Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16


We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.



17 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16'

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  1. Boz also had a very Nats-heavy chat yesterday:

    I agree about Rendon. In the ’14 playoffs, he and Bryce were the ones driving the bus. The Nats need Rendon to score 100+ runs ahead of Bryce . . . and for Zim to be delivering those runs as well when Bryce walks 150 times. If Zim isn’t up to it, Rendon may eventually get a look at cleanup.

    Here’s the thing with Werth: when he signed the contract, did anyone think he could earn his valuation at ages 37 and 38? Probably not. But with 1 WAR = $8M, Werth can earn his value with a WAR of 2.625. Zim can do it at 2.0. Those are reasonable expectations that both of those guys can meet, if not exceed, . . . if they can stay healthy.

    As for CarGo, not only did he lose more than 200 OPS points away from Coors, he TOTALLY tanked against lefties: OPS of .530. And that includes against LHP faced at Coors. That’s embarrassing bad. He just wasn’t what the Nats needed.

    And yes, I would be just as surprised as Todd if there is a spring trade for a slugger. Spring trades generally happen only to fill in for someone who gets hurt.


    23 Feb 16 at 1:55 pm

  2. Random thought of the day: did the Nats ever get the PTBNL from the Storen trade?


    23 Feb 16 at 3:13 pm

  3. PTBNL not yet as far as I’ve heard. I’m sure the beat reporters will note it when it happens. I’m guessing its not until deep into the season as the Nats guys get a shot to scout Toronto’s lower farm systems.

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 16 at 4:03 pm

  4. Sometimes I forget about Boz’ chats. reading it now.

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 16 at 4:06 pm

  5. And the Nats’ missing MASN money goes to . . . Fowler AND Gallardo. At least the Nats’ draft pick(s) just nudged up a notch.

    Speaking of which, the Rockies have to be checking in with Desi with Reyes facing trial at the beginning of the season, right? Desi could hit 40 in Denver! He should be offering himself to them on a one-year for like $5M plus performance bonuses. There wouldn’t be a better make-good spot for him in baseball, where the balls fly and the breaking pitches purportedly don’t break quite so well.


    23 Feb 16 at 8:10 pm

  6. Sickels Top 20 is up too. He seems fairly bullish on the system too. One common theme amongst many write ups is that their Latin program is going well, and they are seeing results while spending ‘smartly’, which I take to mean that they have avoided the super large bonus for 1 kid and spread it out over many, while still keeping it to $2-3m per year. Yet there are also plenty of rumors about the Nats busting their budget this year, so I wonder why?

    I agree Desi would likely do well in COL, but he doesn’t seem to fit their overall strategy right now. I think the Twins might be a sleeper pick for him. But to think he’d have to take less than Fowler or Gallardo has to be another tough pill for him to swallow.

    I find it hard to see the PTBNL for Storen. That trade seemed fairly even straight up – one year of Storen for two of Revere. I think the PTBNL will be some low level guy we never heard of


    24 Feb 16 at 7:52 am

  7. KW

    24 Feb 16 at 8:53 am

  8. Sickels has been doing this much longer than most and has a lot of contacts, so I tend to value his judgments more than others.

    I’m very pleased to see that he still likes Cole, although he has him a year too old (’15 was his age-23 season). Most others seem to be moving Cole down their list. He also hasn’t lost faith in Lopez.

    The player/rating I disagree with most would be Bautista, as he strikes me as a Eury Perez comp at best.

    Sickels includes five players from the 2015 draft, not including Hearn (who he says in the notes he really likes), Watson, and Perkins, so there seems to be some good initial love for that group.


    24 Feb 16 at 12:22 pm

  9. My big complaint about Sickel’s “grading” system is the fact that he deviates from the 20-80 system and just lumps people into letter grades that are far too broad for what they’re trying to capture. Lucas Giolito is an “A.” Great. Is that an 80, a 75, a 70, a 65? You can see the issues these grades have when his 20th ranked player is a “C.” Which is basically half the system.

    Sickels is the only guy who ranked Schrock or Andrew Lee so far. He’s *way* higher on Bostick and Wiseman than anyone else.

    Bautista: across the major pundits i see him ranked now 12, 16, 14, 13 and NR in Baseball Prospectus. pretty consistent.

    Todd Boss

    24 Feb 16 at 1:01 pm

  10. I agree about the grading system. On the other hand, I think some of the precise grades that others give on such an imprecise science are pretty nutty as well.

    It’s really, really hard to tell much about new draft picks. I’m glad that most of the sites think highly of Stevenson, but if Wiseman can fix the hole in his swing, he may end up with more of an MLB career than Stevenson does. But at this point, who knows?

    As I’ve noted, I love what Andrew Lee has shown. I could be way wrong, but if sticks as a starter, he’s going to explode up lists for next year. Some on Luke’s site like Schrock better than I do, but again, it’s very early to tell. He’s probably better than Renda, for whatever that’s worth! Bostick showed an encouraging power bump in ’15 but it going to have to start making a lot more contact.

    I’m curious that few of the lists seem to be deviating on the Difo ranking. I have a hard time seeing him as an MLB regular, particularly since his power never moved up from Hagerstown. We’ll see. He’s got great speed, and he’ll get solid INF instruction from Lopes and Speier. I just don’t think he can hit enough to be more than a fringy utility guy.


    24 Feb 16 at 1:16 pm

  11. My take on professional Prospect Analysis: the moment a pitcher goes from starter to reliever … they’re basically no longer a prospect. Positional scarcity is huge; so that’s why Difo continues to stick around. He’s a SS-capable player who can hit, as opposed to a SS-capable guy struggling hitting .220 in High-A 3 years out of college.

    Todd Boss

    24 Feb 16 at 3:36 pm

  12. Todd Boss

    24 Feb 16 at 3:55 pm

  13. I saw somewhere (Nats Talk?) that Maddux (whose brother was a Bulldog) has already been spending a lot of time with Treinen. He’s certainly one who has the talent if someone can unlock it.

    I hope Difo proves me wrong. There will be no rush for him this year unless there are multiple INF injuries. If he can replicate his A- numbers at a higher level, he’ll get his ticket upward.

    Yes, I’m sort of surprised that Glover is making the lists as a reliever. Rivera Jr. isn’t. I hope they give him another look as a starter this year. I assume they’ll keep A. Lee stretched out as long as he keeps being successful.


    24 Feb 16 at 8:23 pm

  14. Rivera Jr. didn’t make lists not just because he’s a reliever, but because his results (so far) at very low levels are unimpressive.

    John C.

    25 Feb 16 at 9:45 am

  15. Rivera’s numbers as a reliever looked decent. But he won’t ever be a prospect as long as he’s relegated to the bullpen in A-ball. Now, if he can continue to post good numbers in relief all the way up the chain then maybe he has a chance to become Aaron Barrett or Craig Stammen. We’ll see; he’s got a long way to go. If he blows through low- and high-A this year with ERAS in the 1-2 range, I’ll like him a lot more.

    But (as with Jake Johannsen), very disappointing early start to his pro career.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 16 at 11:04 am

  16. Wow, Fowler gives the finger to Angelos and re-ups with the Cubbies. Not sure what Epstein is using to print the money; we know Angelos just gets his out of the Nats’ pocket.

    Rivera had spent the college season as his team’s #1 starter and may have just run out of steam by the time he got to Upstate NY after the draft. I hope they give him another look as a starter, and that he’s bulked up a little in the offseason.


    25 Feb 16 at 1:19 pm

  17. That Fowler move is surprising. Nice to see Angelos get slammed, but I doubt he cares.


    25 Feb 16 at 2:03 pm

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