Nationals Baseball: December 2022

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Not news, but notes

I guess the Nats have done SOME things in the past week. In case you missed it

Signed Ronald Herrera (an arm), Matt Adams, Travis Blankenhorn (26ish moderate power hitting IF/OF), and Anthony Castro (27 wild arm with a tendency to leave meatballs out there) . Thes are all guys with at least a cup of coffee in the majors who will now be AAAA depth for a woeful top level minors) 

Signed Tommy Romero.  Romero was with the Nats last year and didn't show well, but has a decent amount to like and is at the tail end of age relevance as opposed to over it.  Worth looking at another year.  Yes, that is the same Matt Adams the Nats had previously. As you can imagine time has not been kind.

Brought back Erasmo Ramirez. A perfectly competent reliever last year who could be stretched out to long relief (HINT HINT)  Might have been able to squeeze a few more dollars out of someone else but found a comfort level here last year after 4 years of wandering in the desert so probably was fine coming back. The pen is solid. Not great, but solid. 

Watched Seth Lugo sign elsewhere.  Not a surprise at all but the Nats were hoping for another Trevor Williams situation by probably offering Lugo a rotation role if he wanted it. Lugo though is a little older and probably a little more keyed in to "might be out of the game in 3-5 years" so went after maybe a worse position but on a much better team. 

Saw Erick Fedde off the Korea.  Sadly we won't be able to watch Fedde fail to meet expectations for the 7th year in a row. Erick who at his best looked possibly like a decent back of the rotation starter, was the first 1st round gambles that didn't work out for the Nats after a run that did. Even excluding Stras and Bryce you had

Drew Storen - he DID immediately relieve and relieve well in the majors, but paraphrasing had a million dollar arm and a 10 cent psyche. 

Rendon - you know Rendon

Brian Goodwin - VERY late first round pick (supplemental actually) got a half decade of average performance out

Alex Meyer - A top notch prospect shifted off the the death mounds of Minnesota* who showed a flash of rotation ability before his arm broke for good. 

Lucas Giolito - A guy the Nats couldn't develop that the White Sox could and has been between a very good and ok starter.

So a solid run of useful to good players. Undeniably major league talented. Then came the doldrums :

Erick Fedde, Carter Kieboom, Dane Dunning (who ok is major league talented), Seth Romero, Mason Denaburg (who ok is still a question given injury)

The Nats had used a lot of the first group to get talent to stay in the hunt for a championship so they needed the second group, once they decided they didn't want to trade them and pump up the payroll to Dodger/Yankee levels, to be talented players who developed into good to useful players. They haven't. Fedde was the start of that. Maybe tomorrow will be an all Fedde post


*I talked about this before - Minnesota was probably the WORST at developing major league pitching for a decade plus. Worse than the Nats of the time. Meyer got there at the tail end of that and unsurprisingly did not get developed even with the injury. He almost made it after getting to the Angels of all places but alas the arm couldn't stay together.  Honestly I think this was a guy with top rotation talent that had the worst of breaks.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Hmmm Huh Wha?

There's a lot of exciting things going on in baseball as the money teams double down on winning. 

The Nats are not a money team right now. 

There is nothing exciting going on with the Nats. 

This isn't a surprise

A week and a half ago Fangraphs did their ZiPS projections. It's just one projection system of many but it gives you an idea of what the Nats are like. 

The answer is an offense with boring production. It's pretty easy to get to average production at a position cheaply and the Nats have basically done it across the board.  That doesn't exactly equate with an average offense, stars matter. But it should be watchable most nights. What is boring?  It's Robles hitting .255 with little patience or pop but pretty solid CF defense. It's Joey Meneses hitting 25+ homers, but seeing his average fall to around .245 and not walking much. It's Luis Garcia hitting .265 with maybe 20 homers while never walking and playing subpar D.  In short it's a bunch of guys hitting about .250 and doing something else right, while doing everything else a little wrong.

I guess I could say there isn't anything GOOD exciting because the starting pitching could be BAD exciting. There are boring numbers out there for Gray and Gore and Cavalli.  Throwing either 150 IP of 4.50 ball (Gray) or 100+IP or 4.00 ball (Gore and Cavalli) and there's some variation here. They could be better, or they could be much worse. But unlike with the offense what I haven't mentioned isn't ok. It's bad. It's a bunch of guys forced to throw 50-100 innings of over 5.00 ball. So if these three hit the middling expectations it will be bad. If they can't do that... it could be exciting bad! 

There isn't much to do now but grab another low level starter and then see what falls. 

Low Level Starters left 

Wade Miley - hurt last year and 36 but pretty decent in 2021

Zack Greinke - Mr. I want to go somewhere where they can win doesn't have that choice anymore. I'd say he could teach the kids things but he's Greinke. Who knows what he will or won't do. But I'm sure he'll eat up innings if you let him and the Nats need that. 

Jordan Lyles - He was in Baltimore last year so he wouldn't even have to move far. That's a selling point! Given his age he could be another 2 year deal guy where if he's surprisingly ok this year he might get something back. Though less than Williams bc Lyles has no history of being very good, merely average. 

Dylan Bundy / Michael Pineda / Carlos Martinez - if you are going to throw a deal at someone just for depth might as well be someone everyone really liked at some point, even if it was years ago. 

Guys who could drop 

Jose Iglesias - Can't hit but the guy can still field and that's not something you can really say about any of the Nats IFs. Would make a good off the bench guy or a good SS if Candelario fails and Abrams shifts to 3B. 

Gary Sanchez - It's sort of fun to have a guy swing out of his shoes every AB. And he's not old.  Look, good players don't fall. 

Andrew McCutchen - I like Cutch. Sign Cutch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Trevor Williams Will Start

He said so. 

The base truth is the Nats need help. They need help starting and they need help relieving the starters who will start. Anywhere you can put a decent pitcher will help the team. Trevor Williams was a good pitcher last year. 

In his career Williams started out as a nice rotation guy, not a 1 or 2 but a guy you could throw in at 3 or 4.  He never struck out enough, but he didn't walk too many and kept the ball down, meaning fewer homers and hits.  But that skill set went away in 2019 and it didn't come back until the Mets made him a reliever in 2021. 

But Williams doesn't want to relieve he wants to start and a team like the Nats - who are not looking to win right now and are completely ok with letting a guy work out kinks for a couple months - is an ideal landing spot for him. If they promise he will start (barring being terrible) they can get him and they did!

I don't think this is ideal. I think having a good reliever that can go multiple innings several times a week will be crucial to team whose rotation might not have anyone average 5 innings a start next year. 

BUT saying that a good pitcher pitching anywhere is helpful and one thing Williams can do being under a 2 year cheap deal.  If he can pitch well as a starter he can be traded for something. Not something great - that's not how things work anymore for a journeyman starter. But something more than nothing. Something interesting as opposed to fake interesting. 

The Nats also grabbed AJ Alexy from the Rangers and let DFA'd Lucius "vomited on the field" Fox.  AJ Alexy strikes out a bunch of guys but is wild as anyone. That's wild in terms of throwing balls in the strike zone and wild in not just leaving meatballs down the middle. In 30 IP in the majors he's given up 5 homers  and 27 in 110 IP in AAA. At 25 he's a guy you just throw out there in the minors and see if you get lucky.  Fox... he's never been good so goodbye. Glad you got your cup of coffee. 

Friday, December 09, 2022

You're going to make me argue CHEEEP again? Plus - Rule V stuff!

I'm starting to get a little angry here because you guys (ok well TWO guys in the comments) were arguing a point I didn't make which was "the Lerners are generally CHEEEEP and that cheapness got them to this point"  First off somewhere in the 2015/6 range it became clear that the Lerners would spend money to maintain a title contending team. Fears of thriftiness dominating the teams future, which were legitimate given that was most of what we saw before then, were dismissed. The Lerners were not unilaterally cheap.  Second, we don't really know if the Lerners dislike of spending money led to here. Yes they like to offer lower-market deals with deferred money. But lower-market deals with deferred money are still market deals and some guys take them. Strasburg did. Corbin did. The question we'll never know is if Stras and Corbin looked like a 1-2 going into the end of 2021 - how would that have affected the future. Do they keep Trea around? Do they sign Soto long term? We don't know. But the fact was the huge outlay of money they put into two pitchers was giving them very close to actually nothing and even with the good players they had it was tough to keep them in contention. They would either have to spend like the Yankees/Dodgers/WhateverTeamsAreCurrentlySpendingATon* or they would have to rebuild. While I lie squarely on the "SPEND MONEY ON YOUR HOBBY YOU ARE INCREDIBLY RICH AND THE VALUE OF THE TEAM IS INSANE" side I'm not going to deny the Lerners, by not doing that, are no different than at least 25 other owners. 

What I WAS saying is that the Lerners, when the team IS BAD, have shown themselves to be CHEEEEP. It was true 2005-2010. It's been true the past few years.  It seems a fair thing to believe as long as the team is bad they will not spend money. You can hope that that means they are just planning to spend later when the young players develop but you are assuming these young players will develop to a similar point where the Nats were post 2010 and when they began to take on bigger contracts for the first time. That's a big question mark. And if they DON'T develop into a Stras/Bryce/Zimm+ core... do you still think the Lerners will spend? I would bet no, but we've never seen them face that "rebuild 1 didn't work" scenario so maybe I'm wrong. 

Of course this is all complicated by the sale which it's reasonable to think that the team, if it can't be good, wants as little useless money on the books as possible. 

So wrapping up

  • Lerners have shown themselves (twice is a pattern) to be selectively cheap
  • We don't know how this would play out for an extended down period
  • The slightly better guess is they'd continue not to spend and the impending sale of the team also suggests little money coming in for now. 

In conclusion

DOOOM (for the next year or two if you want a team that can pretend to compete)


The Nats drafted Thad Ward in the Rule V draft and later traded for Rule V pick Francisco Tostado.   Thad has to stay on the 40 man all year but Frankie is a AAA Rule V guy so he does not. Are these guys any good? 

Thad Ward - former 5th round pick who looked good at 22 in A ball but after the COVID year the Red Sox moved him up to AA and he flailed and got hurt. They restarted him this year and he ended up in AA and looked pretty decent but again didn't pitch as much as he could do to injuries. As far as pitching goes his problem is control as he has hard to hit, swing and miss stuff that stays in the park. Walking 4-5 guys per 9 in the minors usually is a bad sign. But really the problem is those injuries. He's thrown a total of 59 innings since 2019. Can someone like that at 26 stay on a major league roster even if he manages some control? It's not a bad Rule V pick - this is what the best of them look like. Legit talent, big questions.

Francisco Tostado - a 19th round draft pick with overall ok stats. Moderate power, ok average, doesn't strike out too much, could walk a bit more. He was both hurt and in the lower offense AA side and he's a fan favorite for some reason. So there's worse bats to stick in AAA for a year. Frankly the Nats have so little he's really blocking nothing and could hit terribly and it still be fine. 


Nats to sign Trevor Williams! -  He's better than Ryan Yarborough but that lead to a potential issue. The Nats need that long reliever but they might be tempted to start Williams. In fact, Williams might only agree to come to DC IF he can start. That's not terrible for the Nats but it's not optimal for a team that is putting out 5 guys who may not go 5. They NEED a middle reliever. So if Williams is starting, well they still need to go out and get a long reliever. Or two or three. But as signings go this is perfectly fine and acceptable any way it goes. He was good last year showing a bit better control while not owing to a lot of luck. Kept guys more off-balance. Maybe he learned something he needed to and if you can turn anything into a real prospect it's a pitcher under contract for another year.

*Mets, Phillies, and Padres for now

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

For the kids out there

There are kids, well not even kids, who have never known THIS type of Nats team. If you were say 5-6-7 when the Nats run started to take shape you can't really remember the before times. The years before 2011 when the Nats were a perfectly good team that people in baseball were eyeing as an up-and-comer, or even before 2010 when a watchable Nats team were looking toward at least an interesting future with rookie Stephen Strasburg and the pick of Bryce Harper coming. These young adults anywhere from 16-19 have no idea what they are in for.  Let me explain. 

From 2006-2009/10 the Lerners were known primarily for one thing - being cheap. Or as we liked to say at the time CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.  There was talk behind the scenes about how Lerner would make sure outgoing mail was scrutinized to see if it HAD to go out Fed Ex. It was well known the minors were kept together as cheaply as possible, and the payrolls were grim. 20th in 2006, 28th in 2007, 26th in 2008, 27th in 2009. 

The team was looking for every way to save a buck and that meant things like inviting 36 pitchers to Spring Training in 2007 looking for the needle in the haystack rather than signing a couple decent arms. If you want to be technical it did work. It made the teams starting pitching merely very bad instead of the horrible it was in 2006 and 2008. But that hardly mattered to fans who stayed away in droves, even when the new park opened. 

Of course things eventually changed. Supplementing the lone bright spot, Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats drafted Strasburg and Bryce and then signed Werth. They had some Bowden guys develop to be surprisingly good or at least ok in Espinosa, Desmond, and Zimmerman. Rizzo fleeced the Twins in one deal for Ramos and made a savvy shift of a bunch of decent talent to the A's for Gio in another. It all came together at once and when it was apparent something was happening the money commitment came. But not before two generational talents landed and you could fairly piece out the Nationals C, 2B, SS, 3B, RF, 2SP and closer for the next 5 years or so.  Sure something or two here wouldn't work at all but chances are you find something usuably average to take their place.  You were building around All-Star Zimm and projected All-Stars Strasburg and Bryce. 

Now where are the Nats? They don't have their All-Star Soto signed long-term because they didn't have their All-Star Stras and Bryce to make keeping him worthwhile in their mind. Instead they have... I don't know.  If the Nats are lucky Garcia (or I guess Abrams) becomes Zimm. Hassell or Wood becomes Bryce. Gore or Cavalli become Strasburg.  Then maybe you can look around and see if those other pieces are there. If Ruiz and Gray can really be relied on for a few years. If you have a couple more bats and a reliever you like. But Zimm, Stras and Bryce after 2010 - each one was a very good bet to keep doing something good years out. As good as you maybe could do as long as you felt TJ for Stras would go well. The names I listed now... they aren't as good bets. They aren't bad ones as far as baseball goes but they aren't the "surprise if they aren't good"  bets that the Nats three was in 2010. 

 So the question is what do the Lerners do here? And what do the Lerners do here if they are still trying to sell. Their inclination in bad years is to do as little as possible. If you are going to go that route and you are trying to sell... well you are going to go all the way. No money spent. Bad team after bad team. 

This is a bad time for Nats fans and right now the only way it gets brighter is amazing luck.  Either nearly every young prospect pans out to a major league player with some stars and suddenly the Nats find themselves in 2010 redux where going after a Werth makes sense OR you get a new owner soon and they are fine throwing money around.  Any other outcome and this dark age could be darker and longer than the 2006-2009 run. This is what history tells us. Sorry kids.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Offseason Position Discussion - Relief Pitching

 What's it mean to be a bright spot on a team that won 55 games? Sometimes you are the lone All-Star, a singular talent raging against the trash world you've been fated on.  On the other end of the spectrum, at times you are a position where a collection of cast-offs, second chances, and wannabes happen to click enough to be completely average. In 2022 the Nats pen was the latter. 

It didn't seem like it because there weren't many leads to hold and the number of sheer innings thrown by the pen meant a lot of bad innings were seen as well. But look at the stats and they don't lie. Tanner Rainey, around injury, was ok.  Erasmo Ramirez, completely usable. Kyle Finnegan, a good team would put him out there. Carl Edwards Jr. decent reliable veteran arm near the back of a pen.  Paolo Espino, solid work as a reliever. Andres Machado, you can find a place for him. Victor Arano, anyone's last pen arm. Mason Thompson, young guy with stuff who can also get the job mostly done. 

None of these guys were great. It's hard to say that any of these guys were even good. But none were terrible and being able to go to the pen, pull any arm and have it be a major league arm.  That has some value. In fact it has completely average value as the stats will tell you. 

That's not to say there wasn't a bright spot. No not Doolittle who was good until hurt but that was like 5 innings. My boy Hunter Harvey.  Former first round pick (love guys with "credentials"), son of a very good closer (love guys with "genes") who struck out a ton, didn't walk many and was hard to hit (above all love guys that actually pitch great).  

There were also dim spots Sam Clay, Patrick Murphy; but these guys are so fungible it didn't matter. All in all the pen was ok.  Take your small victories. 

Presumed Plan : The Nats add one or two veteran arms on minor league contracts just to see. Rainey remains closer with some combo of Thompson and Harvey being the back end. 

Reasons for Presumed Plan : They like Rainey and even injured he didn't pitch poorly enough to flat out lose the job although you could argue Harvey won it. They like Thompson as well and he flashed some decent signs while being ok so there's your three. 

As for the signings - the pen is devoid of top end talents so signing a guy that used to be good two years ago for nothing to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle makes sense. But I'll be shocked if it's anyone good for more than a year. 

My thoughts : Pens bounce around because of those small numbers of innings pitched. So normally I wouldn't be on the pen being ok again but nothing here was extraordinary.  It was a bunch of guys with 4.00-4.50 ERA arms who threw to that. So I think they can repeat being ok. Low bar I know. 

I think Harvey should get to close because while I think Rainey is a keeper, he's not good. Now of course this goes against optimal use of Harvey, but really who cares when the Nats are looking at a 6- win ceiling. Make the best arm your closer, and let the fans be happy to see him get called to the mound. Play some wacky song. Something! 

I don't think it matters if the Nats don't sign a good relief arm given what I expect them to do everywhere else. If any position is a "throw young guys at it and see what happens" it's this one so even though they only have garbage young guys - whatever. However given how bad the rotation expects to be and how Espino didn't handle the longer relief role, I thinking signing a "true" long reliever would be a good idea. A 5.00 ERA pitcher, or better yet a 4.50 ERA guy who can't stay healthy starting to throw 100 innings behind the lousy staff. Ryan Yarborough. There you go Rizzo, did your job for you.