Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats acquire Ward in Rule-5


Mar 26, 2021; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Thaddeus Ward (97) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As widely expected, given the fact that they nearly lost 110 games in 2022 and they have precious little in terms of starting pitching prospects right now (amazingly, given how pitcher heavy they’ve drafted prior to 2022), the Nats took advantage of having the #1 pick in the rule-5 draft to select a promising AA Pitcher from Boston named Thad Ward.

(somewhat surprisingly to this observer, the Nats did not select a second player in the Rule5, nor did any other team, despite having an open slot on our 40-man).

You can find plenty of content on Ward, given that he went 1-1 in this draft and prospect writers like the MLBpipeline and Fangraphs guys are starving for content right now. But I thought i’d pipe in here with some thoughts.

First off, Ward’s numbers in 2022 at AA were excellent: 7 starts, 2.43 ERA, 41/14 K/BB in 33.1 IP, 1.26 whip. He’s coming off of TJ so his numbers were limited. By way of comparison to the a couple of National’s AA starters of note in 2022:

  • Thad Ward: 2022 AA stats: 7 starts, 2.43 ERA, 41/14 K/BB in 33.1 IP, 1.26 whip
  • Jake Irvin, 2022 AA stats: 15 starts, 4.79 ERA, 78/20 K/BB in 73.1 IP, 1.17 whip
  • Cole Henry, 2022 AA stats: 7 starts, 0.76 ERA, 28/9 K/BB in 23.2 Ip, 0.59 whip
  • Evan Lee 2022 AA Stats: 7 starts, 3.60 ERA, 37/15 K/BB in 30 IP, 1.33 whip

So, interesting comparison side by side especially to Irvin and Lee; he’s got quite similar numbers to Lee, better numbers in fewer innings than Irvin. His scouting reports were excellent pre TJ injury, and it seemed like he was well on his way to Boston’s rotation before getting hurt.

So, where does he fit in? What can he do?

Right now, our SP depth looks something like this, in this order:

  1. Strasburg
  2. Corbin*
  3. Grey
  4. Gore
  5. Cavalli
  6. Ward
  7. Adon
  8. Irvin
  9. Rutledge

That’s it. We have guys like Espino, Abbott as Long Relievers/Spot Starters, but their reliever splits are so much better that this team desperately doesn’t want to give them starts.

So, of our depth:

  1. Strasburg: TOS recurrence, no guarantee he’ll be healthy in 2023
  2. Corbin*: He had a 6.31 ERA last year.
  3. Grey: 5.02 ERA, worse FIP last year and may not be as good as we think.
  4. Gore: ended the year hurt, never got off the DL post acquisition. Promising of course … but unproven at the MLB level
  5. Cavalli: one start, got lit up, hit the DL.
  6. Ward: coming off TJ, never been above AA, has to stay on MLB roster or be returned.
  7. Adon: 1-12 with an ERA north of 7.00 last year, needs to figure it out in AAA.
  8. Irvin: newly added to 40-man, needs to prove himself at AAA first.
  9. Rutledge: never pitched above A-ball

Not too promising.

Lets assume that Strasburg is still on the DL: that puts Ward right in line for the 5th starter spot right now. Is the team going to do more acquisitions to acquire depth? Perhaps. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Mike Rizzo buy a veteran starter on the cheap (say, 1yr/$10M guy), who slots in at #4 in the rotation and (if everyone is healthy) pushes Ward to the pen. That’s fine: he can work as an Espino/Abbott LR type. It’d be a waste to turn him into a reliever now, especially coming off TJ with a fragile elbow and the tendency to over-throw in shorter relief stints. But that’s the thing: who wants to bet me a dollar that more than one of the current projected top 5 starters isn’t hurt to open 2023? That’d put Ward right back in the rotation, even if we do a FA acquisition. Works for me; lets see what he can do.

All in all, a promising looking signing who looks to be a big part of 2023 for this team.

Written by Todd Boss

December 8th, 2022 at 10:14 am

26 Responses to 'Nats acquire Ward in Rule-5'

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  1. Ward was up to throwing 90 pitches late in the year. I could see plugging this guy in as #5 starter after Gore/Gray/Corbin/Cavalli and giving Adon the AAA development he missed.


    8 Dec 22 at 12:09 pm

  2. Let’s not forget that there were 28 pitchers when free agency started with WAR above 1. After the big three there are still 25 pitchers Rizzo can pick from.

    The Nats need to sign at least 2.

    Mark L

    8 Dec 22 at 12:42 pm

  3. until the ownership matter is resolved I would not expect any signing to be more than a stop gap measure.


    8 Dec 22 at 12:45 pm

  4. AAA starting rotation: Adon, Abbott, Irvin, Murphy. after that huge drop off.and the fact that you can have a huge dropoff after that list is discouraging.

    not opening day but by the close of the year I’d hope for the AA rotation to be: Parker, Theophile, Rutledge, Bennett. much higher ceiling in that group


    8 Dec 22 at 3:12 pm

  5. I love the Ward pick. He shows up in the spring, and he either makes it or he doesn’t. There’s no downside to giving him a look. It’s gravy if he can actually make it as a starter, but OK if he’s in the ‘pen. It’s fair to say that “long relief” probably is going to be a regular role for the Nats . . . again . . .

    One question comes to mind, though. Ward is coming back from TJ, so he’s very likely to be “shut down” at some point. How that works with Rule 5 rules, if he’s not technically “injured,” I don’t know. It wouldn’t be too hard to claim that a pitcher has something sore in his arm, however.


    8 Dec 22 at 7:36 pm

  6. Mark, I know that Rizzo and Davey keep talking about adding veteran starting pitching, and they probably will. But what’s the point of seeing a Jordan Lyles type give up five runs a start? (Or even lesser so, a reunion with Fedde.) What are we learning from that? If it’s between Lyles or Cavalli, who would your rather see getting the experience?

    I know it’s a hard question in a certain way. We hate to see our team suck so badly. I feel it just as much as the rest of you do. But I’d rather see the kids getting experience than the retreads getting retread upon.

    Corbin, Gray, and Gore seem like certainties in the rotation. Ward will be given every chance to win a rotation slot as well, presumably as will Cavalli. I agree with above opinions that Adon still needs AAA seasoning.

    Anyway, I think they’ll sign one or two feeble starters (the market for something a little better has already gotten out of hand), and it’s a moot point. I’m just not sure it’s the best move.

    As for depth, don’t forget Tetreault and Evan Lee, if they’re getting healthy. They’re still in the system. They’re ahead of Irvin development-wise, and well ahead of Rutledge, who isn’t even worth listing at this point. As FredMD says, sure would be good to see him looking strong in AA by the end of 2023, but that’s about the best to be hoped for at this point.


    8 Dec 22 at 7:50 pm

  7. Oh, and why in the heck didn’t the Nats make more than one Rule 5 pick, both in the MLB portion and in the minor-league portion? There’s NO DOWNSIDE to picking a guy. If he doesn’t look good enough in spring training, send him back. Yes, he ties up a 40-man space, but I guarantee you that they could pick someone with a better chance of hitting major-league pitching than Lucius Fox.


    8 Dec 22 at 7:54 pm

  8. A: 158 hits, 25 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 15 HRs, 103 runs, 15 SBs, age 30
    B: 159 hits, 30 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 16 HRs, 102 runs, 3 SBs, age 29

    A is Eaton in 2019. No one was clamoring to give him an 8-year, $162M contract. Also, that was his last good season. B is Nimmo of course. We live in interesting times.


    9 Dec 22 at 7:45 am

  9. looks like Trevor Williams is about to join the club


    9 Dec 22 at 10:31 am

  10. 2/$13M for a 31-year-old swingman. Inflation is definitely everywhere!

    Williams’s numbers are all over the map — are you getting the guy with the 3.21 ERA in 2022, or the 6.18 ERA in 2020? He’s only throwing 91 mph now, but he’s still striking out 8.4 per 9, so I guess he’s pretty crafty. He gives up a lot of hits, though, 9.2 per 9 across his career.

    As I said above, are we OK with this guy taking starts from Cavalli? We’ll see how it plays out. Williams is probably better as a multi-inning reliever, but the Nats aren’t really into “bullpenning.”


    9 Dec 22 at 12:23 pm

  11. Yep, in 2022, Williams had a 4.19 ERA as a starter and 2.47 ERA as a reliever. That’s pretty darn telling. So there shouldn’t be an immediate assumption that he’s going into the rotation.


    9 Dec 22 at 12:30 pm

  12. any one of our ’22 starters would have taken 4.19 ERA. assuming he’s our 4-5 starter that is completely acceptable


    9 Dec 22 at 1:01 pm

  13. True! Sadly . . .

    But with Jim Hickey’s stellar help, he can probably regain his 6.18 form.


    9 Dec 22 at 1:26 pm

  14. kinda surprised that more haven’t weighed in on the Williams signing. much like with Josh Bell, a fair number of internet commenters from his former club are sorry to see him go. that’s always a good thing IMO, it certainly proved correct with Josh.

    I realize a lower level signing but at least we won’t be watching Fedde struggle to get to the fifth. sorry Eric, I wish you well.


    10 Dec 22 at 10:54 am

  15. A point I found interesting is that NatsTalk said Rizzo talked with a number of agents about pitchers they have available, and Williams is the guy he came up with. I assume that Rizzo wanted someone under $8-10M AAV, and of course now there’s the significant issue of finding decent players who are willing to toil with a rebuilding team. Williams left a 101-win team for a 55-win one. Of course living/playing in NYC isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The word is that Williams wants a chance to start, so perhaps that was a selling point, as was the Nats’ willingness to give him a two-year deal (which will add value if he’s pitching well at the trade deadline).

    Another issue is that it seems that the price tag on even half-decent starting pitching is running at a premium, even for this level of player. I suspect that Rizzo will sign two or three Fedde-level starters to minor-league contracts (perhaps some with end-of-spring opt-outs), but the Nats may be done with signing starters to MLB contracts.

    Taking Rizzo and Davey at their word, the Nats would still like to add a hitter or two. That would mean clearing some room on the 40-man, but that wouldn’t be difficult. The Nats certainly have the money to make a splashy, Werth-like move, or even to overbid for someone like Conforto, about whom the speculation seems to be that he’ll want a one-year prove-it contract. We’ll see. I’m not expecting a splash, but I sure wasn’t when Werth signed, either.


    10 Dec 22 at 1:30 pm

  16. But they CAN’T be done, right? The 40-man is full, but the roster as constituted isn’t good at all. I mean, as of now, we’d be looking at an OF of Call-Robles-Thomas, I guess with Stone Garrett as DH? Were Milledge, Dukes, Kearns, Nyger Morgan, and Wily Mo Pena unavailable? I’m having serious flashbacks to the Bad Old Days.


    12 Dec 22 at 10:51 am

  17. I doubt that they’re done, however I suspect they’ll be picking from leftovers looking at short term deals with players not getting what they wanted from the other teams.

    hate to keep bringing this up but ownership needs to be resolved and quickly lest a year is wasted.


    12 Dec 22 at 11:52 am

  18. I fully agree that the path to the return to respectability remains sketchy until the team can be sold. But I also foresee no way that happens quickly, in large part because of one particular four-letter word: MASN. Frankly, and sadly, I think we will be doing well if the sale is finalized by the next offseason.

    The other sad part is that the Nats have so many holes that even Steve Cohen money couldn’t immediately fix what ails them. Let’s say that the Nats were to sign Correa for 3B, Swanson for SS, Conforto for the OF, and Rodon and Bassitt for the rotation. There’s still not much chance that they would have a playoff team. Best case probably would be around .500, unless the young starters suddenly turn into dynamite.

    I’m not expecting miracles. It’s a very deep hole they’re in. And even when they’re ready to spend, it’s going to be difficult to convince guys to join a losing team. They’ll have to overpay, as they did for Werth.


    12 Dec 22 at 1:30 pm

  19. When they’re ready to start filling holes I’d expect starting pitching to be the focus. Hopefully the current youngsters develop to the point that we only need one but most likely two.


    12 Dec 22 at 1:52 pm

  20. If Conforto wants a one-year deal so he can get a bigger multi-year deal next offseason, then the Nats ought to be in play. They can offer him (1) guaranteed, unlimited playing time; and (2) a reasonable chance to get traded at the deadline, which would (a) take the qualifying offer off the table for him in the ’23 offseason; and (b) improve the odds he’s on a playoff team because only a putative playoff team will be trading for him at the deadline.

    The hangup, of course, will be price, and whether Conforto wants to spend two thirds of the 2023 season on a 60-win club. The Nats 100% have the cash. Signing Conforto would make the 2023 outfield situation less bleak and would be a play for the future. Do it!


    13 Dec 22 at 10:14 am

  21. FWIW, Conforto is a Boras client, so he probably knows that he has the Nats as a potential landing spot. There are so few decent-hitting OFs on the free agent market, though, that I think it’s a long shot that he would end up with the Nats over a contending team. Now, if the Nats would be willing to give him a four-year deal or something, I’m sure they would listen.

    I do think Conforto will get more than the projected $12M. I think he’ll get $15-18M. Everyone seems to be getting more and/or longer than expected. The Nimmo deal in particular seemed crazy to me.

    Would you do 4/$60M for Conforto? I probably would, particularly in the DH era, unless there are some real questions about lingering injury. Considering the amounts that offensive stars are getting right now, that would seem like a bargain, albeit with some risk.


    13 Dec 22 at 2:38 pm

  22. I wouldn’t sign Conforto to anything other than a one-year deal unless it is at a massive discount. His injury was significant, and you don’t really have any idea what you’d be buying for $60M. It’s conceivable that a team out there will give Conforto two years, but I doubt anything longer than that. I agree that salaries and (especially) contract duration are increasing. But Conforto is different – sitting out a whole year with a shoulder injury is a big deal, IMO.

    My guess: he’ll have 1/$14-15M from a potential playoff team but not a sure thing (e.g., from the Giants but not from the Braves). So the Nats would presumably have to beat that number to get him to sign. But, if I’m Conforto and I want to get a much bigger deal next offseason, then playing time is the most important thing to me. Of course you want everything on your wish list, but some list entries are more important than others, and Conforto should be focused on being in the lineup as much as possible. Conforto should want to avoid the scenario where his play is meh in the early part of the season and the contending team – needing wins – cuts his playing time as a result. Signing with the Nats is insurance against that, somewhat likely, result.

    I don’t really think it will happen – but I DO think there is a plausible Conforto-Nats match.


    14 Dec 22 at 9:53 am

  23. On conforto … i wonder the following: he was already offered a QO; can he be offered another one? I don’t think so. He never signed, but he was offered one and I think the rules are that he can’t be offered one again. So if that’s the case, he doesn’t care about playing for a team that is trying to trade him, rigth?

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 22 at 10:54 am

  24. Todd – you’re right, Conforto can’t be offered another QO. So getting traded won’t help Conforto get a better contract in the ’23 offseason. But if no playoff teams are banging down his door, getting traded may be the only way he ends up in the ’23 postseason.


    14 Dec 22 at 11:31 am

  25. Conforto is from the Pacific Northwest. He probably would love to play for the Giants. And the Giants do seem to be “going for it.” They did a good job of cornering the affordable pitching market with Bassitt and Stripling. Those deals would have made a lot of sense for the Phils or Mets (who lose Bassitt, Walker, and deGrom).

    And of course Boras got Correa the Bryce deal with the Giants (albeit in a much better place than 13 years in Philly). Correa is really good when he’s on the field, but he’s only topped 150 games once. A lot of his value also is derived from his defensive position, so while he has pretty good power, he’s not really the classic middle-of-the-order big bat. And he’s unlikely to still be playing SS by his later 30s.

    As for Conforto and the Nats, I think the only way the Nats even would get on the radar would be by offering a multi-year deal. It would indeed be risky because of his major injury. But the sad fact is that the only way the Nats are going to get anyone of any quality to come here over the next couple of years is going to be to overpay.


    15 Dec 22 at 8:17 am

  26. Err, Manaea and Stripling to Giants; Bassitt to Blue Jays.


    15 Dec 22 at 10:13 am

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