Washington Nationals Rumors

Washington Nationals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Reds, Lee, Yankees, Nationals

The Reds‘ mostly homegrown rotation prevents them from having to spend big on starting pitching in free agency and gives them a big advantage, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. Homegrown pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani and Homer Bailey (leaving aside Bailey’s large recent extension, at least) have proven to be cost effective, and even Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, both from outside the organization, were acquired without the Reds having to turn to the free agent market. Here are more notes from throughout the big leagues.

  • Of the high-impact pitchers who might be available at the trade deadline, the PhilliesCliff Lee makes the most sense for the Yankees, the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand writes. Lee will have an enormous salary in 2015, but the Yankees ignored the luxury-tax threshold last offseason, and there’s little reason to think they couldn’t do it again. Lee’s injury status (he went on the DL with an elbow strain in May) and huge contract might mean the Yankees could acquire him for a lesser cost in prospects.
  • Lee threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session Friday, Marc Narducci of the Inquirer reports. He is not yet 100 percent, however. “It is not pain . . . it is not discomfort,” Lee says. “I would say it is there.”
  • The Nationals aren’t planning on making any big trades anytime soon, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. They don’t want to trade Danny Espinosa, believing he’s a future All-Star, or Adam LaRoche. They would listen to offers on pitcher Ross Detwiler, but aren’t actively looking to deal him.

International Prospect Links: Top 30, Padres, Nats, Bonuses

We’re less than two weeks away from the July 2 international signing deadline, and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez has published his ranking of the Top 30 International prospects for the 2014-15 class. Most of these amateur players are still just teenagers, including a number of 15- and 16-year-olds. Players that are 15 years of age currently — such as No. 3 ranked prospect Adrian Rondon – will be eligible to officially sign when they turn 16 (July 7, in Rondon’s case). Sanchez’s list is topped by Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia and includes free video, scouting reports and rankings of each players’ tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. It’s a must-read for all that are interested in the international market and an indispensable tool that will be referenced heavily on MLBTR in the coming months.

Here’s more in the international prospect front…

  • Sanchez tweets that the Padres have signed 21-year-old Dominican right-hander Dinelson Lamet for a $100K bonus. While teams are currently not allowed to sign any more players from the 2013-14 crop of July 2 prospects, Sanchez adds in a followup tweet that the Friars squeezed this one in just under the wire, finalizing the deal last week.
  • Nationals scouting director Johnny DiPuglia tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that the Nats will be targeting quantity as opposed to spending their budget on two or three high-priced assets. Washington is hoping to add 12 to 15 players to its ranks, says DiPuglia, adding that the areas of focus for the Nats were left-handers with potential for high velocity, speedy up-the-middle players and bats with raw power.
  • Baseball America’s Ben Badler posted an update of his projected Top 10 signing bonuses this week, with the Yankees projected to issue four of the 10 (including a near-$3MM bonus for the previously mentioned Garcia). However, the Bronx Bombers don’t occupy the top spot on the list; that goes to the Brewers, who are expected to give Dominican shortstop Gilbert Lara (Sanchez’s No. 4 prospect) a bonus north of $3MM. Badler’s piece requires a BA subscription which is highly recommended to international prospect aficionados, as BA will be producing loads of scouting reports and projections on the July 2 class in the coming weeks.

Draft Signings: Brown, Benjamin, Dickey

Here are Thursday’s notable mid- to late-round draft signings, with all slot info coming courtesy of Baseball America

  • No. 81 overall pick Aaron Brown received an over-slot $750K bonus to sign with the Phillies, reports MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (on Twitter). Brown, who has already begun his pro career with Short-Season Class-A Williamsport, was a two-way star at Pepperdine, playing both center field and pitching in their rotation. Philly selected him as an outfielder. Brown ranked 89th on BA’s Top 500 and 120th on Mayo’s Top 200. The slot value for the No. 81 overall selection was $682,500.
  • The Rangers saved about $180K by inking fifth-rounder Wes Benjamin to an under-slot, $125K bonus, reports Jim Callis of MLB.com (Twitter link). The Kansas left-hander was up to 94 mph prior to Tommy John surgery in April, Callis notes. BA noted that the Jayhawks southpaw was moving up draft boards prior to his injury and still ranked him 371st in the draft.
  • Callis also tweets that Nationals fourth-rounder Robbie Dickey agreed to a $400K bonus that’s about $16K under slot. A 6’3″, 205-pound right-hander out of Blinn Community College in Texas, ranked 179th on MLB.com’s Top 200 and 210th on BA’s Top 500. Callis and Mayo note that Dickey turned heads last fall as a reliever, sitting 95-97 mph with his fastball and showing a solid slider and changeup. He dealt with biceps tendinitis this spring though and saw his velocity dip while his slider lost some of its bite.


Nationals To Sign Third-Rounder Jakson Reetz

The Nationals have agreed to a $800K deal with third-round choice Jakson Reetz, reports MLB.com’s Jim Callis (via Twitter). Reetz was taken with the 93rd overall pick, which came with a $567,300 slot allocation.

Callis labels Reetz the best all-around high school catcher that was available in the draft. Indeed, he and MLB.com colleague Jonathan Mayo rated him at the 40th slot on their overall board, just beneath the 38th-overall placement of ESPN.com’s Keith Law. Meanwhile, Baseball America had him somewhat further down its list, in the 62nd position. According to Baseball America’s assessment, Reetz features a quick, strong bat, good athleticism, and average power. As a defender, he shows good all-around skills behind the dish but could also play in the outfield or even pitch.

Drawing Reetz away from the University of Nebraska required the Nats to go $232.7K over slot. The organization entered the draft with up to $5,725,700 in available pool space. Washington has yet to agree with multiple choices, including 18th overall selection Erick Fedde and second-rounder Andrew Suarez. According to the MLB.com bonus tracker, the team has saved $236.4K on fifth-rounder Drew Van Orden, $114.8K on seventh-round choice D.K. Carey, and $107.6K on tenth-rounder Matthew Page.


Minor Moves: Ryan Tatusko, Zach Lutz, Nick Evans

Here are the latest transactions from the minors, with the newest moves at the top of the post…

  • The Nationals have sold the rights to righty Ryan Tatusko to the Hanwha Eagles of Korea, reports Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter). Tatusko came to the Nats along with Tanner Roark in the 2010 deal that sent Cristian Guzman to the Rangers. The 29-year-old owns a 2.85 ERA in 79 Triple-A innings with 5.8 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9.
  • The Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball have signed former Mets third baseman Zach Lutz to a $400K contract (hat tip to NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman).  It was reported earlier in the week that the Mets had agreed to release Lutz so he could play in Japan.  A fifth-round pick of the Mets in the 2007 draft, Lutz hit .289/.384/.481 with 75 homers in 2155 minor league PA and also appeared in 22 games with the Mets in 2012-13.
  • The Diamondbacks outrighted utilityman Nick Evans off their 40-man roster and to Triple-A Reno, the club’s official transactions page reports.  Evans was designated for assignment by Arizona on Thursday.  Evans, 28, returned to the Majors for the first time since 2011 when he appeared in eight games with the D’Backs this season; he went 1-for-11 over 11 PA, homering for his only hit.  Evans joined the Arizona organization before the 2013 season and has an impressive 1.034 OPS in 191 Triple-A plate appearances this year.

NL Notes: Toussaint, Phils, Pirates, Billingsley, Cards, Marlins, Nats

Here’s the latest out of the National League …

  • The Diamondbacks are close to reaching agreement with first-round pick Touki Toussaint, reports MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert“Touki I think is very close right now,” said GM Kevin Towers. “… Pretty optimistic we’ll get something done here shortly.” Toussaint, who was taken 16th overall (with a $2,338,200 slot bonus), was rated between the eighth (MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) and thirteenth (ESPN.com’s Keith Law) best player available, with Law saying he could have the most upside of any of the draft-eligible high school righties.
  • Even if the Phillies decide to sell, it may prove difficult, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. In particular, many of the team’s veteran players have not only no-trade protection but also vesting options (some of which appear more achievable than others) at the back ends of their already-sizeable contracts. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has indicated, however, that those contracts should not be a major hindrance if the team shops its best players. “[W]e have taken money back on deals before and will do it again if we have to,” says Amaro.
  • The Pirates rotation is looking increasingly thin, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Injuries have accumulated on top of an already poor start to the year, and unlike last year the club lacks obvious internal replacements to step in and provide a boost. Though some attractive arms figure to be made available at the trade deadline, Biertempfel indicates that Pittsburgh seems unlikely to pay the price (in dollars and in prospects) to add an impact starter.
  • Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley says he is exceedingly unlikely to throw again this year, as Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times reports. Billingsley has been diagnosed with a partially torn flexor tendon. “If I do the rehab I would have a chance,” he said, “but the risk would be … tendon fails, that’s a six-month rehab after surgery. Doing three years’ rehab would be a grind.” As that quote indicates, it has already been a long road for Billingsley and his troubled right arm. He is in the last year of a three-year, $35MM pact that includes a $14MM club option for 2015. It seems highly likely at this point, of course, that Los Angeles will instead pay a $3MM buyout and let Billingsley hit the open market.
  • The Cardinals are currently hesitant to go shopping for a starter, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (video link). St. Louis still has internal options for the rotation (such as Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez) and probably will not meet the asking price for top-end arms. One team that could be in the market for rotation help is the Marlins, Rosenthal adds.
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says that the club is not looking to deal Denard Span or Adam LaRoche to allow Ryan Zimmerman to stay in left field when Bryce Harper returns, Rosenthal reports. Span remains an interesting name to watch, however, as Rosenthal notes. The outstanding defensive center fielder has failed to reach base reliably from the top of the lineup, but is under control through next season with a fairly reasonable $9MM team option.

NL East Notes: Scouts, Phillies, Mets

Most scouts live unglamorous, travel-heavy lifestyles and are unknown to fans, but they play vital roles in the draft in particular and player evaluation in general. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post profiles Nationals assistant GM Kris Kline as he travels to watch players in preparation for the draft. The story follows Kline through the Nationals’ selection of UNLV pitcher Erick Fedde in the first round. It’s a difficult story to summarize here, but a fascinating read. Here’s more from the NL East.

  • The Phillies haven’t yet decided to be sellers at the trade deadline, but they’re preparing for that possibility, GM Ruben Amaro says in an interview with Philly.com’s Ryan Lawrence. “We’re making sure we know which players we like the most in certain organizations and preparing for that,” Amaro says. “At the same time, we’re continuing to assess what our needs are.” It may be tricky for the Phillies to tear down, of course — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have 10-and-5 protection, and Cliff Lee is hurt and has a contract that will be tough to deal. Amaro says he is hopeful that Lee will return soon, however, and he suggests that the Phillies may be willing to eat salary in trades.
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson says the team will determine whether to have a higher payroll next year after this season is over, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York writes. Alderson adds that if the Mets are contending in July, they should have the resources to make a trade.

NL East Notes: Heaney, K-Rod, Mets, Taylor

The Marlins have scratched top prospect Andrew Heaney from tonight’s start, but Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald writes that fans shouldn’t read too much into the move. Marlins VP of player development Marty Scott tells Spencer that the move is just a precaution against having to shut Heaney down in September and isn’t related to a current call-up. Heaney himself told Darrell Williams of the New Orleans Advocate that he feels he’s ready to pitch in the Majors but doesn’t want to be called up as a fill-in, but rather to help the team win: They’re in first place,” said Heaney. “I don’t want them to bring me up as an experiment.”

Here’s more from the NL East…

  • Francisco Rodriguez told Newsday’s Marc Carig that he and the Mets exchanged numbers shortly before New York signed Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, and following those two moves, he made his decision to return to the Brewers (Twitter link). K-Rod, signed to be a setup man in Milwaukee, has instead turned back the clock with his best season in years, pitching to a 2.01 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 20 saves to this point as the team’s closer.
  • The Mets are “caught between the reality of needing patience and the desire to finally start winning again,” writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. Kepner spoke with Jon Niese, who said he’s not sure how Mets prospects such as Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero and Travis d’Arnaud deal with the pressure and expectations placed upon them by fans and media alike. Niese, who didn’t break out until his fifth season with the Mets, added that he’s thankful that the team gave him, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell time to develop, but he’s not sure the newest wave will be afforded the same opportunity.
  • James Wagner of the Washington Post examines Nationals prospect Michael Taylor‘s breakout at Double-A Harrisburg. Taylor, not to be confused by the former Top 100 prospect of the same name, has worked with hitting coach Mark Harris to tweak his approach at the plate and is recognizing breaking pitches better and thriving at the plate. His strikeout rate is still a problem, but it dropped from April to May, and if he can continue that trend he could be on a fast track to Washington’s outfield.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Adam LaRoche

Consistency hasn’t exactly been Adam LaRoche‘s calling card over the past several years, but he’s timing one of his better seasons well, as he faces the strong likelihood of hitting the open market this offseason. LaRoche’s two-year deal with the Nationals contains a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), but teams and players almost never agree to exercise both ends of a mutual option.

Adam LaRoche

Typically, if a team exercises their half of the option, it’s because the player has had a strong season, leading the player to reject in search of more money on the open market. If the player exercises his half, it’s typically due to injury or poor performance, causing the team to reject. In LaRoche’s case, team dynamics come into play as well; Washington likely needs to open up first base for Ryan Zimmerman, whose persistent shoulder problems no longer allow him to handle third base.

As such, LaRoche seems likely to hit the open market, and he’s quietly on pace to do so as one of the most productive bats on the upcoming class. LaRoche is hitting .306/.417/.513 with eight homers, nine doubles and a 33-to-31 K/BB ratio in 192 plate appearances this season. Both his 16.1 percent walk rate and 17.2 percent strikeout rate are career-bests. He did miss 15 games with a quad injury earlier this year, though for now that looks to be behind him.

Ultimate Zone Rating has dinged him for his defense thus far, but Defensive Runs Saved feels that he’s on his way to his fifth straight season of plus defensive value. LaRoche has long had some problems with left-handed pitching, but he’s holding his own to this point with a .381 OBP against southpaws, and platoon problems certainly don’t bar some players from being paid.

LaRoche is set to turn 35 in November, but if he maintains the pace he’s currently on, it’s not hard to envision him landing another two-year deal, perhaps with some type of vesting option. His main competition will be Michael Morse, but aside from that, he’ll be competing against Corey Hart and Michael Cuddyer — both of whom have had significant injuries in 2014 already (and Cuddyer is a year older).

Billy Butler, too, could hit the open market if his option is declined by the Royals, but he’s in the midst of a poor season and likely couldn’t top LaRoche based on performance. Given the dearth of left-handed pop on next year’s free agent market — Kendrys Morales and Victor Martinez are the top alternatives, but both are more designated hitters than first basemen — LaRoche is in a good position despite his age.

It seems likely that his performance will be worthy of receiving a qualifying offer – believed to be in the $15MM range next offseason — but the need to open first for Zimmerman likely will prevent the Nats from extending one. LaRoche could look at a qualifying offer as merely receiving a $2MM raise for next season (he’d pocket the $2MM buyout of his option and still earn $15MM or so), which makes it a risk that Washington seems unlikely to take.

The knocks on LaRoche are well-known; his career OPS versus lefties is 114 points lower than his mark against right-handed pitching, age isn’t on his side and he hasn’t turned in a consecutive pair of well above-average offensive seasons since 2009-10 (122 OPS+ each year). Some teams likely will have the perception that a two-year deal will pay him for one strong season and one so-so campaign, and I’d imagine a number of clubs will be more interested on a one-year deal.

Nonetheless, LaRoche and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Baseball appear to be in solid position as they look to lock down what could be the last significant contract of a solid offensive career. Morales recently received the pro-rated version of a $12MM salary after sitting out the first two months of the season, and Justin Morneau received a two-year, $12.5MM deal coming off a vastly inferior season to the one LaRoche is putting together.

Even if LaRoche simply finishes the season by hitting at his career pace — .266/.340/.475  – he’d finish with one of the best OPS+ marks of his career. In that instance, a two-year deal worth $10MM+ annually seems very attainable. The fact that he is facing very limited competition both at his position (first base) and in terms of his best skill (left-handed power) only strengthens LaRoche’s free agent outlook.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Latest On The First Base Trade Market

First basemen who “are available” to be traded include the Yankees’ Kelly Johnson, the Phillies’ John Mayberry Jr., the Nationals’ Tyler Moore and the Pirates’ Gaby Sanchez, sources tell Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News.  Johnson and Sanchez are new additions to the rumor mill, while Mayberry and Moore have both been recently cited as possible trade chips.

The quartet is cited in the context of Mitch Moreland‘s season-ending ankle surgery, leaving the Rangers dealing with yet another major injury.  Despite losing a host of notable players to the DL, Texas is still just 2.5 games behind Seattle for the last AL wild card slot, and could still be looking to make additions down the stretch.  Texas had previously had exploratory talks with the Nationals about Moore, though MLB.com’s Bill Ladson noted those talks weren’t serious.

Johnson has played 23 games at first for the Yankees this season, though he has spent the large majority of his career as a second baseman (plus some time at third and in left field).  Despite Yangervis Solarte‘s emergence, the Yankees’ infield depth is still thin, so it would be somewhat surprising to see New York move a versatile player like Johnson elsewhere.  Johnson is still owed roughly $1.845MM from the one-year, $3MM deal he signed with the Yankees last winter.

Sanchez was the subject of some trade rumors last year, though he remained with the Bucs as the right-handed hitting half of a first base platoon.  While he has a solid .255/.303/.510 slash line with five homers in 109 PA this year, Sanchez has made almost twice as many plate appearances against righties as he has against lefties since the Pirates have faced an unusually large amount of right-handed starters; Pittsburgh hitters as a whole have made only 366 PA against lefties in 2014, by far the lowest in the majors.  Sanchez has a career .903 OPS against southpaws against just a .700 OPS against righties, so he could certainly provide a contender with a useful part-time or bench bat.

Rangers first basemen have combined for -0.9 fWAR this season, and five other teams (the Twins, Astros, Indians, Royals and Mariners) have also received sub-replacement level production from their first basemen.