: Borne*, Mapes
  • Missing: Romero*

Rotation thoughts: The only change to the opening day rotation literally happened yesterday, with Mapes dropping to the D/L and (likely)  McGowin (freshly taken off the AA D/L and demoted to Potomac) likely to take his place.  Mapes has the best starter ERA … but the worst WHIP.  Crownover may have the nicest looking stat line, with a nifty 28/4 K/BB ratio and solid peripherals.  Perhaps the most important high-A arm may be Wil Crowe and so far he’s more than handling high-A; the 2017 2nd rounder  has a great whip, good ratios and is looking like an excellent draft pick.   Baez and Sharp fill out the rest of the rotation; both showing mid 4 ERAs and not really being good enough or bad enough to comment on thus far.  The one big notable missing name here is Seth Romero, who should be featuring in this rotation as we speak but instead apparently still sits not at XST but at home in Houston.  Its hard to prove the “i told you so” guys wrong when it literally took less than a season for his well-publicized maturity issues to come to the forefront.

Bullpen thoughts:  Some good and some bad in the bullpen; Rivera and Howard have gotten dinged so far, while Bourque, Mills and Pantoja look solid.  Bourque in particular now boasts a 22/4 K/BB ratio in 12 relief innings; like that ratio.  36th rounder Klobosits still looking solid; how exactly was he still around that late in the draft if he’s already succeeding in high-A?

Who is making a push for promotion?  Bourque

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Rivera perhaps


 

Hagerstown (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=563

  • Opening day rotation: BHill/Braymer*, Raquet*/Acevedo, Tetreault/Bogucki, Alastre/Troop*, Stoeckinger*/Johnston
  • Current rotation: Troop*, Raquet*, Acevedo, Tetreault, Alastre, Stoeckinger*
  • spot starts/swingman: Johnston, Bogucki, Held, Braymer*
  • bullpen: McKinney, Brasher, Fuentes
  • promotions: Guilbeau*
  • dl/restricted: Howell, BHill
  • Cut/Released/FA from 2017: Engelbrekt (retired)
  • missing from 2017/XST: YRamirez*, DeRosier, CPena, Simonds, Barnett*, Morse, Dickey, WDavis,

Rotation thoughts: It was clear to this observer that the first few turns through the rotation were in the “tandem starter” configuration, with each of the names in the “opening rotation” throwing roughly 3-4 innings each.  That has now settled into the current 6-man rotation, all of which now seem to be getting the lion’s share of the innings each time through.   Of the “starters,” only really Raquet has acquitted himself well, though i’m concerned about the lack of swing and miss in his game (19/8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings supporting a 2.28 ERA and a 1.05 whip).  The rest of the starters are struggling: Stoeckinger hasn’t walked a soul yet in 24 innings … .but has given up 37  hits for an ugly 7.50 ERA.  Tetreault, Alastre and Acevedo  each have ERAs north of 7.00.   Troop and Hill (both 2017 top-10 round draftees) have been less bad but have room for improvement.

The “tandem” starters have been a different story though.  Bogucki and Braymer each have been solid, with Braymer sporting a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a 0.81 WHIP and Bogucki sporting a 20/3 K/BB ratio.  I wonder how long it’ll be before these guys become the “starters” instead of the “finishers.”

Bullpen thoughts: There’s really only a couple of real “relievers” in Low-A, but one of them has been quite solid.  McKinney has a 14/1 K/BB ratio in just 8 2/3 innings and has yet to give up an earned run.

There’s still a slew of guys technically in “XST” or assigned to the Short-A roster who could fill in here, most of whom have prior Low-A experience and could contribute.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Braymer, Bogucki, McKinney

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Acevedo, Alastre


 

That’s a quick run through the systems.  Did anyone want to point out someone in particular who they think needs to be talked about?

2017 Rule-5 Addition analysis/predictions

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Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

We do this every year.  We argue about it every year.  This is now the 8th version of this post (see the bottom for links/summary of the first seven).  Thanks to long-since implemented service time changes the Rule-5 draft remains mitigated in importance.  Yet here we are talking about it again, because we’re some of the few people out there who obsess about the edges of the 40-man roster, and who have meticulously studied our prospects for years and who don’t necessarily want to see the promising ones head out the door for a pittance.   So here we are.

Next Monday at 8pm is the deadline to set 40-man rosters ahead of the Winter Meetings, which include the Rule-5 draft.  With so many teams purposely tanking there’s going to be lots of usage of the draft this year.  Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 35 now, so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2017; any college-aged draftee from 2014 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2013 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.


 

Newly Eligible 2014 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Austen Williams: he has featured at High-A 3 years running, got moved to AA for the 2nd year running this year and still continues to struggle with that leap.  I don’t think he’s a candidate to protect but is worth mentioning since he’s a long-serving starter in the organization.  The team sent him to the AFL perhaps as an audition for consideration.
  • Tyler Mapes: the 30th round pick continues to be found gold for this team … but he missed the entire 2017 with an injury.  Because of that he’s clearly not a rule-5 danger, but he could fit into the teams plans as a rotation member in AA or AAA this year.  He has a career 2.68 ERA in the minors, vastly outperforming most of the rest of his draft class.
  • Taylor Gushue: the 2017 trade acquisition had a solid year in High-A, is a catcher in a system that needs them, and seems like a lock to add.  He wasn’t set to the AFL for nothing.

Not mentioned: several other draftees from this class that are marginal prospects right now: Dale Carey, Matthew Page, Austin Davidson, Alec Keller, Robbie Dickey, Weston Davis, James Bourque.  All these guys are still in the lower minors.  Dickey represents the biggest investment ($400k signing bonus) and is one of the biggest disappointments from this draft.

Erick Fedde would have been the big name here to protect had he not already been added.  Trea Turner was also a 2014 college draftee.


 

Newly Eligible 2013 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • Drew Ward: he is literally the only 2013 HS draftee remaining in the system and is an interesting protection case.  He had a great 2016 (making the All Star team and shining in High-A) but has not translated that success to AA.  But, he’s only 22, and a 22-yr old struggling in AA isn’t that surprising.  Question is; do you protect him?  He’s blocked at the major league level by Anthony Rendon but that means little in a game where his value might be in trade versus production for the big league squad.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he got protected.

 

Newly Eligible 2013 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Edwin Lora: SS who has progressed neatly one level at a time for 5 years.  But he’s a career .238 hitter.  We need a backup utility fielder and he fits the bill, but he doesn’t seem to be ready.  I also don’t see him as a threat to get drafted.
  • Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B recently of the AFL who has shown some promise.  He’s a lock to get protected based on his production and his presence in Arizona.
  • Luis Reyes, RHP who started 26 games for Potomac this year.  He’s a bit wild, but he’s also a solid starter who projects to AA in 2018.  Is that enough to be a draft threat?   Maybe.
  • Anderson Franco, 3B: highly touted on prospect boards, but hit just .201 for low-A this year.  Not a draft candidate but someone to watch/hope for a rebound 2018.

Not mentioned: many 2013 IFA signings throughout the lower levels of the system.  This includes Aldrem Corridor, Joshual Ramirez, Luis Vilorio, Oliver Ortiz, Francys Peguero.  Honestly, I had not even heard of most of these guys and wouldn’t be surprised if I had their eligibility wrong.  They’re mostly in the very low minors.


 

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2013 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2012 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Wander Suero: the 2010 IFA exploded onto the scene this year as the closer in AA and then AAA, posting a 1.79 ERA for the year and heading to the AFL.  He was already added to the roster two weeks ago.
  • John Simms: I’ve always liked this guy; he’s now worked his way to AAA and made 8 starts there last  year.  He isn’t a big K/9 guy, perhaps is seen as an org arm, but he’s got a good pedigree (Rice) and has made it to the cusp of the majors.  Is that enough to protect him?  Probably not.
  • Spencer Kieboom: he struggled enough in 2016 to get DFA’d in early 2017 … but then he hit pretty well in AAA this year.  Is that enough to get him back into the mix?
  • Dakota Bacus: he pitched pretty darn well in relief across High-A and AA this year, and was sent to AFL to get more innings.  Is he an option to add?  He didn’t have the numbers that Suero did, but perhaps the team thinks he could be an option out of the pen.
  • Kyle McGowin: an interesting case since he was sent to the AFL: he struggled badly in 2017, getting demoted to AA at one point and posting a 5.95 ERA for the year.  I don’t think we’d shed a tear if he was drafted, but I don’t think he’s meriting a 40-man spot right now.
  • Joan Baez; power arms don’t grow on trees, and even though he was “only” in high-A this year he’s well known enough to perhaps merit protection.

2013 or before College Draftees that are Rule-5 holdovers include David Masters, Isaac Ballou, Justin Thomas, Matthew DeRosier, Robert Benincasa, Derek Self, Brian Rauh, Ronald Pena, Robert Orlan, Steven Perez, Bryan Mejia, Osvaldo Abreu, Wirkin Estevez, Hector Silvestre, Jefry Rodriguez.  Perhaps at some points in their careers some of these guys seemed like locks, but for now they all toil in the lower minors (for the most part) hoping to put themselves into contention.

MLFAs who are technically Rule-5 eligible:  Yadiel Hernandez,  Irving Falou, Greg Ross, Jaron Long, Jordan Mills.  Long in particular has worked in AAA for three years now, but may be considered an org arm at this point.  Ross looked promising for a while, but struggled badly in 2017.


 

So, who would I protect?

  • Wander Suero (already added)
  • Kelvin Gutierrez
  • Taylor Gushue
  • Drew Ward
  • Joan Baez

Who would I consider: Kieboom, Bacus.  Maybe.

If they added these four additional guys they’d be at 39/40 on the roster, still leaving them immediate room for a FA signing or trade.   But there’s more than a few names on our 40-man currently that could be cut (starting with Voth, Gott, Bautista).  So we could see some manouvering this off-season.

Did I miss anyone?  this is kind of tough analysis without a massive white board with every name in the organization listed … something none of us have time to do for free.

Nats official protection announcement: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez in kind of a shocker.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

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

  • 2017: Predicted: Gutierrez, Gushue, Ward, Baez.  Actual: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez.
  • 2016: Predicted Voth, Bautista.  Actual: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.
  • 2015: Predicted Kieboom, Bostick, Marmolejos-Diaz.  Actual: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee
  • 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace.
  • 2013: Predicted Solis as the only lock (Souza already added).  Possibles mentioned in order Barrett, Taylor, Grace, Holland.  Actual: Solis, Barrett, Taylor.
  • 2012: Predicted Karns and McCoy, with Hood and Rosenbaum as maybes.  Actual: Karns and Davis.  I think we were all surprised by Davis’ inclusion, despite his good AA numbers that year.
  • 2011: Predicted Norris as a lock, guessed strongly on Moore, Meyers and Komatsu.  Actual: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.    This was poor analysis on my part; I did not consider the IFAs newly eligible.
  • 2010: Predicted Marrero, Meyers and Mandel.  Actual: Marrero, Carr and Kimball.
  • 2009: pre-dates my blog and thus no predictions, but Actual was Jaime, Thompson and Severino.
  • 2008: I might be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence of the team protecting *anyone* prior to the Rule-5 draft.  A bit of an indictment of the farm system at the time, I’d say 🙂

Spring Training 2017 NRI Discussion

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Who will be this year's Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Who will be this year’s Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Third year running for this post: Here’s a link to 2016’s version and a link to 2015’s post.

Every year the team invites a bunch of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) to Spring Training, and every year we wonder if any of these guys have a chance to make the team.  This post discusses the NRIs and their chances.  Through out the winter some NRIs were announced with signings; on 2/11/17 the full list of NRIs was announced.

This is no throw-away post: here’s what has happened to Washington Nationals NRIs the last two spring trainings:

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

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRis total:

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

So that’s six NRIs from 2016 that eventually played for the Nats or got added to the 40-man roster, and six from the year .  So odds are a handful of these players will eventually have a major league impact for this team.  Lets take a look at 2017’s NRI roster.  From the mlb.com NRI roster, lets break them down by position.


Starters

  • RHP Jacob Turner: once upon a time he was halfway decent for an NL East team (Miami), but lost his effectiveness somewhere in the 2014 timeframe and hasn’t gotten it back.  Seems like AAA rotation filler to me.
  • RHP Vance Worley: an interesting minor league signing; why couldn’t he get a 40-man contract after the season he just had in Baltimore?  Could be a sneaky effective pickup.
  • RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 272  career starts but none in the majors since getting dumped from Kansas City’s 2015 rotation.  In 2016 he posted an ERA north of 7.00 for Miami and San Diego’s AAA squads.  He’ll be 38.  I’m not sure he’s really any better of a “spare starter” option than what we already have in house.
  • RHP Erick Fedde: his invite clearly indicates to me that the MLB staff wants to get a look at him, figuring that he’s taken over as the next big thing in terms of starting pitcher prospects.  With all due respect to A.J. Cole and Austin Voth, its really Fedde that I’d like to see pitching in the majors if/when we have a month long starter injury later this summer.
  • RHP Taylor Hill; may be up to see if he’s got anything left in the tank, or perhaps to eat some split squad innings?  Once you’re off the 40-man it seems pretty hard to get back, and that’s the dilemna that Hill faces.
  • RHP Kyle McGowin, recently acquired in the Danny Espinosa deal.  I’m guessing the team wants to see what they have.  McGowin’s 2016 numbers were awful … but pitching in the PCL is generally awful, so its hard to scout the stat line here.

FWIW, a couple of these guys who I’ve called “starters” (Turner and Worley) may actually still be starters, but they’re close enough to starting that the team could look at them as such. I could see Worley getting the last spot in the MLB rotation and acting as a swing man/6th starter, not unlike what we used Yusmeiro Petit for last year.  The minor league invites mean that the whole AAA rotation will be in camp.  Unless the team suffers 3 SP injuries in camp, nobody here is making the 25-man on 4/1.

Right Handed Relievers

  • RHP Matt Albers; Great in 2015, awful in 2016.  Wrong side of 30, losing his swing and miss stuff.  Seems like he’s just in camp to rebuild value and likely opts out if he doesn’t make the team.
  • RHP Mike Broadway: career journeyman, was formerly with Nats in 2013 time-frame.  Little MLB experience, seems like he’s AAA insurance.
  • RHP Joe Nathan: 377 career saves, but he’s 42, was last effective as a 38yr old in 2013, and this seems like perhaps an audition for him to take a role on a coaching staff here.
  • RHP Dustin Antolin: longtime Toronto farm hand who spent 3 straight years in their AA team and was a part-time closer for their AAA team last year with good results; seems like a safe bet to close in AAA and serve as middle relief insurance.
  • RHP Derek Eitel; similar to Antolin; long time farm hand who finished a ton of games in AAA for San Diego last year.  Averaged a K/inning but had a ton of walks.
  • RHP Wander Suero: a long-serving middle relief option for the team, Suero has grown up in the system.  He’s entering his 8th pro season and I’m guessing the team wants to see if he’s a MLB middle relief option and/or an option to eventually add to the 40-man roster ahead of his pending MLFA deadline.

Left handed Relievers

  • LHP Tim Collins:  hasn’t pitched in 2 years thanks to a failed TJ surgery that cost him a second season, but was pretty effective for Kansas City to that point.  I think he has to think he’s heading to AAA to prove to teams that he’s ok.
  • LHP Braulio Lara: seems like a lottery ticket based on performances from a few years past; he got shelled in Korea, shelled in AAA recently.
  • LHP Neal Cotts: long time reliever who has had some bouts of success over the years, but who didn’t make it out of AAA last year.  Can’t see him supplanting the 40-man guys ahead of him on the Loogy pecking order.
  • LHP Nick Lee, who like Hill before him was on the 40-man and then passed through waivers to get removed from it.  He was good enough to protect in 2015 (putting up good numbers in a closing role for AA) but really struggled with his control in 2016 (42 walks in 50 innings).  Perhaps a mechanical tweak can put him back on the radar to being an effective reliever.

Tangent: The recent addition of optionless Enny Romero may complicate a 25-man path for these guys.  Or perhaps not; the arm they gave up (Jeffrey Rosa) was so insignificant that I had to look him up because I forgot who he was.  In case you were wondering, Rosa was the “ace” of this year’s GCL team, getting 11 starts and posting a 4.91 ERA.  As a 21 year old.  So that means he was a 19-yr old IFA signing from a land where most players of note sign at 16 and only the rare cases make it to 18 and still have a minor league impact.  So perhaps the team isn’t entirely wedded to Romero making the roster/challenging his no-options status.  That trade was more about Tampa shedding a 40-man spot and getting something (anything) in return.

Discussion:  So, no real “closers” in here, even if you somehow think Nathan can still produce (I don’t).  I think a couple of these guys will exercise opt-outs and the rest will sign up in AAA.  I can’t see any of them seriously challenging any of the existing 40-man arms for a spot.  The one exception could be Collins for me; he was good, had bad luck with his injury and could very well come back and be effective; is he a better Loogy option than our current set of lefties (Perez, Solis, Romero and Grace)?  I doubt it.  I like the call-up of Suero and Lee; i think its a good idea for the team to see what they have here.

Catchers:

  • Jhonatan Solano, who probably reprises his role as AAA backup for Syracause and is in camp mostly to help with all the warm-up duties.

Infielders:

  • Emmanuel Burriss: we are quite familiar with Burriss, who is a Washington DC native and was with the org two years ago.  I see little chance of him breaking with the team but he’ll do exactly what he did for us in 2015: toil in Syracuse, wait for an injury in the infield and bide his time until he can get some MLB at-bats.  In 2015 he was up by June 26th; what are the odds that the Nats infield holds up without injury again in 2017?
  • Grant Green; primarily a 2B, but can play like a utility guy around the field.  He’s a former 1st round pick and a highly regarded prospect; don’t see much of a position for him though.  Will he stick around if he doesn’t make the team?
  • Corban Joseph: owns a grand total of 7 MLB at-bats, and that was in 2013.  He has toiled in the minors for the last four full seasons, bouncing around organizations.  He plays 1B and 2B and seems like the backup to the backup for Daniel Murphy.  In other words, if Joseph is playing, we’ve really suffered some serious injuries.
  • Neftali Soto: the 2016 MLFA signing had such a solid year for the organization that they re-signed him and gave him the NRI invite this year.  I suppose he’s Ryan Zimmerman insurance … but like Snyder is a RH hitter who is more or less limited to 1B.  Hard to see a pathway for him.
  • Drew Ward: this NRI seems a bit premature; he was in A-ball a year ago this time.  But Ward also faces Rule-5 protection this coming off-season and is one of the few remaining hopes of the 2013 draft class of producing much in the way of MLB talent for the home team.  He could be a replacement for an Anthony Rendon injury at some point too.

Its hard to see any openings here, especially given the Stephen Drew re-signing.  Are any of these guys beating out Wilmer Difo?  Doubt it.

Outfielders

  • Brandon Snyder: another local product (Westfield HS in Chantilly) and another 1st round pick who has sputtered out.  He has some pop, but he bats right handed … and the RH bench spot is already committed (along with $1.4M) to Chris Heisey.  Snyder seems like AAA “spare parts” insurance for 2017.
  • Andrew Stevenson: I know he was a high draft pick, but based on what I saw of him in college i’m still kind of shocked he’s advanced so quickly.  He joins several other CF-capable players in camp and signals to me at least that the team clearly thinks he’s got a role going forward.

Note that there’s really nobody invited to compete with the likes of Michael Taylor/Brian Goodwin for 5th outfielder spot.  Yes Stevenson is a CF … does anyone think he’s MLB ready?  Snyder seems to be competition with Clint Robinson/Matt Skole/Chris Heisey for bench bat/corner spots.  He had good numbers in small sample sizes for Atlanta last  year; maybe he’s an option.  Problem is that he bats righty and the team already guaranteed money to Heisey, so there’s no direct competition for Robinson/Skole as a “corner lefty bat with some pop.”


Conclusion/predictions: I predict no NRIs make the team out of spring training right now.  But I could see several of these guys head to AAA and get call-ups in the case of a 60-day D/L trip.  And a number of the minor league invite guys will feature eventually.

Post-publishing update: indeed, no NRIs made the opening day 25-man roster, but clearly the plan was in the works to bring in NRI Jeremy Guthrie to make a spot start early into the season and perhaps stick around as the long man…. Except that Guthrie got absolutely battered in said start (10 runs in 2/3rds of an inning), leading to his immediate DFA and the subsequent call up of a second NRI Matt Albers (over, it should be noted, four other 40-man roster relievers).  Then, thanks to two quick infielder injuries the first week, a third NRI Grant Green was called-up to provide some cover.

So technically zero NRIs made the team but several were used inside of the first week.

By the end of 2017 season, here’s the final list of ST NRI invites who appeared for the Nats: Guthrie, Albers, Green, and Stevenson

Top 10 Arms; Starters and Relievers separately ranked

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Fedde probably #1 arm in the system ... and its tough after that. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Fedde probably #1 arm in the system … and its tough after that. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Every year, Luke Erickson over at NationalsProspects.com does a crowd-sourced ranking of the Top 10 “bats” and “arms” in the Nats farm system (link to the “Arms” post)

This year, I had such a hard time deciding upon my top 10 arms for Luke’s survey that I thought it would be worth doing my own post on the subject, temporarily stealing Luke’s idea.  I think its an interesting time for our farm system arm development; we’ve spent the off-season trading away a significant amount of arm depth, and what we have left made it kind of tough for me to even find 10 “arms” that were worth ranking.  Furthermore, how do you really compare starters and relievers?  Isn’t a mediocre starter prospect who has reached AAA better than a high-end reliever prospect in the lower minors?   Is our best reliever prospect (Koda Glover) a “better” or “worse” prospect than a really good-looking starter who is in A-Ball (like a Tyler Watson?)  How do you compare a good starter prospect in A ball with what looks like an org-arm in AAA?  Its potential versus reality, ceiling versus floor.  In the end, you have to make kind of a rolling judgement call to put PlayerA above PlayerB … leading to excellent arguments in the comments section.

So, taking these thoughts into account, here’s my top 10 ranked Arms, splitting guys into starters and relievers.  My rules: a “starter” is someone who was “predominantly” a starter this year.  A reliever is someone who, well, was a reliever and wasn’t getting starts unless there was some weird situation going on.  And since the lowest levels generally were doing tandem starting, if you were clearly a “pitch every 5th day” guy even if you weren’t starting, then i’m calling you a starter for these purposes.  This only comes into play with a couple of guys who were in and out of rotations this year; i’ve put them into the Relievers section.

My Nats top 10 Starters:

1. Erick Fedde: He’s clearly come back from TJ, dominated for most of 2016, and probably debuts in the later half of 2017.
(1a. A.J. Cole, if you still think he’s got prospect status.  He exhausted his rookie status by service time in 2016 … but has yet to reach 50 IP in the majors, so Baseball America qualifies him as a prospect still.  I don’t view him as a prospect anymore; to me he’s a 6th starter/long-man candidate for 2017).
2. Austin Voth: he’s more than earned it, has nothing to prove in AAA, and frankly should have gotten a 40-man addition last September and gotten innings instead of Mat Latos.
3. Tyler Watson: had a great season competing against guys well older than him; could be looking at a jump to high-A in 2017 and he’s yet to turn 20.  I like his potential.
4. Weston Davis: I’m going with Davis over the more highly regarded (on prospect lists) Baez because of a slightly cleaner stat line.  Davis had a nice 2.67 ERA in Short-A as a 20-yr old.
5. Joan Baez: Full year starting in Low-A as a 21-yr old, good K/9 numbers, some wildness.  A step-up to High-A will clear the waters on him.
6. Matthew Crownover: great in Low-A, struggled in High-A.   Should be in the Potomac rotation for 2017, may turn into a useful lefty reliever if he can’t maintain stats as a starter.
7. Jesus Luzardo: entirely based on pre-draft reputation; hopefully he comes back strong, but he’s several years away from even doing what Watson is doing.
8. Tyler Mapes: the fact that a 30th round draft pick is on this list is, well, the obvious evidence of the current thin-ness of our pitching depth.  I love what Mapes has done, don’t get me wrong, but does anyone really expect him to  become an impact player in the majors?
9. McKenzie Mills: I could see Mills a bit higher here, but honestly anyone in the 6-10 rank here could be argued to be higher or lower.
10. Andrew Lee: solid for Hagerstown before hitting the D/L.  His spot here is assuming he didn’t blow out his rotator cuff or something that affects him longer term.

Honorable Mentions: Kyle McGowin, Yonathan Ramirez, Carlos AcevedoJaron LongAusten Williams, Jefry Rodriguez.  I could probably see arguments for Ramirez above perhaps Lee or Mills, but barely.  I don’t really bother looking at GCL or DSL guys, so if you want to argue that someone who got 40 innings of complex ball is better than someone who put up stats in an A-ball league … well i’m going to argue with you :-).

So, clearly there’s a huge gap between the AAA-calibre guys at the top and Watson, both in terms of service time and in career minor league achievement.  Our trades have resulted in this gap.  There also seems to be a pretty significant potential gap right after Baez; you go from prospect to lottery tickets and org-guys pretty quickly it seems.  Prior to these trades, I would likely have had Giolito 1, Lopez 2, Dunning right after Voth and perhaps Avila in discussions for being at the #10 spot.  Still, that’s half of your best starter prospects gone in a couple of weeks.

Nats top 10 Relievers; these are going to be more heavily aligned towards guys who are near the top of the system, for obvious reasons.  If you’re in A-ball and already a reliever … you’re in trouble unless you’re striking guys out at 12 K/9 clip … and we seem to have a habit of trading those guys (Hearn, Sanchez).
1. Koda Glover: for obvious reasons.  Despite how much we’ve talked about him this year, he’s only got 19 MLB innings and still has rookie status by service time.  We were mostly mystified by his drop-off of talent, until learning that he tore his hip labrum.  I, like many others, like him for a future closer.  Grow ’em, don’t buy ’em.
2. Austin Adams: our return bounty for Danny Espinosa: he had 61 Ks in 41 AA innings in 2016.  That’s 13.3 K/9.  That’s crazy.
3. Bryan Harper: he was clearly moving himself ahead of other lefty options in AAA before getting hurt; lets hope he recovers from TJ and puts himself back on the map.
4. Jimmy Cordero: pretty solid AA numbers for two seasons running; i’d like to see him in AAA to see if he’s a bullpen option in the mold of an Aaron Barrett/Craig Stammen role.
5. Matt Grace: may be on the downslope of his Nats career, given that he wasn’t depended upon in 2016 and the Nats felt the need to flip a future Hall of Fame prospect to acquire a 5-week loogy rental.  But he’s still an effective AAA reliever, which the rest of the guys below him cannot say.
6. Trevor Gott: our return bounty for Yunel Escobar was relatively effective for AAA this year, had good MLB numbers, but is anyone counting on him competing for the 2017 MLB bullpen?  He and Grace are my “first two guys to go” off the 40-man if we need room right now.
7. Andrew Robinson: this MLFA signing put up great AA numbers and seems to be sticking around; I think he competes for the AAA bullpen.
8. Wander Suero: Another guy who put up nice AA numbers for the team this year as a RH middle reliever.  He’s a bit old (25) and has been around the system forever (IFA signing in 2010), but should feature in AA or AAA this year.
9. Ryan Brinley: others have him higher based on his High-A dominance; he’s another Tyler Mapes-esque draft success story, a 2015 27th rounder who has rocketed up the system.   I’d like to see what he can do in AA in 2017.
10. John Simms: another one of the Nats great 11th round picks, he really may be a starter, but for now he’s here.  If he was being counted as a starter he’d probably be around the same ranking in the above list.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Lee, Mariano Rivera Jr., Grant Borne, Taylor Guilbeau, Steven Fuentes, Tommy Peterson, Jorge Pantoja: all guys who put up decent numbers for A or AA teams.
What do you guys think?  Did I miss anyone egregiously?