Nationals Arm Race

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

Rule-5 Protection Prediction history and existential question: does it matter?


Evan Lee gets protected; will he be an impact player? Photo via U of Arkansas

The 2021 rule-5 prediction season is over. I predicted we’d protect Tim Cate and Donovan Casey as “locks,” then listed several others as possibles, led by Evan Lee. In the end, the team protected Casey and Lee, but not Cate. And then on the even of the annual meetings, the owners locked out the players, the major league component of the meetings were cancelled, and the rule-5 draft was “postponed indefinitely.”

So, it remains to be seen if Rule-5 will ever matter again. Or if it even happens for this year.

That being said …. Here’s a fun trip down memory lane to show my history of my predicted Rule-5 additions (with links to each prediction piece), along with the Actual players the team protected (with links as well).

Here’s a better question; does Rule-5 matter? The Rule-5 draft used to occur one year earlier into a player’s career, which led to drastically better talent being available. Now though, many pundits (even scouting-heavy ones like Keith Law) don’t even follow it because the Rule-5 rarely leads to impact players changing teams.

So, how many of the above players who were added to “save” them from the Rule-5 draft actually turned into impactful players for the Nationals? Lets work backwards:

  • 2021: Casey and Lee: Obviously it is too early to tell, but we can project their immediate 2022. Casey likely serves as AAA OF depth in the near term of 2022. He is 6th on the depth chart right now, but could supplant the 5th man on that chart (Andrew Stevenson) with a good spring. Lee is now the 14th reliever or the 11th starter on our 40-man roster depth chart (meaning, he’s behind someone like Cade Cavalli who clearly would get called up before Lee if the need arose), and seems like a long shot to even get to AAA in 2022 given how many lefties we’ve signed recently. My guess is that he’ll start the season in the AA rotation, and might get pushed to the bullpen later in the season if the team needs it and is competing since he’s a lefty with big K/9 numbers.
  • 2020: Adon, Antuna: Adon toiled in the lower minors for most of the year, made it to the majors for a spot start and looked solid. Is it sustainable? We’ve argued about Adon’s 2021 season here already. Right now i’ve got him 8th on our depth chart, behind a likely non-tender in Erick Fedde, which might actually push him further up the chain sooner than later. Meanwhile, Antuna has been a disaster, is now moving off of SS and hit .230 in High-A with none of the power he’d need to present with his move to a corner OF position. The team seems to be clinging to the guy simply based on his massive IFA signing bonus. Apologists for Antuna point out that, hey, he was really good for a few weeks in August; that’s wonderful. He’ll be out of options before he’s useful to this team.
  • 2019: Braymer; already been DFA’d and outrighted after struggling; might be a 4-A org-guy as a ceiling.
  • 2018: Bourque: got shelled in AAA in 2019, waived in 2020, then left the team as a MLFA.
  • 2017: Gutierrez, Jefry Rodriguez. Gutierrez never really did anything for us and was traded to KC in the Kelvin Herrera deal. Rodriguez threw a bunch of mediocre starts and was flipped to Cleveland in the Yan Gomes deal; he’s now back with us as a MLFA for 2022.
  • 2016: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole. A ton of guys; anyone impactful? Voth has competed for the 5th starter job for years but has a career 83 ERA+ and might be a non-tender candidate. Bautista never did much for us: 33 career MLB plate appearances. Read had a PED suspension and a handful of MLB games. Marmolejos was a 1B-only guy who showed some gap power in AA but never above it. Skole was inexplicably protected as an age 26 corner infield guy whose profile seemed to mirror dozens of veteran free agents readily available on the market; he hit .222 in 2017 and then hit MLFA.
  • 2015: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee: This was Spencer Kieboom, the catcher, not his younger brother Carter, who remains on the 40-man as we speak. Kieboom was a AAA catcher who was worth protecting but he played just a handful of games in his MLB career. Chris Bostick didn’t last the full 2016 season before being DFA’d. Nick Lee lasted even less, getting DFA’d in July.
  • 2014: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace. All four players ended up playing in the majors for various lengths … but all four were role players for this team. AJ Cole was tried out as a 5th starter season after season, finally flipped to the Yankees when he ran out of options. Goodwin was another guy who couldn’t seem to break our outfield, but who has had spells of starting with some success elsewhere. Difo was our backup IF for years, and Matt Grace pitched in the Washington bullpen for years before getting outrighted and leaving via MLFA in 2019.
  • 2013: Solis, Barrett, Taylor. Sammy was good until he wasn’t, and his time with the 2018 Nats was his last. Barrett remains with the team after multiple surgeries, but is a MLFA this off-season and may be forced into retirement after so many injuries. Michael A. Taylor is an interesting one; he had a 2.7 bWAR season for the Nats in 2017, nearly a 20/20 season when he finally got full time playing time in CF. He won a Gold Glove this year for Kansas City, one season after we DFA’d him because we all thought Victor Robles was a better option.
  • 2012: Karns and Davis.  Karns had one good year as a starter in the majors … for Tampa. Career bWAR: 3.0. Davis pitched a little for the team in 2013, then got hurt, then never made it back to the majors.
  • 2011: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.  This was a big year; Norris was a big part of the Gio Gonzalez trade and made the all star team in 2014 for Oakland, but didn’t play much afterwards. Tyler Moore was great in his first year as our backup 1B/bench bat type, but never replicated his 2012 season. Jhonathan Solano was always our 3rd catcher and saw sparing duty until he got cut loose. Eury Perez played in just a handful of games for us before getting DFA’d and claimed by the Yankees in Sept 2014.
  • 2010: Marrero, Carr and Kimball. Marrero was a 1st rounder who “had” to get protected to protect the team’s investiment; he just never could get above AAA. Adam Carr and Cole Kimball were both relievers who looked promising after their 2010 minor league seasons but did relatively little afterwards: Cole never made the majors, while Kimball hurt his shoulder and never recovered.
  • 2009: Jaime, Thompson and Severino. three pitchers, none of whom did much. Jaime was a 2004 IFA who has a grand total of 13 MLB innings. Thompson was waived a year after being protected. Severino got a cup of coffee in 2011 then hit MLFA.
  • 2008: Nobody added. Not one eligible pick or signing from the 2004/2005 draft was considered worthy of protecting.

Conclusion: So, after more than a decade of rule-5 additions, who would you say is the most impactful player we’ve ever added? Brian Goodwin? Michael A. Taylor? Sammy Solis?

Two backup outfielders and a middle reliever. Not much of an impact. At the end of the day, Rule-5 is about protecting edge-of-the-40man roster guys, most of whom barely make the majors. So, yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’ll still do this post though 🙂

Written by Todd Boss

December 6th, 2021 at 10:49 am

21 Responses to 'Rule-5 Protection Prediction history and existential question: does it matter?'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Rule-5 Protection Prediction history and existential question: does it matter?'.

  1. FWIW, the Kieboom protected in 2015 was Spencer. His lil bro wasn’t drafted until the next year.


    6 Dec 21 at 12:32 pm

  2. Good call, i’ll make that distinction more clear in post.

    Todd Boss

    6 Dec 21 at 1:09 pm

  3. Despite the overall success of the club during the Rizzo era, one of the perpetual blind spots has been an ongoing tendency to overvalue certain players internally. When it has come to Rule 5, the Nats have been unable to differentiate from players they might like internally vs. players other teams might value enough to keep on their 26-man rosters. Who knows, maybe they’ve been extra paranoid since the bizarre case of Adrian Nieto in 2013, the last player the Nats have actually lost in Rule 5 who wasn’t returned. The White Sox took Nieto, a catcher who had not played above A+, carried him all of 2014 (with only 118 plate appearances), then he never played in the majors thereafter.

    One could argue that this Rule 5 paranoia is an extension of the organizational tendency to overvalue its prospects in general. (The last drafted players to stick as position players are Rendon and Harper, and the last successful starter they kept was Strasburg.) In fact, they’ve had better success acquiring minor-leaguers from other organizations and developing them than they have their own.

    In looking back through this list, the last player the Nats protected who was probably at some actual risk of being lost was Voth, who had a solid season at AA in 2015. Nevertheless, it would be 2+ more seasons before the Nats let him toe an MLB mound, so he might not have been ready to stick with another team in 2016, but there’s a chance he could have. And . . . all that would have meant losing was Austin Voth, he of the 5.19 career ERA.

    Of the “best” of those guys, they eventually had to trade Goodwin and Cole when they were claimed while being passed through DFA, and Taylor when he was out of options (as were Goodwin and Cole). The Nats released Solis (also out of options) in the spring of 2019 to avoid paying him his full tendered amount. When you burn all the options on a guy, clearly, he hasn’t convinced you that he’s really a key cog of what you want to do.

    I’ve always maintained that there’s much less risk to expose a guy to Rule 5 (where he would have to be kept all season on the 26-man roster) than there is to add him to your own 40-man, where he can be much more easily claimed/lost if/when you try to DFA him. That’s how they lost Bostick, among probably several others, although they got a decent player in return for the claim/trade of Bostick in Gushue.


    6 Dec 21 at 1:34 pm

  4. While in theory I agree that the risk of losing a guy to Rule-5 is low … its hard for lower minor leaguers to suddenly stick on a MLB roster for an entire season, I would argue that for some teams it is now actually easier, thanks to tanking.

    There were four 100+ loss teams last year (Baltimore, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Texas), and another three that had 90+ losses (Wash, Mia, Cubs). How many of these teams are going to continue to “not try” in 2022? Texas clearly is turning their fortunes around … how about the rest? It is hard to gauge what the rest of these teams will do in 2022 thanks to the work stoppage, but so far the other 6 of these teams have not done much. Plus the roster is now 26 not 25; so why wouldn’t a 110 loss team like Arizona or Baltimore take a couple of shots at AA level pitchers who are left unprotected?

    Todd Boss

    8 Dec 21 at 12:09 pm

  5. The funny thing is that even though the Nats added Evan Lee to the 40-man, he didn’t even get a single top-10 vote at Nats Prospects for best arm in the organization. There’s no way he would be picked and kept on a 26-man, even by teams that aren’t trying. Casey might have been, but not Lee.


    9 Dec 21 at 3:08 pm

  6. A bigger question here might be which teams are actually trying. The Rangers are, although typing up half a billion on middle infielders — one with a bad back and the other past 30 — may be a questionable way to do it. The Cubs signed Stroman and Gomes but still have some big holes.

    And the Nats? The Nats? (Bueller? Bueller?) Anybody home? Anybody doing anything? Pardon me for not getting too excited about Cesar Hernandez. Admittedly, I’ve noted that many of the big-bucks/long-term-contract guys don’t make a lot of sense with so many holes to fill, but there also seems to be some cognitive dissonance about actually making moves. The Nats (and several other teams) are going to be in serious scramble mode when this thing finally breaks and they have to fill out a roster.

    Also, if Fedde and Ross are still 40% of the Nat rotation, they aren’t trying.


    9 Dec 21 at 3:18 pm

  7. KW, the reason Evan Lee was added to the 40 man was because there is a lot of swing and miss with his stuff. A lot of teams value (overvalue?) that kind of stuff.
    Not disagreeing with you but to understand why.

    Mark L

    9 Dec 21 at 4:20 pm

  8. Yeah, as an over-aged 24-year-old at A+ who wasn’t deemed good enough to move up. What was part of the problem? The Nats kept insisting he was a starter. They switched him to bullpen for AFL . . . with results about the same, except even a much worse walk rate. In AZ, his K9 was 9.3, but so was his H9. There may be some swings and misses, but they’re just as many swings that connect, which is a problem.

    But don’t take my word for it. Lee isn’t in’s Nat top 30. He wasn’t among the nearly 50 players FanGraphs mentioned in the preseason. Those lists reflect a lot about the outside consensus. He’s totally not on radar. That doesn’t mean he can’t still make it — I suspect Suero was almost as anonymous at times — but it sure as heck means he wouldn’t have been high on anyone’s Rule 5 list. If I was another team, I’d be taking a lot closer look at guys like Troop or Schaller than I would have Lee.


    9 Dec 21 at 9:28 pm

  9. But my point isn’t to debate Lee specifically, it’s to point out that he’s another in a long line who the Nats seem to be overvaluing, not being honest in their internal assessment. They’ve been hyping Adon for three years, with pedestrian results. They generated their own buzz about Antuna, then felt they had to protect him. He may burn all his options before he even gets to the majors, if he gets to the majors. That’s yet another problem when you protect guys too early — you start burning options.


    9 Dec 21 at 9:39 pm

  10. OK, who is going to explain the Verducci Effect to him?

    Rizzo may be old school in many (perhaps too many) ways, but he has always believed in not overextending young arms.


    10 Dec 21 at 7:06 am

  11. You can about guarantee that Gray will not pitch more than 150 innings in 2022. The Nats have proven they’re too smart for 200.

    Mark L

    11 Dec 21 at 11:48 am

  12. I used to do a Verducci effect post every year, primarily because so many stats-heavy sites disputed it. What those stat arguments never realized was the types of pitchers Verducci picked. They were never relievers, and they were generally younger starters who made big leaps and pitchd a ton of high leverage innings. My worksheet on the article is last updated in 2017, but his analysis generally would pick 4 out of 5 right.

    As for Gray … 130IP in 2019, DNP in 2020, then 15 minors and 70 majors innings in 2021. Yeah. Right. He’ll be lucky to get to 150 next year.

    Todd Boss

    12 Dec 21 at 8:47 am

  13. Gray’s level of success will be one of the keys to turning the franchise around. So will Cavalli’s. To that end, here’s a question: if the new CBA (as expected) does away with the service time clock and ties service to age, do you go on and bring up Cavalli for all or most of the season, let him take his lumps and figure things out? Maybe they even think about bringing up Henry as well if he can get off to a good start in AA.

    I bring this up in part because there is precedence in this approach with Martinez and Hickey in the mid/late-2000s. They went from 66-96 in 2007 to the World Series in 2008. The Braves did something similar in 1990, turning things over to a young staff, and were in the World Series the next two years.

    I’m not saying that this approach would work with the Nats, who have a lot of holes to fill across the roster. It’s also a hard sell to the fan base to accept 90+ losses again. But if they are only semi-trying, it’s better to be semi-tanking with the purpose of letting the kids grow into their roles, I guess.

    The flipside is that they’ve tried that in the field with Kieboom, Robles, and Garcia, and it’s been ugly. Yes, I included Garcia, who a lot of the Natosphere seems willing to give a pass since he’s still young. That .275 OBP still gives me pause, though. At least he doesn’t strike out that much (17.4%).


    12 Dec 21 at 8:51 am

  14. Martinez and Hickey while with the Rays in the late 2000s . . .


    12 Dec 21 at 9:42 am

  15. If hard service time limits are put in, then yes look for everyone to basically abandon caution on injury recoveries and on inning limits and look for much faster promotions.

    I’m all for it. The nats don’t necessarily have a history of service time manipulation but other teams definitely do.

    Todd Boss

    13 Dec 21 at 12:17 pm

  16. The Nats kept Trea at Syracuse in 2016 trying to “reset” him past the Super 2 date after he had been up for 27 games in 2015. That was the only fairly blatant manipulation by this organization. They waited to bring Stras up in 2010, but there wasn’t really any rush since the team wasn’t going anywhere anyway.


    13 Dec 21 at 7:39 pm

  17. Agree; The Nats have not really played games with their players. I can only think of 3 players where it was even an issue

    – Harper was down until april 28th in 2012 … but that was not manipulation. As per my post on his callup in Apr 2012 , the nats had both Morse and Zimmerman hit the DL and needed bodies.
    – Strasburg kept down until well past Super 2 in 2010. But as KW says … its not like they had any real need to pull him up.
    – Turner’s manipulation, which didn’t work by the way, and probably led to the firing of one of the AGMs that off season (can’t remember his name).

    Todd Boss

    15 Dec 21 at 1:43 pm

  18. With Trea, didn’t they miss the Super 2 date by just a day or two? Yeah, that one was clear manipulation, which they totally screwed up.

    When the Nats called up Harper in 2012, he was 19 and hitting only .243/.325/.365 at Syracuse. He had not been great in his limited stint at AA at the end of 2011, either, so there was no manipulation involved with him. If not for injuries, he probably would have stayed at AAA until mid-summer, with justification. But there were a lot of injuries. I think Chris Marrero was injured at the start of the year, so he got skipped over for Tyler Moore, who became a folk hero. (I think he was promoted at the same time as Bryce.) Lombo was already up and getting a lot of playing time. I’m not sure why Bryce got the call over AAA legend Corey Brown, unless Brown was also hurt in that late-April time. He did get three looks later in the year.

    Also, Werth got hurt within a couple of weeks of Harper being called up, on top of Morse being out, which just sort of solidified Bryce staying up. Werth was out for two months.


    16 Dec 21 at 11:23 am

  19. Here’s what I wrote when it was determined that Turner hit super 2.

    He made it by exactly two days. Those two days of missed deadlines probably ended up costing the nats somewhere in the range of $10M.

    And, yeah, someone did get fired after that off-season.

    Todd Boss

    16 Dec 21 at 3:22 pm

  20. Since we have no news about anything else, here’s news about the 2014 2d rounder who stiffed the Nats:

    I never understood what happened with that one, other than that they so overpaid Fedde that they couldn’t sign 2d and 9th rounders. That was not a good draft for the Nats, at all. The highlight may have been getting enough out of McKenzie Mills in the 18th round to be able to flip him for the immortal Howie Kendrick, DC legend forever.


    20 Dec 21 at 2:32 pm

  21. Why did we not sign Suarez?

    Reports at the time, per my blog post with a link that’s now dead (of course), was as follows: Fedde apparently had a $3M offer from a team had he dropped into 2nd round, so when Nats took him Boras said they needed a lot more than slot. He eventually signed for 2.5M, whereas slot was $2.1M, which blew their draft. They punted on 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th rounders to try to recoup the money, but clearly didn’t have enough to overpay either Suarez or Byler.

    Todd Boss

    21 Dec 21 at 3:16 pm

Leave a Reply