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Washington Nationals Rumors
The Nationals will call up righty A.J. Cole to start for the club tomorrow, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter. A starter was needed with Max Scherzer‘s scheduled appearance being pushed back due to a thumb injury.
Cole, 23, opened the year rated as a consensus top-100 prospect. Baseball Prospectus, in particular, is quite high on him, rating him 30th overall. MLB.com, which had Cole in the 52nd slot, praises his “easy velocity,” quality change, improving breaking ball, and overall approach.
It appears that this could be nothing more than a spot start for Cole, given the Nationals’ still-loaded rotation, but it will nevertheless represent his first big league action and first chance to accumulate some service time. In the off chance that he does stick on the active roster, he would be set up to qualify for Super Two status down the line.
Cole was drafted by the Nationals before being shipped to the Athletics as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. He struggled in one season in the Oakland organization, and was then sent back to D.C. (along with Blake Treinen and Ian Krol) in the three-team swap that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners and John Jaso to the A’s.
He has regained his stock since, obviously, and reached the Triple-A level last year. Across 134 innings in the upper minors in 2014, Cole worked to a 3.14 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He has been fairly dominant in three starts in the highest farm level this season, permitting just four earned runs and one free pass while striking out ten in 15 frames.
Unexpectedly, the Nationals are off to a poor start the season, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman notes. After adding Max Scherzer to an already potent roster this offseason, the Nats looked like World Series favorites. But they’re 7-12 so far, struggling both with their hitting and their fielding, and their clubhouse seems “close to dead,” as Heyman puts it. Here’s more from the National League.
- Former Padres assistant GM and current Astros manager A.J. Hinch is impressed with his former team’s moves, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. “Oh, I watched,” Hinch says of a Padres offseason in which they added James Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and others. “I was reminded often about what was going on, you know. And I was a fan of what they were doing. It was a little bit of a different philosophy, little bit of a different payroll and that added some big names to the roster.” Hinch essentially served as the Padres’ GM after they fired Josh Byrnes and before they hired A.J. Preller, and during that time, the Padres went in a direction quite different from where they’re heading now, trading veterans like Chase Headley, Huston Street and Chris Denorfia.
- Alex Guerrero has been brilliant for the Dodgers so far this season, hitting five home runs in just 11 games while looking better than expected on defense. But the Dodgers are still working on finding him playing time, Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles writes. The team indicates that, in addition to third base, they could also give Guerrero some time in left field, where Carl Crawford has struggled. Guerrero isn’t the most obvious fit for the Dodgers’ roster, but they had no choice but to have him break camp with the team, due to a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent if they hadn’t. So far, though, he’s played so well that the reasons he’s on the roster don’t matter.
Some within the industry believe the Nationals should trade for Jonathan Papelbon and install Drew Storen as the setup man, says Ken Rosenthal with FOX Sports (video link). While there is some concern over Papelbon’s velocity, he’s off to a great start and “never misses his spots.” His $13MM vesting option for 2016 remains an obstacle. Rosenthal notes that the Tigers and Blue Jays are other possible destinations. I agree that these three clubs could all use relief help. To me, it makes more sense for the Nationals to address their bullpen at the trade deadline. The Blue Jays have a tougher path to the postseason, so they could really use the reinforcements now. Here’s more from Rosenthal.
- The Brewers may shift to a rebuilding stance, and teams are in constant contact about Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Another star, Ryan Braun, will be difficult to trade. He’s slumped to start the season. He’s owed $105MM through 2020, and his no trade clause includes every team by the Angels, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, and Marlins.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman credits his analytics department for recommending Chris Young. The outfielder is off to a blazing start with four home runs and a .357/.426/.762 line in 48 plate appearances. The Yankees have become familiar with buying low. They also acquired Chris Capuano, Martin Prado, and Brandon McCarthy at discount prices.
- The Marlins are en route to their fourth consecutive victory, but manager Mike Redmond may remain on the hot seat. As one insider told Rosenthal, once owner Jeffrey Loria gets an idea in his head, “he can’t let it go.” If that’s the case, Redmond will need his team to go on an impressive streak.
The Dodgers have acquired left-hander Xavier Cedeno from the Nationals in exchange for cash, Washington announced. Cedeno, 28, broke camp with the Nationals but did not last long after giving up two earned runs in three innings of work.
His most extensive work came in 2012 with the Astros, when he tossed 31 innings of 3.77 ERA ball while striking out 10.5 and walking 4.1 batters per nine. Since then, Cedeno has logged 22 1/3 frames with a 5.64 ERA, and has seen his strikeout rate drop to 7.3 K/9.
Cedeno is the latest in a series of DFA’ed arms that the Dodgers have added. The others were in turn designated before seeing action. If Cedeno makes it into the bullpen mix, he will join fellow southpaws J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez.
Tapped by many as the preseason favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals have enough depth on both the Major League and minor league level that their window of contention won’t snap shut if they don’t win it all this year. That said, there is certainly a sense that the window may never be quite as open as it is now, given that four of Washington’s top players are scheduled to hit free agency this winter.
Assuming that Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann all post their usual types of seasons in 2015, all will draw a lot of attention on the open market; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranks Desmond and Zimmerman fourth and sixth, respectively, in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Between interest from other teams and the Nats’ already-substantial salary commitments (over $84MM committed to just six players on their 2016 roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), we can safely rule out the possibility of the Nationals bringing all four back. Indeed, some of Washington’s offseason moves seem directed at preparing for a future without some of these players, as I’ll explain momentarily.
The question is, however, will the Nationals bring back any of their free agent quartet? Let’s look at the options…
* Desmond. The shortstop reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107MM extension during the 2013-14 offseason, leading the Nats to explore acquiring a young shortstop at last summer’s trade deadline. Washington got that young shortstop in the form of Trea Turner as part of their three-team deal with the Rays and Padres over the winter, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Desmond and the Nats didn’t engage in significant extension talks, or that Desmond’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Mariners and Mets.
With all this in mind, Desmond’s days in Washington seem numbered, even if the Nationals would be letting perhaps the game’s best offensive shortstop leave.
* Zimmermann. The right-hander’s name was also linked to those talks with Seattle, and Boston also engaged the Nationals about Zimmermann’s services. Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal essentially could make Zimmermann expendable, as Washington doesn’t want to ink another starter to another deal in the $200MM range, especially when they’ll also have Stephen Strasburg‘s free agency to deal with after the 2016 season. (Then again, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post recently speculated that the Nats may let both Zimmermann and Strasburg go due to concerns that their arms won’t hold up given their Tommy John histories.)
* Fister. Much of what I wrote about Zimmermann also applies to Fister, though obviously Fister’s free agent price tag will be significantly lower than Zimmerman’s next contract. The Nationals reportedly haven’t discussed an extension with Fister in about a year, so one would think they’re prepared to move on from the 31-year-old righty. That said,
* Span. The team already got a look at life without Span when the veteran outfielder began the season on the DL recovering from core muscle surgery. Top prospect Michael Taylor filled in as Washington’s center fielder and hit .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances, though his defense left something to be desired. Still, Taylor performed well enough that the Nats likely feel as if they have a solid replacement on hand if Span isn’t brought back.
* None of them. As you may notice, I’ve listed several more “won’t be back” reasons than I have reasons for why the Nationals may re-sign any of the quartet. It’s quite possible Washington simply lets all four players go in order to save future payroll space for Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper‘s future extensions. The Nats would also get a boost to their minor league system, as they’d receive at least three draft picks back as compensation if their players signed elsewhere — Desmond, Zimmermann and Fister are locks to receive qualifying offers, while Span could potentially get one too if he has a big season.
That said, it would also be somewhat surprising to see a team with such clear designs on winning a championship soon let four big pieces walk. While Washington has an enviable amount of starting pitching depth, any rotation would suffer in losing two proven arms like Zimmermann or Fister. Desmond, as noted, would leave a big hole at shortstop, and counting on Taylor to replace Span might be putting a lot of pressure on a youngster. Re-signing even two of the four could be a tall order, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Nationals bring back one of the four.
One more wrinkle: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently speculated that the Nats could explore trading Zimmermann or Fister this summer in order to fill any other holes on the roster. Theoretically, this would open the door for Washington to add talent at midseason to bolster their postseason hopes, and then also allow them to possibly sign either traded pitcher in the offseason. As Jon Lester and the Red Sox might tell you, however, it’s very rare to see such a scenario play out with the traded ace immediately return to the club that dealt him away.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond is rumored to be on the hot seat, but MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes that the team doesn’t need a new manager, just better starting pitching. Marlins starters have a 5.23 ERA with 5.2 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9, and they’re reeling from the loss of Henderson Alvarez with a shoulder injury. Still, the Marlins have enough talent to rebound from their 3-10 start, Frisaro says. Here are more quick notes from the East divisions.
- Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen had surgery Sunday to fix two torn flexor tendons in his forearm, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. He is likely to miss the rest of the season and will be able to return for Spring Training next year. In the last three seasons, Stammen has been a workhorse in the Nats’ bullpen, pitching 242 2/3 innings in that span. He’ll make $2.25MM in 2015 and is arbitration eligible next winter for the last time before free agency.
- Jeff Francis is back in the big leagues with the Blue Jays, and he’s hoping to stick around even though he knows it might be tough to do so, John Lott of the National Post writes. The former Rockies starter pitched 3 1/3 innings Sunday, but he’s 34 and throws in the upper 80s. He’s now pitching for his fourth team since the start of the 214 season, having appeared with the Reds, Athletics and Yankees last year. Francis, who is from Canada, calls playing for his favorite childhood team a “thrill” but says it’s one he’ll mostly enjoy after he’s done playing.
The Nationals activated Denard Span from the disabled list and inserted him into the starting lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. To make room for Span on the roster, Michael Taylor was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse despite slashing .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances this season. “He is one of our future players and needs to play every day,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said in explaining the reasoning behind Taylor’s demotion. “We got to see Michael Taylor become a player for us right in front of our eyes. I thought he handled himself brilliantly with some youthful mistakes. The ability level is there. The usefulness of putting it to a Major League setting was there and he took to it very well.”
Elsewhere in the NL East:
- The Phillies have told teams over the past year Chase Utley will not waive his no-trade clause, but ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in an Insider piece (subscription required) the second baseman, facing a long rebuild in Philadelphia, may have a change of heart like former teammate Jimmy Rollins. Olney also notes rival evaluators believe Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, as well.
- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez isn’t too concerned with Jim Johnson being roughed up in his last two appearances (four runs, six hits, and two home runs allowed) and will keep the right-hander in the role of the 8th inning setup reliever, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ll see how it plays out,” said Gonzalez. “But from what I saw in Spring Training, and other than these two outings here, I think he’s been fine. We always have a tendency to say what’s the matter with a guy as soon as he gives up something.“
- Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters, including MLB.com’s Joe Trezza, closer Jeurys Familia will remain in that role when Bobby Parnell and Vic Black join the club after completing their rehab assignments. “Certainly, right now Jeurys Familia has pitched well enough,” Collins said. “He is that guy until those other guys show us they’re ready.” Collins adds, in a perfect world, Parnell would be the closer with Black and Familia slotted for the 8th and 7th innings, respectively. Black’s return may be delayed as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com tweets the right-hander will undergo a MRI of his shoulder/neck area.
Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is celebrating his 65th anniversary in the booth tonight. His first game was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park featuring Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe. Incidentally, Roberts is also in the Hall of Fame while Newcombe is often discussed as a snub. Here’s more from around the league.
- The Blue Jays did little to address an obvious bullpen problem over the offseason, writes Mike Wilner of Sportsnet.ca. However, the club might have lucked into a valuable solution in the form of Liam Hendriks. The 26-year-old is averaging 93 mph with his fastball – up about two mph from his career norm. Through six innings, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while recording nine strikeouts. Before anybody anoints Hendriks the closer, it’s worth noting that he has a low 5.3% swinging strike rate. At some point, that rate will either increase, or his strikeout rate will decrease.
- The Nationals must learn to thrive under walk year pressure, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. When Jayson Werth entered his walk year with the Phillies, then-manager Charlie Manuel advised him to test free agency (in more colorful language). Now the Nationals have four key players on the road to free agency. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span could all leave after the season, which gives 2015 a make-or-break feel for Washington. Werth and Max Scherzer have advice for their new teammates – acknowledge all the sources of pressure.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.
- The Dodgers have announced that they’ve outrighted lefty David Huff, who has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers designated Huff for assignment on Wednesday after he made one four-inning start for them. The 30-year-old has a 5.06 ERA, 5.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in parts of seven seasons with the Indians, Yankees and Giants in addition to the Dodgers.
- The Yankees have outrighted righty Joel De La Cruz, then sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 25-year-old posted a 4.44 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 121 2/3 innings in the high minors last season. The Yankees selected his contract last week, but he did not appear in a game before they optioned him back to the minors.
- The Red Sox have signed righty Denny Bautista to a minor-league deal, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. The 32-year-old Bautista last appeared in the big leagues with the Giants in 2010 and previously pitched for the Orioles, Royals, Rockies, Tigers and Pirates. He pitched in Mexico in 2014 (struggling with his control, also a problem in his big-league days) and in Korea from 2011-2013.
- The Padres have signed former Astros third-round pick Jonathan Meyer, Eddy tweets. Meyer had been an infielder in the Astros’ system, but the Padres will use him as a catcher. The 24-year-old hit .215/.274/.280 at Double-A and Triple-A last year before Houston released him.
- The Nationals are having infielder Emmanuel Burriss join the team, James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets. It’s not clear how the Nats will make room for Burriss on their 25-man roster, although Yunel Escobar suffered a groin strain against the Phillies on Friday. (MLB.com’s Bill Ladson tweets that Burriss is not listed on the Nats’ lineup card today, and Wagner notes that Burriss could simply be with the team as insurance in case the Nats need to make a move.) Burriss, a D.C. native, was hitting .286/.359/.486 in 39 plate appearances with Triple-A Syracuse. The Nats re-signed him to a minor-league deal last November. The 30-year-old appeared in parts of five seasons with the Giants from 2008-2012, hitting .243/.304/.269 in 801 plate appearances.
APRIL 17: Stammen’s surgery will be Sunday, tweets Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com. Stammen has been told that his ligaments look good, but the timetable for his return is still uncertain, per Kolko. James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets that Stammen believes he will miss the remainder of the season.
APRIL 16: An MRI performed on the right elbow of right-hander Craig Stammen has revealed a torn flexor tendon that will require surgery to repair, the Nationals announced on Thursday. The unfortunate news could very well sideline Stammen for the remainder of the 2015 season, although manager Matt Williams has said the timeline will depend on the extent of the damage in the elbow (via CSN Washington’s Chase Hughes).
The 31-year-old Stammen has spent parts of the past seven seasons with the Nationals, and after struggling as a starter for the team in 2009-10 has emerged as a durable, reliable bullpen cog. From 2012-14, Stammen averaged 81 innings per season, tallying a 2.93 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 as an important member of the Nationals’ relief corps. He joins a long list of injured Nationals that currently includes bullpen-mate Casey Janssen as well as Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Nate McLouth. Rendon and Span, at least, are projected to return to the club later this month.
The Nationals have seen their bullpen depth take a hit since the end of last season. Tyler Clippard was traded to the A’s in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Rafael Soriano (who struggled late in the year but was a generally reliable closer for much of the year prior) was not re-signed, and Janssen has yet to debut due to shoulder troubles. Blake Treinen has been moved into a prominent bullpen role in the earlygoing, and the team has also received contributions from Aaron Barrett, Tanner Roark and rookie Rafael Martin (who whiffed five hitters in an impressive two-inning debut).