Nationals Arm Race

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

Spring Training 2021 Judgement Day Arrives

20 comments

Kieboom sent down; a major domino falls for the 2021 nats roster. Photo via Federal Baseball

One major, significant story line that Nats fans have been talking (and fretting) about all spring was decided quickly and decisively on 3/27/21, when the Nats made a slew of moves that greatly shaped their opening day (and longer) roster.

3/27/21 moves announced:

  • Jordy Mercer added
  • Hernán Pérez added
  • Jake Noll DFA’d
  • Carter Kieboom optioned
  • Luis Garcia optioned
  • Sam Clay optioned
  • Kyle McGowin optioned
  • Yadiel Hernández optioned
  • Yasmany Tomás released
  • T.J. McFarland released

(Note; I have updated the big board for all these moves at this point, as well as prior options/releases to this point).

First, lets talk about the obvious; the Infield Impact , both at the MLB level and below. Kieboom was given all spring to win the 3B job and failed. Furthermore, Garcia’s numbers last season did not merit his being given the starter job either. I think the team is making the right move (even if it took them a bit too long to adjust) by sending both young players down and giving the big team the best chance to win.

Kieboom’s luster as a prospect is now basically shot. I would not be surprised in the least to see him flounder in AAA and struggle to recover from the disappointment of being cut, which will further prevent him from recovering his prospect shine. Garcia was always over-promoted to me, and needs a year of seasoning in AAA.

Presumably the starting lineup will now feature Josh Harrison at 3B and Starlin Castro playing 2B (or perhaps the reverse). Getting Harrison in the lineup certainly improves the offense, likely at the expense of some 3B defense. How far the team has fallen from having Anthony Rendon providing Gold Glove defense and middle-of-the-order steady offense for half a decade.

Since Castro is struggling with some injuries, and since the team needs someone who can play SS as a backup … it was always a certainty that the team would carry a SS-capable player. I was hoping it would NOT be Garcia, because I want him to play every day … and now he will. I figured honestly the team would carry Perez, but Mercer is somewhat of a surprise. I’m guessing Castro may face a DL trip, which then would put Perez in as a starter, Mercer as the defensive replacement … and when everyone is healthy again Mercer may get the Axe.

To make room for the two new additions, Noll mercifully gets the DFA axe. This was the obvious move; Noll has been #1 on my “next player to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man” roster for the better part of two years. I think he’s a nice story, making the team as such a long shot, and i’m surprised he made it so long on the roster. Odds are high that he’ll pass through waivers and accept the outright, but the odds of him returning to the majors seem slim.

The cascading effect of sending both Garcia and Kieboom to AAA, where they will be playing full time, has to be crushing to a slew of long-serving minor league vets in the org. Now there’s no room for the likes of Cole Freeman and Adrian Sanchez to play full time, to say nothing of several MLFA signings who seem like they’re a few days from getting cut (namely, Osvaldo Duarte, Ali Castillo, and Humberto Arteaga. That being said, the infield at AAA projects to have a very interesting set of prospects: KJ Harrison, Garcia, YaselAntuna and Kieboom. It’ll be fun watching AAA boxes in May.


Now lets talk about the Outfield Impact. Fan favorite Hernandez gets sent to AAA; some fans are already shocked that he gets cut based on his hitting this spring, but to me it’s pretty obvious. The team needs a spare outfielder who can actually play CF and that isn’t Hernandez. But it also may be that the injury to Castro forced the team’s hand to carry Mercer at the expense of Hernandez. Maybe we’ll see him back up soon to cover for a corner OF injury, or if (when) Ryan Zimmerman gets hurt.

Hernandez clearly has made Tomas expendable; he’s given his release. He just didn’t show much this spring (7-30 with no extra base hits) and the team has other options.

Gerardo Parra clearly isn’t ready so he will remain in roster limbo; it should be interesting to see what the team does with him once he’s ready to go, and who makes way. Does he replace Mercer like for like? Does he go to AAA and play for a bit? How does he fit into this team?

Speaking of outfielders in AAA, Hernandez will presumably man LF down there, as Tocci will man CF. That leaves just one OF position for a slew of org guys, and playing time will be tight for the likes of Rhett Wisemann and Nick Banks if Parra is on the roster. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll all just juggle DH duties.


Lastly, lets talk briefly about what we now know about the Pitching situation. We now seem to know at least how the “2nd lefty bullpen option” competition has shaken out: Clay lost and was demoted, McFarland lost and was released, and the team is waiting a day or two to make a 40-man corresponding move/DL assignment to add Luis Avilan. Makes sense and all seems logical.

The MLB bullpen now though still seems light: The big board shows only 6 relievers on the Washington roster right now, though Fedde and Voth seem like they’re both now being carried. That puts them at 8 … but we know that Harris and his blood clot will cause a short DL trip. So stay tuned for more machinations on the pitching. I’ll bet we’ll see at least one more RHP reliever addition (Javy Guerra?), but that’ll require another 40-man/60-day DL move. It is interesting that McGowin was sent down; to me this means he lost out to Guerra as a middle relief option.

Lastly, two starters remain in limbo: Armenteros and Romero. Romero the far more interesting case; where the F is he? Zero IP all spring, zero indication if he’s a starter or reliever. For a guy with such a track record/history it just leads to nothing but (bad) speculation. We’ll find out soon enough; they have to do something with him in the next few days.

So, lots of moves, lots of clarity already, with a bit more to come.

Post Publishing update: about 20 minutes after publishing, the team made the next logical bullpen move, adding Luis Avilan and DFA’ing Dakota Bacus. As noted above as a likely possibility but officially made today.

MLBPipeline’s Nats top30 Prospects

80 comments

Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by MLBpipeline. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

The 2021 season is almost upon us, which means that the pre-2021 “prospect season” is now winding to a close. One of the last two major prospect-analysis shops in MLBpipeline.com released their rankings for the Nats, so as we’ve done in the past lets take a look and comment on their rankings versus the collective hive of other analysts.

MLBPipeline’s analysis is primarily the work of three people: Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, and Sam Dykstra (formerly Mike Rosenbaum, who is now a baseball writer free agent apparently).

We’ve now seen Nats rankings from BA, BP, MLBpipeline, Espn/McDaniel, Athletic/Law, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Prospects1500, and Fantrax. The only major shop left is Fangraphs/Longenhagen, who is nearly done releasing team-by-team rankings, and when he does we’ll publish a post for his list like this one.

Thoughts on the MLBpipeline list are below; I won’t repeat the actual list of the top 30; that’s more easily seen here, with links to video and scouting reports by clicking on the player names. There’s been a ton of movement from the last time they ranked the system at the end of December in the wake of the Josh Bell trade.

  • At the top, Cavalli over Rutledge: they’ve switched these guys at the top since December. Rutledge is given a grade-70 fastball was also recently named the Nats prospect with the best FB, but doesn’t have the secondary pitch depth that Cavalli has.
  • Same top 3 as basically everyone else: Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry.
  • Antuna up to #4; three months ago they had him at #10, and this ranking is really in line with many of the other shops. I continue to believe he could be an impactful player this year at the MLB level, despite being optioned officially over the weekend to AAA with the team’s first cuts of 2021.
  • De La Rosa jumped up to #6; they’re the most bullish of the shops on this kid. All we have to go on is crummy 2019 GCL numbers when he was 17, so this will be an illuminating year.
  • Recent IFA signing Armando Cruz debuts at #7 … wow. That’s pretty frigging high for a 16yr old, no matter what $$ he just got.
  • Like most shops, they’ve dropped Denaburg nearly out of the top 10 at this point. I’d like to point out that Denaburg will turn 22 in August, is in his fourth pro season and has a grand total of 20 1/3rd professional innings pitched. I get that he’s been unlucky with injury, but man I’d like to see something out of the guy in 2021.
  • Infante comes in at #13, in line with other shops but drastically increased by MLBpipeline since Dec, when they had him #24. What changed? Did they suddenly decide his scouting reports merited this drastic increase?
  • Romero unceremoniously dumped from #7 in December all the way to #18. #18 in a prospect list for a farm system is basically saying, “this guy is lucky to have a AAA job.” By way of comparison, Tres Barrera is #19; does anyone consider Barrera a prospect anymore? I get the ranking; his velocity and performance in the majors last year was really concerning; if he can’t cut it as an effective starter, does he even have the arm to be an effective reliever? The team seems to be turning him back into a starter; does he have the stuff to be an effective starter? What happened to the guy with two 60-grade pitches coming out of college?
  • Braymer comes in at #21. If I were to hide draft pedigree and signing bonuses, and just put Braymer and Romero’s career accomplishments side by side … how in god’s name do you rank Braymer below him? One guy has a significant minor league pedigree of accomplishment and actually succeeded in 2020’s MLB appearances, while the other guy …. didn’t.
  • Fuentes: another guy who I feel gets downgraded when evaluators look at this bonus amount versus his results. He’s a worm-burner with a heavy fastball that just gets people out, at every level. If I told you that, at the age of 21, the Nat’s had a 1st rounder reach AA and put up a 2.69 ERA and a 63/15 K/BB ratio in 63 innings (Fuentes’ 2019 age-21 season AA numbers), we’d be talking about him being the next Strasburg. But since its Fuentes … he’s barely a prospect. He’s a guy I hope proves the pundits wrong.
  • Schaller’s ranking takes a nose dive, from #16 to #27. I’m not sure why; he was decent in 2019 in Low-A, he’s got a good pedigree (a starter from Vanderbilt). He missed some 2019 time with injury, but it wasn’t arm related. Why dump him so far? I think he could make a statement in 2021.
  • Sanchez, like with BA’s ranking, is thrown in at #30 almost entirely based on the spin rate on his curve (3,000 rpms, which is MLB elite). He’ll use his age-18 season hopefully to pitch in the GCL and impress the staff.

Experimental Rule change Reaction

9 comments

TAMPA, FL – APRIL 4: Pitcher Andy Pettitte #46 of the New York Yankees attempts a pickoff against the New York Mets in a spring training game April 4, 2012 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. Pettitte last pitched in 2010. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

I’m a bit late to the game on this: Luke Erickson already posted his 2 cents on this at Nationals Prospects.

MLB has taken advantage of the fact that they now rule the Minor Leagues like a Lannister and will be implementing several rule changes this season. Jayson Stark had an interesting reaction here at the Athletic, and perhaps the simplest list of the rule changes by league is at MLBTraderumors.com (as always; they cut right to the chase).

So, what do I think? Well before reading further I guarantee one of my “takes” isn’t going to match yours for one or more of these proposed rule changes. Baseball fan opinions all exist on a sliding scale, where one extreme is the Pure Traditionalists (who are still pissed that the league went to divisional play in 1969, to say nothing of the Wild Card, 5-man rotations, the introduction of WAR, or anything we’re about to talk about), while on the other side are the Ultra-Modern Baseball fans, who embrace and seek out analytical advantages and are always looking for disruptive ways to improve the game. You can be on the “traditionalist side” of neutral and be ok with Wild Cards, but be against the DH in the NL, and you’ll still be called an idiot by your grandpa. So, take the below with a grain of salt if you’re on the conservative side.

Here’s the new rule changes, by league, being implemented in the Minors:


AAA will Increase the Size of the Bases.

I can’t see why anyone would argue with this; we’re all used to seeing the “side base” in amateur leagues created specifically to avoid collissions and broken ankles from clumsy base runners. They claim that a 3″ square increase will somehow lead to noticeable stolen base increases … but somehow I doubt that. As we already know, stolen bases are out of favor with analytical types because simple Run-Expectancy analysis shows that the break even point for SB success rate is somewhere in the 75% range, and only elite runners can break that rate. Ricky Henderson‘s career SB success rate was 80%, to give you an idea of how hard it is to keep your rate above 75%. My Verdict: go for it.


AA will Set Limits on Shifts

The initial rule will state that all four defined infielders must have their feet on the dirt. They can still shift, and put the 3rd baseman on the other side of 2nd … but he has to be in the defined “infield.” If this doesn’t have an impact, they also opened up the possibility of even more radical shift-banning, basically legislating that two infielders must be on either side of 2B, which basically would eliminate the shifting overloading we’ve been seeing.

In the past I have defended the shift, noting that it generally gets out hard-headed lefty pull hitters who refuse to adjust and take advantage of a wide open left side of the field by simply going the other way or bunting (as Robinson Cano did quite ably in this video)… listen to the announcers in this video; they basically say “its about time! How many years have we watched this with the shift…”). EXACTLY.

However.

I’m starting to come back around a bit. Why? Because offense is so down. Anyone who has played slow-pitch softball knows how much offensive oppression a 4th outfielder strategically deployed can do to even a skilled hitter. I think i’m now ok with some slight modifications to the shift rule, and the initial rule is a great start. you want to play 3 infielders on the right side against a Ted Williams-like pull hitter? That’s fine; but they’ve all gotta be on the dirt and you can’t stick the 3B in short RF. My Verdict: go for it.


High-A will see the Step Off rule implemented for pitchers. Simply put, they have to disenage with the rubber to attempt a pick off. This rule was done in the Atlantic League in 2019 and apparently succeeded in its intent to increase the running game in the sport (it led to 70% more stolen base attempts).

I think I like this rule, but for a different reason…. no more will we see lefties basically balking and picking guys off first and not getting called on it. Over and Over we see illegal lefty moves to first (see Andy Pettitte’s entire career and this slo-mo video)and rarely do we see them getting called on it; it basically has eliminated the running game for lefties just under the threat of a fake move to first. One caveat; appaerntly the step-off-quick-snap-throw for lefties is also out … which I don’t get. Isn’t that a step-off? Maybe they put this part back, because otherwise lefties seem to have almost zero way to stop the running game. My Verdict: go for it.


Low-A will see, in addition to the step-off rule, the 2 Pickoff attempt rule. You can only attempt 3 pickoffs per plate appearance; if the 3rd attempt is unsuccessful, a balk is called and the runners advance. This is the most radical rule change for me, but I understand the reasoning. Go to any game and if a pitcher throws over more than a couple times the crowd boos and gets restless. It goes towards the general goal of speeding up the game, and goes towards eliminating a rather cynical method of suppressing the running game (that by tiring out the speedy potential base stealer by making him dive in over and over). I think i’ve talked myself into it. My Verdict: go for it.


Low-A West will Adopt on-field timers … which will just codify rules already in place, so My Verdict is just enforce the rules already.


Low-A South East will adopt Robot Umpires, technically known as the Automated Ball-Strike System or ABS, to standardize the strike zone. Yes. Finally. Basically the ABS system makes a call and the home plate umpire relays it, filling in if the machine breaks down.

The challenge with an automated strike zone is defining the zone. I think all baseball fans are really, really tired of seeing obvious balls called strikes and vice versa (see Hernandez, Angel), especially when the call seems to be punitive for some other action (see this call in the 2019 World Series when umpire Lance Barkesdale clearly “took away” a strike-three call). But, what we’ve learned from automated strike zones is that the rule-book defined zone makes for some really, really hard pitches to hit (98mph heater at your chest on the corner? yeah right). But, at some point I think it has to happen. My verdict; continue the experimenting.


Wow. So i’m in favor of all the rules. Hmm. I wonder what that makes me? Oh yeah; a baseball fan who’s tired of seeing 3.5 hr games of three true outcomes.

Written by Todd Boss

March 12th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Nats 40-man Options status

64 comments

Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion

41 comments

Parra may bring the shark back to Washington in 2021 as an NRI. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is our 7th straight year doing this recurring post; a look at the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) upon their official announcement ahead of spring training.

Here’s past posts by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

The team has invited 71 players to spring training, which means that joining the 39 members of the 40-man roster are an astounding 32 NRIs. FYI: the big board is now updated for all 32 NRIs, who are shaded in purple. 2020 was a weird year, which probably is why we’re seeing so many NRIs, and so many NRIs who are so young. Normally NRIs are veteran MLFAs, AAA/4-A guys and perhaps one or two top prospects. This year, the team has invited a slew of guys who have never played above A-ball, or who were drafted just last year.

Why do we care about NRIs? Because there’s a high likelihood we’ll see these guys either make the roster or get called up later on this year. Since the 2015 season:

  • 9 NRIs have made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 10 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for six seasons running.
  • 29 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season they were in spring training.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2021.


Lets review the NRIs and make some predictions.

Here’s the list of 32 NRI’s for 2021, organized by player type:

  • RH Starters: Jefry Rodriguez, Paolo Espino, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tyler Dyson, Todd Peterson
  • RH Relievers: Aaron Barrett, Tyler Eppler, Javy Guerra, Gabe Klobotis, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Bryan Bonnell, Jeremy Jeffress
  • LH Starters: Tim Cate
  • LH Relievers: Luis Avilan, TJ McFarland, Matt Cronin
  • Catchers: Raudy Read, Wellington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Jakson Reetz, Blake Swihart, Brandon Snyder (who is oddly listed as a Catcher but really is a 1B)
  • Infielders: Adrian Sanchez, Hernan Perez, Jordy Mercer, Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza
  • Outfielders: Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomas, Gerardo Parra, Cody Wilson

(note: post-publishing edit; I had Bonnell as a LHP; thanks for the correction. 2/22/21 added Jeffress).


So lets squint and make some predictions.

  • Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  There are a couple of opportunities for these guys this year, absolutely. All of this is assuming no injuries to the current 40-man.
    1. Lefty Reliever: right now the bullpen has two lefties: Brad Hand and Sam Clay. Hand seems like he’s going to be the closer, while Clay has never pitched in the majors. So, yeah, there’s opportunity here. Avilan has the most MLB time but his numbers have been iffy lately. McFarland has as much MLB time as Avilan and has better recent numbers. Cronin could surprise here, but he’s never pitched above A-ball. He’s got amazing numbers though. The team could also be looking to convert one of its lefty starters to a reliever (Romero, Braymer) … but those guys would be far more valuable as effective starters. At the end of the day, I think McFarland breaks camp as the loogy.
    2. 7th/8th bullpen arm/RH Reliever: Right now on the depth chart, the team only has 9 true “relievers” on its 40-man. They’re going to break camp with 8 of them. The options game probably means they carry the loser of Ross/Voth/Fedde 5th starter competition as the 8th reliever, meaning that there’s possibly some competition for that last righty out of the pen. Look for that spot to be competed between Finnegan, Bacus and then the likes of veteran NRI Guerra. I’ll bet the team breaks camp with Guerra; he’s been there before and the team knows him, sending Finnegan and Bacus to AAA. 2/22/21 update: with the Jeffress signing, I think he goes to the head of the list above Guerra.
    3. 4th OF; Is there really a competition here? I don’t believe there is. But a 5th OF could be in the works as a bench bat. See next.
    4. Bench Bat: here’s our current projected Bench bats: Harrison, Zimmerman. Not much there. I like Parra as a glue-guy, clubhouse guy, spare part kind of player. Plus he hits lefty. Plus lets be honest; his Baby Shark thing is the kind of fan engagement phenomenon that you just can’t buy in terms of publicity. Not that there’s going to be any damn fans.
    5. Spare Infielder: do we really think Garcia is the backup infielder? I don’t think so: i think Garcia goes back to AAA and one of Sanchez/Mercer/Perez makes it as a veteran infielder. Given our Pittsburgh connection, money on Mercer.

So my prediction? multiple NRIs joining the team: McFarland, Jeffress, Parra and Mercer.

Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2021? Absolutely. Past my four NRI predictions, I can see more than a few of these guys getting call-ups later on if they stick.

Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  There’s a bunch of our top prospects on this list: Cavalli, Henry, Rutledge, Cate, Cronin. And there’s lesser-known but older/effective guys who seem like good bets to put themselves onto the roster. Nats spring training games should be great.

Are there any surprise non-NRIs in the system right now? Yeah a couple surprise non-invites. Two arms that were on the 60-man last year are not invited: Nick Wells and Sterling Sharp. Wells is a lefty reliever; why not invite him and have him compete? Sharp has MLB time; why not put him in camp? No other real surprise non-invites.


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering… (this is recycled material, carried along year by year)

Summary of NRIs for 2020: 22 total

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • 4 more eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season (Wil Crowe, Dakota Bacus, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez).
  • 0 more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 2021 season, but thanks to odd 2020 60-man roster all the NRIs under consideration here already got the callup.

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Keith Law’s Nats Top 20 Prospect list

15 comments

Andry Lara continues to get attention out of the Nat’s system. Photo via Baseball America

Keith Law, over on the Athletic, released his Washington Nationals top 20 analysis yesterday. I like Law’s analysis, and realize that his opinions can be a bit polarizing, but I thought i’d run through his list and provide some analysis in spots where he differed greatly from other pundits in the space.

By this point in the “prospect analysis season” we’ve seen Nats run-throughs from Baseball America, Prospect361, MLBpipeline’s preliminary list, Prospects 1500, Bleacher Report, Baseball Prospectus, and now Keith Law. Still waiting for a couple other big names to drop (Mlbpipeline’s final list, ESPN, and Fangraphs), all of which should be coming in the next week ro so, but we’re starting to see some standardization of the lists.

Law’s ranking is “ceiling over floor” (meaning he likes younger prospects with growth potential versus older prospects who may be limited in terms of future impact). He’s definitely starter over reliever (its kind of surprising to ever see him rank a reliever) and premium defensive position over corner. So, there’s some surprises on this list.

The Athletic is behind a paywall, so here’s the list.

1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4LaraAndry
5QuintanaRoismar
6DenaburgMason
7RomeroSeth
8CateTim
9CroninMatt
10De La RosaJeremy
11AntunaYasel
12InfanteSamuel
13MarteDaniel
14PinedaIsrael
15AdonJoan
16IrvinJake
17LeeEvan
18FuentesSteven
19ViandelPena
20SanchezBryan

Thoughts on his rankings:

  • Same top 3 as nearly all other pundits, in the expected order of Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry. I’d like to point out that the best-case projection for these three guys is a heck of a trio of arms to pair with Strasburg and Corbin for a few years at the back-end of their long term contracts. I mean, there’s worse situations to be in. Especially if all three are pitching in the majors on pre-arb contracts.
  • Andry Lara at #4: this is about where others are now putting him; the video on him is pretty impressive. Effortless delivery, almost like Livan Hernandez but with velocity, and side-stuff.
  • He has Roismar Quintana all the way up to #5, way way higher than anyone else (Baseball America had Quintana at #20 and most others have him in the mid-teens). This exemplifies ceiling over floor approach to prospect grading to a T.
  • He’s got our two high-profile 1st round scuffles in Denaburg and Romero back to back, fittingly. Question; at what point does a prospect write-up of Romero NOT mention that he’s got “off-the-field” issues? I daresay i have not read a paragraph about the player since the day we drafted him that did not include that caveat. I wonder if he makes the majors and pitches for us for several years and then when we hear about his first arbitration hearing if the write-ups will go, “… Romero pitched adequately out of the nats bullpen in 2026 … he’s come a long way since getting kicked off his college team!” sigh.
  • Law has Antuna all the way down at #11 (by way of comparison, BA has him #4 and Prospects1500 has him at #2, which may be influenced by fantasy value since he’s now on the 40-man and might get big league time in 2021). I think Law dings him because he doesn’t think Antuna can stick at a premium defensive position … which greatly hurts his value unless he can show 25-homer power.
  • Despite having TJ surgery, Law has Jake Irvin all the way up to #16, noting that he was showing significantly higher velocity before blowing out his elbow (do you think maybe the two events are related?) Nonetheless, if Irvin comes back with a new elbow and the same velocity, he’s a significantly better prospect.
  • Evan Lee at #17 … that’s definitely optimistic on Lee.
  • Bryan Sanchez at #20 and now we know why; 3,000 rpm on his curve ball right now to go with mid 90s velocity?? As an 18yr old? Wow.

A couple other notes:

  • Cluff and Mendoza were BA’s #10 and #11 … and Law doesn’t even have them in his top 20.
  • No mention of Tres Barrera who is mid-teens in most other groups, not even in his honorable mentions.
  • Lastly, he drops a name i’ve never heard before: Mirton Blanco. Turns out he’s an 2018 IFA who threw in the DSL in 2019 with pretty solid velocity before blowing out his elbow too. Seems like a trend.

Pundits all Agree (so far): Washington farm system dead last

34 comments

It is prospect ranking season, and the regular shops are starting to publish their pre-2021 organizational system ranks, analyzing the prospect depth each system has. And nearly across the board, all the pundits seem to agree on one thing:

Washington has the worst farm system in the game.

Here’s a quick one-paragraph overview of the system from each pundit, so you can gauge what they’re saying about us.


Mlbpipeline.com/Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo Farm systems mid-season 2020 9/1/20. Nats Ranked 30th.

“The Nationals have tapped into their farm more than ever this year, assigning Kieboom to their Opening Day roster and promoting prospects such as Luis García, Wil Crowe and Seth Romero within the season’s first month. The organization won’t have a Top 100 prospect after Kieboom graduates, though right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, Washington’s first-round picks in 2019 and ‘20, both are future Top 100 candidates.”

(Note: this is from Sept 1st, before the Crowe trade, but it was the first time that MLBpipeline had dumped the Nats to the bottom. They’ll be re-issuing their rankings for players and systems within the month).


Joel Reuter/Bleacher Report 2021 Farm system ranking Jan 2021: Nats ranked 30th

Farm System Snapshot: With infielders Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia moving on to the majors and pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Josh Bell deal, the Washington Nationals system is down four top prospects from the last time these rankings were updated—when they also claimed the No. 30 spot. The front office has invested first-round picks in Mason Denaburg (No. 27 in 2018), Jackson Rutledge (No. 17 in 2019) and Cade Cavalli (No. 22 in 2020), and that trio now represents the best of baseball’s thinnest farm system.

Keith Law/The Athletic Pre 2021 Farm system ranking Feb21. Nats ranked 30th

“The Nats won the World Series in 2019, and as is often the case with teams that do so, they spent a lot of their prospect capital to get there. They’ve traded prospects, drafted lower in the first round and given up some picks for free agents. Their international scouting department has been very aggressive under the new system, however, and the Nats’ system could look a whole lot better in a year if all of their teenage Latin American prospects get a chance to play and show us if their abilities line up with their tools. “


Prospects1500/Jacob Swain Rankings Feb 2021. Nats ranked 30th

” Even though the Nats farm system ranks at or very near the bottom, there is some promise on the horizon. Several of their prospects could see themselves in consideration to be included in Top 100 lists by mid-season. -Jacob Swain (@jacob_swain3) “

Baseball America Farm system Rankings Feb 2021. Nats Ranked 30th

“The last time the Nationals were dead last in our talent rankings (2008), they were trying to dig out from the everything-must-go mentality of the final years of the Expos. This time they are recovering from winning a World Series in 2019. Thinning a farm system to win a World Series is a much more enjoyable reason than thinning a system because of potential contraction. “


ESPN/Kiley McDaniel Rankings 2/13/21. Nats Ranked 30th.

The Nats are perennially in an unusual position: a bottom-five farm system with a number of big league stars who have come through that system. The system has produced Stephen StrasburgJuan SotoAnthony RendonBryce Harper and Victor Robles, along with a brief stop from Trea Turner, and this is largely because (or why) the Nats target upside in the amateur markets. Righties Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli are their past two first-round picks and have frontline potential at the top of the system.

The other side of this coin is graduating prospects to the big leagues (two top-100 members from last year in potential stars Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia) and trading midtier prospects for big league help (Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean for Josh Bell).


Major shops Still to publish: Baseball Prospectus, MLBPipeline’s updated rankings, Fangraphs, and MILB.com. I’ll probably post another iteration of this post when these guys publish, to put their take up as well.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2021 at 11:10 am

Baseball America’s Nats top 30

32 comments

Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America announced Top 30 lists for all teams on 2/3/21, which meant we get the first major team-specific review of the prospects.

The lack of a minor league season in 2020 complicates this analysis, as does the late arriving IFA class (delayed 6 months from its typical July 2 date). But we do have some shuffling of prospects from prior lists. This post will call out some of the more interesting prospects on BA’s list, if they’re higher or lower than other shops.

Direct link to the Nats top 30 is here. The top 30 table is here:

2021 BA RankLast NameFirst Name
1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4AntunaYasel
5LaraAndry
6De La RosaJeremy
7CateTim
8DenaburgMason
9CroninMatt
10MendozaDrew
11CluffJackson
12InfanteSamuel
13RomeroSeth
14PinedaIsrael
15BarreraTres
16MarteDaniel
17BraymerBen
18PowellHolden
19FuentesSteven
20QuintanaRoismar
21DysonTyler
22IrvinJake
23AdonJoan
24ReetzJakson
25SharpSterling
26AriasAndry
27TetreaultJackson
28BanksNick
29SchallerReid
30SanchezBryan

Notable players:

  • Like pretty much every other prospect ranking shop, the top three includes Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. Cavalli comes in ahead of Rutledge.
  • After a down year, Yasel Antuna is now all the way up to #4. As we’ve heard repeatedly, he did well in the XST 60-man last year and is rounding into the prospect shape they thought they were getting when they spent $3.9M on him in 2016. For all the talk we have about whether Kieboom is ready … maybe we’re looking at the wrong 3B prospect right now. Could Antuna win the 3B job this spring??
  • BA continues to be high shop on De La Rosa, ranking him #6.
  • The Pittsburgh trade cost the team two of its former BA top 10 players in Crowe and Yean, which moves up two 2019 draftees Cronin and Mendoza into the top 10. Both were solid college players who have done well so far in the minors. Cronin seems like he could zoom up the minors in 2021.
  • They’re way high on Infante, with him at #12 when most shops have him buried in the mid 20s. I definitely feel like there’s some pretty distinct opinions on Infante in the Natmosphere; some people really hated the pick. He was above slot, buying him out of a UMiami commitment and is listed as having plus arm, plus hands and is “advanced” for a prep draft pick.
  • Romero down to #13. For understandable reasons; his velocity was not impressive in 2020 in his very short season. I’d like to see him in AAA, as a starter, pitching every 5th day for half a season to see just what he’s capable of.
  • The three catchers on this list: Barrera at #14, Pineda at #15, Reetz at #24; does anyone actually think any of these guys ever contribute at the MLB level? Reetz was a MLFA re-signing and comes in at #24 in the system?
  • Daniel Marte pops up kind of out of the blue at #16. Seems like a speculative ranking.
  • Ben Braymer at #17 continues to get half-hearted prospect support, despite his excellent minor league career thus far. A reminder; he has a career 3.64 minor league ERA despite a 7+ ERA in 13 Fresno starts in 2019. He continues to be one of the best middle-round picks we’ve ever had.
  • Steven Fuentes creeping up to #19. Still can’t believe he’s not higher; he dominated AA in 2019 as a 22yr old.
  • BA is much lower on Joan Adon than other shops, bringing him at #23 when most others have him in the 14-17 range.
  • Same with Reid Schaller; having him #29 while other shops have him as high as #16.
  • Why is Sterling Sharp even considered a prospect at this point (he’s ranked #25).
  • Two debutants on BA’s list that i’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere before: Andry Arias comes in at #27 and Bryan Sanchez at #30

FYI: The 2021 IFA picks (specifically Armando Cruz) were not included on this list.

Overall farm system thoughts: top heavy: 3 big arms at the top who project as solid #2-#3 starters. Then three high-risk/high-ceiling IFAs. Then a combination of big-time Div1 studs and failed first rounders. There’s room for improvement.

Baseball has a serious competitiveness problem

12 comments

Arenado’s trade just another example of teams not trying to win. Photo via legitsports.com

I don’t think this post is necessarily a surprise to those of us who follow the sport. MLB has a serious competitiveness problem, and it seems to be coming to a particular head for the 2021 season … just in time for the CBA to expire.

The reason I bring this up is because of a series of really, really concerning moves we’ve seen this past off-season, coupled with some of the more seismic moves seen in the past couple of off-seasons, has really got me shocked.

Specifically, i’m about:

  • the Colorado Rockies dumping their franchise player and likely future hall of famer Nolan Arenado for a set of middling prospects AND sending $50M to the Cardinals.
  • I’m talking about one of the absolute wealthiest teams in the sport (the Chicago Cubs) trading away key players (Yu Darvish) and doing little to augment their team for 2021.
  • I’m talking about Boston trading away the best home-grown player they’ve had since, I dunno, Ted Williams, in what amounted to a salary dump (again, this is Boston, who make more than $500M annually in revenues) when they jettisoned Mookie Betts.
  • I’m talking about teams in major, huge markets (Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners) basically not trying.
  • I’m talking about the best team in the AL last year (Tampa Bay) flipping its best player (Ian Snell) for 60 cents on the dollar BEFORE he even got that expensive.
  • I’m talking about teams like Atlanta (whose numbers are public record because they are owned by a publicly-traded company) earning $476M in revenue in 2019 and basically holding pat on payroll for years.
  • I’m talking about teams in mid-sized markets (Arizona, Baltimore, Miami) acting as if they’re barely staying afloat.

And so on.

I did a quick analysis of where the MLB teams stand in terms of whether they’re really “trying” for the 2021 season, based on their off-season activity and their 2020 results, and i came up with a pretty shocking list of teams. By my counts:

  • 14 teams are purposely doing as little as possible to improve their teams this off-season. Not surprisingly, these 14 teams account for 14 of the 17 smallest projected payrolls right now.
  • Another 3 teams are competitive and/or have high payrolls, but are making moves that question their intent (specifically: Boston, San Francisco, and Tampa)
  • This leaves the remaining 13 teams which are clearly “trying,” actively signing and improving their teams, increasing payroll, etc. Again, not surprisingly, these 13 “trying” teams currently comprise 12 of the top 13 projected 2021 payrolls.

Here’s the core data, stored by division and then projected payroll rank. I used Cot’s 2021 payroll projections , Fangraphs Roster Resource Depth charts/transaction trackers, and MLBtraderumors 2021 FA tracker to gauge activity.

TeamDivisionRankCB Tax 40-manTrying?Notes
Chicago White SoxAL Central11166.6YesAcquired Lynn, signed Hendricks
MinnesotaAL Central17125.9YesDone enough to maintain divisional lead
Kansas CityAL Central2196.8NoOnly minor moves
DetroitAL Central2291.2NoOnly minor moves
ClevelandAL Central2962.7NoTraded Carrasco and Lindor
BostonAL East2201.9Sort-ofThey've made moves, but really payroll hamstrung. Betts trade was disappointing
New York YankeesAL East3199.9YesSigned LeMahiue, Kluber, acquired Taillon
TorontoAL East12148.3YesSpringer acquisition plus Siemen trade, Matz trade
BaltimoreAL East2679.9NoWaiver claims and rule5 picks.
Tampa BayAL East2870.1Sort-of… but traded away Snell.
HoustonAL West4195.8YesStable, competitive roster
Los Angeles AngelsAL West7185.2YesAcquired Cobb, Iglesias, etc.
TexasAL West2389.9NoNot really attempting to compete in AL West, traded away Lynn
OaklandAL West2489.1No0 FA signings, almost no off-season activity
SeattleAL West2580.6NoVery little improvement attempts
St. LouisNL Central10169.7YesAcquired Arenado but that's about it for activity
Chicago CubsNL Central14143.5NoTanking mode; traded Darvish, non-tendered Schwarber
CincinnatiNL Central18125.6NoLittle movement in improving the team.
MilwaukeeNL Central20102.9NoAlmost no off-season activity
PittsburghNL Central3058.2No100% tanking mode; traded away most of their assets; just ONE guy on a multi-year contract
WashingtonNL East5193.7YesMultiple acquisitions pre season
PhiladelphiaNL East6186.2YesResigned Realmuto big, got Didi
New York MetsNL East8180.7YesHuge moves pre 2021; new owner, signed McCann, acquired Lindor and Carrasco, bullpen signings
AtlantaNL East15138.1YesTwo starters … but refuse to go much higher than current
MiamiNL East2773.6No
Los Angeles DodgersNL West1204.4YesDefending WS champs
San DiegoNL West9172.2YesGot Darvish AND Snell, plus Musgrove??
San FranciscoNL West13146.1Sort-ofLots of movement, but none to really make them competitive
ColoradoNL West16128.3No
ArizonaNL West19103NoNot a SINGLE off-season move

Furthermore, there’s some teams who I give credit for “trying” who just happen to be in divisions where basically everyone else is NOT trying … so just treading water constitutes as a pathway to success. Going division by division:

  • AL East: NY and Toronto competing. Boston sits at #2 in payroll thanks to god-awful contract management during the Dave Dombrowski era. Tampa was the best team in the AL in 2020, but projects to have the 3rd lowest payroll and just flipped Snell. Baltimore of course is doing almost nothing as normal.
  • AL Central: Chicago and Minnesota sit mid-league in payroll but get a free ride thanks to the rest of the division actively tanking. Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland all trying to get worse on purpose.
  • AL West: Houston treading water with a great and expensive roster, the result of years of purposely tanking and starting this whole trend. The Angels continue to ineptly spend their money and not get Mike Trout to the playoffs. Nobody else trying, and Texas, Seattle, Oakland all sit in huge markets. Texas in particular is particularly galling; they reside in the 4th largest market in the majors and project to have the 23rd ranked payroll.
  • NL East: the most competitive division, with 4 of the 5 teams trying and spending money. Of course, as noted above Atlanta’s wealth is hamstrung artificially (which must be awesome for their fans). Miami continues to be an embarassment, a revenue suck on the rest of the league.
  • NL Central: perhaps the most egregious example; just one team seems to be trying to win in 2021 (St. Louis). The other four are dumping players and not spending money (Cubs, Cincy, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, which projects to the lowest payroll in teh majors)
  • NL West: the Dodgers will always spend, and the Padres are really well positioned out of the blue, which has made the rest of the division wave the white flag already. San Francisco treads water getting out from under a ton of expensive, aging players, while Colorado has traded away an all-star team worth of talent in the past few years, and Arizona continues to be one of the most inept franchises in the game while sitting in the 10th largest US market, one that is growing wildly.

For me, a big part of this is the Luxury tax cap, which clearly is treated as a hard cap and thus stops wealthier teams from going over it. But another huge part is the lack of a corresponding salary floor. There’s also little incentive for teams to compete and win with pre-determined RSN payments driving their revenues. I think the league needs to look at bigger revenue sharing for its smaller teams to keep them competitive (like what the NFL does). Lastly, too many teams have now seen the pathway to success that bottoming out does and are emulating it … all at once. Only one team can draft #1 overall, but half the league is trying to do so. How do you resolve this?

In any case … the lack of trying and lack of spending has led to hundreds of millions of dollars of payroll NOT being spent on players … and they’ve got to get the playing field back to level. I think we’re going to see a pretty ugly work stoppage after 2021. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this. But when it comes to good faith attempts to compete, more than half the league is not holding up their end of the bargain for 2021.

Written by Todd Boss

February 3rd, 2021 at 1:28 pm

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

218 comments

Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.