Any room on the roster for an NRI? The picture for the Nats’ last spots is becoming clear

Photo by Laura Peebles for TalkNats

The week was certainly an eventful one for the Washington Nationals. The United States won the World Baseball Classic, with Nats pitcher Tanner Roark and second baseman Daniel Murphy contributing to the effort. Outfielder Michael A. Taylor missed a few days of camp to deal with a family situation later revealed to be the death of his father, a tragic event for the Taylor family. On the business side, the Nats made several clarifying cuts to their major league camp roster. Dusty Baker announced Stephen Strasburg as the Opening Day starter, and confirmed they have selected a closer (but are keeping the decision secret for now).

The moves that Nats management has made clarify what was a muddled picture for the last bullpen and bench spots. FanRag Sports journalist Jon Heyman is reporting that the likely choice of closer is rookie Koda Glover, an eighth-round draft pick two years ago who has rocketed through the Washington organization and made his major league debut last year; Glover was also thought to be battling for a spot on the 25-man roster, so if Heyman’s report is accurate, the bullpen is all but settled. Meanwhile, this morning the Nats reassigned utilityman Brandon Snyder to the minors (he will remain in the organization, according to manager Dusty Baker, and await an opportunity to help the big league ballclub) and optioned several players yesterday including outfielder Brian Goodwin, who was having a statistically dreadful spring training.

Pitching staff

The projected bullpen is now:

Koda Glover (CL)
Shawn Kelley
Blake Treinen
Joe Blanton
Enny Romero
Oliver Perez
Sammy Solis

Dusty Baker has talked about wanting to have a long man on the roster, a reliever (likely a former starter) who can eat up innings after a starter is knocked out early, or make a spot start if a pitcher is a late scratch from a game, preserving the rest of the bullpen. Convention states that a team should carry one of these long relievers in their bullpen. A mitigating factor here is that Treinen, Blanton, Romero, Perez, and Solis are all former starters, either in the major or minor leagues, and can pitch more than one inning if necessary. Could one of them make a spot start, like Yusmeiro Petit did once last year for the Nats when he was the long man? How many innings could any one of them go in an outing? That is still unknown.

The complicating factor for the Nats is that of their projected seven relievers, only two have options: Glover and Treinen, the closer and the fireman. That reduces the opportunities for pitchers like Trevor Gott, Jimmy Cordero, and Rafael Martin who are expected to begin the year in Triple-A Syracuse, and it also diminishes the ability of general manager Mike Rizzo to make changes and adjustments — for example, to add a long man to the roster in advance of a long West Coast road trip like the swing the Nats will be on from May 29 to June 7, visiting San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, Rizzo would need to option one of the best pitchers in his bullpen.

Of course, Rizzo has a well-deserved reputation as a roster magician. Fringe players on the roster seem to have an uncanny knack for suffering injuries just serious enough to require a short stint on the disabled list at the precise moment a roster spot is needed; unusual roster configurations are employed during spells in which the team can subsist with just four starting pitchers on the roster; unexpected players may be optioned or designated for assignment. Having five relievers who cannot be sent down to the minors without clearing waivers is far from ideal, but based on his history, Rizzo will find a way to work around the problem.

Likely on the outside looking in now are a selection of non-roster invitees. A few weeks ago, as spring training was just beginning, I took a quick look at each of the NRIs being brought to camp. With the last serious bench contender from that group being reassigned to the minors this weekend and Glover reportedly the likely choice for closer, it now appears no NRI will head north with the team unless there is a late injury.

It’s a little funny to look back on that “field guide” from February. I would have picked Jeremy Guthrie as one of the first cuts from camp, based on his miserable numbers from recent seasons and his age (he turns 38 next month). Instead, Guthrie has emerged as one of the most impressive in a group of pitchers signed as free agents this winter to minor league deals with invitations to spring training. Assuming there is no fit for him in a bullpen that looks basically settled, he will likely opt out of his contract and look to latch on elsewhere, with his strong spring (2.45 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over 14⅔ innings pitched, with two highly effective starts) as a selling point. Meanwhile, intriguing young guns Wander Suero and Dustin Antolin were gone quickly without leaving much of an impression; they’ll likely serve as organizational depth in the high minors this year and probably won’t taste the majors.

Guthrie is one of the only remaining NRIs in major league camp as of Sunday. That group also includes Vance Worley, who had a strong 2016 as the swing man for the Baltimore Orioles but has struggled quite a bit this spring (5.02 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 14⅓ innings pitched, with one start, in which he fared poorly), and a pair of former White Sox in Matt Albers (who hasn’t been charged with an earned run in 11⅔ innings, but also hasn’t pitched more than two innings in any one appearance this spring) and Jacob Turner (a dismal 5.14 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over 14 innings pitched, with one mediocre start).

There just doesn’t look like a spot is open for Guthrie or Worley or one of the others (aging former major league closers Joe Nathan and Neal Cotts also remain in camp, with even less of an obvious place for them to fit on the Washington 25-man roster), unless a late deal is made to clear a space. Enny Romero, acquired in a minor trade with the Tampa Bay Rays late in the off-season, didn’t seem to have a guaranteed job on the team, but he has been lights-out this spring between Grapefruit League action and the World Baseball Classic, and it would now be considered a major upset if the Nats were to place him on waivers.

One other possibility, bearing in mind Rizzo’s roster trickiness, would be a purely procedural move: bring A.J. Cole north with the team to start the year. Cole is reportedly recovering from triceps soreness, and he has had a terrible spring training, but he wouldn’t be coming north to pitch — instead, he’d be working off the remaining days of a five-day suspension he received late in the 2016 season for a purpose pitch aimed behind Pirates third baseman and garbage human being Jung Ho Kang, perhaps while fifth starter Joe Ross (not strictly needed until April 12, thanks to a day off in the middle of the Nats’ opening three-game set against the visiting Miami Marlins) spends some time in extended spring training. That might open the door for an eighth reliever to come on board after Cole does his time, but he would likely be designated for assignment once Ross is needed if it is not possible to option him.

Position players

Brandon Snyder was an intriguing Swiss army knife option for the Nats to consider in camp. Drafted as a catcher by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round all the way back in 2005, the 30-year-old has evolved into a super-utility player who can play pretty much every position except shortstop and pitcher. Carrying him on the bench would have theoretically allowed the Nats to use their reserve catcher as a pinch-hitter, with Snyder able to fill in behind the plate when needed. But he has not managed to stick in the majors for long throughout his career, a high strikeout rate has plagued him when facing major league pitching, and he was trying to break camp with a team led by a manager well known for his love of speed as a player not regarded as a very fast baserunner.

Snyder now joins infielders Grant Green, Corban Joseph, and Emmanuel Burriss in minors camp, NRIs who had been vying for a bench spot and are now looking ahead to the Syracuse Chiefs season (assuming they can’t opt out of their contracts). Also in minors camp are outfielders Brian Goodwin, Andrew Stevenson, and Rafael Bautista and infielders Matt Skole, Neftali Soto, and Drew Ward, Nats minor-leaguers who got a chance to play with the major league team this spring.

Michael A. Taylor entered spring camp as the presumptive favorite to break camp with the team, rounding out a bench that also includes backup catcher Jose Lobaton, backup first baseman Adam Lind, backup utility infielder Stephen Drew, and backup outfielder Chris Heisey. At this point, his only competition is switch-hitting infielder Wilmer Difo, who has gotten a few opportunities this spring to play center field as well, and incumbent reserve first baseman Clint Robinson, a light hitter, sluggish runner, and poor fielder who is out of options but is well-liked in the clubhouse and by the front office.

Taylor is a favorite of Dusty Baker. He is having a characteristically outstanding spring training with the bat and has been running the bases well, not making any of the boneheaded gaffes that frustrated the Nats last year. Difo has also been hitting well this spring, but a job that looked like it would be his was occupied by the late re-signing of Drew this winter, and Baker had a critical review of his baserunning earlier this month, saying, “We love Difo, but we don’t love mistakes. And so far it’s been mistakes on the bases.” As for Robinson, he and Lind are essentially redundant, as lumbering, left-handed-hitting first basemen who figure to back up regular first baseman Ryan Zimmerman; when Lind signed days before spring training, it instantly made Robinson a long shot to make the roster, and Robinson’s spring results have done little to inspire the Nats to think otherwise.

It’s really down to Taylor and Difo at this point, barring a surprise. If the Nats’ assessment is that Difo needs more time to polish his game and Taylor needs to either sink or swim this season after two disappointing major league campaigns, it’s easy to see Taylor breaking camp with the team but perhaps being kept on a shorter leash than he was last year, when he was finally sent down in July after a dreadful first half split between filling in for injured center fielder Ben Revere and playing off the bench to spell Revere and veteran left fielder Jayson Werth. If the Nats are concerned by Taylor appearing to fall off his torrid pace after taking a few days off due to his father’s death, they could take a chance on Difo, but they would have to do so knowing that the move could damage their relationship with Taylor and his confidence in himself. With both players having a good spring, it seems unlikely.

On the catching side of the equation, a logjam created by the late signing of Matt Wieters to replace Wilson Ramos as the Nats’ everyday catcher was cleared up earlier this month when the team released Derek Norris, who had been acquired early in the off-season. Jose Lobaton will back Wieters up. Jhonatan Solano remains in major league camp, while minor league catchers Pedro Severino and Raudy Read have been optioned and another catcher, Spencer Kieboom, was outrighted from the roster to make room for the mid-spring signing of reliever Joe Blanton and then later reassigned to minor league camp. Solano is not considered a realistic possibility to break camp with the team, but having the veteran around is useful as catchers and pitchers alike are getting stretched out and finding their form.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, as the legendary Yogi Berra was fond of saying, but right now, here is the Nats’ projected regular-season roster:

Starting pitchers
Stephen Strasburg
Tanner Roark
Max Scherzer
Gio Gonzalez
Joe Ross

Bullpen
Koda Glover
Shawn Kelley
Blake Treinen
Joe Blanton
Enny Romero
Oliver Perez
Sammy Solis

Catchers
Matt Wieters
Jose Lobaton

Infielders
Ryan Zimmerman
Daniel Murphy
Anthony Rendon
Trea Turner
Stephen Drew
Adam Lind

Outfielders
Jayson Werth
Adam Eaton
Bryce Harper
Chris Heisey
Michael Taylor

Posted in Analysis, Dusty, MikeRizzo, RizzoForADay, Roster | Leave a comment

Nats select a closer; Opening Day is getting closer and Strasburg will start; More cuts make it clearer

Photo by Kevin Nibley for TalkNats

Today at 1:05pm at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the Nationals square off with their stadium neighbors, the Houston Astros, once again, and today the Washington Nationals are the home team. Gio Gonzalez gets the start against right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis | Leave a comment

The Nats have less than a week left on the Grapefruit League schedule

Exactly a week from today, the Washington Nationals will be hosting the Boston Red Sox in Nationals Park. Today marks the last of 3 games remaining for the Nationals in The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and today the Nats are the visitors against their cohabitant Houston Astros for a 1:05pm. The pitching match-up features Tanner Roark of the Nationals and right-handed Lance McCullers for the Astros.

With Roark returning to camp, he just threw 48 pitches for Team USA in the WBC, and should be on a 65-70 pitch count today. Today could also mark the return to action for Daniel Murphy who needs his hacks to get his timing synchronised. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, SpringTraining | Leave a comment

Washington Nationals stadium naming rights; New premium 1st baseline seats create new sponsorship

Photo of Nationals Park for Talk Nats from staff photographer Sol Tucker

It was exactly one year ago this week when news broke that the Washington Nationals had contracted with Korn Ferry and MLB Advanced Media to sell the naming rights for Nationals Park, and there was speculation initially that the Nationals could wrap-up a deal quickly which was not the case as this is dragging on past the one year mark. A stadium naming rights deal could generate team revenues at $15 million or more annually.

Korn Ferry is a top executive search firm but they also do strategy execution. The Nationals, according to our sources, have done ‘dog and pony’ presentations for corporations from Under Armour to prominent banks and financial companies and even MGM Casinos. Early in the Nationals Park infancy, the Nationals were in talks with ExxonMobil according to a source, but as they say, “timing is everything” and oil prices were surging at the time as a gallon of gas surged near $4 a gallon in 2008 making that idea a “no go”. Second-hand information written on the TalkNats site claims the Nationals are closing in on a possible deal to transfer the naming rights, but their source within the Nationals would not reveal which corporation the Nationals were negotiating with. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, NewsAndNotes | Leave a comment

Split squad day/night doubleheader; Daniel Murphy is in the house! Fedde shines in the rain!

A ‘split squad’ is the term used during Spring Training when a team has two games that overlap at the same time in two different locations and have to split their squads in order to field two teams to play those two games. Today’s situation is really like a day/night doubleheader. Technically, players could play the day game at 1:05pm at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and then travel the 14 miles to the night game up I-95 in Palm Beach County in Jupiter, Florida against the Marlins for the 7:05pm game….but that won’t happen.

Photo by Kevin Nibley for TalkNats

Dusty will make two separate line-ups, and most of the regulars will play the day game at home in West Palm Beach, and the reserves will play the night game in Jupiter. About all we know at this point is that Jeremy Guthrie will start the home game against the Cardinals and Michael Wacha at 1:05pm at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and Jacob Turner gets the night game in Jupiter against the Marlins who will pitch Jose Ureña. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, SpringTraining | Leave a comment

Mets travel to TBOTPB; Fedde starts; Team USA victorious!

Photo by Kevin Nibley for TalkNats

We got TV coverage today for the 1:05pm game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals on MASN! This will give everyone a good look at the Nationals top pitching prospect Erick FeddeContinue reading

Posted in Analysis, SpringTraining | Leave a comment

Tanner Roark and Daniel Murphy are the best of baseball

Do you think Abner Doubleday could have envisioned that baseball would be played worldwide? Chevrolet tried to show the symbolism of America as “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”. Baseball has risen to a fever pitch worldwide as witnessed in the World Baseball Classic. Team USA is about to attempt something they’ve never done – win the World Baseball Classic. Heck, they’ve never even had a chance to play in the finals. A huge part of why they are on the brink of world baseball domination is because of the efforts of Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis | Leave a comment

Max Scherzer makes his Grapefruit League debut; Roark stars in the WBC; Zimmerman is in a groove

What an exciting 24 hours in Nats camp! Team USA is heading to the WBC finals which was all made possible by a four-inning shut-out performance by the Washington Nationals’ own Tanner Roark! Roark spun a 2-hit gem while throwing 48 pitches in a classic pitch-to-contact performance where he was pitch efficient averaging just 12 pitches per inning. Team USA defeated Team Japan 2-1 in a winner-take-all elimination game to advance to the finals tonight against Team Puerto Rico. Daniel Murphy unfortunately did not appear for Team USA. This is the first time Team USA has ever advanced to the finals of the WBC.

Back in Florida, Max Scherzer prepares for his first Grapefruit League start of 2017 and he gets to face the Cardinals in Jupiter. Scherzer had been working strictly on the minor league side of camp to get his work in and build up arm strength while he was recovering from a slight fracture in the knuckle of his ring-finger on his right hand. Scherzer had been throwing all 3-finger grip fastballs to alleviate the pain, but five days ago in a minor league start was able to throw his normal 2-finger grip fastball without pain. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, Roark, RyanZimmerman, Scherzer, SpringTraining | Leave a comment

Nats Bats on the Upswing?

On Tuesday Fangraphs published an article about how Danny Espinosa is changing his hitting style to try to swing with an upwards curve. This reminded me of something that I had heard last year that the Nats are being coached to swing straight down, like an executioner swinging a sword. So I searched a little further and found not only a series of Fangraphs articles on the subject but a potential conflict of opinions between the old school downward chop proponents like Dusty Baker and the upswing trend setters led by Daniel Murphy. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, Dusty, Espinosa, Murphy | Leave a comment

Tanner Roark gets the historic start for Team USA in what he acknowledged is the biggest game of his career!

Sports allows do-overs of sorts, and Tanner Roark is getting a chance to redeem himself in the World Baseball Classic after his 1 ¹/3 inning setback against the Dominican Republic in Miami way back on March 11th in which he gave up 3 earned runs.

Roark was part of the DPP ( Designated Pitcher Pool) and was not supposed to be pitching with Team USA at this point in the tournament, but Chris Archer departed and told Jim Leyland that he was not returning which opened this chance at redemption for Roark. Whether Roark is getting this start by default or fate, he is relishing the opportunity in what he acknowledged is “the biggest game of his career”.

MLB Network graphic

Roark will face Japan and their starting right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium tonight in this single-elimination game with the loser-go home-format. The Americans are trying to reach the championship game for the first-time ever in the World Baseball Classic.

For Japan, Tomoyuji Sugano is the ace of the Yomiuri Giants and he has allowed five earned runs through 8 1/3 innings (5.40 ERA) in the tournament. He’s struck out 10 batters and has yet to issue a walk .

“It’s finally here,” Sugano said with his usual confidence. “Tomorrow, for sure we’ll win and advance to the final, that’s how I feel.”

Japan advanced to the semifinals by winning Pool E with a 3-0 record. USA finished second to Puerto Rico in Pool F with a 2-1 record.

“[Roark has] gotten the short end of the stick a little bit so far, to be honest with you, the way things worked out,” Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. “But he deserves this start. He’s been a trooper. He signed up for this event, and I’m pitching him. I feel very, very comfortable about it.”

 

The Japanese line-up is filled with mashers and Tsutsugoh and Nakata each have 3 home runs in the tournament. Japan’s top hitter is Sakamoto who has a .522 on-base-percentage. Tanner Roark will be facing an unfamiliar line-up but his strategy is simple.

“The key is to pitch to my strength, and that is throw strikes and get outs,” Tanner Roark said. “Just trying to stay mentally focused on the game.”

The Japanese squad is much different from the United States’ opponents in Rounds 1 and 2 that looked like All-Star teams of Major League players, but most of Japan’s roster comes from Nippon Professional Baseball and are virtually unknown to this Team USA roster because their only MLB player is Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki as Ichiro Suzuki and past stars like Hideki Matsui are not part of this team nor are Japanese star pitchers such as Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, Masahiro Tanaka or Kenta Maeda.

Team USA has scouted Team Japan, and the winner moves on to the championship game tomorrow night at Dodger’s Stadium for a winner-take-all game against the undefeated Team Puerto Rico.

Posted in Analysis, Roark | Leave a comment