Nationals Arm Race

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

State of the Rotations at this point in the Off-Season


So, the Nats have made some moves to theoretically shore up the rotations. I thought it was useful to take a quick gander at our starter depth and take a glance at what may happen.

Relying on the Big Board as always, lets do some thought exercises and think about the rotations for 2023 in all the full season teams.

MLB Projected Rotation

There are 11 Starters on the current 40-man roster, but only 5 rotation slots. But we also know we have serious injury concerns with some starters, some guys who are likely swingmen, some who are destined for A-ball.

  • Strasburg, if healthy
  • Corbin, if effective
  • Grey
  • Cavalli
  • Gore
  • Williams, newly acquired and apparently promised a rotation spot

My guess as to what happens is this: Strasburg is still hurt and goes on DL to start season, leaving us with the Corbin/Grey/Gore/Williams/Cavalli rotation (probably in that order). Now, both Cavalli and Gore had injury issues last season; if they cannot go, look for Ward, Espino, and Abbott to fill in (though honestly, Espino and Abbott’s splits as relievers were so much better than as starters that i’d look to keep them there).

This also assumes the team is going to continue to let Corbin pitch to a 7 ERA. I’m not sure they continue to do that forever; at some point, especially if someone presents coming out of AAA as worthy, we’ll see him either dumped to the pen or (more likely) released.

Now. Does the team seek out another starter to bolster this group? Only if they KNOW that there’s injury issues that likely lead to Grey/Cavalli/Gore starting on the DL, because otherwise they’re out of room. Lets say they bought another FA starter; who makes way? Not a healthy Strasburg or Corbin; that’s $60M of payroll. Not Williams. Not Grey; we didn’t trade for the guy to dump him in the bullpen. And certainly not Gore or Cavalli, who have nothing left to prove in AAA.

AAA Projected Rotation

Based on our current 40-man starters, their option status, and their capabilities, along with who we’ve signed as MLFAs (and assuming these guys don’t have opt-outs), here’s what our AAA rotation looks like right now:

  • Adon
  • Irvin
  • Alexy
  • Kilome (pretty sure he’s still with us as a 22 MLFA signing)
  • Henry (injured in 2022)
  • Tetreault (injured in 2022)
  • Lee (injured in 2022)
  • T.Romero (just resigned for 2023)

So. This being said: Henry had TOS is is out. Tetreault had a shoulder fracture and may or may not be out. Lee had a flexor sprain (often a precursor for Tommy John) and may not be reliable. So this may be thinner than we think.

Adon deserves to be in AAA. Irvin may not really “deserve” to be in AAA based on a 3.83 ERA in AA, but he’s on the 40-man and needs to be challenged. I’m pretty sure Kilome (a MLFA signing from LAST off-season but who is still listed as active and wasn’t on any MLFA lists) is here. That, plus newly signed MLFA Alexy and the re-signing of Romero makes five. But this is thin; the LR in AAA is Troop and his 2022 numbers were not good. I suspect we’ll be seeing a bunch more MLFA signings here, with perhaps Irvin being pushed back down to AA to start.

AA Projected Rotation

Here’s where things get thin, fast.

  • Cate
  • Reyes
  • Herrera
  • Parker
  • Shuman
  • Knowles

Cate at this point sounds like an innings eater in AA. Reyes and Herrera are long-serving org arms who also sound like Innings eaters in AA. If it was me, I’d be pushing up three starters out of High-A, all of whom pitched to really solid numbers in 2022. Parker posted a 2.88 ERA in 24 starts in High-A and absolutely will be in AA. Shuman hit the DL in July and never came off; the WP reported it was due to “elbow soreness.” Uh oh. Well, if he’s healthy he was solid in High-A in 2022, repeating the level, and has nothing left to prove there. Lastly you have Knowles, who had a 3.19 ERA as a swing man type with 13 starts. Why not.

If all these 6 are healthy, look for Reyes or Knowles to be a swing man type, maybe have Irvin duck into AA, or find another MLFA. I can’t see another High-A guy deserving of promotion.

Wow, this looks like a weak rotation for a AA team though.

High-A projected rotation

  • Rutledge
  • Cuevas
  • Theophile
  • Merrill?
  • Saenz (maybe a reliever/long man now)
  • Gausch?
  • Collins
  • Alvarez
  • Hernandez (injured all of 2022)
  • Dyson (injured all of 2022)
  • Denaburg maybe?

Here’s where things get harder to predict. Rutledge, newly added to the 40-man and owner of a 4.90 ERA in low-A last year (“but he improved in August!”) just has to be promoted. Cuevas and Theophile are holdovers from the 2022 rotation, looking to improve, and I’d guess they start in the rotation as well.

After that, its a crap shoot. Merrill and Saenz were both kicked out of the 2022 rotation after sucking. Do they get another shot or are they Relievers now? Gausch started the 2022 season as a AA starter, got lit up, then suddenly was a reliever in High-A. Does he return to the rotation? Collins was an already too old for the level swing guy with solid low-A numbers; he could be given a shot in the rotation. Alvarez had great K numbers, prompting his promotion to High-A, but he seems more like a bullpen guy as a lefty.

You have two formerly solid looking starters in Hernandez and Dyson who missed all of 2022 but who showed 2021 promise at the level; they should (if healthy) slide right back in. Lastly you have to look at the rest of low-A to see who should be moved up … and the pickings are slim. Denaburg at this point is too old for Low-A and its time to see if he can ever become anything; i’d move him to High-A and if he can’t cut it move him to the pen. Can’t make much of a case for anyone else out of last year’s Low-A rotation to move forward … which will make the Low-A rotation super easy.

Low-A Rotation

  • Susana
  • Bennett
  • Cornelio
  • Young?
  • Lara
  • Caceres
  • Atencio
  • Aldonis
  • Ramirez

We have to lead with Susana, who soon will be our best SP prospect once Cavalli graduates.

From there, I have to think at least the two top college Junior draftees from 2022 (2nd rounder Bennett and 7th rounder Cornelio) will be in low-A rotation. Perhaps even 11th rounder Luke Young.

After that, you have several holdovers from 2022 in Lara and Caceres. Lara is still ostensibly one of our better prospects and he’s super young, so he’s definitely starting. That’s six already, before talking about two guys who also were in the low-A rotation last year but who could get bumped to LR roles in Atencio and Aldonis.

Post publishing, KW in the comments reminded me about Aldo Ramirez, who we got from Boston in trade but who has been hurt. He was looking really solid for us in Low-A in 2021 before getting hurt and should start here in 2023 with an eye on moving up fast.

Did I forget anyone? What do you think; do we still need some reinforcements?

Written by Todd Boss

December 15th, 2022 at 2:41 pm

30 Responses to 'State of the Rotations at this point in the Off-Season'

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  1. You forgot Aldo Ramirez. He had TJ in spring 2022 so should be back to nearly full speed by spring 2023, albeit with innings limit. If/when healthy, he may be one of the top five “prospect” starters the Nats have in the minors.


    15 Dec 22 at 3:13 pm

  2. Trevor Williams also had significantly better numbers as a reliever than as a starter (2.47 vs. 4.19 ERA). It doesn’t take an analytics expert on the Nats’ staff to find those numbers. But whether the “baseball people” will listen will remain to be seen.

    I’m not counting on Stras at all, and certainly not in the first half of the season. Corbin finally showed some improvement in the late stages of 2022, so we can only hope that he’s figured something out.

    Corbin and Gray are rotation locks, and Gore will be if healthy. I tend to agree that despite logic, Williams has been sorta promised a rotation slot. That pretty much leaves it to Ward vs. Cavalli for the final spot. Cavalli can be optioned, while Ward (as a Rule 5 pickup) can’t. Ward still could be used as a long man, but I think his presence takes pressure off Cavalli having to be MLB-ready by the spring.

    Also, all of these guys are going to be needed. Cavalli and Gore are coming off injuries, and Ward will be in his second year back from TJ (as will Irvin at AAA).

    As I’ve noted, I don’t mind going with the kids and seeing what we’ve got. They should be about as good as what’s available in the $5-10m range on the FA market. The mid range, where some had hoped to see the Nats shopping, has gotten pricier than expected, plus most of those guys are opting for contenders, not surprisingly.


    15 Dec 22 at 3:29 pm

  3. Aldo: yes you’re right he should be in the Low-A mix. Already 21. He should be at Low-A mix.

    Todd Boss

    15 Dec 22 at 3:52 pm

  4. Ramirez had some starts at low A before the trade (and getting hurt). It’s possible that they could send him to Wilmington.

    Do I remember seeing Alfonso Hernandez on the MiLB free agent list? He may have re-signed. Hard to find such info.

    I know that I’m hoping against logic, but I still have some hope for Tyler Dyson if he can ever get healthy. He turns 25 next month.

    I know he flies very low on lists by the gurus, but Mitchell Parker is very good at getting guys out (.207 BA against), striking them out (10.5 K/9), and keeping the ball in the ballpark (only 3 homers in 100 innings despite being an extreme fly-ball pitcher). If he can get a handle on his walks, he could become something.


    15 Dec 22 at 5:50 pm

  5. assuming Abbott has an option remaining, I’d prefer him in AAA as a starter with Adon, Irvin and Romero. at least there’s an argument that they are all prospects

    as for the walking wounded triumvirate, I’m not impressed with Lee as a starter, have no idea how serious Tetreault’s injury is and expect they will move slowly on Henry.


    16 Dec 22 at 10:03 am

  6. agree that opening day on City Isle the rotation will be pretty weak. no disrespect to Parker intended, but if he still walks this many in AA I’d expect him to get lit up. I was watching the game Shuman got hurt, it looked like more than elbow soreness to me. Knowles has at least earned a shot.

    after that no reason to cut bait on Cate, but then just filler is left. I was hoping beyond rational thought that Seth Romero would get his life together.

    I am still hopeful that the season ends with promotions of A+ prospects, I’ll leave my first choice unnamed.


    16 Dec 22 at 10:25 am

  7. what intrigues me the most for A+ is who will be the pitching coach here. Theophile credited Hanrahan for teaching him a sinker and Rutledge seemed to take to his tutelage as well. if they move him here I would not be surprised to see Bennett start in A+.

    Aldonis’s injury was a mystery unless I missed something, Atencio knows how to pitch but needs to get bigger or stronger. Lara is young enough that starting in A- is not an issue. Denaburg did not appear healthy at season’s end.

    Cuevas and Saenz could fill out the rotation with any number of other options.


    16 Dec 22 at 10:39 am

  8. Susana is far and away the story for A- with Lara and possibly Ramirez at least providing prospect potential. without a deep dive into the FCL stats I can’t predict much more.


    16 Dec 22 at 10:44 am

  9. I share the confusion over why the Nats think Evan Lee is a starter. He’s a two-pitch guy, was a reliever in college and after being drafted, but for some reason, the Nats think everyone should be a starter (then trade for relievers because they’re not developing any).

    I’ll take Fred’s bet on Mitchell Parker, though. He’s got so much funk in his delivery that I don’t think he’ll get lit up. Whether he can learn to throw strikes regularly enough remains an open question, though.

    I think there’s real concern about whether Henry will ever make it back. If he does, we may not even know for sure for a couple of seasons. Losing him is a big setback for the organization, as he is a high-end talent.

    The Nats and the gurus were really high on Lara, but he struggled in a full-season league at age 19. We hope they will get him straightened out for a better showing in 2023.

    Theophile was dominant while repeating A ball at age 22 but then got clobbered at A+. It will be interesting to see if he can right the ship and move forward.


    16 Dec 22 at 12:56 pm

  10. KW, it’s not that the “baseball guys” can’t find a pitcher’s ERA splits. They have them. As well as a LOT more data to give those numbers context. No one stat will (or should) dictate the decisions that they make.

    John C.

    17 Dec 22 at 4:19 pm

  11. No, it shouldn’t. But as you and the rest of us know, the current Nats administration has a long history of ignoring statistical logic in certain cases.

    In this particular case, it’s probable that the Nats signed Williams as a cut-rate starter. Considering the premium that half-decent starting pitching is getting this offseason, I don’t have a problem with that approach. I will have a problem, however, if someone like Ward clearly beats him out in the spring and they insist on keeping him as a starter anyway.

    Also, the value of an effective long man who could go two or three times a week vs. one start also shouldn’t be underestimated. The Nats have a truckload of young starters who likely will have some bad outings. Plus three (Gore, Cavalli, and Ward if he makes it) have recent injury history and shouldn’t be pushed too hard.


    18 Dec 22 at 8:31 am

  12. I’ll add that this post outlines a worrisome part of the rebuild for me. If the Nats hit on Gore, Cavalli, and Gray — and they stay healthy — then a big part of the rebuild is well on its way. If they don’t, there’s not much safety net at the upper levels. Henry was a big loss, as we’ve noted. Maybe Ward and maybe Adon have the goods to be effective MLB starters, but there’s a lot of “maybe” about both at this point (and double-maybe on Irvin).

    Beyond those guys, the timeline drops back at least a couple of years to Susana, Bennett, and maybes in guys like Lara, Rutledge, and Denaburg, as well as for a Henry recovery.

    In other words, they’ve got a lot riding on Gore, Cavalli, and Gray.


    18 Dec 22 at 2:18 pm

  13. *shrugs* My point is that what seems illogical based on the statistics that we can easily access may be completely logical based on advanced stats/information that we don’t have.

    John C.

    18 Dec 22 at 7:45 pm

  14. Yes, the Nats have propriety stats, just like every other team. Haven’t noticed them unearthing a lot of buried treasures in the last few seasons.

    That said, they didn’t overthink the Rule 5 pick. Several teams did. There were a number of players taken who weren’t on the radar of Rule 5 preview articles. Ward has a better chance to stick than most.

    As for Trevor Williams, in the grand scheme of things, the only thing worth concerning ourselves about is whether he’ll do well enough to bring a half-decent prospect in trade return. He’ll be forgotten by the time the team gets good again, just like so many players from 2008-10.


    19 Dec 22 at 7:01 am

  15. Eric Fredde just signed in the KBO for $1 million. Seems about the right level for him.

    Mark L

    20 Dec 22 at 9:39 am

  16. Erick had every opportunity but just couldn’t get it done. you can’t hold a roster spot for a player who’s only role is as an opener against the Marlins.

    good luck to him, seemed like decent fellow.


    20 Dec 22 at 10:32 am

  17. It’s pretty darn telling that all Boras can get for Fedde is a KBO deal. I thought he would sign a minor-league contract with a non-contender with a chance to make the big club in the spring.

    So we’re left with the chicken-egg question with Fedde that we are with so many of the other failed draft picks across the last decade: was he a poor pick, or was his development the problem? Or both? Unlike some (Jake Johannson), Fedde was very good in college, even at altitude.

    As others have noted, we wish him well. He always looked like he was in over his head with the Nats, at least in the role they had him. Maybe he could have done better as a reliever, but there is so much resistance in this organization to moving starters to relief.


    20 Dec 22 at 1:21 pm

  18. Steve Cohen now starring as The Grinch Who Stole Baseball. Or Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life. What an absolute mockery is being made of the game.

    (I still don’t think the Mets have enough pitching to win it all in the playoffs. And the Scherzer/Verlander stats in the postseason aren’t great.)


    21 Dec 22 at 9:21 am

  19. …and the Zen master said, we’ll see.


    21 Dec 22 at 9:54 am

  20. I don’t think it will “destroy the game.” The Dodgers overspent for years and only won one title. And the Mets’ farm system will start to hollow out with lost draft picks and international money. That’s delayed disincentive for a team seeking instant gratification, though.

    Go Braves! (Much easier to stomach pulling for the Braves than the Phils.)


    21 Dec 22 at 12:35 pm

  21. Cohen and the Mets. I say bravo. Finally, FINALLY a team in a major market acknowledges the fact that it makes ungodly amounts of money and spends it, the CBT be damned. NY Mets are now projecting at $384M in payroll for 2023. 384 Million! that’s $151M over the luxury tax.

    They’re dragging along the 5 teams right now who aren’t even broaching $100M in payroll for their entire roster, despite the fact that revenue sharing teams net tens of millions of dollars, every team is now guaranteed $60M/year from the MLB-wide tv deal, and every team has a local RSN deal that gives them at least $40M or more a year.

    Todd Boss

    21 Dec 22 at 11:08 pm

  22. There will be a lockout, probably a long one, before we get a new CBA. And that new CBA needs to absolutely throw the book at teams that blow past the last tax threshold. Clearly, Steve Cohen doesn’t consider a 90% penalty to be any sort of barrier to unrestrained spending, so the penalty should be draft picks and international bonus money. Really, frankly, the commissioner should already be stepping in to wield the “best interests of baseball” clause and block the Correa signing at a minimum.

    I get the argument that too many team owners are crying poor, especially the ones who get revenue sharing. Really, I do. But the curative isn’t for the richest owner to spend literally almost $200M more than the next-highest-spending team on payroll and throw as much money as it takes to sign whichever free agents he fancies. Could the likes of the Pirates, Orioles, A’s, etc., spend more? Yes. Can they realistically keep up with Steve Cohen, whose net worth is gargantuan and who evidently has nothing better to spend his money on than baseball players? No.


    22 Dec 22 at 5:08 am

  23. to Todd’s point, no team is losing money in this era of valuable tv rights and more recently sports gambling revenues. you will always have the uber rich owners (NY) who see their teams as a toy, uber rich owners who walk the middle (DC), and merely rich owners (BAL) who are trying to get uber rich.

    getting them to all agree is hard enough, forget about the other side of the table.


    22 Dec 22 at 10:28 am

  24. Interesting points on both sides. There’s general agreement that it’s a terribly uneven playing field. And there’s hardly any hope of rectifying the situation until the CBA is up again in five years. Even then, these folks probably can’t/won’t agree on what’s best for them.

    The NFL has owners who could buy and sell three or four of the other owners at a time. Every league does. But in the NFL, each team has to spend within 11% of any other team, with both floor and cap. Nearly all revenue is shared. The differences in team success are strictly due to player personnel decisions and coaching. The team in Green Bay is as financially sound as the ones in NYC. Jerry Jones’s wealth hasn’t resulted in a championship in almost three decades.

    Now, some would say that this would never work in MLB because of all the local TV contracts. Why not? Why couldn’t all local TV money go into a shared pot? (MASN problem solved overnight.) That eliminates the big excuse that so many of the “small-market” teams whine about. And more spending across the board means a bigger pot for the players as well.

    These super-long contracts are making a mockery of the tax line anyway. If you’re really only paying Trea Turner for four or five good years, then pay him $45M a year for those years. These long contracts are exactly the same thing as what the Nats got so criticized for with their deferrals.

    But I digress. I don’t hate that more of the accumulated money is going to the players, but I also agree that this isn’t in “the best interest of baseball” right now. I was also shocked to learn that the new CBA did away with the draft-pick penalties. The Mets are losing no picks. It’s only money, and Cohen seems to have no problem with that.


    22 Dec 22 at 2:36 pm

  25. Of course the MASN situation shows just how toothless (and spineless) the commissioner’s office is. At the same time, I laugh when people try to claim that the Nats are hamstrung by lost TV revenue. This would be the same ownership group that has passed on probably close to $200 million in revenue not generated since they’ve never bothered to sell the stadium naming rights.


    22 Dec 22 at 2:50 pm

  26. In this debate, only one side has good points. Does anybody sensible cry foul when Google pays more to hire engineering talent away from Facebook? Or when Disney pays its CEO eleventy billion dollars a year? No, we don’t, because it would be idiotic to do so.

    Steve Cohen’s product is the New York Mets, and he is spending money to improve his product. As consumers we should applaud that and decry the Angelos family for failing to do the same.

    Is it true that NY teams have more revenue than teams from Baltimore because of things that have nothing to do with baseball? Yes, of course it is. Why on earth is a solution to THAT problem a restriction on what owners can pay to players? “We need to artifically lower payments from owners to players because New York is bigger than Baltimore and Pittsburgh” is…nonsense.

    I agree that competitive balance is an important goal for MLB writ large and some restrictions are necessary to achieve it. The Baltimores and Pittsburghs would never have a chance in a truly free system. But “we need to prevent certain teams from spending too much on salary” is a transfer from players to owners. Why is that good or desirable?

    If NY teams have too much revenue and BAL and PIT too little, then the (frankly, obvious) solution is a transfer from NY to BAL and PIT, not a transfer from the players. The “competitive balance” rationales for a salary cap are all just pretextual efforts to reduce labor costs. KW is on the right track here with more revenue sharing.

    I hate the Mets and I hope all this spending turns out very poorly and the Mets and their fans continue to endure their decades of futility, all the while becoming more and more like the Yankees they claim to hate. At the same time, for me, Cohen’s spending is unambiguously good.


    23 Dec 22 at 12:52 pm

  27. If one team spends an extra $150 million, that’s an extra $150 million for players. But if your goal really is to raise that tide for all boats, then a spending floor would raise it a couple of billion. One rogue owner doesn’t really fix anything.

    But the only route to a floor would seem to be revenue sharing on local TV contracts, and that would be an 800-pound gorilla to negotiate. So we’ll see. With four years until another CBA, it seems doubtful that anything is going to change soon, and disparity is only going to get worse.


    24 Dec 22 at 9:35 am

  28. I’ll argue against more revenue sharing. Cohen isn’t the problem, its everyone else. Teams like the Pirates make plenty of revenue, they just don’t spend it.

    In addition to what Todd mentioned, there’s also other central revenue like merchandising and sponsorship which I think is around 40M and the Bamtech sale (30M). On top of that, teams share half of local revenue after expenses. The number I’ve seen on local revenue sharing is around 120M per team. That is, if half of your local revenue is 100M, you get a 20M check, while if half of local revenue is over 120M, you pay.

    So every team should be taking home about 250M in revenue this season Before Earning Any Local Money. Of course they do get local revenue. They get half of tickets/hot dogs/local TV/etc. I get that teams spend on more than salary, but I have a hard time believing the Pirates are putting more than 200M into their minors/stadium costs/analytics department every season (I’m sure I missed something).

    Sharing local revenue appears to be the problem. Because they only keep half of it, the Pirates need to earn two dollars for every one dollar they spend just to break even on that spending. Unless they’re already contending (aided by high draft picks and free supplemental picks), they appear to have concluded that the profit maximizing choice is to spend almost nothing. Frankly, that’s probably right. That’s why we will probably see Cohen spend more in his first three years as owner than the Pirates have this millennium. I see that as a Pirates problem far more so than a Cohen problem.

    Bland Moniker

    25 Dec 22 at 6:15 pm

  29. Interesting points, and interesting discussion overall. I’ll add that nearly every team plays in a publicly financed stadium, with sweetheart leasing arrangements, free related infrastructure improvements, and the ability to sell stadium naming rights for something they didn’t pay for. (The Giants privately financed their stadium in 2000, but with sweetheart land and leasing deals. Prior to that, the last privately financed facility was Dodger Stadium in 1962, but again with public involvement to relocate an entire neighborhood.) Before the good years, Nat fans were rightly pissed at the Lerners 2008-10 for spending almost nothing to put a half-decent team on the field in their free new stadium.

    We have all read plenty of stories about how the Lerners didn’t really understand the economics of how to invest in a franchise. Rizzo’s greatest achievement was successfully explaining those realities to them. Stan Kasten freely admits that he never could get them to understand.

    One suspects that similar dynamics are in play with other franchises. Few owners have previous experience with other sports franchises (which would be a bonus if Leosis is the next Nats’ owner, at least theoretically). That said, we also have a notorious local example with Dan Snyder of an owner who is willing to throw money around but has no real idea of how to build and support an actual team. Some of the things that Cohen is doing make me wonder if he’s falling into the same trap.


    27 Dec 22 at 12:16 pm

  30. Leonsis


    27 Dec 22 at 12:17 pm

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