Nationals Arm Race

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

Observations from the Big club


I looked back at my posts recently … and less and less do I even bother to write about the Nats themselves. In the bad years, i’d post much more frequently and with frustration about the big league team, the decisions made, etc. But I feel like I fell into a trap of sports-writing (if that’s what i’m doing here), where its easier/more interesting to write critical stuff than it is to write positive stuff when the team is good.

I think, for me, this culminated in the 2019 season, where I posted on May 28th a big post discussing who we should be trading. And then, of course, the team rebounded, and honestly I never felt like I could celebrate their success b/c I was almost rooting for them to fail b/c i’d given up on them so early and didn’t want to be proven wrong.

So, since I have spoken almost nothing of the Nats themselves this year, I thought i’d take stock of where we are just ahead of the All Star Break/Draft/halfway point, and put in some color about what we may expect the rest of the way, what’s coming in terms of prospects (haha), and where we may be going next year.

As I write this on Friday July 8th, the team is 30-55, a .353 winning percentage that puts them on pace for a season-ending record of 57-105. And they’re getting worse: they’re 10-20 in their last 30 and will look to move everyone not tied down at the trade deadline. They’re currently sitting with the 3rd worst record in the league and are just a couple of games “ahead” of the two worse teams (Oakland and Cincinnati) in the race for the #1 overall pick in 2023. For comparison purposes … a 57 win team is actually worse than when this franchise bottomed out in 2008-2009, when they went 59-102 and 59-103 in successive seasons. However this year, this team is managing to do this with a $160M payroll and several guys getting paid as if they’re among the best in the league.

So, we knew they’d be bad. They barely spent any money in the off season to improve the roster. But what’s happened? Lets look at the culprets:

Starting Pitching

Amazingly, the Nats have already seen an entire rotation of starters hit the DL so far, and we’re only halfway through the season.

  • Strasburg started on the DL, made one start, and might be done for the season (or career). He’s just made his 16th career trip to the DL.
  • Sanchez never made it to Washington.
  • The guy who initially replaced Sanchez (Josh Rogers) got hurt.
  • Seth Romero was called up just to be put on the 60-day DL, which mean’s he’s getting MLB pay. How does that make you feel about your job, the fact that this guy got nearly $3M in a bonus after he was basically fired from his college team, then has been “rewarded” for multiple team rule violations by being socially promoted, and now is set to earn another season’s full-salary (north of $700k) for doing nothing. Good work if you can get it.
  • Joe Ross had a spring injury that’s turned into a second TJ surgery.
  • They brought up Evan Lee, gave him a start and he got hurt.
  • They called up Tetreault to cover for the completely ineffective Adon (who’s now back, natch), and four starts later he’s got a frigging stress fracture in his shoulder.

The starters who have managed NOT to get hurt have been … underwhelming mostly:

  • Corbin: a 5.68 ERA and for a time the 2nd worst ERA among qualified starters in the league, behind only …
  • Adon, who now sits 1-12 with a 7.10 ERA. The fact that he’s back in the big leagues and being given starts is patently ridiculous at this point, but what choice do they have (see below).
  • Espino, a 35-yr old minor league lifer who is now sticking as a starter … and has the best ERA+ of the entire bunch. They should trade him just to give him a shot at a contender since he’ll be 40 by the time we’re good again.
  • Fedde, who I thought should have been non-tendered last fall, but is now our 2nd or 3rd best starter and has thrown 3 straight effective starts to lower his ERA from 4.80 to its current 4.29. Shows you what I know.
  • Grey, who I somewhat worry is having one of his control years completely wasted right now, given that he’s one of the hall mark pieces of return for the Scherzer/Turner deal. His starts are up and down, but he’s showing some solid progress. In an ideal world, he’d be an awesome #3 starter behind two studs (Cavalli and Henry anyone?) and a couple of veteran mercenaries on a playoff team.
  • (as noted in the comments … I completely forgot about the ridiculous Aaron Sanchez, who had an ERA north of 8 (eight!) in 7 starts before getting cut).

All this being said, at this point there’s basically nobody left to call up. Waiver claim Abbott has struggled in AAA so far (5.55 ERA). So has 2022 MLFA Verrett (5.07 ERA). So has long-time Nat farmhand Jefry Rodriguez (6.47 ERA). So has former rule-5 trashed-us-on-his-way-out-the-door-betcha-hes-super – happy-to-be-back Sharp (5.77 ERA). So has long-man-pushed-into-rotation Carson Teel (4.91 ERA). Henry has been spectacular … but is on the DL. Even Cavalli‘s numbers are rough (4.54 ERA despite last night’s gem (7ip, 2 hits 0 walks, 0 runs). In fact … how the heck does Rochester have a winning record?? They’re 43-38 despite a team ERA of 4.73 and almost no effective starters. Anyway.

The point is this: There’s nothing on the horizon that’s coming up to save the MLB rotation. Maybe Sanchez (who is doing rehab assignments) could come up and send Adon back to AAA where he belongs. But the next injury likely means Abbott up (he’s the only other 40-man guy), or one of the aforementioned guys with AAA ERAs in the 5s. It’d be malpractice to call up Cavalli (or Henry) but maybe they earn it with a string of better results by season’s end.


The Nats collective relievers have a 4.50 ERA this year, ranking them 26th out of 30 teams. The 4 worse teams are, of course, also fellow-tanking teams in 2022 (Colorado, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati). Why invest in middle relievers if you know you’re going to suck?

Fun Fact: NOT ONE current member of the Nats bullpen was home grown. Look it up on the big Board.

  • Rainey: trade acquisition in 2019 for Roark. Should be trade bait in july as a closer with 3 years of control; he could actually net a decent prospect. Last place teams don’t need closers.
  • Cishek: 2022 FA
  • Finnegan: 2020 FA, which was kind of amazing b/c he had exhausted his 3 arb seasons without getting a single appearance with his former team, but we gave him a MLB-guaranteed deal. So this was basically a minor league FA that’s really paid off well.
  • Edwards: 2022 Minor League FA
  • Garrett: 2022 Minor League FA
  • Ramirez: 2022 Minor League FA
  • Machado: 2021 Minor League FA
  • Weems: 2022 Minor League FA

Even more amazing … of these 8 names, Five of them were MLFAs!! That’s 5 guys who couldn’t even get 40-man guaranteed gigs when we signed them. That means they were considered worse than 1200 other guys who are on 40-man rosters right now.

The fact that we don’t have a single home-grown reliever on the books right now is kind of ridiculous. We did have a few (Suero was non-tendered last November, Klobotis DFA’d and claimed, Voth the same) within the last 6 months or so, but given the sheer volume of pitcher’s we’ve drafted over the past 5 years, you’d think we would have more of a pipeline of guys converted to the bullpen and matriculating up as middle relievers/failed starters.

AAA doesn’t have much in the way of reinforcements either: just one home-grown player in AAA’s bullpen (a continuation of the above indictment of our player development); Matt Cronin who was just bumped up to AAA recently. Otherwise the AAA bullpen is filled with Rule-5 acquisitions (Brill and Taylor), Waiver claims (Murphy and Perez, who has been logging frequent flier miles all season between DC and upstate NY), and MLFAs (our old friend Clippard, who I can’t quite believe has not gotten called up yet with his 2.65 ERA, along with Baldonado, Avilan, and Burdi who is currently hurt). At the next bullpen injury … one of these guys has gotta go up. Meaning another guy laid onto the 40-man roster.

Side note, coming back to Clippard … he’s gotta be wondering if he pissed off Rizzo right now. The team has now added multiple relievers to the 40-man ahead of him: Arano, Ramirez, Edwards, Weems, and Garrett all were MLFA relievers who got the call before Tyler. Really? This guy gave his heart and soul to this team for years; you should have called him up well before randoms we signed out of the trash bucket last January just on principle.

I think the future of this team has to start including more home-grown arms. We cannot rely on veteran FAs and MLFAs as much as we have been. We have dozens of starters in the system; not all of them should be there. We need to start growing more relievers.


The good: By OPS+ or wRC+ we do have some bright spots: Bell is going to earn us a decent prospect at the trade deadline with his team-leading offensive performance. Soto and Cruz‘s batting averages may be low but they’re league average in run creation thanks to slugging on OBP. Ruiz is showing a near league average OPS+ as a full time starting catcher for the first time; can’t beat that. Plus he’s right in the middle of the order; he’s not an 8-hitter. Garcia has impressed upon his return to the majors; cross your fingers here (yes i know, he can’t field, that won’t matter when we stick him at 2B and neutralize his crap footwork). Yadiel Hernandez is found gold and finally seems to have the LF spot locked up.

The bad: The injury to Kieboom is a dagger for his career honestly. Luckily for him we’re probably going to suck in 2023 as well, so he’ll get one last chance to start in the bigs. Victor Robles continues to look lost; at least he plays a solid CF. Someone’s gotta bat 9th. But we need one of our CF prospects to pan out: going down the line Stevenson in AAA isn’t the answer, Jack Dunn is the starter in AA and is a 20th rounder hitting .230, Ricardo Mendez is hitting .220 in high-A, and then a bright spot in our system Jeremey De La Rosa in low-A tearing it up at age 20. Nothing is close; our latest IFA $5M guy Cristhian Vaquero is definitely a CF, but he’s 5 levels away in the DSL. We’ll likely need a CF option closer to the majors in a couple years. Trade market target.

More bad: Cesar Hernandez seems to be entrenched as the team’s lead off hitter: he’s got a .306 OBP!! I mean … Robles has a .304 OBP. The team seems to be splitting 3B starts between Franco and Adrianza, both of whom are posting sub-replacement level offense. Why did we release Strange-Gordon? I mean, he was hitting .300 while Adrianza is hitting .196 and frigging Fox is hitting .080. I mean, i get it, Kieboom was the plan, and they had to scramble, and the rest are just backups. But man, we can’t find backup infielders who can at least somewhat hit?

Not surprisingly, the Nats are near the bottom of the league in offensive WAR and wRC+ and what not as a team. And, like with the pitching, they seem to be set to get worse when they trade the best hitters (Bell and Cruz) and bring up reinforcements. And who are those reinforcements going to be? We’ll we do have a couple 40-man guys in AAA who will get the immediate call in Casey and Palacios and Fox.

There are a couple non-40-man guys who are in the presumed mix. Nick Banks has been hitting very well in AAA this year (.916 OPS). But unless he’s DH’ing he makes no sense to call up b/c the OF is full (which keeps Stevenson in the AAA as well). Meneses has been powering the ball in AAA and likely is Bell’s replacement the moment he gets traded. Another round with Jake Noll?

The FAs to be of position players are Bell, Cruz, Hernandez, Franco, and Escobar. The last three may not fetch much, but should be moved for whatever they can get, and will lead to a huge gap in the infield. We have some random MLFA middle infielders in AAA that might get the call at that point (guys like Vargas or Flores), plus Fox and his sub .100 BA. So … look out in Aug and Sept.

Not a lot on the near-term horizon either in terms of prospects for the infield: they’re mostly in Low-A.

Conclusion? We’re on pace for our worst ever season as it is, and stand to get a lot worse, meaning 110 losses is in play. And its likely we’re going to be just as bad next year, with little on the horizon and really serious injury concerns surrounding Strasburg. And there’s little in the way of interesting prospects to look for anywhere close, which is a big personal rooting factor.

Written by Todd Boss

July 8th, 2022 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Nats in General

18 Responses to 'Observations from the Big club'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Observations from the Big club'.

  1. You forgot the “other” Sanchez (Aaron). The Nats cut him and his 3-3 record (huh?) and 8.33 ERA (oh).

    You are living up to your gloomy curmudgeon reputation. On the bright side, thanks to the newly installed draft lottery, the bottom three teams all have the same shot at the #1 pick. Of course, DOOM points out that they could also get pushed back by teams with better lottery luck.

    I think that Finnegan and Edwards get moved, too. There’s always demand for bullpen help.

    John C.

    8 Jul 22 at 5:47 pm

  2. I don’t think they have any choice but to back up the truck and try to get whatever they can in trade. That said, I’ll ask the question of whether it’s at least worth trying to think about extending Bell and keeping him. They’re a long, long way from having any offensive pieces from the minors make any real MLB contributions. So if they let Bell go, they’ll just be signing someone else to do the same thing.

    An extension would be risky, though. He turns 30 next month, and you would think he would want at least four years for at least $12-15M per, if not more. His BABIP “luck” this season is 40+ points higher than his career average, so what you’re likely to get more often than not is the Bell of 2021 than 2022.

    It’s probably a moot point, as he’s likely gone, but it at least seems like something to consider. Of course it’s also possible that they trade him but then re-sign him in the offseason. It would be an overpay for where they’ll be as a team, but it’s possible, particularly for a Boras client.

    Get Yadiel Hernandez or Nick Banks a first-baseman’s mitt.


    8 Jul 22 at 9:10 pm

  3. Agree with John that Finnegan and Edwards should be made trade-available, too. Finnegan might have more actual value than Rainey.


    8 Jul 22 at 9:11 pm

  4. Also, apparently Fedde just wanted you to know that your initial impressions (and mine) were right about him. Eight-run Erick. He turns 30 in February. He is what he is. Current ERA is 5.01, 5.20 for career. WHIP is 1.49, 1.48 for career. K/9 of 7.19, 7.11 for career.


    9 Jul 22 at 8:06 am

  5. As I’ve been saying, this team is just incredibly bad and in a really deep hole right now with a very weak farm system and a lot of player salary tied up in Strasburg (who might never pitch again), Corbin (who probably *shouldn’t* ever pitch again), and deferred payments. Hopefully we can get a deal done with Soto, but it’s again rather discouraging that talk of a potential extension picked up briefly and yet nothing is done.

    For me, anyone and everyone is available for the right price. We’re not going to contend again until probably 2025 at the absolute soonest, likely closer to 2030.


    10 Jul 22 at 3:01 am

  6. SAo brings up an interesting point: when will this team compete again? We currently have a slew of top draft picks in Low-A (Boissiere 3rd, Denaburg and Rutledge 1st, House as a 1st, SAenz as a 4th) plus some major IFAs there (De La Rosa, Lara). Most of our other big money IFAs are even lower. How far out are these guys? 3-4 years? Probably. But, we also have some major talent in AAA that should be impactful in 2022 or 2023. IF suddenly we have two competent starters in Cavalli and Henry in the majors, with Grey, and then STras and Corbin give us something… that’s a potentially excellent rotation. So things could turn around on the pitching front fast.

    Todd Boss

    10 Jul 22 at 11:42 am

  7. Any discussion of the future before the ownership situation is finalized is impractical if not impossible.

    But remember that in 2008/2009 the team lost 102/103 games and I’d venture to say the farm system was worse then that it is now. Three years later they won the division.


    10 Jul 22 at 6:32 pm

  8. Good point: 3 years after 100 losses they were a 98 win team. However. That 2012 team included 28 starts from Strasburg and the debut of Harper. Two 1-1 picks who were transformational players both of them.

    We’d need both House and whoever we’re about to select to basically get to the majors and start producing. So maybe 2025. But … will Soto wait that long?

    Todd Boss

    10 Jul 22 at 8:18 pm

  9. Let’s flip that and say should the Nats wait that long with Soto? Because that’s the question that no one really wants to face. They’ve got two-plus years of team control of one of the best players in baseball. That would be worth more in trade value than the considerable haul they got for putting Trea in with Max.

    Let’s pause here to say that a fair amount of what little positive future that can be seen involves Ruiz and Grey, so that trade definitely was worth it, regardless of what the peripheral pieces do. Besides those two, it’s hard to get excited about the long-term prospects of anyone else now at the MLB level other than Garcia.

    Sadly, the only way I see to grease the inevitably slow turnaround would be to try to get two or three more legit building blocks in return for Soto. The big caveat is, of course, that there aren’t that many teams that can both afford Soto and have the necessary prospect capital.

    If the Nats aren’t going to trade Soto, then they need a new owner who will make it a priority to extend him, so he’s still around when they hope to be good again. Just keeping him to play out the string on bad teams the next two seasons doesn’t make any sense.

    As others have noted, other than Cavalli and Henry, there isn’t much real everyday hope in the system beyond Fredericksburg. The cavalry is very, very young. Presumably, that’s another reason to draft a college bat over high school to help shorten the assent to MLB level.

    Otherwise, they need some miracles — Stras and Ross come back healthy, Corbin finds himself, Cavalli and Henry are both completely as advertised and ready next season (and stay healthy), Robles and Kieboom somehow find a way to live up to their prospect billing. The scary part is that even if all of that happened, they’d still have problems being competitive with Mets/Braves/Phils.

    Yep, it’s going to be a long few years. And we hope just a few . . .


    10 Jul 22 at 9:26 pm

  10. Here’s an interesting thought exercise…to what extent do the Nationals current minor league depth problems tie back directly to the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS? Drew Storen blowing a 2-run lead in an elimination game effectively set the standard of “we must have a veteran closer” for the team going forward, and the price of that has been heavy.

    I think we all intuitively understand that the think minor league system is at least in part the result of trading away young talent for established MLB talent. But I hadn’t really appreciated the extent to which those trades were essentially aimed at fixing one issue. I think you can make an argument that each of the following moves arise directly from that one blown save:

    2013: Signed Rafael Soriano, forfeited 29th overall pick (that pick became Ryne Stanek, who is dominating for the Astros, and Aaron Judge and Sean Manaea were picked shortly after)

    2015: Nick Pivetta for Jonathan Papelbon (Pivetta starting for Boston)

    2016: Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn for Mark Melancon (Hearn was the Rangers opening day starter, and Rivero was an all star until unconscionable off field conduct)

    2017: Blake Treinen, Jesús Luzardo, and Sheldon Neuse for Ryan Madsen and Sean Doolittle (Treinen is Dodgers closer or setup guy, Luzardo looked like a frontline starter until injured; Neuse has bounced around)

    2018: Kelvin Gutiérrez, Blake Perkins, and Yohanse Morel for Kelvin Herrera (Gutiérrez has bounced around; nada from the other guys)

    2019: Kyle Johnston for Daniel Hudson (still TBD in Blue Jays system)

    And of course, saying you’ll only accept established closers precludes developing your own closer (e.g., Treinen gets traded after a bad 2 months but now is a closer for a better Dodgers team).

    Not saying this team would be in first place if it reversed all these trades. And there’s no World Series championship without the Hudson trade, so perhaps that makes all the others worth it. But this system looks a lot deeper with these other guys still in it…


    11 Jul 22 at 1:51 pm

  11. NG, that’s interesting to bring up. Of course one could also point to in-house stubbornness to move failing starters to relief. They have kept trying to make starters out of so many guys who clearly weren’t destined for that duty. Of course Storen was the last reliever they drafted pretty highly (perhaps too highly).


    11 Jul 22 at 2:52 pm

  12. Another challenge to a rapid rebuild is that beyond a handful of stars at the top, the next free agent class really sucks, particularly when it comes to starting pitching. I would say that it’s probably wishful thinking that the Nats make a bid to bring Trea back, but it also wouldn’t make much sense to give 7/$210 or so to a 30-year-old shortstop with only average power. If Trea gets an AAV higher than $30M, that will make five guys off the title roster to get such contracts, as Juan undoubtedly will as well (Rendon, Strasburg, Scherzer, Turner, and Soto — all with higher AAV than Harper took to go to Philly).

    The subsequent free agent class in the 2023-24 offseason looks deeper, if the Nats have shown enough improvement by then to make it worthwhile to fill in some missing pieces.


    11 Jul 22 at 3:30 pm

  13. Excellent summary NG. I’ve complained in this space multiple times about the Rizzo folly of chasing the “established closer.”

    Todd Boss

    11 Jul 22 at 3:42 pm

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the comments to the 5/28/19 post 🙂

    Todd, I agree that chasing an “established closer” is folly. I’m not sure it’s Rizzo’s folly or the Lerner’s folly. In reality, it’s probably a bit of both.


    11 Jul 22 at 3:51 pm

  15. A lot of interesting discussion here. I’ll just address a few points because I’m in a bit of a rush:

    – We need clarity on the Soto situation, IMO, before the 2023 trade deadline. There’s not necessarily a big rush now, and I don’t think there will be until after the team is sold, assuming he isn’t extended before then. But if we get to midway through the 2023 season, we’re staring at Soto’s walk year (not to mention a *massive* payday in his fourth year of arb eligibility), and if anyone thinks we’re going to be ready to contend in 2023 or 2024, I have a fantastic deal on some beachfront property in West Virginia that I think you’re really going to enjoy. But no, we absolutely cannot be caught in this position of playing out the string on Soto’s rookie contract. He could be the single biggest trade asset in the history of MLB deadline trades next summer, with a year and a half of control that would cover his age-25 season. If he’s still playing coy by then over whether he’ll re-up in D.C., then I think we have our answer. Extend him if we can, but we cannot afford to negotiate with him beyond that point. Put plainly, if the ink isn’t dry on a long-term deal by this time next year, dude’s gotta go — for as much as we can possibly get for him, which ought to be a huge haul.

    – I really appreciate NG’s look back at the sacrifices we’ve made over the years to have that “veteran closer”, and KW makes a great point too in noting how reluctant we’ve been to move failing starters into relief roles — although ironically, one of the few we were willing to do it with was Blake Treinen, who later ended up as trade bait for a closer. Of course, no matter how you slice it, we’re still struggling to develop pitchers. But if we could have turned the likes of A.J. Cole, Reynaldo López, or Paolo Espino into quality relievers, instead of ultimately giving up on them and letting them go, maybe our hit rate wouldn’t look so poor, and maybe we wouldn’t have needed to pay up for a closer nearly every July for years. (The fact Espino returned to the org and has established himself as a credible swingman suggests something, whether it’s that we originally gave up on him and let him walk as a minor league free agent too early, or that we needed some other org to fix him before he was usable for us.) And look, we are continuing to do this, too, with poor 1-12 Joan Adon still getting MLB starts. What is our strategy with Evan Lee once he’s back? What about Jackson Rutledge, who is still doing his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act as a Low-A starter despite having debuted at that level back in 2019 and, by all accounts, having world-class stuff? Do we have any idea at all what our strategy is, beyond simply hoping for the best?

    – Todd, I know you aren’t accused of being overly optimistic very often…but any planning for the future that relies on getting even a single win above replacement out of the combined $60M+ per annum that we’re forking over to Corbin and Strasburg, over the remainder of their contracts, seems like folly. I’d love to be wrong and see Corbin parlay his recent string of relatively good outings into extended success, and for Strasburg to return triumphant with a new titanium ribcage and a big chip on his surgically repaired right shoulder, but I think what we’re likelier to see at year’s end is Corbin sporting a ~5.5 ERA and Strasburg having one appearance on the year to his name, and much the same in 2023.


    11 Jul 22 at 5:38 pm

  16. There are several new mock drafts popping up, but I’ll leave that to Todd for another post. I’ve seen a couple that are pointing to Elijah Green for the Nats, which just makes no sense if they’re trying to do a quick rebuild. There’s also more murmurs about Jacob Berry, who would make sense as an advanced college bat with a chance to be in the majors in 2-3 years. Some have dropped Berry out of the top ten, while others have moved him into the top five, so he seems to be the real wild card in all of this. At one point, he was in 1/1 conversation, but then he got bumped completely out of the consensus top seven.

    The Nats’ top pick last season, Brady House, has been battling a back issue since early May, and it’s looking like it will be mostly a lost season for him. It would be unusual to send someone from A level to the Arizona Fall League, but if he’s healthy by then, that might be an interesting option. There is precedent, with Bryce.


    12 Jul 22 at 8:14 am

  17. I agree with Sao about Soto and would actually nudge forward the time line. I think they need to fish or cut bait on extending him or trading him by this coming offseason. Two full years of team control would have considerably more trade value than one and a third that would be left at the trade deadline.

    The fly in the ointment here, of course, is the timing of the sale of the franchise. The front office frankly won’t know whether it would be able to run a budget that could include $35-40M a season for Soto until they are told what’s available.

    Soto is one of my all-time favorite Nats, and I really would love for him to be here in his prime. But he’s also the only significant trade chip they have, and they need a lot of pieces with which to rebuild. I would guess that they end up having to trade him, but the longer they wait, the less they will get in return.


    12 Jul 22 at 8:29 am

  18. FYI will publish more mocks later this week. they usually start rolling in fast an furious.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jul 22 at 9:07 am

Leave a Reply