- The Nationals are planning on avoiding a full-scale rebuild, according to comments made by GM Mike Rizzo, provided by Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (via Twitter). Perhaps most interestingly, Rizzo says that the players on the squad now will make the foundation of their next championship club. Juan Soto fits the bill, for obvious reasons, but it’s unclear who else might be a part of that supposed core. Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, and Carter Kieboom are the most obvious candidates given their age and prospect status, but none of the three is yet clearly established as an above-average regular. Time will tell if Rizzo is right about this current crop of Nats.
The latest minor moves from around baseball….
- The Athletics announced that Burch Smith has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A, after clearing waivers. Smith was designated for assignment two days ago, and while he could have elected free agency (as a player who has been previously outrighted in his career), the 31-year-old will remain in the Oakland organization. Smith has a 5.40 ERA over 43 1/3 relief innings this season, as while Smith has cut down on the home runs and walks that plagued him earlier in his career, he is missing far fewer bats than usual in 2021. Smith has only a 14.9% strikeout rate this season, after posting a 23.1% strikeout rate over his first 147 2/3 innings in the majors.
- The Nationals announced that infielder Adrian Sanchez cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A. Like Smith, Sanchez also could have declined the assignment since he was previously outrighted, as the Nats cut him from their 40-man last October. Sanchez was DFA’ed earlier his week after hitting .257/.316/.314 over 38 plate appearances for Washington, all since being added to the active roster following the trade deadline. Though he just turned 31 last month, Sanchez is already in his 14th season in the Nationals organization, appearing in 106 Major League games since the start of the 2017 season.
The Nationals have released utilityman Derek Dietrich and catcher/corner outfielder Blake Swihart, relays Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. Both players had been with their top affiliate in Rochester after signing minor league deals this year.
Dietrich began the year with the Yankees’ Triple-A club, posting a bizarre but productive .215/.413/.393 line over 143 plate appearances. While the left-handed hitter struck out at a huge 32.2% clip and posted that low batting average, he walked in a fantastic 18.9% of his plate appearances and hit for a decent enough amount of power. When the Yankees didn’t select him to the big league roster, Dietrich triggered an opt-out clause in his contract and was granted his release in early July.
He hooked on with the Nationals on another minors deal not long after, but his time in the Washington organization didn’t go well. Over 160 plate appearances with the Red Wings, Dietrich slumped to a .121/.270/.212 line, with his walk rate more than cut in half relative to his time in the Yankees’ system. He’ll now hit the open market and look for another opportunity. Dietrich hasn’t appeared in the majors this season, but he saw big league action with the Marlins, Reds and Rangers from 2013-20.
Swihart hasn’t appeared in the majors in two seasons. A one-time top prospect in the Red Sox system, Swihart always came with some defensive question marks behind the plate but was expected to be a high-end offensive player. He’s never really found his footing at the plate in the majors, though, hitting .243/.301/.355 in 696 plate appearances between Boston and the D-Backs from 2015-19. Signed to a minors deal in January, the left-handed hitting Swihart had a .198/.299/.339 mark in 204 plate appearances in Rochester.
The Nationals announced they’ve activated infielder Jordy Mercer from the 10-day injured list. Minor league righty Steven Fuentes has also been reinstated from the 60-day injured list and optioned to Triple-A Rochester. To create space on the roster, Washington designated infielder Adrián Sánchez for assignment.
Sánchez, who has been part of the Nationals’ organization since signing as an amateur free agent back in 2007, has been on and off the big league roster over the past few years. Over parts of four MLB seasons, the utilityman has tallied 204 plate appearances of .262/.287/.328 hitting. While Sánchez makes a decent amount of contact, he’s neither walked nor hit for enough power to command a regular role. Because he’s out of minor league option years, Sánchez had to either stick on the active roster or be removed from the 40-man entirely.
The Nationals will place Sánchez on outright or release waivers over the coming days. The 31-year-old has already been outrighted in his career, so he’d have the right to elect free agency if he passes through unclaimed. Even if he accepts an outright assignment, he’d qualify for minor league free agency this winter if Washington doesn’t reselect him to the 40-man roster before the end of the season.
Mercer served in a utility capacity with Trea Turner entrenched at shortstop for much of the year. He landed on the IL with a left calf strain in late July, shortly before Turner was traded to the Dodgers as part of the Nats’ broad sell-off. Now firmly in evaluation mode, Washington figures to give regular opportunities to young players Carter Kieboom and Luis García at third and second base, respectively, over the season’s final few weeks. Mercer could share time at shortstop with veteran Alcides Escobar, who has been fine but unspectacular while holding down shortstop. Both Mercer and Escobar will reach free agency this offseason.
5:59 pm: Nolin has apparently elected not to appeal after all. He’ll begin serving his ban tonight, Jessica Camerato of MLB.com was among those to relay.
5:18 pm: Major League Baseball announced that Nationals left-hander Sean Nolin has been suspended five games for “intentionally hitting” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman with a pitch during Wednesday night’s game. Nolin, who also received an undisclosed fine, is appealing the suspension. He’ll remain on the roster until his appeal is heard.
Additionally, MLB suspended Washington manager Dave Martinez for one game as a result of Nolin’s actions. Martinez, who also received an undisclosed fine, will serve his ban during tonight’s game against the Pirates.
In the first inning of Wednesday’s start in Atlanta, Nolin threw a first-pitch fastball behind Freeman’s back. His second pitch of the plate appearance — also a fastball — hit Freeman in the right hip. Nolin was then ejected by home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
The night before, Braves’ closer Will Smith hit Nationals star Juan Soto with a pitch. It seems that Nolin threw behind and then hit Freeman as a retaliatory measure, although he denied doing so intentionally. After the game, Nolin told reporters (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com) he simply had trouble gripping the baseball.
Nolin made his return to the majors this season for the first time since 2015. Over five starts, the 31-year-old has worked 17 2/3 innings of 5.60 ERA ball.
The Nationals have placed outfielder Gerardo Parra on the injured list with right knee inflammation, per a team announcement. Left-handed pitcher Josh Rogers has been recalled to take Parra’s placed on the roster. Rogers was already with the team as the 29th man for yesterday’s double-header.
Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com talks to Nats’ manager Dave Martinez, who says the plan is for Parra to just rest for 10 days. At that point, there would only be a few weeks remaining in the schedule, but Martinez is still hopeful Parra can return before the season ends. It’s been a subpar season so far for the 34-year-old, perhaps somewhat attributable to the knee issues, since Parra had knee surgery in the offseason. He’s slashing .232/.288/.347 on the year for a wRC+ of 71.
The club is well out of contention and Parra is a free agent at season’s end, leaving little reason to rush him back onto the field. But if he’s healthy enough, he can get some plate appearances before the winter comes, giving both Parra and the club a chance to assess his status going into the offseason.
As for Rogers, he could have perhaps earned himself a longer look in the Washington rotation after his start last night. The 27-year-old threw 5 2/3 innings, allowing four hits, three walks and three earned runs with five strikeouts, earning a win in the process.
The Nationals have selected the contract of lefty Josh Rogers, per the team. Rogers will be added to the active roster to be the 29th man for their doubleheader today. He’s likely to start one of the two games against the Mets today.
Rogers was released by the Orioles in June, signing on with the Nats just a couple of days later. Between the Triple-A affiliates of both clubs, Rogers has a 4.48 ERA across 90 1/3 innings. He last appeared in the Majors with the Orioles back in 2019. He currently owns an 8.65 ERA in 26 career innings between 2018 and 2019.
To make room on the 40-man roster, Kyle McGowin was transferred to the 60-day injured list. McGowin is awaiting a final diagnosis, but he is potentially facing Tommy John surgery. Regardless, he won’t make it back to the hill this season.
McGowin had transitioned to a full-time role in the bullpen this season after multiple years as a swingman for the Nats. The 29-year-old had perhaps his best season as a pro, tossing 30 innings across 27 appearances with a 4.20 ERA/4.59 ERA.
- The Nationals placed reliever Kyle McGowin on the 10-day injured list this afternoon. The right-hander has a UCL sprain in his throwing elbow and will see a specialist to determine his course of treatment, relays Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. Any injury to a pitcher’s UCL raises the specter of a potential Tommy John surgery, although there’s no indication McGowin is facing any sort of procedure just yet. The 29-year-old has made 30 relief appearances for the Nats this season, working to a 4.20 ERA/3.85 SIERA.
The Nationals have released infielder Starlin Castro, tweets Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic. The move comes in conjunction with the conclusion of Castro’s 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
The team announced at the time of the suspension that Castro would be released once that ban had been served, so this was entirely expected. He was initially placed on administrative leave back on July 16, and the league brought forth a 30-game suspension after looking into the allegations against him.
“Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I have concluded that Mr. Castro violated our Policy and that discipline is appropriate,” commissioner Rob Manfred said when announcing the suspension.
“We fully support the Commissioner’s decision and will be releasing Starlin Castro upon the completion of his suspension,” the Nationals said in a statement shortly thereafter, adding that the club would have no further comment on the matter.
Castro had been playing on a two-year, $12MM contract signed in the 2019-20 offseason. He was limited to just 16 games by a fractured wrist in 2020 and logged 87 games in 2021 before being placed on administrative leave. In 103 games and 409 plate appearances with the Nationals, Castro logged a .280/.328/.387 line.
The Nationals announced they’ve selected reliever Alberto Baldonado to the big league roster. Catcher Alex Avila was also reinstated from the 10-day injured list. No additional moves were necessary, as active rosters expanded from 26 to 28 players today and the Nats already had a vacancy on the 40-man roster.
It’s a long-awaited first big league call for Baldonado, who has spent eleven years in the minors over his professional career. Signed by the Mets out of Panama during the 2009-10 international period, the left-hander spent the next seven seasons in the New York organization. He signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent after 2017 and spent the next couple seasons with their top affiliate but never got a big league opportunity.
Baldonado signed a minor league deal with Washington over the winter. The 28-year-0ld has split the season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, posting a 2.88 ERA over 40 2/3 innings. Baldonado has backed up that run prevention with a strong 28.8% strikeout rate and a tiny 5.5% walk percentage to earn his first MLB look.
Avila is back after missing nearly two months due to bilateral calf strains. The lefty-hitting backstop owns a .167/.345/.288 line over 85 plate appearances this season. With the Nationals turning their attention toward 2022, he figures to assume a veteran mentor type of role over the season’s final few weeks, with young catchers Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams needing regular playing time at the big league level.