Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani


Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.

The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.

Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Nats GM for a day Part 1: the Arbitration cases


Photo Courtesy of Jeff Saffelle/Nats320 Blog

MLB’s beat writer Bill Ladson kicked off the National’s offseason with a post summarizing the Nat’s major off season personnel decisions (free agents to be and Arbitration candidates).  The Nats have a relatively large number of arbitration decisions to make, as well as a few free agents.

Next up, the Arbitration cases.  We have a number of them.  In relative order of salary expectations:

Player What Should Washington Do?/What WILL We do?
Willingham, Josh Tender; valuable trade chip in 2011.
Wang, Chien-Ming Non-tender and negotiate one year deal (ala Olsen in 2010).  Can’t pay arb raise for zero production in 2010, despite what he’s capable of.
Olsen, Scott Non-Tender; usefulness to the team in terms of production and character at an end.
Burnett, Sean Tender: and please don’t fight him for a few dollars after his great 2010
Flores, Jesus Tender: may end up being trade bait to a needy team since we have Ramos and Pudge plus Norris coming up.
Nieves, Wil Non-Tender; we’re finally after 2 years in a decent catcher position in the franchise.
Walker, Tyler Non-Tender; perhaps offer ML deal with ST invite.  Other arms that can do what he did in the system for less.  11/4/10 update: Nats have flat out released him.
Lannan, John Tender: Nats #2 starter in 2011.
Gonzalez, Alberto Tender: Achieved super2 status.  Tough call though since he wants to leave and get a starting opportunity.  Nats need him as a backup for at least one more season though til guys like Lombardozzi are ready.
Slaten, Doug Tender: great job in 2010 as loogy.
Peralta, Joel Tender: Despite being FA, only has 4+ yrs of MLB service.   Was fantastic for us in 2010 and need to keep

Amazingly Ladson thinks Willingham is a non-tender candidate.  Uh, why would we possibly do that?  He was as solid a #5 hitter as there was when he was healthy, he’s a great clubhouse guy and contributes well above his salary.  Other clear tenders include Burnett, Flores and Lannan.

Olsen, Nieves and Walker are clearly guys that we do NOT tender contracts to.  Each for different but well documented reasons.  11/6/10 Update: Olsen assigned to AAA and refused the assignment, becoming a FA.

The difficult decisions lay with the other arbitration candidates.  With Wang i’d try to appeal to his (agent’s) sense of fairness and pre-negotiate an incentive laden contract, based on the lack of a single game played for his $2M in salary last year.  Perhaps a contract of $1M plus incentives based on number of starts that push the total value to $3M if he makes more than 25 starts.  Alberto Gonzalez has apparently reached Super2 Status and we a may have an arbitration case coming, if only because Gonzalez has stated he wants a chance to start.  The problem Alberto doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s an awful hitter, putting up a 57 ops+ in about 200 ABs last year.  He’s a classic good field-no hit dominican middle infielder and I doubt he finds many suitors on the trade market.  Lastly we come to Slaten and Peralta.  Both guys were minor league FAs for us in 2010 and both pitched lights out after getting called up to fill in for injuries and poor performers (basically replacing English and Bergmann).  Are they worth tendering and paying more money or do you cut them loose and take your chances with the next crop of minor leaguers coming up?  I say stick with the known (i.e., a fantastic bullpen last year) and bring them back.

Next up, two guys who may or may not have achieved Arbitration status.  Cots and baseball-america don’t necessarily agree.

Chico, Matt Not sure if he’s truly achieved Arbitration status yet.  Cots says yes.  If Arb eligible, Tender a contract.  AAA rotation
Morse, Michael May not have achieved Arbitration yet.  If Arb eligible, absolutely Tender.  MLB utility infielder.

Even though Chico seems like he’s buried in AAA, he’s still a lefty starter with a somewhat decent track record who gave us one decent spot-start this year.  Morse I’m more excited for.  I believe that Morse could be a hidden gem of a starter for us if given the time.  He hit 15 homers in 293 ABs, which projects to 30 homers over a full season.  He’s athletic (played shortstop in HS and in his MLB debut season) and can clearly play all around the diamond.  Clearly he can play first base since he’s 6’5″ and is a reformed middle infielder.  If Dunn walks, I can easily see Morse playing 1st and Bernadina playing RF (barring no FA pickups).

Next up; the Free Agents…

9/1 Nats Callups?

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Who do you think the Nats call up 9/1?  We’re at 40/40 right now on the 40-man roster, but could move Willingham and Strasburg to the 60-day DL to make room for a couple more people.  Here’s what I think happens:

SPs: Maya gets the callup, perhaps not on 9/1 but soon enough to start getting some starts.

RPs: Balester and Severino get callbacks.  No 40-man moves required, gives a couple more arms to help out in a tired bullpen

C: Ramos gets called back up to spell Nieves here and there and get some more work at the MLB level.

That’s it.  I don’t see an obvious candidate to add to the 40-man to bring up.  There is talk of Espinosa coming up but he’s a better candidate to go to the AFL and spend more time in AAA learning how to become Desmond‘s double play combination.  DC-local favorite Josh Wilkie has had a great year as a AAA reliever but there might not be enough work for him in a 9 or 10-man bullpen.

Nats Transactions for today …

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Nieves out for the birth of his kid, so wonder kid/future Nieves replacement Wilson Ramos (booty in the Matt Capps trade) comes up and gets a start today.  Ironically (and potentially an omen) Ramos gets #3, which has been Flores‘ number since he was picked up in 06.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t bode well for Flores’s future here.

Willingham to the DL, done for the year but coinciding with Morgan‘s return.  So we’ll be throwing out an outfield of Bernadina, Morgan and Morse for the time being.  Not bad.

But I did see an interesting note that the Rockies are getting ready to flat out release Brad Hawpe.  Why?  Partly because they know they can’t resign him in the off season and are wary of offering him arbitration.  But mostly becuase he’s underperformed this year and the Rockies want to play a up and comer named Eric Young Jr. Either way, his numbers are not THAT bad, i hope we sign him just so we could offer him arbitration and get the draft picks (he projects as a type A) or even if he accepts arbitration he’s better than Morse in right field, right?

Probably though, he signs on with a contender to be a 4th outfielder.

Great Trade! Capps for Ramos and Testa

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You have to like this move that Rizzo pulled off.

He turned a guy who was flat out released by Pittsburgh last year into the #2 prospect in Minnesota’s system (Wilson Ramos, a major-league ready catcher
from a defensive standpoint and probably Pudge’s understudy in a few weeks) plus a lefty reliever with staggering K/9 ratios the last two seasons (but not
so much this season, where he’s struggled a bit in high-A).
I love this move.  Capps did great for us undoubtedly and some will say that he is the reason our bullpen has stabilized this year versus last, but reality is:

  • – a closer is an absolute luxury on a last place team
  • – a closer can be great one year (Capps in 2010) but awful the next (Capps in 2009) and you have to sell high.
  • – Saves are overrated and even mediocre bullpen guys can serve as the “closer” for a team that’s not in a pennant race.
  • – The nats have a couple of very lively arms in the bullpen now that can immediately step up and open the door for the next reliever to come up (Severino?) to work towards the future.  As a last place team, that HAS to be the priority.

Now, here’s an interesting question.  Why did we get yet another upper-end catching prospect?  Right now the catching situation for the Nats looks like this:

  • – Pudge; coming back to reality after a great start, signed through 2011
  • – Nieves; classic good D no hit guy who is hitting .187/.223/.252 in 134 plate appearances this year and is just killing the team when he spells Pudge.  Great guy; but he’s probably getting his release inside the next couple weeks.
  • – Norris: Nats #1 prospect in the minors right now; struggling after having hamate bone surgery (same surgery Zimmerman had a few years back) in high-A.  He tore up low-A and short-A though so he’ll get it back.  Question remains about him though; does he stay at Catcher?
  • – Flores; another setback reporeted recently. at this point in his “recovery” he’s throwing from 90 feet and hitting off a tee.  Which is exactly what he was doing in March.  Despite everything that we expected from this kid, you almost have to write him off as a complete injury loss at this point.
  • – Harper.  Catching prospect but he’ll be far faster the majors as a right fielder (which we have a need for anyway).  Boras wants him out of the catching position because it will mean more money and longer career (and thus more commissions).