Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Jessica;’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag


Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (
  • Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.


Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .


Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.


Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.


Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.





54 Responses to 'Ask Jessica;’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag'

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  1. Todd, where’s the love for your favorite, Voth. He was terrific last year when called up.

    I think the stat you were looking for is this …….
    Of the Top 50 players taken in the draft every year, 90% make it to the show at some level.

    Mark L

    3 Feb 20 at 3:27 pm

  2. Sam Fortier shares the WaPo beat with Dougherty. When Wagner left to cover the Mets for the NY Times, Jorge Castillo shared the beat with Chelsea Janes before he joined the LA Times to cover the Dodgers. Chelsea is now on the political beat covering campaigns, but the Post did bring her back for a little expanded World Series coverage. I think Adam Kilgore was on the beat by himself until they brought in Wagner to join him. Kilgore did it for several years.


    3 Feb 20 at 6:01 pm

  3. Who else remembers Chico Harlan?


    3 Feb 20 at 10:46 pm

  4. Wasn’t Harlan the very first WaPo beat writer for the Nats?


    4 Feb 20 at 8:46 am

  5. I’m not that steamed up about the 3B “battle” because I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a real contest. I think the season will open with a demi-platoon of Kendrick and Cabrera at 3B, with Howie still getting starts against some RH pitching. Kieboom can hit .750 in the spring and he’ll still very likely be sent down until April 22, or whatever the date is that the Nats will reclaim another year of service time.

    When will Kieboom be called up? Here’s a scenario that I haven’t seen floated: whenever Zim goes on the IL. Kendrick moves over to become the platoon partner at 1B, and Kieboom comes up. I doubt it will really happen like that, but it’s possible.

    More likely, after 4/22, Kieboom will come up whenever he’s shown that he’s sorta mastered 3B defensively and that he can hit consistently and with power, which he struggled to do in the second half of last season. The Nats aren’t going to just bench Kendrick for this kid to play. Howie had a 142 OPS+ last season, as well as a couple of homers in the playoffs that you may remember (for as long as you live!).


    4 Feb 20 at 8:59 am

  6. KW, the very first beat writer for the Post was Barry Svurluga. I recommend everyone read his column about Frank Robinson after his passing. Very moving.

    The gold standard for beat writers has always been Zuckerman. After the Times closed their sports section, he made the gutsy call to go out on his own and rely on reader contributions for income. If I recall correctly, he had contributions come in from at least 87 different countries(!!!). Including troops from Iraq and Afghanistan with pictures.

    Mark L

    4 Feb 20 at 9:11 am

  7. Voth: I absolutely think he outpitched Ross last year. Do I think he wins the 5th starter job? I do not. I think this team is obsessed with Ross and keeps finding ways to give him more chances.

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 20 at 9:12 am

  8. Chico Harlan! damn that’s a great pull. I’m updating this post-publishing for all these additions.

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 20 at 9:13 am

  9. On the Washington Post Beat reporter history, I found this great article to kick start it:

    Per this article and with known other details:
    – 2005-2008: Barry Svrluga
    – 2008-2009: Chico Harlan (with Tarik el-Bashir helping at times?)
    – 2010-2014: Adam Kilgore (with James Wagner from 2012-2014)
    – 2015-2018: Chelsea Janes (with James Wagner from 2015-16, then Jorge Castillo from 2016-2018
    – 2018-present: Jessie Dougherty with Sam Fortier assisting

    Does this look right?

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 20 at 9:28 am

  10. I’m more intrigued by the 5th starter battle. I expect it to be a true “best man wins” competition. In such a tight division, the Nats can’t afford to just give it to someone who is out of options (Ross/Voth) if someone who has options pitches demonstrably better (Fedde/McGowin/Crowe).

    That said, I expect Voth and Ross to be the top competitors. Between the two, Voth was better overall at the MLB level in 2019. I know Todd has been pointing to Ross’s 3.02 ERA in MLB starts last season, but Voth was better in several other areas (in MLB starts in 2019):

    Ross: 3.02 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 1.73 K/BB
    Voth: 3.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 3.08 K/BB

    I also give Voth a lot of credit for three strong starts against the Braves: 15.2 IP, 5 ER, 19 Ks (yes, 19!), 4 BB.

    The perception is that Ross isn’t that good in relief, but his numbers are skewed by a few awful outings: the memorable 7 runs (6 earned) surrendered to the Dodgers after the first (and last) time the Nats used an “opener,” 5 in 0.1 IP against the Phils, and 4 in 1.0 IP against the Braves.

    We’ll see. I think both Ross and Voth will be on the MLB roster when they break camp . . . and that Voth will be the starter.


    4 Feb 20 at 9:37 am

  11. Just saw Todd’s mention that he thinks the Nats have bent over backwards to give Ross every opportunity to be a starter. I agree, and would also say the same about Fedde, who has been even less deserving. Voth only got his real shot in 2019 sorta out of desperation.


    4 Feb 20 at 9:43 am

  12. Yeah, I agree with KW that the “proof” that Ross isn’t good in relief is an exceptionally small sample that shouldn’t be relied upon at all. If the team picks someone else to be the 5th starter, Ross’s poor stats as a reliever should have nothing whatsoever to do with whether the team decides to use Ross as the long man out of the bullpen.


    4 Feb 20 at 9:51 am

  13. Joe Ross career splits:
    – Starter: 3.91 ERA across 57 games and 313 IP. 1.319 whip, 274/95 K/BB.
    – Reliever: 9.67 ERA across 21 games and 22 ip. 2.015 whip, 20/12 k/bb.

    Not enough of a sample size really in Relief, but the numbers are pretty startling. He’s averaging more than two baserunners an inning in relief and was routinely shelled. but …. More than 20 MLB appearances. He basically has no minor league relief outings to use.

    One may argue that 22 innings isn’t enough of a sample to make a statistically significant judgement. Fine. But given what the team has seen out of him … would YOU trust him in relief if you were the manager? I certainly wouldn’t.

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 20 at 10:15 am

  14. Chico Harlen, who is now the Rome bureau chief for the Post, is most notorious for saying up front that he was too good to be writing about baseball.

    Mark L

    4 Feb 20 at 10:24 am

  15. Plus Ross’s career splits are skewed by including 2015-16 Ross, who looked like he was going to be a #2/#3 starter. Sadly, that version of Ross has never quite made it back from injury. I’m sure memories of that guy are what have kept Rizzo clinging to him — and me clinging to hope for him as well — but does that guy still even exist anymore?

    Frankly, if they’ve got real concerns about him as a reliever, then trade him. More than 20 teams out there need 4th/5th starters. He has value. Based on their performances last season, I have more trust in Voth right now than I do in Ross or Fedde.

    A wild card in all of this is Menhart, who has worked with all of these guys through the minors. My suspicion is that Menhart was the one who finally wrangled Voth a real opportunity.

    We’ll see. It will be very interesting whether it’s a true “open” competition.


    4 Feb 20 at 11:10 am

  16. Mark — in sorta fairness to Harlan, anyone with a pulse was too good to waste his/her time covering the 2008-9 Nats! Those 205 losses would take a few years off of anyone’s life expectancy. Much less having to cover Lastings, Elijah, and Bowden . . .


    4 Feb 20 at 11:14 am

  17. 22 relief innings is simply not enough to draw a conclusion about how a pitcher performs in relief under any circumstances. When those 22 relief innings contradict a much larger sample of innings as a starter (and I agree with KW that we shouldn’t use Ross’s whole sample and probably ought to look just at post-TJS numbers for him), we should rely on them even less.

    I would “trust” Ross in relief to the extent I think he is somewhere between a 4.00 and 4.50 ERA true talent pitcher regardless of whether he’s a starter or pitches out of the bullpen. Seriously, 22 innings of 9.00 ERA as a relief pitcher would have literally zero effect on my willingness to use Ross out of the bullpen.


    4 Feb 20 at 11:55 am

  18. I will note that it’s interesting that we’ve pretty much left Fedde out of this conversation. The Nats gave him 12 starts vs. 9 for Ross and 8 for Voth. Fedde wasn’t on a playoff roster, though, while Voth and then Ross were. I know that Fedde having an option makes it more likely that he’ll be on minor-league shuttle duty, but I also know that the Nats have perpetually been insistent that Fedde is, well, better than his stats have shown. They spent a 1st-round pick on him after all, gosh darn-it!

    A subplot in all of this during the spring will be whether one or two from among Crowe, Braymer, Mario Sanchez, maybe even Fuentes (suspended through most of April) look close to MLB viability. They already have a decent option in McGowin in reserve. If a couple of the others look close, they might be more willing to consider trading Ross or Fedde. (Plus Sterling Sharp could be coming back if he doesn’t stick with the Marlins.)


    4 Feb 20 at 12:21 pm

  19. I don’t live in the DC area but I do follow Todd Dybas on twitter and he is supposely Sportswriter for NBCSW, covering the Nationals. BBWAA, PBWA member.


    4 Feb 20 at 4:27 pm

  20. OK, trying to digest the Betts trade. Everyone seems to be focusing on the Dodger lineup, but I’m looking at the rotation. Ryu, Maeda, and Hill are gone. Price hasn’t pitched a full season since 2016, and Kershaw hasn’t since 2015. Good luck with that. Also, Price’s postseason record is 5-9 with a 4.62 ERA. I think their rotation is weakened more than folks seem to be acknowledging, even while adding Price.

    Also, Pederson’s 36 HRs are gone, as well as cheap/controlled talent in Verdugo, who may already be better than the always-injured Pollock. Yes, Betts is a significant addition to the lineup, but he never hit 36 HRs in Fenway so probably won’t in Chavez Ravine. Also, in the three rounds of the playoffs in 2018, Betts hit .188, .217, and .217, not exactly Soto/Rendon level under the bright lights. And don’t kid yourself, this deal has NOTHING to do with the regular season. It’s all about a ring. Pederson had a .953 OPS in the Nat series in 2019 and a 1.044 OPS in the Nat series in 2016. Just sayin’.

    So . . . we’ll see. Of course the first reaction is “OMG, the Dodgers now have Betts!” But that’s not all there is to it.

    As for the Bosox, wow, how quickly their championship team has come apart. They won only 84 games last year. Could they be a sub-.500 team in 2020? They’ve still got some decent talent, and they’ve now cleared some cap space, but too late in the offseason this year to do much with it. And they still don’t have a manager.


    5 Feb 20 at 8:18 am

  21. Plus the Dodgers still have done NOTHING to improve their bullpen. Treinen, you say? Even if he has a great turnaround, um, he’s not the guy you’re going to want on the mound in a playoff elimination game.

    (Hey Clayton, has Soto’s ball landed yet? Yeah, that worked out so well for them.)


    5 Feb 20 at 9:04 am

  22. Now it looks like Stripling is also a part of the Pederson deal, further reducing the Dodger starters’ margin for injury.

    Frankly, the Angels have gotten interesting, even with not nearly enough pitching.


    5 Feb 20 at 12:43 pm

  23. It would not be the hot stove without a blockbuster. And for me, a blockbuster involves not only stars changing teams but a multiple of major league starting caliber players.

    So many “major” trades are stars for prospects, and they just don’t feel the same as the trades of old.

    Betts is an MVP caliber player. How can he not improve the Dodgers? Perhaps the question is whether the Dodgers are overall a greater threat to the Nationals in the postseason without Ryu, Hill, and Maeda but with Price and May? Got to give them credit for going for it.

    I hope this is a harbinger of other player movement, I just hope it isn’t the Braves getting Kris Bryant or Arenado, though I’m afraid it will be.

    I do trust Rizzo here. The Nats have positioned themselves well to wait for the right deal to come to them, and have sellers (Chicago, Colorado) and buyers (Cleveland) with star third basemen who match up well with the Nationals inventory. I’d love to have Ramirez on this team.


    5 Feb 20 at 1:11 pm

  24. With Pederson, an established starter like Stripling, and a prospect going to the Angels, it feels like the Dodgers are setting up for a hell of a return. I sure hope it’s not Adell going back for a post-Mookie world. The Angels wouldn’t be that crazy…right?


    5 Feb 20 at 1:27 pm

  25. It’s not a given that the Dodgers will be “better.” When you’ve got a well-oiled machine, sometimes it’s the little tweaks that get you over the hump more so than the big ones.

    Here’s the deal: the Dodgers lost in the playoffs because of their bullpen (Gm 5) and because they didn’t have a decent fourth starter and/or didn’t trust Maeda to start (Gm 4). The Betts/Price and Pederson trades address neither of those issues. Friedman should have been all in on pursuing Will Smith and Walt Harris, the two best relievers on the market. Instead, those guys went to probably the two best OTHER teams in the NL. Price essentially replaces Ryu as the #3 starter, but who is #4? Wood? Let’s see, he had a 5.08 ERA, 6.38 WHIP. May and Urias will be innings-limited and possibly shut down by the playoffs, or only going a few innings at the very least.

    Regardless, the Dodgers are still very good. Maybe they actually get over the hump this season. But if so, it won’t be because these trades particularly fixed anything for them. Their bullpen still looks pretty shaky to me.


    6 Feb 20 at 9:20 am

  26. KW

    6 Feb 20 at 10:00 am

  27. Closer to home, here’s Dougherty’s take on the crowded Nat bullpen race:

    Perhaps not breaking camp with the team, but interesting to keep an eye on for later in the season, would be Condra-Bogan, Istler (who’s a comp for recently added Ryne Harper), Andrew Lee, and Bartow. Farther down the chain, the assumption is that Raquet will be in the ‘pen in AA, and everyone has tagged Cronin as a fast riser. Plus we’ve been told since he was drafted — long, long ago — that the great Seth Romero may end up in the ‘pen. (As I recall, Keith Law was saying that Romero would be in the MLB ‘pen for the playoffs the same summer he was drafted! Yeah, about that . . .)


    6 Feb 20 at 10:09 am

  28. Good comp on Istler/Harper. I hadn’t made that connection, but I can definitely see it now.

    It’ll be interesting! I’m officially antsy waiting for the team announcement on NRIs. I always look forward to seeing some different faces in red and white every spring, and if this year tracks with history, at least one of those NRIs will be with the Nats on Opening Day.


    6 Feb 20 at 12:03 pm

  29. Romero will not be in the pen until he fails as a starter. And as the Luzardo experience has taught, you do not give up on a lefty starter with top of the order stuff until he is fully rehabbed from his surgery. I am very hopeful on Romero.

    Harper has gotten it done at every level. Istler still has yet to prove he has solved AAA, and last year was held down at A+. Fresno will be a good test. Harper started otherwordly and faltered, and I don’t see the Nats giving up a ninth round pick who signed over slot for AAAA filler. He’s proven effective.

    Bogan has the shine of a rising top prospect, and Cronin the next college closer graduating quickly through the system a la Storen and Glover.

    I would not be surprised if there are not other arms, like Fernando Abad, who are not yet accounted for and for whom the Nats are bidding to bring in on ML contract.


    6 Feb 20 at 2:43 pm

  30. The Nats signed Abad, to a minor-league deal. He’ll be in camp.


    6 Feb 20 at 3:21 pm

  31. That was my point. People like him (not discussed on MLBTR as top-50) are still out there.


    6 Feb 20 at 3:43 pm

  32. Going back to Ross-Voth above. It’s a great dilemma to have and the idea that the loser is not needed as a bullpen pice or even starter depth if Fedde really impresses this spring.

    Voth is more controllable and Ross is on his second elbow. A lot of teams that need starting pitching and play in launching pads would welcome a sinkerball pitcher like Ross. So if he loses the battle, and the right deal is out there for Ross, I’d rather the Nats ship him out then have his value evaporate in the bullpen, especially if it means that an optionable Fedde goes to a launching pad at Fresno and then, loses his value as well.

    This year is the window for all three (and Kyle McGowan) to break through or lose value altogether. The Nationals will have starters (TBD) graduating from AA now that will be part of the conversation next spring. Starting pitching is the most valuable trade currency in MLB today, and has been for the Nationals in recent years. Selling on Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock was good; not selling on Taylor Jordan turned out to be bad; selling on Giolito was bad. But selling will have to happen.


    6 Feb 20 at 3:53 pm

  33. Another point on the Istler-Harper comp. Harper is a big body hurler, which the Nationals prioritize. Istler is listed as 5’11, but in person looks smaller and that height and weight may be over estimated.

    Istler may be held back by Nationals’ size bias, even as his numbers (micro ERA, no home runs allowed last year) impressed. Istler is also a Duke grad, and so there is the cerebral element there, as well.


    6 Feb 20 at 5:00 pm

  34. Trying to guess on NRIs from within the organization…

    Definitely: Yadiel Hernandez, Luis Garcia, Wil Crowe, Taylor Gushue
    Probably: Jacob Condra-Bogan, Mario Sanchez, Andrew Istler, Cole Freeman
    Maybe: KJ Harrison, Frankie Bartow, Joan Baez, Jhonatan German, Dakota Bacus, Paolo Espino
    Longshots: Jackson Rutledge, Nick Banks, Matt Cronin, Tim Cate, Andrew Lee, Nick Raquet


    7 Feb 20 at 2:29 am

  35. fore- Istler’s treatment by the Nats is continuing proof of their size bias. Why did they trade for him in the first place?

    Sao- Since there is at least a chance that Cronin rockets through their system it would be in their best interest to bring him in to big boy camp to take a look.

    Mark L

    7 Feb 20 at 5:04 am

  36. NRI possibilities: don’t forget Drew Ward, Jacob Wilson, Abad, Quachenbush, and Henderson Alvarez. They usually have a Chuck Taylor OF type or two kicking around in camp as well, but I’m not sure who they’ve re-signed.

    I’m curious whether Fuentes will get an invite while finishing his suspension. He had better numbers at the AA level than Crowe, Sanchez, Braymer, and Sharp.

    I would be (pleasantly) surprised if Rutledge and Cronin get an invite. I would consider Banks more likely than Harrison (although Harrison might be there just to catch, if he’s still catching any), and at least as likely as Freeman. Banks played more at AA and has a higher upside than Freeman. Both were in the AFL, as were Condra-Bogan, Lee, and Raquet, and that’s often a good indicator that they’ll be in camp. I would be a little more surprised by Cate, since he’s barely pitched above A+, but it’s possible.

    I hope they give Yadiel Hernandez a real look, but I’m not holding my breath. Noll proved last year that you can get their attention with a strong spring, though. Unlike Noll, Yaddy would have regular-season numbers to back up his legitimacy.

    Does Crowe have an outside shot at winning the 5th starter slot? It’d been a long shot, but I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely beyond the realm of possibility, particularly if the others struggle.


    7 Feb 20 at 7:42 am

  37. Also, Guerra is on a minor-league contract and would be an NRI.

    One thought that may impact how many minor-league pitchers get NRIs: the Nats have A LOT of legit bullpen contenders who will have to get game innings. There aren’t going to be that many game slots available, not to mention even mounds for throwing on the side, and catchers. So while the Nats do have a number of interesting arms who are close to MLB level, not all of them will be in MLB camp.


    7 Feb 20 at 7:47 am

  38. Yeah, I wasn’t counting guys who were on our roster last year or whom the Nats have brought in on minor league deals this winter. There will be some of those guys in the mix too.


    8 Feb 20 at 4:51 am

  39. Spring Training is about to start and Maybin, Pillar, Holt, and Brad Miller are still unsigned. C’mon Rizzo, time to do a little bench upgrading. Yes, I know the 40-man is full, but any regular reader of this site could suggest two or three guys who wouldn’t be missed.

    I’m surprised that Dozier and Puig remain unsigned, despite (or perhaps because of) projections of decent contracts for both. Puig might not be the best fella to add to a locker room, but Dozier seemed to be a mensch.


    10 Feb 20 at 7:10 pm

  40. Puig is mentally unstable. You would never expect him in a Rizzo clubhouse based on lessons learned.

    Maybin was excellent last year. There are enough unsettled outfields that someone else can give him regular or semi-regular playing time. Holt will get far more PT with an AL team.

    Of that group, Pillar profiles most as a Nats player, or even Zobrist. But Taylor will not be tossed aside for Pillar, and Stevo is cheap and earned his way onto the 26 man. I’m a big Stevenson fan.

    So I can’t see a path to 26 with the Nats.


    11 Feb 20 at 8:36 am

  41. I think Rizzo is waiting for Arenado’s (or Bryant’s) trade price to drop low enough that the Nats would meet it. I think that, especially after the Betts outcome, the Braves and Nats and Yankees and other aspirants are lurking and quietly talking, because the Cubs and Rockies are sellers with full inventory and only days-weeks left to move $$$.

    But Rizzo doesn’t have to overpay. There will be no Adam Eaton or Doolittle-Madson or Melancon rush buys.


    11 Feb 20 at 8:42 am

  42. Not looking for the Nats to add Puig, just expressing a little surprise that he hasn’t been signed. Some expected him to get a decent three-year contract, but we’re now down to the time of 1/$1M contracts.

    Speaking of such, you could sign three guys to those and still be paying less than you’d have to pay Taylor. Just sayin’. As for tossing him aside, I’d do it in a second if they’d come up with another CF option. (After all, the Nats tossed him to AA for much of 2019.). Robles is always an injury waiting to happen, and there seems to be some question whether Stevenson is trustworthy in CF, even though that was his primary position in college.

    As for 3B trades, not holding my breath there. I can’t see the Nats taking on Arenado’s contract, even if the Rox are funding part of it. A potential Bryant deal intrigues me more — neither the money nor the years of commitment would be as much — but only if the Nats don’t have to give up any core pieces to do it. As I’ve noted before, Taylor would be a CF upgrade for the Cubs over Almora, and they also could use a back-end starter of the Ross/Fedde variety. Garcia and/or Kieboom would have to be included, plus some other pitching prospects not named Rutledge (who I think is close to untouchable right now).

    Another possibility would be that the Cubs might be looking to do what the Bosox did and attach a bad contract to a Bryant deal, which I guess would be Heyward or Darvish. If so, then they would be expecting less in return.


    11 Feb 20 at 9:40 am

  43. I don’t expect Robles will ever play more than 125 games a year moving forward, that’s just the way he plays.
    A reminder about Stevenson’s ability to play CF, his nickname in college was Spiderman.

    Mark L

    11 Feb 20 at 10:49 am

  44. KW you are right that Taylor and Ross are natural fits in Chicago. There is also someone who will like Difo and think he has value as looking better when he came back up late in the year. The Nats have lots of arms down below, and that will help.

    Arenado optout and Bryant’s contract make them both two year rentals unless resigned. If the Rox sent some coin with Arenado…I love the defense he would bring that Bryant would not.


    11 Feb 20 at 10:57 am

  45. The Trashstro case takes an interesting turn:

    If this suit is allowed to move forward, the relevant perps will be deposed under oath.


    11 Feb 20 at 12:36 pm

  46. Would love to see some of these non-apologizers testify under oath about the buzzers.

    I hope that player gets legal traction.

    Mark L

    11 Feb 20 at 12:57 pm

  47. Which player would you rather have?

    A: .265/.323/.476
    B: .289/.381/.499

    A is Arenado’s career split away from Coors; B is Bryant’s career split away from Wrigley. Without doubt, Arenado is better defensively, but Bryant’s career OPS away from friendly confines is 82 points higher.

    The real Catch-22 for the Nats in thinking about an Arenado deal would be that the Nats don’t have that much in A-list prospect capital to get the Rox to pay enough of his salary. The conversation probably would start with Kieboom + Garcia + Rutledge, and that wouldn’t be enough. Some might do that deal, but I wouldn’t.

    Maybe the Cubs would want just as much for Bryant. I don’t know. If they’re truly looking to dump salary, though, they’re going to be seeking a Betts/Price-type deal, which didn’t net much in return. So . . .

    Bryant + Heyward for Eaton, Taylor, Fedde, Crowe, and Garcia

    Would I do that? I dunno. Of course for all we know, Davey may not like Bryant from his time in CHI, in which case there’s not even a discussion.

    Also, do the Cubs or the Rox value Denaburg or Romero? Sure would be nice to get “prospect” value for them . . . unless folks still believe Romero will turn out like Luzardo has.


    11 Feb 20 at 4:53 pm

  48. Interesting comp – perhaps drill down on who hits better at Nats Park or vs. Nats.

    I cannot see the Nats as an organization doing a deal to absorb high salary bad deals. It does not feel like a Lerner thing to do.

    A trade depends on how much Nats players that we devalue here are valued by actual major league teams. Many people here were good and sick of Felipe Rivero when he was shipped out for Melancon. Well, I guess the Pirates had a good eye for talent. And I don’t know how much Taylor Hearn was valued here, but he has a major league career ahead of him.

    I’m reminded that we would have traded Danny Espinosa for a bag of balls. Well, the Nationals traded him for Kyle McGowin and Austin Adams.

    With that said, I am certain that other teams value Taylor a bit, as well as the Nationals fifth starter candidates. And other players as well. I am sure someone has Yadiel Hernandez on their “top prospect” list without the pretense of age-ism. Just as the Blue Jays thought Kyle Johnston was worth a pitcher who was allowing only rare inherited runners to score.

    The problem will not be what the Nats can offer, but likely the ease with which the Braves and Yankees can offer a lot.


    11 Feb 20 at 5:38 pm

  49. KW

    12 Feb 20 at 6:37 pm

  50. German gets an invite, but not Condra-Bogan, Istler, Lee, etc. Mark’s guy Dakota Bacus finally gets a look. Among field players, not a lot of love for rising prospects, other than Garcia. At least Yadiel Hernandez finally gets somewhat of a shot.


    12 Feb 20 at 6:40 pm

  51. Shameless self-promotion, but here’s what I wrote up for TalkNats on NRIs and new arrivals:


    12 Feb 20 at 8:42 pm

  52. Great writeup Sao. You obviously put a lot of time in to it. I hope for the state of his confidence Drew Ward doesn’t read what you thought of him.

    Yes, KW, I was looking to see if the invite was extended to Bacus. I’m not sure why he chose to come back to the Nats, they must have offered him extra money.

    Mark L

    13 Feb 20 at 7:34 am

  53. Sao — yes, good job. Did you have to take a cold shower after looking at all of those 8+ ERAs for pitchers and 37% K rates for hitters? Geez, what a motley crew overall. When I got to the Bonifacio ID, it occurred to me that this NRI collection is basically what the Nats were fielding as a “major-league” team in 2008-9, but now it’s our AAA squad.

    I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t at least give a look to aging demi-prospects like Banks, Cole Freeman, Mario Sanchez, and Istler, not to mention someone like Condra-Bogan who would seem to have a legit shot of possibly contributing with the big club this season.


    13 Feb 20 at 8:51 am

  54. Sao, lots of work there, and thank you for taking the initiative. My only critique for the next time you do it is to include more of what the player has done to inspire confidence and an invite. The subplots of the players invited are most interesting. Here is my read of additional thoughts from folks on that list:

    Thames and Castro – Both players who are actually competing for something that matters. Thames is competing against Howie for AB against more right handed pitching. I don’t consider it a given that Thames plays against every righty, especially with the many other talents manning the infield right now. Martinez may confront a reality that the best lineup has Kieboom, Kendrick, and Castro in it, just as the Nationals recognized by the end of last year that Howie needed to be in the lineup as much as possible. True, there is a lot of talk about Howie not being able to play every day anymore, but what does that mean? He is an incredible athlete and mental specimen who rehabbed a torn Achilles to do what he did last year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. The Howie talent of last year has as much likelihood of being able to plan 120 games plus playoffs. So Castro and Thames have a lot to play for.

    Both players also have the clubhouse pedigree and bring derivative benefit. Thames has been a regular on a playoff team, so he is a proven winner and contributor to a proven winning atmosphere. He has never won a WS, so he is a hungry player on that front, necessary in a drive to repeat.

    So is Castro. And Castro was so beloved in Chicago by his teammates, who viewed him even them as a mentor. And he loves the Nationals and slots in as a mentor to young Dominican superstars. Perfect timing, along with his coming union with Kevin Long.

    Given his competence in last year’s play (for a bad team and late in the year) and his willingness to play 3B, Castro seems like a perfect bridge to Kieboom’s development in AAA this year. Reflecting on your detailed summaries, it occurs to me that the Nationals are not at all likely to trade for Bryant or Arenado — that the team really IS well situated, with internal plan A & B & C, and can revisit the issue well into the year if those plans actually fail. Their floating interest, however, drives up the price for the Braves, just as it likely did on Josh Donaldson — mission accomplished!

    Castillo – Really a good idea to have a veteran catcher who has a higher ceiling for nothing more than spring training, when so many arms are working out and eve learning from catchers, and yes, shouldering innings in hot Grapefruit games. No risk.
    Good move.

    Jacob Wilson – What’s not to love? A versatile infielder with demonstrable success at AAA and in the organization. He earned a callup last year but there was no room. But given that he went to Korea, heneither stalled nor withered on the vine. And he gets to showcase in spring training. I’m happy he’s back!

    Bonifacio – Another high character, highly popular player who is a Parra analog, only one willing to play that role in AAA or Harrisburg as a mentor for the younger Spanish speaking players developing into big leaguers (eg Garcia, Hernandez, German, Ready). Again, a wise pickup for overall organizational building.

    Yadiel Hernandez – I will always dismiss the “prospect” lists until they include him in his rightful place among the top 5 prospects in the Nationals’ system. He came in at AA (because he could only get out of Cuba well into his twenties) and has only developed power, and to the opposite field no less (without losing his great batting eye and on-base qualities), while steadily rising and without stalling or being overmatched. Prospect means likelihood of success at a higher level. I see no reason not to believe in him. I am sure other organizations have asked the Nationals, particularly low budget teams and second division teams who’d like to pluck him away, hoping the Nationals see him as no more than AAAA (like others here do). I see him as an everyday OF/DH who will step in as an Soto insurance policy if our mega-superstar gets hurt. He has certainly logged the innings and put in his work, with a full winter season in Mexico behind him (and MVP runner up). Hopefully his defense is improving and he is not worn out from all the work of the past year.

    Paolo Espino – Is the kind of player that renders it unnecessary to sign drek for starting pitching depth. He is a proven ML player who is willing to toil in AAA as #8 or 9 on the starting pitcher depth chart. I wonder if he has an opt out – if not a bargain to have him in Fresno.

    Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer – Both on a show me track for AAA. Braymer showed signs of coming around in his last starts, and his career has shows rocky adjustments to a new level and impressive success after being rechallenged. As a low draft pick, he’s fun to believe in. And now that he is in AAA, he’ll be fun to watch as the Nationals think ahead to a 2021 staff with a homegrown lefty coming up closer. Crowe is the kind of pitcher who, if he does not really show higher than #5 starter stuff, becomes excellent trade bait with a good AAA year, because he is ranked high on the prospect lists and so has that hype already in place. I think that with Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin in place for the coming years, and answers coming this year on Voth-Ross-and Fedde, the nationals can afford to sell on anyone who has less than #3 starter quality. In other words, old Roark keep, new Roark sell.

    Abad – Just always finds a way to get to the majors. Another great job to get him on a minor league deal.
    Perhaps a post-purgatory buy low.

    Kyle Finnegan – So, who closes at Fresno? We’re about to find out everyone who should. Perhaps no realistic path to opening day, but considering that he was the ONLY minor league free agent to get a 40 Man spot out of the Nationals, who were selective enough to allow Marmolejos, Ward, and Sterling Sharp to get away, that says a lot about how high they are on his potential. With Glover now gone, and Cronin no higher yet than A-, he’s the vanguard of a complement of players who could break through to be the next hot arm that gets promoted in-year because he’s mowed everyone down. Hopefully this arm wont get away like Austin Adams did.

    Jhonathan German – One of the most interesting of all those getting an NRI. His being invited, while others (Condra-Bogan) were not, is the tipoff of a prospect underranked by others – or, as Sao raises, a player on the cusp of Rule 5 eligibility whom they want to thrown into the pool to see how he swims.

    Drew Ward – So happy, really, to see him come back to the organization. With Thames on a one year deal, Zimm and Howie aging, he gets one more shot to establish his relevance. It would be great if we can look back on last winter and reflect how he went unsigned and unclaimed by other organizations who could have had him for nothing. But he has some holes he needs to fix. Hopefully he has this winter. Still young, if many years in. Now or never, but great that there is still one more now.


    13 Feb 20 at 11:00 am

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