Nationals Arm Race

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State of the Minors, week 2

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Cole Henry has looked great so far in 2021. Photo via ai.com

Well, if there was any better indication of just how bad the farm system is … you can go look at the records of our four minor league affiliates through two weeks.

  • AAA: 2-10
  • AA: 4-8
  • High-A: 6-6
  • Low-A: 0-12

Your Fredericksburg Nats are Oh and Twelve. 33 runs scored, 121 against. They’re giving up an average of 10 runs a game, with a current run differential of -88 runs. Wow. So far, the owner of the franchise is reeeaaaallly digging the talent level he’s got to open up his $35M stadium. (Ah who am i kidding, he didn’t spend a dime of his own money, the taxpayers did! I digress).

The only team in the system actually trying (High-A Wilmington) is “only” 6-6. But we’ll get to them.

Ok, so who is hot and who is not after two full 6-game series? We’ll go by level. Here’s who’s “Hot” by level:

AAA:

  • Raudy Read: 5-15 through first 12 games. But he’s on the IL. And listed as a 1B. I mean, is the guy actually catching anymore? Tres Barrera seems to be getting the bulk of catcher ABs, which makes sense since he’s the only guy on the 40-man.
  • Most of the back-end of the bullpen: Bacus, Bonnell, McGowin, Miller and Lobstein all have decent numbers in their few innings of work so far.

AA:

  • Cole Freeman has had a nice start to the season
  • Teel, Sanchez and Reyes in the rotation all have had two decent starts.
  • Sanchez in particular: 15Ks, 1 BB so far in 3 starts.
  • Sterling Sharp rebounded from his awful opener to be pretty stellar in his second start.
  • Gabe Klobotis: 5IP, 2 hits, 7/0 K/BB. How was this guy a 36th rounder??

High-A:

  • Henry and Cavalli: well, they’ve lived up to the hype. Henry has given up 9 base runners in 11 innings and 4 of them scored; his K/BB is actually better than Cavalli’s.
  • Zack Brzycky: where did we get this guy? $10k NDFA last season just shows up at high A slinging dots. 9IP, 4 hits, 14/4 K/BB? yes I’ll take that.
  • Alex Troop: 5ip, 10 Ks, zero BBs, 1 hit. And that one hit scored.
  • Matt Cronin: picks up where he left off in 2019; 5.1 IP, one hit, 11/2 K/BB. Move him up with Henry and Cavalli at the end of the month.

Low-A:

  • Well, Michael Cuevas has had a nice start; 4ip, 1 hit.
  • Mitchell Parker started decently but got hit hard in his 2nd start. He still has 15 Ks in 7innings … to go along with 7 walks.

OK, who is NOT Hot? Well, mostly everyone, but i’ll highlight a few in particular.

AAA:

  • Luis Garcia: hitting just .205 albeit with three homers.
  • Carter Kieboom: he’s only appeared in 7 games?!? What is going on? Hitting .222. We care about basically two bats in the whole of AAA and these two are it, and the opening to the season has been rough.
  • The entire Rotation: the best starter in AAA is Sean Nolin, who the team acquired with like a few days notice to be the AAA opening day starter. Can you feel the excitement?
  • Ryne Harper: the guy was good in 2019 for the Twins; now he’s 32 and struggling in AAA. He’s currently occupying the #1 position on the “first guy to get axed from 40-man when we need to make room for someone.

AA:

  • The entire offense: the team is hitting a collective .151/.235/.247 for the season. .151 team batting order. Some how they’ve won 4 games hitting .151 as a team.
  • Tim Cate: 3 starts and struggling. 1.85 whip, a .315 BAA.

High-A:

  • Again, the entire offense. they’re hitting a collective .208
  • Yasel Antuna: He’s 2 for 40. Two for Fourty!! This is one of our top hitting prospects, a guy who was a MLB spring training invite. What is going on?
  • Israel Pineda: slightly better at 5 for 42. 3 of those 5 hits are homers. This is perhaps the 2nd best prospect on the team.
  • Jackson Rutledge: who had him with an 11.32 ERA through three starts?
  • Evan Lee: two starts, didn’t make it out of the 2nd in either start.
  • Todd Peterson: for a guy who hung around MLB camp as long as he did … he’s not starting well.

Low-A:

  • Everyone.
  • The offense is .167/.280/.222 as a team
  • The pitching staff has a collective 8.12 ERA and a 1.95 whip. As a staff they’re putting on 2 guys an inning.
  • The rotation is so bad they don’t have a single qualified hurler.
  • They have more guys with double digit ERAs than they have guys who have sub 7.00 ERAs.
  • Leif Strom has perhaps the most unimpressive pitching line: 3 appearances/2 starts, a 19.29 ERA. He’s thrown 7 innings, given up 18 hits and 9 walks. 23 runs allowed, but only 15 earned thanks to some stellar defense behind him

It can only get better from here right? A team can’t go winless for 140 games can they? 🙂

Next to get promoted: Cavalli, Henry, Cronin

Next to get demoted/released: Strom, maybe Harper getting DFA’d.

Reactions and Observations of Full Season Rosters (hitters)

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After washing through dozens of names shifting around on the Big Board (and hopefully not making any cut and paste errors), here’s my non-pitcher related observations to the rosters and movement of players around the system


AAA Rochester: The roster lists 5 catchers, which is kind of odd but clearly to me Brandon Snyder is the starting 1B here, despite being listed suddenly for the first time in 2021 as a catcher.

The hitters are very MLFA heavy: 9 of the 16 non-pitchers in AAA were MLFA acquisitions, including two that happened just in the last couple of weeks in Daniel Palka and Ramon Flores. Both project to be backup outfielders to the presumed starting OF of three other MLFAs in Yasmany Tomas, Carlos Tocci and a hopefully healthy Gerardo Parra.

The infield features two very important former prospects in Luis Garcia and Carter Kieboom, both of whom were signed/drafted in 2016 and both of whom really need to have a successful 2021 at the plate. Kieboom more so than Garcia.

I’m kind of surprised the team signed two veteran MLFAs instead of promoting up some of its long-serving minor league guys, players like Rhett Wisemann and Nick Banks.


AA Harrisburg: Not a lot of defense on this team, with several guys who primarily play 1B on the roster (Corredor, Mendoza, Sagdal and Harrison. Only 3 OFs listed, meaning likely that these 1B guys are covering in a corner. We see both Wisemann and Banks showing up here; they should be the starting corner OFers, but based on a lack of promotion to AAA they may be org-guys waiting to get cut. This is where we see Cluff arrive.

Pretty surprised not to see Antuna here. Why wouldn’t you put him at AA? we’ll see where he shakes out.

Not a very compelling AA roster from a player perspective…Is the best hitting prospect Drew Mendoza? Also, there’s only 26 players listed … out of a roster size of 30?


High A Wilmington: The high-A roster is populated with a weird combination of decent prospects (Antuna and Gage Canning) as well as a slew of what seems like org-guys (20th+ rounders and 7th or 8th year IFAs). Cavalli’s personal catcher Brad Lindsly is here as a 3rd catcher on a limited roster. I don’t see an obvious choice to play 1B on the existing roster, making me wonder if we’ll see a couple more bats added soon. Also, some oddities going on with the rosters: the Wilmington press release listed Jack Dunn on the roster, but transactions list Cole Daily on the roster … which would make sense since he’s a 1B that could play there; but the milb.com site doesn’t have Dunn, who does not appear in the player archives anywhere. I’ll chalk it up to data oddities with thousands of players moving around on the day the leagues launch.


Low A Fredericksburg‘s roster of out-field players looks really weak; I don’t see a single top-30 prospect among any of the hitters listed. Not one. And we have a really crummy farm system. We do have a bunch of younger prospects who are listed, but who clearly aren’t ready for low-A, guys like Jeremy De La Rosa, Daniel Marte and Viandel Pena. There’s also some interesting names left in the far right XST column post assignment, guys like Telmito Augustin.

Spring Training 2021 Judgement Day Arrives

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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.

Nats 40-man Options status

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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.

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

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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

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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.

Nats get Schwarber

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Schwarber coming to Washington, Photo via Espn

Word broke Saturday that Washington DC had made news for another reason besides insurrection; Kyle Schwarber signed a 1yr $10M deal to come to DC for 2021.

Short version of this post: I like this move. A lot.

I’ve liked Schwarber ever since Chicago drafted him in the 1st round out of Indiana (bucking the pre-draft rankings) and he raced through the minors. His debut with the Cubs was great, and then his post-season heroics have been fabulous. He struggled mightily in the 2020 short season and the now tanking North siders non-tendered him.

As noted in the mlbtraderumors.com article, Schwarber signed for a bit more than his arb projection, which indicates there must have been somewhat of a bidding war for his services.

Why do I like this move? As I noted in the comments before writing this post, several reasons:

  • Pedigree: Upper 1st round pick who has solid (if not all-star) career numbers. 113 career wRC+, 113 career OPS+ … both figures knocked down badly by his 2020 season.
  • Bounce Back candidate: 2020 was brutal for Schwarber … as was his BABIP. Just a .219 babip for 2020 despite being in the 95th percentile of exit velocity means his numbers should have been much higher.
  • 2019 slash line: .250/.339/.531 with 38 homers. He’s a power hitter
  • You don’t need a gold glove in left field, as you’ve heard me say a lot. I want a hitter.

I like getting a middle of the order bat for 1yr/$10M. I like getting a 27yr old 1st round slugger for 1yr $10M. I like getting a cleanup hitter with a .480 career slugging without giving up a prospect.

Yes he strikes out a lot; 156 Ks in 610 2019 PAs for a 25.5% strikeout rate. The 2019 league-wide strikeout rate was 22.9%. So for that extra 2.6% strikeout rate you get a cleanup hitter who hit 38 bombs. Sometimes you have to understand that you give some stuff up to get other stuff.

Here’s what the 2021 opening day lineup looks like now:

  1. SS Turner (r)
  2. RF Soto (l)
  3. 1B Bell (s)
  4. LF Schwarber (l)
  5. DH Harrison (r)
  6. 3B Castro (r)
  7. 2B Garcia (l)
  8. CF Robles (r)

Right handed heavy at the bottom, but excellent balance at the top. If you want to put Castro at 2B and Kieboom at 3B all it does it put another righty at the #8 spot. It is also worth noting that Schwarber could DH and Harrison (who can play 5 different positions) can move out to Left. This still leaves open a bench RH bat like Ryan Zimmerman, who would be an excellent $2M signing. This move likely pushes Soto to RF; can he handle it? Robles might be busy in 2021 covering lots of ground.

Payroll implications: With this move I have the Nats at around $172.1M for 2021. Cots has them slightly higher ($172.7M); both our totals have estimates for arb salaries for Turner, Bell and Soto. If the nats maxed out to $210M that leaves nearly $38M left to play with.

Written by Todd Boss

January 9th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Who is the Best HS player the Nats have ever drafted?

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Would you believe that A.J. Cole is the best prep draft prospect ever for the Nats in the Rizzo era? Read on. Photo AP

A comment about Mason Denaburg in the last thread, with MarkL wondering/speculating on whether our 2018 1st overall pick may possibly pitch in 2021, made me think, yet again, about the folly of drafting high school arms (or HS players in general) and then made me wonder..

Who is the best HS player we’ve ever drafted?

By “best” I mean possible one of two things:
1. Most successful for our team or for someone else, since (as we’ll see) we’ve had a tendency to trade prospects before they matriculate.
2. Most successful for the Nationals themselves.

So, we’ll answer both.

I’ll also divide this into the “Rizzo” era and the pre-Rizzo era, since you can almost count on one hand the total number of HS players Mike Rizzo has drafted since taking over in mid 2009, whereas the Jim Bowden regime was quite heavily skewed towards HS players.

Using the Draft Tracker as a reference, here are your nominees for best ever HS draftee by the Washington Nationals, moving backwards in time (note; i’m omitting some HS draftees like 20th round signees who happened to sign and subsequently flame out; this mostly is a value play of top-5 round picks plus other notables we over-paid).

  • 2020: Samuel Infante, SS/3B from Florida: too early to tell obviously, but the reaction in the Natmosphere was mixed to begin with. We’ll see.
  • 2018: Mason Denaburg, RHP from Florida. $3M signing bonus for getting selected 27th overall in the 1st round. Has been plagued by injury since his arrival, and his limited stats have not been promising. What is even more indicting about this selection is the fact that the next three arms drafted who signed ( Shane McClanahan, Jackson Kowar and UVA’s Daniel Lynch) were all college arms (like what the Nats normally draft this high), are all now considered top-100 prospects, and had all reached AA by the end of 2019. Opportunities lost.
  • 2016: Carter Kieboom, SS from Georgia. Held the #1 Nats prospect label for years, but has struggled in two call-ups now that have the team looking at 3B candidates in free agency, a pretty severe indictment of what they think they have in Kieboom right now.
  • 2016: Jesus Luzardo, LHP from Florida. Traded as the centerpiece prospect of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madsen acquisition in 2017, then became a top-10 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2019 season. Pitched in Oakland’s rotation as a 22yr old in 2020 with league average results, projecting to be a #2 lefty starter. It was a lot to give up for relievers (at the time I was “ok” with the trade, but did note that it would look pretty lopsided if Luzardo turned into precisely what he’s projecting to become), but flags fly forever and Doolittle was an integral part of this team for a while.
  • 2015: Blake Perkins, OF from Arizona. Traded to Kansas City as part of a prospect group to acquire Kelvin Herrera, has a career .236 minor league BA as a glove-first CF.
  • 2015: Tyler Watson LHP from Arizona. 34th rounder paid like a 4th rounder that year. Traded to Minnesota to acquire Brandon Knitzler as part of the great mid-season bullpen construction job in 2017. Pitched all of 2019 in High-A’s rotation with decent results, likely in AA in 2021. Knitzler of course ran himself out of town in mid 2018, so the team didn’t get a ton to show for this trade.
  • 2014: Jakson Reetz, C from Nebraska. Has passed through three Rule-5 drafts now and was part of the 60-man extended roster in 2020. He stepped up his power and his offense in 2019 in High-A; is he turning a corner? Re-signed as a MLFA this off-season to do his 8th pro season in our farm system.
  • 2014: McKenzie Mills LHP from Georgia. This 18th rounder blew up in the spring of 2017, dominating Low-A and getting flipped to Philadelphia to acquire Howie Kendrick. His 2018 was solid in High-A, but he struggled with the jump to AA and got released in the minor league purge of June 2020. I wonder if he’s worth a MLFA flier in 2021 for someone.
  • 2013: Drew Ward, 3B from Oklahoma. 3rd rounder who was good enough to get promoted year after year, but not to escape “org player” role. Released in the 2020 player purge.
  • 2013: Travis Ott, LHP from Pennsylvania. showed some promise in his 2nd pro season in Short-A as a 19yr old, enough so to be the secondary piece in the huge 3-team trade that netted the team Trea Turner and Joe Ross. (more on that later when we talk about Souza). He continued to pitch well in Tampa’s org, but then curiously was moved to the bullpen in 2018 and then was stuck on the restricted list in apr 2019, where he presumably remains today. No idea what happened here.
  • 2012: Lucas Giolito RHP from California. Perhaps the most controversial candidate on this list. He had TJ surgery the year he was drafted, recovered, raced through the minors and debuted for the team as a 21yr old in June of 2016. His Minor league career looked too good to be true. But, in MLB 21 innings that year he pitched to an ugly 6.75 ERA, an even worse 8.21 FIP … and then got flipped in the off-season as the centerpiece to acquire Adam Eaton from the White Sox. I hated the move when it happened. There were rumors about how the Nats talent evaluators thought that Giolito had “plateaued” or that somehow he wasn’t someone they could work with. And, to be fair, it took a full year of awfulness in the majors for the White Sox before Giolito modified his mechanics and turned into a pretty good starter. His last two seasons have been ERA+ of 134 and 128 respectively, and he’s gotten down-ballot Cy Young voting. Did the Nats give up on him too early? Yes. Did we get equivalent value in return from Eaton? No …. but it wasn’t entirely Eaton’s fault. Who could have known that Eaton would blow out his knee, which would blow out his defensive value, which was a huge reason he was such a WAR darling prior to his trade? Does the 2019 WS title make every move between 2015 and Nov 2019 worth it regardless of the transaction? Most would argue yes. Flags fly forever.
  • 2012: Hayden Jennings, OF from Louisiana; a 6th rounder that year, he lasted just two years in the system and never got out of the GCL. Seemed like a quick release frankly; I wonder if there was some off-the-field issues.
  • 2010: A.J. Cole RHP from Florida. Just could never cut it as a starter for this team, with spot start appearances across 4 MLB seasons for the Nats. Finally flipped for cash after his DFA ahead of the 2018 season when he ran out of options and the team ran out of patience. He’s bounced around since, pitching for the Yankees bullpen in 2018, getting claimed off waivers by Cleveland for 2019, then signing on as a FA for Toronto in 2020, each time putting up decent numbers as an 8th/9th inning non-closer type. Why he could never do this for us is … a mystery. Certainly we could use a competent reliever right now.
  • 2010: Robbie Ray, LHP from Arizona. A 12th rounder given 2nd round money, Ray was the centerpiece prospect in the Doug Fister 2013 trade (which shocked the baseball world and made the Nats look like a genius), then was flipped again to Arizona ahead of the 2014 season. From there he turned into a solid starter, putting up huge K/9 numbers but featuring as a guy who struggled to get through 6 innings thanks to elevated pitch counts. He’s a FA this off-season and could be a decent 4th starter for someone.
  • 2010: Bryce Harper: you could technically count Harper here since he was a HS-aged player in Juco, but it isn’t like selecting him 1-1 was any great piece of decision making on the Nats part. He was destined to be a 1st overall pick from the moment he appeared on the cover of SI as a 16-yr old.

So, in the Rizzo Era, I’d say that the most successful HS drafted player for us or any other team is clearly Lucas Giolito (even though Ray has more career bWAR), with Luzardo projecting right now perhaps as having the capabilities of supplanting him in the future.

The most successful HS drafted player for the Nats? Only three have even played a game for the Nats: Cole, Giolito and Kieboom. Read that sentence again; in a decade of drafting, just three prep-players have ever suited up for this team. I guess you’d have to say Cole has the most impact for the Nationals themselves at this point, with high hopes for Kieboom going forward.


Rizzo was named the GM in August of 2009, so technically the 2009 and prior drafts were not on his resume (yes he was involved in the 2009 draft, but it was still Jim Bowden‘s show) You can see the effect that Rizzo had on draft strategy, because prior to 2010, the team was much more apt to draft prep players. We’ll run through them below.

  • 2009: Michael Taylor, SS from Florida. Quickly converted to OF, where he was a fantastic defender who hung around for years as 4th OF for the team. Finally non-tendered this past off-season, and he’s heading to Kansas City for the 2021 season. Some were sorry to see him go; if his arb salary hadn’t inflated so much, maybe he’d still be here.
  • 2009: Roberto Perez SS from Puerto Rico. Played three minor league seasons and (in my opinion) got a quick release after a stint in 2011 at Short-A.
  • 2008: Destin Hood, OF from Alabama. The 2nd round pick played out the string in our org, then bounced around for four more years as a MLFA. In his “make or break” year as a 23yr old in AA he slashed .224/.278/.327 and his fate was sealed. Eventually got some MLB time with Miami.
  • 2008: Graham Hicks, LHP from Florida; never got out of low-A, flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, out of baseball by age 22.
  • 2008: Adrien Neito, C from Florida. Had a great-looking season in High-A as a 23rd old, then the team left him unprotected in Rule-5 and he got plucked by the White Sox. I went back and looked at my analysis of the 2013 rule-5 draft and discovered that the team was sitting at 39/40 and really didn’t have the room to protect someone like Nieto, who was considered a long-shot to get taken despite going to the AFL that year. Nonetheless, after spending all of 2014 on the 25-man roster, he was went back down and never re-appeared. He has bounced around as a MLFA ever since and is still active today.
  • 2008: J.P. Ramirez, OF from Texas. Ramirez played out his 6-years with the Nats, then jumped to indy and eventually Mexican league ball.

In 2007 alone, Bowden drafted no less than 8 prep players in the top 10 rounds. Did any of them pan out?

  • 2007 Michael Burgess OF from Florida. He was beginning to blossom in 2010 as a 21 yr old, making it to AA and playing in the AFL, so he was used as the centerpiece prospect to get Gorzelanny. He didn’t do much afterwards, bouncing around orgs and eventually going to indy ball.
  • 2007: Jake Smolinkski 3B from Illinois. Very quickly became a solid prospect, succeeding in Low-A as a 19yr old and became the centerpiece prospect sent that off-season to acquire Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. Interestingly, he washed out of the Miami org as a MLFA, caught on with Texas and had several years as a MLB utility player with Texas and Oakland after that.
  • 2007: Steven Souza, OF from Washington State: a middling prospect for years, he started to show some serious pop as a 23yr old in High-A, culminating with a blow-up season in AAA as a 25 year old that allowed the Nats to pull off perhaps their greatest ever trade heist; packing Souza with Travis Ott and interjecting themselves into a trade between Tampa and San Diego to fleece San Diego out of two first round picks in Trea Turner and Joe Ross. Souza had his best season in 2017 for Tampa, a 3.5 win team, but has struggled with injuries
  • 2007: Derek Norris, C from Kansas. 5 seasons, 5 promotions for Norris in our system, before he was included as perhaps the 3rd piece of 4 in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Once he got to Oakland though, he blew up and had several solid seasons, even making the 2014 all star team. But he declined quickly, got moved to San Diego, then the nats re-acquired him back for Luis Avila … only to DFA him a few weeks later.
  • 2007: Josh Smoker, LHP from Georgia. Played out his string with the team without ever getting out of A-ball, then made it into the Mets’ bullpen in 2016 and 2017, where he put up below replacement level numbers.
  • 2007: Jack McGeary, LHP from Massachusetts. Paid like a mid-1st rounder in the days before bonus slots, McGeary seemed like a potential steal. Unfortunately, he just could not compete, suffering injuries multiple times. Mercifully taken in the minor league rule-5 draft by his hometown team Boston in 2013, he didn’t do much better there, eventually washing out of indy ball in 2014 as a 25-yr old.
  • 2007; PJ Dean, RHP from Texas. Looked awesome in Short-A as a 19yr old, throwing 10 starts with a 1.97 ERA. Was the lead prospect in the Willingham/Olsen trade that off-season… then, nothing. I have no idea what happened to the guy; he never played another game of baseball for the Marlins or anyone. Does anyone have any idea what happened to him?
  • 2007: Patrick McCoy LHP from Arizona; struggled as a starter early, moved to the pen, played out his string with the Nats as an org guy, signed on as a MLFA with Detroit and got a call-up where he put nearly 2.5 runners on base and was waived. Bounced around after that, never made the majors again.

It is notable that Jim Bowden nearly signed more HS players between these last two years than Rizzo has done in a decade in charge. Just a completely different mind-set of drafting.

In 2006 it was more of the same: the first 6 players he picked were all HS players.

  • 2006: Chris Marrero, OF from Florida. Made his way up to the big club in 2011 as a 22yr old, never really made it back. Was the quintessential 4-A guy for years, profiling as a corner guy w/o great defensive skills but missing the big bat.
  • 2006: Stephen Englund, OF from Washington State. Seems like a huge scouting miss; he just could not hit pro pitching. Career minor league slash line of .188/.308/.252. Cut from Low-A in 2009 after starting the season 11-101 with 48 Ks.
  • 2006: Stephen King, 3B from Florida. Played for years in the low-minors as a light-hitting infielder, eventually leaving as a 6-yr FA. Got to AA twice, was never able to even hit .200 there.
  • 2006: Colten Willems, RHP from Florida. The 1st rounder was ok his first couple of years in pro ball, never could really compete above low-A, then abruptly retired at age 21 when he struggled upon getting demoted back to Hagerstown. A huge draft bust.
  • 2006: Sean Black, RHP from New Jersey. Drafted in the 2nd round, refused to sign. Went to Seton Hall, 7th round pick by the Yankees three years later. Was a solid starter up to AA, got flipped to Cincinnati and his career fizzled.
  • 2006: Glenn Gibson LHP from New York. Had a great pro debut in Short-A as a 19yrold, then was traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes. Tampa dumped him two seasons later, and the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  He didn’t go much further and was released from affiliated ball in 2011 as a 23yr old.
  • 2006: Sam Brown, RHP from North Carolina. Did not sign, went to NC State, signed with Texas, then signed as a MLFA with the Nats in 2011 after his release. Pitched one year in the Hagerstown bullpen and was done.
  • 2006: Brad Peacock, RHP from Florida. A 41st round pick selected under the previous rules of “Draft and Follow.” He was drafted in June of 2006, but not signed until May 30th of 2007. It took him a while to get going professionally, but he blew up in 2011, rising from High-A to the majors with a sterling debut. This led to him being included in the player package to acquire Gonzalez from Oakland. After a year there, he was moved again to Houston in the Jed Lowrie move, and from there he flourished in a swingman role, winning a World Series there in 2017.

In 2005, just one top-10 round HS player drafted, but a few more signed on in the later rounds.

  • 2005: Ryan DeLaughter; OF from Texas. he never really succeeeded outside of complex ball, giving Short-A a try multiple times. Hooked on briefly with Milwaukee and indy league baseball as a 22yr old.
  • 2005: Deryck Johnson, CF from Florida; this 14th rounder played just one season in rookie ball, hit .185 and was cut.
  • 2005: Michael Watkins, RHP from Rhode Island. Pitched parts of two rookie league seasons and got cut.
  • 2005: Eduardo Pichardo, RHP from Florida. This 17th rounder threw 13.2 innings across two rookie league seasons and posted a stellar 20.41 ERA and was released.
  • 2005: Brad Clark, RHP from Florida. This 19th rounder got hurt, didn’t pitch until 2007, threw 5 1/3 total innings and got cut.
  • 2005: Ryan Butchter RHP from New Jersey: signed as a 33rd rounder, somehow survived two seasons with ERAs north of 7.00, then got traded after his third pro year for Matt Avery. Avery pitched one year of relief for our AA team and got cut. Meanwhile, Butchter hung on for years, finally debuting as a 27 yr old, and then as a 29yr old rookie excelled in the San Diego bullpen.

So, in the pre-Rizzo era, who’s the most accomplished HS drafted player for any team? Best candidates are Peacock, Norris, Souza, and Taylor. I’ll go out on a limb and say its Peacock.

For just the Nats? Has to be Taylor.

Baseball America pre-season 2021 top-10 list reactions

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

Baseball America dropped the first off-season ranking of prospects for the Nats on 11/20/20 and, well, it was interesting.

Click here for the top 10 and their list of “best tools” for the system. It might be behind a paywall. If not that, then a quick chat with BA’s Lucy Lusk provides some insight on the list as well.

The last time we got any appreciable updated rankings was MLBpipeline’s end-of-the-season look at the system with the slew of 2020 graduates/call-ups removed. Technically MLBPipeline’s list is a running dynamic update, not a static list as of that moment in time, but I capture them as major updates occur for tracking.

Nonetheless, the two orgs definitely have different viewpoints on the top of the Nat’s farm system. Lets talk about some of BA’s conclusions.

  • BA has Cade Cavalli ahead of Jackson Rutledge at the top. I find this kind of interesting, given that Rutledge is younger, had pro ball experience in 2019, was in the 60-man pool along with Cavalli, and was a 1st round pick just like Cade.
  • Furthermore, in BA’s “best tools” they list Rutledge as having the best fastball AND the best slider. So, unless Rutledge literally doesn’t have a 3rd pitch, and his first two are the system best … not sure how he’s not #1 over Cavalli.
  • Therefore, Cavalli must really, really be promising, or have some pretty amazing secondary stuff.
  • Tim Cate: best curve AND best control. All he’s done since they drafted him was win. I think he’s an excellent 3rd or 4th starter in the making for this team in a couple years.
  • BA is amazingly bullish on Yasel Antuna. They list him as having the best hitter for average AND the best power hitter?? For a SS currently listed as 6’0″ 170? Well, no wonder the Nats just protected him on the 40-man. This is also a big change in BA’s opinion of him just from July, when they ranked him 12th in the org. The BA staff think Antuna is nearly top 100 material. They like him more as a 2B/3B option versus SS, with the thinking that maybe the infield goes Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Antuna and a FA bopper at 1st. Hey; if Kieboom can learn how to hit, i’m all for that.
  • They have soured fast on Wil Crowe, dumping him to 10th in the system. MLBpipeline has him 3rd right now just after the two big 1st round arms. He made three starts in 2020, got shelled in all three, gave up 5 homers in 8 1/3rd innings … does that mean the jury is now out on Crowe forever?
  • They’re quite bullish on Jeremy De La Rosa, having him ranked 6th when most shops have him in the teens. Only other pundit anywhere close on De La Rosa is Keith Law, who had him 8th last spring. I mean, he did get invited to the 60-man roster as an 18yr old … quite a statement. Maybe we have another Juan Soto on our hands.
  • Lastly, in their tools section they give “Best Athlete,” “Fastest Baserunner” and “Best Defensive Outfielder” all to the same guy: Cody Wilson. Looks like the next Andrew Stevenson.

Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?