Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

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Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.

Nats get Schwarber

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Schwarber coming to Washington, Photo via Espn

Word broke Saturday that Washington DC had made news for another reason besides insurrection; Kyle Schwarber signed a 1yr $10M deal to come to DC for 2021.

Short version of this post: I like this move. A lot.

I’ve liked Schwarber ever since Chicago drafted him in the 1st round out of Indiana (bucking the pre-draft rankings) and he raced through the minors. His debut with the Cubs was great, and then his post-season heroics have been fabulous. He struggled mightily in the 2020 short season and the now tanking North siders non-tendered him.

As noted in the mlbtraderumors.com article, Schwarber signed for a bit more than his arb projection, which indicates there must have been somewhat of a bidding war for his services.

Why do I like this move? As I noted in the comments before writing this post, several reasons:

  • Pedigree: Upper 1st round pick who has solid (if not all-star) career numbers. 113 career wRC+, 113 career OPS+ … both figures knocked down badly by his 2020 season.
  • Bounce Back candidate: 2020 was brutal for Schwarber … as was his BABIP. Just a .219 babip for 2020 despite being in the 95th percentile of exit velocity means his numbers should have been much higher.
  • 2019 slash line: .250/.339/.531 with 38 homers. He’s a power hitter
  • You don’t need a gold glove in left field, as you’ve heard me say a lot. I want a hitter.

I like getting a middle of the order bat for 1yr/$10M. I like getting a 27yr old 1st round slugger for 1yr $10M. I like getting a cleanup hitter with a .480 career slugging without giving up a prospect.

Yes he strikes out a lot; 156 Ks in 610 2019 PAs for a 25.5% strikeout rate. The 2019 league-wide strikeout rate was 22.9%. So for that extra 2.6% strikeout rate you get a cleanup hitter who hit 38 bombs. Sometimes you have to understand that you give some stuff up to get other stuff.

Here’s what the 2021 opening day lineup looks like now:

  1. SS Turner (r)
  2. RF Soto (l)
  3. 1B Bell (s)
  4. LF Schwarber (l)
  5. DH Harrison (r)
  6. 3B Castro (r)
  7. 2B Garcia (l)
  8. CF Robles (r)

Right handed heavy at the bottom, but excellent balance at the top. If you want to put Castro at 2B and Kieboom at 3B all it does it put another righty at the #8 spot. It is also worth noting that Schwarber could DH and Harrison (who can play 5 different positions) can move out to Left. This still leaves open a bench RH bat like Ryan Zimmerman, who would be an excellent $2M signing. This move likely pushes Soto to RF; can he handle it? Robles might be busy in 2021 covering lots of ground.

Payroll implications: With this move I have the Nats at around $172.1M for 2021. Cots has them slightly higher ($172.7M); both our totals have estimates for arb salaries for Turner, Bell and Soto. If the nats maxed out to $210M that leaves nearly $38M left to play with.

Written by Todd Boss

January 9th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Happy New Year! Obligatory Post on the 2021 Hall of Fame class

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This could be Schilling’s year. Photo via mlb.com

I write a baseball blog. Therefore, I am obligated to put in my 2 cents on Hall of Fame voting. And the new year is also the deadline for BBWAA voters to send in their real ballots for the Hall of Fame, so you see a glut of sportswriters publishing their ballots. Here’s more of the same from me.

How many years have I been doing this post?  Basically as long as we’ve had the blog.  Here’s (by class) 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

I know lots of people have lost faith in the Hall of Fame, are tired of reading analysis like this, etc etc.  Fair enough; feel free to move on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading.

So, the 2021 class is … well its weak. With all due respect to the newly eligible candidates on the 2021 ballot, there’s not a single one hall-worthy. Several “hall of very good” players, but none transcendent. There was just one “major award” won between any of the newly eligible players, that being Barry Zito’s Cy Young award in 2002.

Nonetheless, here’s some quick thoughts on those that are on this ballot, in rough order of descending career bWAR/likelihood of getting 5% votes to stick around on the ballot.

New to the 2021 Ballot Candidates:

  • Tim Hudson; highest JAWS of any of the 2021 new candidates, nearly the highest total career WAR. He certainly had enough time in the sun, playing for multiple playoff teams in his career (7 seasons pitching in the playoffs). Was frequently in Cy Young talks, but never really came close to winning one. Probably the best of this year’s class.
  • Mark Buehrle: the Andy Pettitte of the 00s. Their career stats are eerily similar; if you support Pettitte, you support Buehrle. I think both guys were career #3 starters with occasionally amazing stuff.
  • Torii Hunter had a surprisingly solid, quiet career. Great defender, great teammate. Not enough to make the hall.
  • Dan Haren: hey, he pitched for the Nats! And he threw 88mph (his twitter account is https://twitter.com/ithrow88).
  • Barry Zito: great early part of his career, forming the trio of amazing starters that Michael Lewis never once mentioned in Moneyball. Then became one of the worst-ever free agent contracts signed. 7 years, $126M. For that $126M he contributed a COMBINED 3.0 bWAR. Over 7 years. That’s $42M per WAR. Not the best legacy. Did win a Cy Young though.
  • Aramis Ramirez: a long-time middle of the order dangerous bat for Chicago. Multiple 30hr/100 rbi seasons. Surprised he never got more press.
  • Shane Victorino; we saw a lot of Victorino during the Philly golden years of the late 2000s. Solid player, that’s about it.
  • A.J. Burnett: pitched for years, .500 career record, just kind of always there as a #2 or #3 starter. He made one All Star team in his entire career and it was his farewell season.
  • Nick Swisher; the golden-child of the book Moneyball. Nice career.
  • LaTroy Hawkins: no disrespect, but I don’t want to ever hear about another reliever until Billy Wagner is inducted.
  • Michael Cuddyer; From Virginia! Part of a great history of players coming out of Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake over the past 20 years (also including Justin Upton, John Curtice and Connor Jones).

Returning Ballot Candidates
Here’s how I’d vote my imaginary ballot. Amazingly, i find myself struggling to get to 10 players.

  • Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez
  • more tepid Yes on Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
  • Maybe it’s time to vote for Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, and Todd Helton
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte,
  • No on Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu

Quick reasoning in order of the above:

  • Clemens and Bonds are two of the best players ever to play, regardless of later-in-their-career PED transgressions (alleged or otherwise). You can cut both their careers off at the point where they both allegedly used and they’re still HoFamers. Vote them in and be done with it.
  • Schilling may be abhorrent on social media, but he deserves the Hall based on his playing career. It does not go without saying though that it is completely reasonable for journalists to pass as a statement of protest at this point. If you want a full accounting of all the reprehensible stuff he’s spewed on social media lately, see Jay Jaffe‘s HoF post for a partial list. Its ridiculous. And frankly it makes me pause even putting his name here. Maybe its “putting your head in the sand” to support someone posting the vile crap he does … especially since he’s completely aware of what he posts and seemingly now does it for attention.
  • Ramirez was perhaps the most feared RH hitter for a decade in this league and has career numbers that put him in the top 25 hitters ever to play. Again, less interested in PED transgressions at the end of his career than I am with the bulk of his accomplishments.
  • Rolen is an interesting player whose value was much more about his defense than his offense. Interestingly the Hall has no problem electing top-end defensive short stops who couldn’t hit (see Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio) but seem to struggle when presented with an equally dominant defensive 3B who actually could hit. That’s Rolen to a t.
  • Jones was, for the first 10 years of his career, discussed as perhaps being the second coming of Willie Mays before getting hurt and getting run out of the game by the time he was 35. Despite playing just 11 full seasons he had 434 career homers and 10 straight gold gloves in Center. I think voters have just forgotten how good he was. Keith Law had a great post at the Athletic this week about just why Jones is hall-worthy, an interesting analysis that was worth reading.
  • Sheffield is a borderline candidate but was nearly as feared as Ramirez was at the plate. Has stronger PED usage allegations than others. He was, unfortunately, a “difficult” player to deal with both for club and media, which has probably led to his tepid support.
  • Billy Wagner: has better numbers than nearly any other inducted reliever. If you have any relievers in the hall, you’d need to consider Wagner (and as long as we’re having that conversation, say hello to Tom Henke).
  • Todd Helton was better than you remember. He had a season once where he hit .357 AND hit 42 homers. Just look past the fact that he was once arrested for DUI while buying lottery tickets. Lottery tickets! For a player who made $156M in his career.

Passing on and reasoning:

  • Bobby Abreu: good but not transcendent. Frankly i;m amazed at the support he’s getting so far on the bbhof tracker.
  • Jeff Kent is a polarizing figure, both while he played and on the ballot. He’s a borderline guy and his voting totals have indicated that.
  • Sosa: too hard to make a case that he reinvented himself as a home run hitter completely thanks to artificial mechanisms. He was a 36–40 homer guy then he suddenly rips off seasons of 66, 63, 50 and 64. I will say though, i do “buy” his corked bat explanation once I read that the league confiscated all his other bats and found no other cork.
  • Pettitte lead the league in wins in the 90s (much like Morris did in the 80s) but is recognized similarly to Mark Buehrle; a lefty 3rd or 4th starter for most of his career who stayed healthy and accumulated wins and strikeouts, but was rarely even the best hurler on his own team.
  • Vizquel was a mediocre hitter who played forever and nearly got to 3,000 hits. He was a solid defender yes, but I’m kind of at a loss as to why voters are giving him so much credence while Rolon struggles.

Merry Xmas! The Nats got a Bell

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Bell joins his former Pittsburgh teammate Harrison with the Nationals. Photo via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Not unlike the little boy in The Polar Express, the Nats got a Bell for Christmas.

Let me just start out by saying, I love this move. Might as well get it on record.

The Nats made their first trade in nearly a year, and their first one with Pittsburgh in four years, by acquiring Josh Bell in exchange for two pitching prospects in Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.

Bell is a middle-of-the-order stud, crushing the NL in 2019 to the tune of a 142 OPS+ and 135 wRC+. He crushed 37 homers playing in Pittsburgh’s pitcher’s park and despite missing a few weeks with injury. He struggled in 2020, so Pittsburgh is selling a bit low, but its also a typical move from the often-tanking franchise. Bell is arb-eligible, a Scott Boras client and probably is only a 2-year player here, but he fits an immediate and urgent need on this team.

Now for a bit on the players heading the other way. Crowe has been one of our top pitching prospects for several seasons, grinding his way up the chain and debuting in 2020. However (and yes this is small sample size and what not but it is still warranted), his MLB time did not inspire confidence. His fastball was just 92mph, his off-speed stuff in the low to mid 80s, and he got tattooed in his 8 innings pitched (14 hits, 5 homers, 8 walks). It was enough to cause Baseball America to drop him from 4th in their pre-2020 handbook to 10th in the post-season wake of his performance. The scouting reports say he sits 91-93 and touches 95; well, if there was ever a time for him to touch it, it would have been in his MLB debut. I hate to throw shine on a guy, but a life-time starter who can’t cut it in the low 90s and who projected as a 5th starter at best is not exactly a guarantee to be successful in relief either, not in an era where everybody throws mid 90s out of the pen. I think this was an indication that Crowe dropped so far down our starting pitcher depth chart that he became completely expendable.

Meanwhile, the marquee name heading the other way likely is Yean, a 2017 IFA who never appeared on a single prospect list until the post 2019 season, when he started getting top 10 buzz. MLBPipeline.com was the high man on him after 2020, having him all the way up to #6 in the system. He’ll be a solid starter prospect for Pittsburgh’s low-A team this year and might turn into a star for them. But, in terms of near-term needs, Yean is at least 3 years away and the team has 4 or 5 college aged studs who rank higher than him and who are closer to the majors, so he’s a years-away lottery ticket. Unlike other times when we’ve traded away young pitchers (Jesus Luzardo) I’m a-ok with this move.

Great move; we got a player we really wanted, didn’t break the bank in terms of FA signing, and the prospects we sent the other way were prospects we could afford to part with.

Written by Todd Boss

December 24th, 2020 at 3:22 pm

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

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

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

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

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

So, we’ll answer both.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For just the Nats? Has to be Taylor.

Prospects361 Releases its Nats top 15 Prospect list

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Prospects3 61. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Though not a big name in the prospect ranking world, it is a ranking, so lets take a look. Prospect361’s Rich Wilson published his ranking of the top 15 Nats prospects for the 2021 season today.

Prospects361 is a fantasy-focused blog, and as a result the rankings skew towards a fantasy focus of players. Specifically, it caters to those in “dynasty leagues” who are trying to get a jump on the younger prospects in their upcoming keeper league drafts. Because of this fantasy focus, there’s an over-emphasis on specific kinds of players (home run hitters, shortstops and closers) and an under-emphasis on other kinds of players (non-closer relievers, non-power hitters, younger prospects, non-SS infielders).

So, take these rankings with a slight grain of salt. Here’s their top 15.

1 Cade Cavalli
2 Jackson Rutledge
3 Cole Henry
4 Tim Cate
5 Wil Crowe
6 Armando Cruz
7 Yasel Antuna
8 Drew Mendoza
9 Mason Denaburg
10 Andry Lara
11 Eddy Yean
12 Samuel Infante
13 Holden Powell
14 Telmito Agustin
15 Seth Romero

Thoughts in rough order.

  • They pick #1 Cavalli over #2 Rutledge, as Baseball America has done. Other pundits have them reversed, such as MLBPipeline and (for the time being anyway) Fangraphs. On BA’s podcast on their release of the Nats top 10 with Lacy Lusk, he talked about how he really thought these two guys were 1 and 1a, and that there was a distinct gap between these two players and the #3 prospect on his list (also Cole Henry). He picked Cavalli though because of the overall package there now and the ceiling.
  • This ranking is super high on #4 Tim Cate, described as a pitch-ability lefty who could be like a 4th starter/Andy Pettitte kind of guy. So most other shops would have him lower.
  • He has stayed high on #5 Wil Crowe even after his disastrous debut. Honestly, i’m concerned about Crowe. His velocity was really average in his limited experiences: 92 fastball/sinker, 85 curve, 80 change, none of them with positive value. His strength is spin rate, which presumably makes his ball have better movement … but it wasn’t seen in his debut. If he can’t cut it as an effective starter, I don’t think he has any value as a middle reliever at a time when everyone starts at 95mph. I’m lower on Crowe than #5.
  • #6 Armando Cruz: who is Armando Cruz you ask? Great question, I did not know either. As it turns out, the July 2 international free agent signing deadline for 2020 got pushed to January 15th 2021, and Cruz is thought to be a guaranteed Washington National signee. Not only that, but Cruz is considered one of the absolute best players in the class, worthy of a huge $4M signing bonus. This would be the most money the team has ever spent for an IFA (Antuna got $3.9M as a 16yr old, and technically Yunesky Maya got a 4yr/$8M MLB contract that didn’t include a signing bonus like amateurs get), and I cannot remember the Nats ever being associated with such a highly ranked DR 16-yr old prospect (who normally go to the “famous” teams like the Yankees or Dodgers). Anyway; ranking this guy seems premature since he hasn’t technically signed, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him given top-10 status as soon as he does. Even having him at #6 had he already signed would be pretty speculative; i don’t really like to even consider players until they’ve got domestic playing time.
  • They’re kind of middle of the road on #7 Yasel Antuna; BA was really bullish, most others now have him outside the top 10.
  • They’re lower on two younger Dominican arms Eddy Yean and Andry Lara for obvious reasons: they’re young, they’re arms, and they’re unproven.
  • They’re way, way high on Holden Powell, for fantasy reasons (as in, he’s a closer).
  • Lastly, they’re down on Seth Romero, interestingly, since Romero now projects with pretty similar stuff and results as Crowe.

Written by Todd Boss

December 11th, 2020 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Nats in General

Nats announce Affiliates!

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Getting the jump on the MLB’s larger 120-team announcement, the team announced officially who our four official affiliates will be. There had been much curiosity and speculation on the Nat’s affiliates in general, thanks to the forced Axing of Hagerstown and the general

Per the CurlyW official nats team blog this morning, we know that the team will be sending its prospects to:

  • AAA: Rochester Red Wings
  • AA: Harrisburg Senators
  • High-A: Wilmington Blue Rocks
  • Low-A: Fredericksburg Nationals

    The Rookie league team continues to be the GCL Nats out of our Spring Training complex, and we continue to have a DSL team.

My initial reactions to each team officially being named is:

  • AAA: Thank gosh they’re finally on the east coast, and finally in a league where they can develop minor leaguers. Now when we send a pitcher to AAA we can know for sure that a 6.00 ERA is actually “bad” and not just an off-shoot of the ridiculous elevation and hitters parks.
  • AA; our longest affiliation continues, and i’m happy for it. In an ideal world we’d be talking Richmond here, but Harrisburg is a great spot as well.
  • High-A: Can’t complain too much with Wilmington; its nearly as close as Harrisburg to the home base. I was selfishly hoping for Lynchburg, but I’m guessing they will be dumped to Low-A as well, and clearly MLB doesn’t rate Fredericksburg as a High-A city.
  • Low-A: well, they can’t be happy about dumping down a level (but should look no further than what Fresno is being forced to do before swallowing and saying ok), but i’m glad they’re still around.

One interesting side note to going to Wilmington is this: it is the park closest to Keith Law, one of the leading independent scouting/prospect guys out there, so that means he’ll be seeing lots of our guys and we’ll have more analysis to show for it.

As I was writing this, BA released the full 119 team list , with Fresno holding out and confirmation that Lynchburg got dropped a level.

Lastly, fun facts about our affiliate history. Here they are dating to 2000

YearAAAAAhigh-Alow-Ashort-ArookieDSL 1DSL 2
2021RochesterHarrisburgWilmingtonFredericksburg(disbanded)GCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2020FresnoHarrisburgFredericksburgHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2019FresnoHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2018SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2017SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2016SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2015SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2014SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2013SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2012SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2011SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownAuburnGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2010SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2009SyracuseHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2008ColumbusHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals DSL Nationals 2
2007ColumbusHarrisburgPotomacHagerstownVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals DSL Nationals 2
2006New OrleansHarrisburgPotomacSavannahVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals DSL Nationals 2
2005New OrleansHarrisburgPotomacSavannahVermontGCL NationalsDSL Nationals
2004EdmontonHarrisburgBrevard CountySavannahVermontGCL ExposDSL Nationals
2003EdmontonHarrisburgBrevard CountySavannahVermontGCL Expos(no team)
2002OttawaHarrisburgBrevard CountyClintonVermontGCL ExposDSL Nationals
2001OttawaHarrisburgJupiterClintonVermontGCL ExposDSL Nationals
2000OttawaHarrisburgJupiterCape FearVermontGCL ExposDSL Nationals

Rochester is our 5th AAA affiliate since moving to DC. Harrisburg has been solidly our AA team since before the move. Potomac/Fredericksburg moved with the team and continue their relationship. It’s kind of interesting to see the pre-Nats machinations/locations just before moving as well.

Written by Todd Boss

December 9th, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Baseball America pre-season 2021 top-10 list reactions

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by BA. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America dropped the first off-season ranking of prospects for the Nats on 11/20/20 and, well, it was interesting.

Click here for the top 10 and their list of “best tools” for the system. It might be behind a paywall. If not that, then a quick chat with BA’s Lucy Lusk provides some insight on the list as well.

The last time we got any appreciable updated rankings was MLBpipeline’s end-of-the-season look at the system with the slew of 2020 graduates/call-ups removed. Technically MLBPipeline’s list is a running dynamic update, not a static list as of that moment in time, but I capture them as major updates occur for tracking.

Nonetheless, the two orgs definitely have different viewpoints on the top of the Nat’s farm system. Lets talk about some of BA’s conclusions.

  • BA has Cade Cavalli ahead of Jackson Rutledge at the top. I find this kind of interesting, given that Rutledge is younger, had pro ball experience in 2019, was in the 60-man pool along with Cavalli, and was a 1st round pick just like Cade.
  • Furthermore, in BA’s “best tools” they list Rutledge as having the best fastball AND the best slider. So, unless Rutledge literally doesn’t have a 3rd pitch, and his first two are the system best … not sure how he’s not #1 over Cavalli.
  • Therefore, Cavalli must really, really be promising, or have some pretty amazing secondary stuff.
  • Tim Cate: best curve AND best control. All he’s done since they drafted him was win. I think he’s an excellent 3rd or 4th starter in the making for this team in a couple years.
  • BA is amazingly bullish on Yasel Antuna. They list him as having the best hitter for average AND the best power hitter?? For a SS currently listed as 6’0″ 170? Well, no wonder the Nats just protected him on the 40-man. This is also a big change in BA’s opinion of him just from July, when they ranked him 12th in the org. The BA staff think Antuna is nearly top 100 material. They like him more as a 2B/3B option versus SS, with the thinking that maybe the infield goes Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Antuna and a FA bopper at 1st. Hey; if Kieboom can learn how to hit, i’m all for that.
  • They have soured fast on Wil Crowe, dumping him to 10th in the system. MLBpipeline has him 3rd right now just after the two big 1st round arms. He made three starts in 2020, got shelled in all three, gave up 5 homers in 8 1/3rd innings … does that mean the jury is now out on Crowe forever?
  • They’re quite bullish on Jeremy De La Rosa, having him ranked 6th when most shops have him in the teens. Only other pundit anywhere close on De La Rosa is Keith Law, who had him 8th last spring. I mean, he did get invited to the 60-man roster as an 18yr old … quite a statement. Maybe we have another Juan Soto on our hands.
  • Lastly, in their tools section they give “Best Athlete,” “Fastest Baserunner” and “Best Defensive Outfielder” all to the same guy: Cody Wilson. Looks like the next Andrew Stevenson.

Rule-5 Analysis & Prediction for 2020

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Israel Pineda could be getting the call-up this week. Photo via milb.com

Welcome to the annual Rule 5 analysis post. Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions. 

I suspect that the Rule-5 decisions are going to be somewhat anti-climactic this year. The team called up its two top ranked prospects from the 2017 draft class earlier this year (Seth Romero and Wil Crowe) and its top prospect from the 2016IFA class (Luis Garcia), eliminating some suspense on the decision. They also already did a roster-addition of one more famous name that we talked about at length last year (Steven Fuentes), taking him out of the running. In a “normal” season i’m not sure any of these players would have played, and we’d be talking about adding them to the roster this week.

So honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if nobody got protected this week. But there are a few interesting candidates that you could make an argument for. And the team has a ton of roster room; we only sit at 30/40 slots right now and we’re not buying 10 FAs this off-season.

As always, using the two 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 2020; any 4-year college-aged draftee from 2017 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 2016 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules and the Draft Tracker for exact details.


Group 1: Newly Eligible 2017 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Cole Freeman, 2017 4th rounder. Was not on the 2020 60-man roster, did not play in 2020, has not played above High-A. Not a candidate.
  • Alex Dunlap, 29th round catcher. Can never have too much catching, but he’s not a candidate.
  • Jackson Tetreault, 2017 7th rounder. I’ve always liked him; he forced a promotion to AA after a month in Potomac in 2019 but couldn’t cut it and got sent back down. Was not on the 2020 60-man roster, a telling sign to his future. Not a candidate, but hoping he can step up in 2021.
  • Alex Troop, 2017 9th rounder who has appeared in Low-A three years running. Good numbers, but not a candidate to get picked.
  • Trey Turner; 2017 10th rounder, middling stats in Short-A in 2019, sort of surprised he survived the 2020 minor league purge. Not a candidate.
  • Jackson Stoeckinger, 2017 12th rounder. Kind of a 5th starter/swing man lefty starter, never above Low-A. Not a candidate, but like Tetreault I like the potential here.
  • Leif Strom, 2017 21st rounder: another guy who I’m surprised survived the May 2020 purge. Has barely pitched since getting drafted, hast a career ERA in the 8s. Not a candidate.
  • Gabe Klobosits, 2017 36th rounder: cleaned up in 2017 right after getting drafted, got hurt in 2018, didn’t give up a run in low or high-A in 2019. Not a candidate to get drafted Rule-5, but is quickly becoming the best 30th or higher round pick we’ve ever had.
  • K.J. Harrison: a 2017 3rd round pick by Milwaukee flipped to us in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Decent hitting 1B, never above High-A, not on the 60-man, not a candidate.
  • Pearson McMahan, a 2014 4th round pick by Colorado that we picked up as a MLFA in mid 2019. I’m not clear on the rules here; is now a FA? does he fall under Rule-5 guidelines? Either way, not a candidate.
  • Jacob Condra-Bogan, a 32nd rounder in 2017 by Toronto who, I guess, didn’t sign, went to Indy ball, then signed as a FA in Jan 2018 with Kansas City, then got flipped to Washington in the Brian Goodwin trade. Pitched well in a middle-relief role in AA in 2019, perhaps the best profile of any guy in this section, but not on the 60-man roster. Barely a candidate, but could push his way into the conversation for bullpen arm going forward.

Group 1 Rule-5 Protection Candidates: Condra-Bogan, barely.


Group 2: Newly Eligible 2016 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

We have none. We picked two HS players in this draft who signed. One of them is Carter Kieboom, the other is Jesus Luzardo. Both 40-man active. Therefore there are no Group 2 candidates.


Group 3: Newly Eligible 2016 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Israel Pineda; 2016 IFA. On the 60-man roster for 2020, one of our best young Catching prospects. His stock faded a ton in 2019 when he hit a paltry .217 in Hagerstown. But he still got put on the 2020 extended roster, which means he got a ton of ABs against major league talent. A solid candidate to consider protecting, especially if other scouts got a look at him and he performed well.
  • Jose Sanchez, 2016 IFA SS who hit .182 between short- and Low-A in 2019. not a candidate.
  • Yasiel Antuna; 2016 IFA. one of the more polarizing prospects we have. He was a huge money bonus guy in 2016, getting a whopping $3.9M as a 16-yr old switch-hitting true SS. His state-side debut in 2017 was solid, he struggled in 2018 then missed half the season with injury when he had to have Tommy John surgery. This caused him to basically miss the entire 2019 season. The team added him to the 60-man roster for 2020, so he got reps with the MLB-quality players in Fredericksburg there. So what do you do? $3.9M is a sunk cost, but baseball team’s struggle to accept that sometimes, instead thinking that its an “investment” that needs to be protected. On the other hand, what are the odds that a 21-yr old (just turned a few weeks ago) who has basically not played since Aug of 2018 and has never played above low-A could possibly stick on a MLB roster for a full season? A candidate to protect.
  • Caldioli Sanfler: 2016 IFA as an older 18yr old. Not exactly a household name amongst Nats prospect watchers; he played CF in Auburn in 2019 and had decent numbers. Not a candidate.
  • Niomar Gomez: 2016IFA who struggled as a starter in short-A in 2019. but had great K/9 rates. Could be a future reliever candidate based on his swing-and-miss capabilities. But not a candidate for R5 protection now.
  • Joan Adon, 2016IFA who was pretty solid in 2019 as a starter for Hagerstown, enough so to get put on to the 60-man extended roster for 2020, which means the top brass got a long look at him as he threw to 4-A guys all summer. He’s one of a handful of decently-ranked prospects in our system (in the 10-20 range) that is eligible this year. Candidate to be protected.
  • Alfonso Hernandez, a 2016IFA now serving as a loogy in low/short A. Not a candidate.
  • Wilmer Perez 16IFA Catcher, played in Short-A in 2019 and hit .221. not a candidate.

Group 3 Rule-5 protection candidates: Pineda, Antuna, Adon


Group 4: Nats Drafted Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2016 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2015 and prior HS draftees. Unless there’s been an appreciable update worth noting, none of these guys are anything more than org guys at this point.

  • Nick Banks, 2016 4th rounder. No new news here; didn’t play in the 60-man roster, so the same decision holds based on his 2019 results. not a candidate.
  • Armond Upshaw, 2016 11th round.
  • Sterling Sharp: 2016 22nd rounder. As we now now, he was Rule-5 selected last year after I and many other pundits thought he should be protected, trashed the org on his way out, got returned, immediately put on the 60-man extended roster, and … well now what? Do you bother protecting him again? I don’t think you bother, and I don’t think he’s long for the organization. post-publishing update: pointed out by the astute Luke Erickson, thanks to Sharp’s outright, he’s no longer really eligible for rule-5 in that he can refuse the next DFA, so there’s no real point in mentioning him here.
  • Rhett Wiseman, 2015 3rd rounder
  • Ian Sagdal, 2015 16th rounder
  • Andrew Lee: 2015 11th rounder
  • Ryan Brinley, 2015 27th rounder
  • Andrew Istler, 2015 23rd rounder, trade bounty for Ryan Madsen. Still hanging around at the age of 28.
  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014. This will be his third time facing rule-5 draft, only now he’s coming from the 60-man roster. He’s entering his age 25 season, his 8th professionally with the Nats after signing out of HS. Has he progressed enough in the extended roster with MLB quality looks to merit protection? Maybe.
  • Nick Wells, a 2014 3rd rounder and our trade bounty for Austin Adams at the beginning of 2019. After barely pitching in 2019, he somehow found his way to the 2020 60-man roster. He’s never been above A-ball. I wonder if he made that Fredericksburg roster because … well because he lives in Haymarket. Anyway; doesn’t seem like a protection candidate.
  • Ronald Pena: 2012 16th round pick: the long-time Nats farmhand that has now re-signed twice on MLFA deals. He’s now 29, clearly is an org arm, has passed through Rule-5 drafts now multiple times. Not a candidate.

Group 4 Rule 5 Protection candidates: Reetz maybe, Wells maybe, Sharp possibly?

Group 5: IFAs: 2015 and older. Sometimes players in this group, because they often are signed at age 16, make fast progress even after their first year R5 eligible. Will this be the case in 2020?

  • Luis Reyes: 2013 IFA
  • Joan Baez 2014 IFA; pitched in both AA and AAA in 2019, really struggled in Fresno. Not put on the 60-man roster for 2020, so nothing has changed from an evaluation perspective. Not a candidate.
  • Telmito Agustin 2014 IFA
  • Gilbert Lara, 2014 IFA, received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade. 
  • Malvin Pena 2014 IFA
  • Aldrem Corredor, 2013 IFA who just turned 25. Undersized 1B in high-A with little power; not a candidate.
  • Omar Meregildo: 2015 IFA; yet to really impress at any level, hit .228 in High-A in 2019. not a candidate.
  • Gilberto Chu, 2015 IFA
  • Jhonathan German, 2015 IFA RHP closer who ascended 3 levels in 2019, ending the year in AA, then got a 2020 NRI. The team likes him, but not quite enough to put him on their extended 60-man roster. He doesn’t get a ton of prospect buzz, but could be a useful bullpen arm. I think he could get protected because he’s the kind of middle-bullpen arm that could be stashed away on some 2nd-tier team’s roster.
  • Felix Taveras, 2015 IFA
  • Tomas Alastre: 2015 IFA
  • Jhon Romero: 2015 IFA signing, trade bounty for Brandon Knitzler.
  • Manuel Geraldo, 2013 IFA we rule-5 drafted last off-season from San Francisco, Rule-5 eligible again. He’s yet to take the field for our franchise; hard to believe we’d protect him as a non-prospect. not a candidate.
  • Mario Sanchez, 2012IFA and subject to the interesting MLFA re-signing/Rule-5 eligibility issue last offseason. He’s still on the roster, still projected as a AAA pitcher. He just turned 26, was really excellent as a starter in AA in 2019, and as we speak he’s still listed as active with the Nats, so I suspect he’s R-5 eligible. But, curiously, he was NOT put on the 60-man for 2020. So, does the team view him as an org-guy? He’s a candidate to consider, but a lower-probability one for all the above reasons.

Group 5 Protection Candidates: German, Sanchez


Group 6: MLFAs for 2020: I think technically guys we’ve already talked about may qualify for this category. Mario Sanchez, Ronald Pena, technically a few others like Jakson Reetz who were briefly MLFAs then re-signed. So, no candidates for this group this year.

Post-2019 publishing, i’m adding a new section because  it seems like we’re going to see the following situation occur for the second time in recent memory.   Long time farmhand Mario Sanchez achieved minor league free agency at the end of the 2019 season, but apparently has been re-signed (his milb.com page lists the Nationals resigning him to a contract … but its dated in the future, 12/18/19, something i’ve never seen before).   But, if he’s re-signed as a MLFA with the team, then he has to be protected else he’d be subject to the draft.


So, who would I protect?

Summary of above:

Group 1: Condra-Bogan, barely.
Group 2: none
Group 3: Pineda, Antuna, Adon
Group 4: Reetz maybe, Wells maybe, Sharp possibly
Group 5: German, Sanchez
Group 6: none

I would protect:

  • Israel Pineda
  • Joan Adon

I would consider protecting, in order of likelihood:

  • Antuna
  • German
  • Sanchez
  • Reetz
  • all the others: Condra-Bogan, Wells, Sharp.

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic (i’ll add them as I see them):

  • Federal Baseball
  • TalkNats/SaoMagnifico: predicts Antuna, Pineda, probably not Adon
  • BaseballAmerica.com
  • mlb.com’s list of Rule-5 top30 prospects; None of our current top prospects is eligible; the highest MLB-ranked candidate for Rule-5 is #14 Pineda.

For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010. This is one of the only recurring posts I have managed to do every year since I started writing.

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

Written by Todd Boss

November 18th, 2020 at 11:31 am

Nats Payroll Analysis for 2021

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Newly minted Silver Slugger and MVP snub Soto is set for a big raise in arbitration; how will this factor into the Nat’s payroll plans? Source NYPost

Before giving real thought to what the Nats might do this off-season, you have to know where they stand from a payroll consideration.

Quick answer: they have about $50M to spend. See https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Au_xTIni1eJbDGzravS1482wBbzN9DBQaOY1wwo2Mr0/edit#gid=1520401900

More detailed answer: I have been maintaining a “Payroll worksheet” for the nats for years, which helps write t his particular post every year.

I’ve posted this at the Big Board, in a new tab called “2021 Payroll” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/

Here’s a breakdown of the Nats payroll right now (note; every figure in this article is Luxury Tax dollars: I honestly don’t care about real or actual dollars anymore since everything is driven by the Luxury tax limit in this game, and if the Lerners are looking at deferred dollars and making spending decisions in real-time based on that, then they don’t deserve to be running a team that earns them tens of millions of dollars a year).

$112,522,709 <– under contract
$18,850,000 <– arb est
$7,889,000 <– pre arb
$1,800,000 <– 40-man
$15,500,000 <– benefits
$156,561,709 <– total payroll estimate right now
$210,000,000 <– Luxury tax cap for 2020
$53,438,291 <– room under cap right now

By category:

  • The nats have $112M and change committed to its 8 current veteran players. Of course, the lion’s share of this is going to its big 3 starters in Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin, who combine for $87M of this $112M themselves.
  • We have 4 arb-eligible players, who i’m estimating to earn $18.8M; the two biggest earners of course will be Turner and Soto, who are projected to be at least $10M and $5M each
  • The rest of the roster are estimates: 14 26-man roster players at roughly the MLB minimum comes out to $7.8M, a figure that will be a bit higher as 1 and 2-year guys get a bit of a raise. Plus the rest of the 40-man gets estimated at $150k per, so 12*$150K turns into $1.8M. Again, might not be exactly that b/c we may not have 40 on the 40-man all year.
  • the 2021 estimate for benefits is $15.5M this year.

So that leaves us around $156M committed right now before we acquire a single player. $210M is the cap for 2021, so we’re working with an operating FA budget of $53M. My figures are slightly different from Cot’s because of the arb estimates and 40-man estimates, but we’re within $2M of each other right now.

$53M is not a lot of money to acquire everything that this team needs. We need another starter, a catcher, a decent slugger to play 1B, we need another outfielder, and we need a few relievers. Catchers are rare and are not cheap, but we may be able to acquire a re-tread veteran starter for around $10-$12M. But for the rest of the roster we’re looking at taking fliers on MLFA/NRI types and edge of the roster $1M major league deals.

Written by Todd Boss

November 6th, 2020 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Nats in General