Nationals Arm Race

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

Post Trade Deadline Nats Status: Playing the Kids and Losing on Purpose


New Acquisition Josiah Grey has looked pretty solid so far. Photo Washington Post.

The Nats did what they had to do at the trade deadline, flipping away 8 veterans (mostly FAs at the end of the season) and netting a boat load of prospects. This is kind of a clearing house post to talk about what’s transpired since and what to expect.

First off, I read another Nats blog today that talked about how the nats “really have to overperform to get to 87 wins.” Seriously? is there anyone out there that thinks this team is actually TRYING the rest of the way out?

This team is now 3-7 in their last 10, 7-13 in their last 20, and 10-20 in their last 30 games. That’s exactly the kind of production I hope to see the rest of the way out. Any win between now and Oct 1st is a game that sends the team the wrong way in the W/L standings and thus the wrong way in the 2022 draft.

Right now, the team sits in 23rd place amongst all teams, meaning they’d pick 8th in next year’s draft if the season ended now. They should be able to move up and underperform the next two teams below them (Kansas City and Minnesota, both of whom are playing around .500 ball over the past month and are showing signs of life), and may even get underneath Miami (who they “lead” by 3 games)… but that might be the extent of how bad they can get between now and the end of the season. The bottom 4 teams in the league are really, really going for it, and the Nats would have to play 10 games worse than Pittsburgh (who has been tanking all year, not just since July 30th) here on out to get into the top 5 in the draft. Reading the tea leaves, i’d guess the Nats end up with either the 5th or 6th pick in next year’s draft.

Last time they drafted that high? 2011, when they picked 6th overall and had Anthony Rendon fall to them.

It should be operation lose at all costs/play the kids from here on out.

Speaking of playing the Kids, so far the SSS verdicts on our trade returns has been decent:

  • Josiah Grey: 2 starts, 10 innings, 12 Ks. More please.
  • Mason Thompson: 3 clean outings in the bullpen. More please.
  • Riley Adams; well, didn’t think he was going to be in the bigs, but that was a solid dinger.
  • AAA Lane Thomas: nice start
  • AAA Kielbert Ruiz: ugly start
  • AA Gerardo Carrillo: a little more work to do; first start was underwhelming.
  • AA Donovan Casey: great start.
  • High-A: Drew Millas: 4 for 10 with a SB, not bad start for a Catcher.
  • High-A: Seth Shuman: 4 runs on 4 hits, 7 Ks but 2 homers in his first start.
  • High-A: Richard Guasch: a little unlucky in his first start, gave up 3 homers.
  • Low-A: Jordy Barly SS; not a good start; 13 Ks in 23 ABs in low-A start. Yikes.
  • FCL: Aldo Ramirez: yet to appear.

And, in Operation Figure Out If they Have Anything in the majors … so far the return of two very important prospects to the Majors has been fruitful:

  • Carter Kieboom is posting a 113 OPS+ in his 16 games back. And only 3 errors! (sarcasm).
  • Luis Garcia, not so much … same 82 OPS+ he posted last year, thought he is showing some pop with 3 homers since the end of July.

Please keep giving guys like Paolo Espino starts; if he’s an effective starter for MLB min, then don’t try to replace him in the off-season. Thanks to his 2020 opt-out, the team maintains control of Joe Ross for one more year too, at an arb salary figure that won’t be much more than a few million. He isn’t great, but he isn’t awful either so far in 2020.

Lastly, bravo to Gabe Klobotis for making the majors. I mean, the guy was a 36th round draft pick. He was drafted in a round that likely won’t exist anymore after the next CBA caps the draft rounds at 25-30 or so, since teams basically blow off their last 8-10 picks and have for years. It is patently amazing that a 36th rounder even hung out for more than a half a season, let alone earned promotion out of A-Ball, let alone made it to the majors. The Nats can count on one hand the number of guys who they’ve matriculated to the majors from such low draft positions: Brad Peacock (who was a 41st rounder in a different era of Draft-and-follow), maybe Billy Burns (a 32nd rounder in 2011), that’s it.

Lastly, Here’s a fun fact: of the 26 players on the current active roster…

  • 14 were in our Minor Leagues to start the season
  • 2 were in someone elses’ minor leagues (Grey and Thompson)
  • Just 10 were bonafide planned members of the Nats MLB roster to start 2021.

Its a brave new world.

Written by Todd Boss

August 9th, 2021 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Nats in General

25 Responses to 'Post Trade Deadline Nats Status: Playing the Kids and Losing on Purpose'

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  1. Good stuff Todd. That photo of Grey reminds me of Tom Seaver’s ‘drop and drive’ motion. Todd?

    Speaking of the future, Will over at Luke’s site has 11th rounder Marc Davis with him signing his contract wearing a Nats jersey and Nats cap. So, everything turned out fine with the draft this year.

    Mark L

    9 Aug 21 at 3:00 pm

  2. Baseball America does have Davis signing in their DB: mlb’s draft database still does not. That and his instagram link have me confirming his signign in the draft tracker artifact.

    Todd Boss

    9 Aug 21 at 3:29 pm

  3. Give Garcia a little time – he’s got a babip of .200, he’s hitting into some bad luck. Kieboom, on the other hand, has a babip of 303, so there’s a good chance his hitting is for real.

    kevin r

    9 Aug 21 at 5:33 pm

  4. Fair point on Garcia’s BABIP for 2021 … but also a warning since his babip for 2020 was so high.

    Interestingly, as of this writing he has the EXACT same OPS+ figure for all his time last year (when he slashed .276/.302/.366) versus this year when he’s hitting significantly worse (.200/.250/417). His babip for 2020 was an inflated .340 while for 2021 it is the quite low .200.

    So, his numbers last year were probably inflated but did not include the power he’s showing so far in 2021, while his 2021 numbers certainly will improve. His Rest of Season projections at fangraphs have him hitting roughly .260 here on out with a normalized BABIP, which still won’t get him anywhere close to a 100 wRC+, which still leaves something to be desired out of him. The team can withstand one plus-defensive drag on the batting order (ahem, Robles) but not multiple of them.

    Note; his wRC+ figures for the two years are also nearly identical: 78 for 2020, 74 for this year … a stat that I like and closely mirrors the OPS+ figure that some people don’t like.

    Todd Boss

    10 Aug 21 at 9:47 am

  5. There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, I think most agree that the Nats had to make these trades. Some may disagree about moving Trea with a year of control left, but if contract talks aren’t going anywhere, then why not maximize return?

    As for tanking, the team does still seem to be playing hard for Davey, which is all you can ask I guess. It is nagging that he’s on his way to his third clunker of a season out of four, although one shouldn’t blame him for the personnel problems over the last two seasons. Rizzo seems to be getting a pass on them, although blowing up the roster is sort of good cover and a good excuse to buy himself another couple of years at least.

    I just don’t want the Phillies in the playoffs . . . although they’ve got the easiest schedule, with the Braves and Mets still having to wade through the worst of their NL West confrontations. So the Nats need to do more to beat the Phils, but tanking against everyone else is fine.

    I have no idea why they’re playing stiffs like Parra and Guerra, though. Bring up Lane Thomas, even Donovan Casey. Also, if you’re going to send Suero and Rainey a message by demoting them, Robles needs the same message.

    As I’ve noted, I’m also scratching my head why they’re keeping Garcia at 2B instead of his natural position of SS. Unless they’re outright sure they’re going to sign Seager or Correa, let the SS of the future play SS.

    Espino is 34, so don’t get too excited about him as a piece for the future.


    10 Aug 21 at 11:24 am

  6. Gray looks very promising. He’s very athletic and a battler, kind of the Tanner Roark package. I like Gray’s prospects going forward more than I do Fedde’s, and at least as good as Ross’s, if not slightly better.

    You want to talk about bad BABIP luck? Ruiz is at .083 at Rochester. He’s only striking out 12.5% there. He’s making regular contact and will be fine. I just don’t understand why they’re not letting him get MLB playing time. He figures to be the starting catcher with the big club next year. Riley Adams is really the one who needs the regular minor-league playing time. Sure feels like they’re messing with Ruiz’s service time.

    Mason Thompson looks like he could be something. It should be noted that this is his first season as a reliever, a switch the Padres made when he was 23. Don’t get me started on why the Nats won’t make that switch with so many much older who need to make it.

    I don’t know what they have in Lane Thomas, but it would do them more good to give him a MLB look than Parra. Just put Parra on the IL and let him hang out at the end of the bench.


    10 Aug 21 at 11:50 am

  7. FWIW, the 2022 draft is supposed to be a lot more stacked than 2021, and that was before Rocker went back into the pool.

    The Nats played the long game by taking a high schooler in 2021. I can’t see the Lerners or the fan base being patient for a long rebuild, though. I expect a lot of free-agent spending in the offseason and a real push to get back to relevance in the every-team-flawed NL East. They’ve got a whole lot of holes to fill, though.


    10 Aug 21 at 2:51 pm

  8. KW

    13 Aug 21 at 4:55 pm

  9. Let’s stir things up with the claim that the guy at the top of this page is already the Nats’ “best” starter. I didn’t say “ace,” but “best” of the current lot. Corbin and Fedde have no claim right now. Ross has been inconsistent but at least has a better ERA than the other two. Espino has punched above his weight but really is a AAAA place-holder. The Nats’ second-best starter right now might already be Cavalli.

    (I should add that FIP is suspicious of Gray’s success, so I hope I’m not anointing too early.)

    How to the Nats get back into contention next season? Well, it’s hard to see them being able to if Stras doesn’t bounce back for at least a good chunk of it. They need his “ace” quality, plus they have so much invested in Corbin and him that they can’t really compete if that money isn’t paying off. Gray should be in the rotation. Fedde shouldn’t. Ross is on the borderline. I expect Cavalli to be in the rotation at some point, but do they really break camp with him with the big club? Or wait until after the Super 2 date well into June?

    I think they will probably need to sign or trade for at least one starter, or two if Stras isn’t expected back until well into the season, in which case they need two. And please, PLEASE don’t sign any ex-Cubs and expect a miracle rebound. Cavalli is really the only one from the minors anywhere close, unless you’re going to count on J-Rod or Sharp, neither of whom they have starting now, even while playing out the string.


    14 Aug 21 at 5:24 pm

  10. Time for Guerra to go. Thanks for 2019, Javy, but it’s over dude. We’ve got plenty of young arms in the system who deserve a look. It would be one thing if he was around to help keep things competitive, but that isn’t the case, at all.

    Alas, it wouldn’t be so easy to also kick Corbin to the curb.


    14 Aug 21 at 8:40 pm

  11. And down goes Ross, possibly with an injury that will extend into next season. Sigh.


    15 Aug 21 at 2:00 pm

  12. Current Tankathon standings (8/17):

    1. D-Backs .319
    2. Orioles .325
    3. Pirates .353
    4. Rangers .356
    5. Nats .424
    6. Royals .427
    7. Marlins .429
    8. Cubs .430
    T9. Twins & Rockies .445

    The Nats have moved “up” quite rapidly in this grid, but they’re in a very tightly bunched group, with only 2.5 games separating 5th and 10th. A little surge like they had at the end of 2020 could once again sink them four or five places in the draft. On the other end of the coin, they’re eight games “behind” the Rangers, so 5th is as high as any of these others like are going to go.

    At the other end of the division, I’m personally glad that the Braves have surged ahead of the much-loathed Phils and Mets, with the latter team in particular sinking fast. The Phils have -18 run diff and “shouldn’t” even have a winning record. (The Nats have a frightening -57 run differential.)


    17 Aug 21 at 8:14 am

  13. It seems to me that the Nats are probably going to be locked into the 5th spot. The royals are nearly a .500 team over the last month, but we’ve gone 8-22.

    Todd Boss

    17 Aug 21 at 3:04 pm

  14. Todd Boss

    17 Aug 21 at 5:06 pm

  15. It’s not just the Royals. There is only a 2.5-game difference between the Nats and the Twins and Rox.

    The Nats really need Cavalli to pan out, and sooner rather than later. Still hard to see them going with him at the beginning of 2022, though.


    17 Aug 21 at 7:24 pm

  16. Josiah Gray, Nats’ best pitcher. The Nats used five pitchers on Wednesday, none of who originated with the organization.

    For now, the Nats have passed the Marlins and have dropped to sixth in draft order. Just glad to see the Braves pulling away from the hated Phils and the much-disliked Mets.


    19 Aug 21 at 3:32 pm

  17. Some commentators have mentioned that as Cavalli rises to the higher levels of baseball and faces better batters he will have more difficulty fooling with his stuff outside the strike zone and needs to challenge batters before he is ready for the majors. Moving from A+ to AA his K/9 dropped from 15.71 to 12.91 and his B/9 correspondingly increased from 2.66 to 5.60. He needs more seasoning in Harrisburg and Rochester before he is ready for the majors.


    20 Aug 21 at 2:15 pm

  18. OK, I’ve been saying for two weeks that Guerra doesn’t have it anymore, that he’s done. Was Saturday finally a big enough disaster for them to finally move on from him?! I certainly understand keeping a few veterans around to try to win some games. But he’s clearly no longer one of those vets who can help. Bring up Bacus, Barrett, Voth, McGowin, even Clay — basically anyone who might still figure in plans for the future. I can accept being the ones blowing games because we’re finding out what we’ve got. Guerra was just a dike-plugger, one who has proved incapable.

    Cavalli — yes, they need to give him the time to properly develop, all the more since he spent so much time as a two-way player and didn’t concentrate exclusively on pitching until the pros.

    Cavalli’s definitely a part of the conundrum for the big club, though. They’ve got three more years of Soto, plus a weak division. I fully anticipate them making number of moves in the offseason to try to get back into contention in 2022. But what do you do with that rotation? Do you count on anything from Stras or Ross? Fedde has proven that he’s no more than a #4-5 at best. A Corbin turnaround certainly would be a key to success, and Friday provided a little hope on that front. But right now, the only certainties for the 2022 rotation are Corbin and Fedde, neither of whom have been particularly good this year. I keep mentioning Cavalli because he’s the only minor-leaguer on the radar to potentially contribute in 2022 on a regular basis, even if it’s not until mid-season. It’s just difficult to see them adding the three quality starters they need to add while also filling all the other holes.


    22 Aug 21 at 8:33 am

  19. Ok, so this criticism of Cavalli is pretty laughable, trying to parse his K/9 rates as he moved from high-A to AA.

    let me rewrite this. “Cavalli’s K/9 rates in his first pro season fell from unbelievably spectacular to just merely amazing when he earned a promotion that currently places him near the top of his draft class in terms of minor league promotion.”

    The guy still leads (or nearly leads) the ENTIRETY of the minors in K/9 rates for 2021. Perhaps thou doth protest too much here?

    Todd Boss

    23 Aug 21 at 12:10 am

  20. Yeah, the bum didn’t even throw a no-hitter last night.

    Mark L

    23 Aug 21 at 8:46 am

  21. I think the numbers show pretty clearly that we should expect Cavalli to have big-time K/9 numbers in MLB, even if he were promoted right now. The BB numbers do suggest more seasoning is necessary, however. Putting aside the question of whether it makes sense for the Nats to devote resources toward contending in ’22, if they do follow that path, I hope it doesn’t involve Cavalli until he demonstrates better command. The pipe dream (IMO) of contending in ’22 is not worth the risk of rushing someone who has shown real top-of-the-rotation potential.


    23 Aug 21 at 12:54 pm

  22. The Nats just claimed a first baseman from Tampa Bay who was hitting .875 OPS in AAA. Nice add to the inventory.

    Mark L

    23 Aug 21 at 3:27 pm

  23. I’m not particularly advocating that they rush Cavalli, but I also can’t see them signing three quality starters for 2022. They’re going to bet on Cavalli/Ross/Stras filling at least one of those slots, maybe two of them.

    They’re not going to outgun the Braves, though. They’re going to have to have better pitching, right? Acquire a SS or 3B and a LF, both big bats, two or three starting pitchers, and two or three relievers. But that’s an expensive collection. That’s how far they’re out of contention right now, though, at least.


    23 Aug 21 at 4:22 pm

  24. Cavalli and Romero both promoted to AAA.


    24 Aug 21 at 12:00 pm

  25. And the Cavalli hype train accelerates. I keep saying that the big club is betting on him for at least part of 2022.

    I have no earthly idea why Romero is still a starter. The team desperately needs lefty relievers, but they insist on keeping Romero and Braymer as failing starters. Yes, they blew a first-round pick on Romero (in the face of all logic). He has big K numbers but also gave up 9.3 hits per 9 innings to AA batters. (By comparison, Cavilli’s H9 at AA was 6.1, 5.3 at A+.)


    24 Aug 21 at 1:13 pm

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