- 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.
It’s the culmination of back-to-back poor seasons for Robles, who finds himself in the minors for the first time since 2018. Robles has more or less been Washington’s everyday center fielder over the past three seasons, a role he’s been expected to hold for years. A one-time top prospect, Robles seized the center field job during the Nats’ World Series winning 2019 campaign. While he was a slightly below-average hitter that year, Robles rated as one of the league’s best baserunners and defensive outfielders. Only 22 years old, he looked to be a core piece who could emerge as an All-Star caliber player with just a bit of an improvement at the plate over the coming seasons.
Not only has Robles not taken another step offensively, he’s completely fallen flat at the plate. Since the start of the 2020 campaign, the right-handed hitter has posted a .209/.304/.302 line over 558 plate appearances. That translates to a 67 wRC+ that suggests Robles has been 33 percentage points worse than the league average hitter. Of the 181 hitters with 500+ plate appearances over the past two years, only four (Kevin Newman, Elvis Andrus, Gregory Polanco and Garrett Hampson) have been less productive at the plate.
Those struggles have cost Robles playing time in recent days, as he hadn’t started a game since Friday. Lane Thomas, acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline, has started the past three games in center and is in the lineup there again tonight. With Robles relegated to fourth outfielder duty at the big league level, the Nationals have evidently determined it better to get him continued reps against minor league pitching.
The Nationals could bring Robles back up relatively shortly, as position players only need be on optional assignment for ten days before they’re eligible to be recalled. (They can be brought up within ten days if recalled to replace an injured player). However, the timing of the demotion could suggest they’re prepared to leave Robles in the minors for additional experience. Active rosters expand from 26 to 28 players starting tomorrow, so the Nats weren’t under immediate pressure to make a move from a roster limit perspective. Instead, it seems the team has decided an optional assignment to be the more prudent course of action for Robles’ long-term development.
Even if Robles doesn’t return to the majors this season, the demotion shouldn’t have an effect on his service time outlook. He entered the season with 2.052 years of big league time and has already accrued around 152 days of service this season. That’s more than enough to push him beyond the three-year threshold as had been anticipated. He’ll qualify for arbitration for the first time this offseason and is still ticketed to reach free agency over the 2024-25 offseason — assuming he begins next year on Washington’s active roster.
Washington claimed Armenteros off waivers from the Diamondbacks last December, but he never appeared in a big league game with the Nats. He began the season with Triple-A Rochester, and was outrighted off the 40-man roster after being designated for assignment in June. Armenteros landed on the minor league injured list not long after, and he made one rehab appearance with the Nats’ complex league affiliate last weekend before being released.
While Armenteros’ tenure with the Nationals didn’t go as hoped, he’s not far removed from a generally well-regarded arm. Baseball America slotted Armenteros among the top thirty prospects in the Astros’ system in each season from 2017-20, thanks to his plus changeup and strike-throwing acumen. Armenteros has a 1.94 ERA over 83 2/3 innings at the Double-A level and has a decent 4.04 mark in 300 2/3 career innings at Triple-A. His big league experience consists of 18 innings with Houston in 2019, as he pitched to an even 4.00 ERA with solid strikeout (24%) and walk (6.7%) rates.
Aug. 30: The Nationals have formally recalled Ruiz from Triple-A Rochester and optioned Barrera in a corresponding move.
Aug. 29: The Nationals are calling up catching prospect Keibert Ruiz to make his team debut tomorrow, per a team announcement. The 23-year-old is widely-considered one of the team’s best prospects, if not the best. MLB Pipeline and Baseball America have him as the club’s number one, while FanGraphs has him second, behind only Josiah Gray, both of whom just joined the organization as part of the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers.
Ruiz has long been viewed as an impact prospect, having been on Baseball America’s Top 100 list for each of the past four years. However, as he reached the upper levels of the minor leagues, it was difficult for him to get playing time in Los Angeles because the Dodgers already had an excellent catcher in Will Smith. Ruiz played just eight games for the Dodgers between last season and this one, logging only 15 plate appearances. As such, it made sense for the club to use him as a trade chip and bolster other areas of the team. With the Nationals having traded away Yan Gomes, they should be able to give Ruiz the run of playing time he never got in Los Angeles.
In Triple-A this year, Ruiz has put up tremendous numbers to back up that prospect status. In 72 games between the two organizations, he has a line .310/.377/.616, producing a wRC+ of 141. If he can produce anything close to that at the big league level, that would make him one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
Since trading Gomes, the Nats have been splitting the catching duties between Riley Adams and Tres Barrera, both of whom have been playing well. In 18 games since coming to Washington from Toronto in the Brad Hand trade, Adams has put up a line of .349/.451/.581, wRC+ of 177. For Barrera, he has a line of .270/.369/.393, wRC+ of 106 in 29 games this year. Both players have options and could potentially be sent down as the corresponding move for Ruiz, but rosters are expanding from 26 to 28 on September 1st, which could allow the club to carry all three. Since the Nats are out of contention, they can use the final month of the season to evaluate their catching options and determine how to proceed for the future.
AUGUST 26: Rodriguez was passed through outright waivers and assigned to Rochester. He doesn’t have the requisite service time to reject an outright assignment, so he’ll remain in the organization as high minors depth. Rodriguez would become a minor league free agent this winter if he’s not re-selected to the big league roster before the end of the season.
AUGUST 24: The Nationals announced Tuesday that they’ve recalled lefty Sam Clay and right-hander Patrick Murphy from Triple-A Rochester. Righty Gabe Klobosits was optioned to Rochester in one corresponding move, while fellow right-hander Jefry Rodriguez was designated for assignment in another. The Nats also announced that right-hander Javy Guerra declined an outright assignment and elected free agency following his recent DFA.
Rodriguez, 28, has appeared in 14 games for the Nats this season and pitched to a 5.92 ERA with a below-average 17.9 percent strikeout rate and a 15.6 percent walk rate that is well north of the league average. The righty has pitched in parts of three big league seasons and had a bit of success with the Indians in 2019 (4.63 ERA in 46 2/3 innings), but he’s yet to find much in the way of consistency. Overall, he owns a lifetime 5.34 ERA, 16.8 percent strikeout rate and 13.4 percent walk rate in 123 Major League innings.
That said, Rodriguez did post strong numbers up through the Double-A level in the minors and has a passable 4.69 ERA in 71 innings spent pitching in a hitter-friendly Triple-A setting. He’s decent depth arm for a club in need of some innings, but because he’s out of minor league options he cannot be sent down to the minors without first clearing waivers.
Guerra, 35, posted a 4.52 ERA in 83 2/3 innings between the Blue Jays and Nationals from 2019-20 but was hammered for 13 runs (11 earned) on 12 hits and three walks with four strikeouts in six innings this season. He has a career 3.98 ERA in 302 2/3 big league innings and could potentially catch on as a depth option with a contending club looking for some experience to stash in the upper minors for the remainder of the year.
The Nationals announced Monday that they’ve claimed first baseman Mike Ford off waivers from the Rays and opened a spot on the 40-man roster by transferring right-hander Joe Ross from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL. Tampa Bay had designated Ford for assignment over the weekend.
Ford, 29, had a big showing with the Yankees as a rookie in 2019 when he batted .259/.350/.559 with a dozen home runs in 163 plate appearances. He’s had a near-identical sample of 156 plate appearances since that time, however, and managed just a .134/.250/.276 batting line in the big leagues. The Yankees moved on from Ford back in June when they designated him for assignment, and while the Rays acquired him shortly thereafter, he never got called to the big leagues with Tampa Bay.
Instead, Ford has spent his time with the Rays rediscovering his swing in Triple-A Durham. He’d gone just 2-for-24 with eight strikeouts in 29 plate appearances with the Yankees’ top minor league affiliate this year, but Ford righted the ship (to an extent) with a .243/.346/.529 batting line in 162 Triple-A plate appearances in the Rays organization.
Ford will now join a Nationals club that went through a broad-reaching sell off prior to the trade deadline — a housecleaning effort that could lead to him getting some opportunities down the stretch. He’s been optioned to Triple-A Rochester for the time being, but Ford has another five years of club control remaining so they could take a look at him as a longer-term option at first base (or, if it comes to the National League, designated hitter). Josh Bell has been Washington’s primary first baseman this season but recently made an outfield appearance, which could allow the Nats a path to getting a look at both players at the plate.
As for Ross, the move to the 60-day IL comes as little surprise. The Nats recently announced that the righty was found to have an ulnar collateral ligament injury earlier this month, but he won’t require surgical repair. Still, given the nature of his injury and the remaining time on the calendar, it never looked likely that he’d make it back to the mound in 2021.
The Nationals are activating right-hander Austin Voth from the COVID-19 injured list, manager Dave Martinez told reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). Reliever Javy Guerra has been designated for assignment to open space on the active roster.
Washington has a vacancy on the 40-man roster, but Guerra couldn’t be optioned to the minors. Bumping him from the big league club required exposing him to waivers, and the veteran right-hander hasn’t shown well over six appearances this year. Guerra has been tagged for thirteen runs on twelve hits (including three homers) with three walks and four strikeouts over six innings. He now seems likely to wind up on the free agent market in the coming days. Guerra has enough major league service time to reject an outright assignment if he passes through waivers unclaimed.
Guerra has appeared in the big leagues in each of the past eleven seasons, logging time with the Nats in the last two-plus years. The 35-year-old has bounced around the league after breaking in as the Dodgers’ closer a decade ago and should find interest elsewhere via minor league deals.
Voth has been out of action for a little more than three weeks. He landed on the COVID-19 IL alongside Trea Turner, Daniel Hudson and Alex Avila in late July. Turner and Hudson have since been traded and activated to their new clubs’ rosters, while Avila remains on Washington’s injured list. Voth has worked almost exclusively in relief this season, posting a 4.81 ERA over 43 innings.
AUGUST 17: Ross will not need to undergo Tommy John surgery, Martinez told reporters (including Maria Torres of the Athletic). He won’t pitch again this season, but Martinez expressed hope he could be ready for Spring Training in 2022.
AUGUST 15: An MRI has revealed a partial UCL tear in Joe Ross’s right elbow, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. Nationals manager Dave Martinez says Tommy John surgery is possible but hasn’t been decided on definitively. The righty has already undergone the procedure once before, back in 2017. Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post notes that he is going to see the same doctor who performed that surgery to determine how to proceed.
Whether the surgery is the chosen path or not, this is an unfortunate diagnosis for Ross, one of the few notable Nationals players that wasn’t traded at the deadline. One way or another, he is now sure to miss some significant time. He has thrown 108 innings this year with an ERA of 4.17, with strikeout and walk rate both slightly better than league average, at 23.7% and 7.4%, respectively. His 1.4 fWAR is the most of any Nationals pitcher this year who is still on the team. He’s currently on track to be a free agent after the 2022 season. But it’s now possible the team will not tender him a contract, given that there’s a chance he could miss the entire year.
For the team, this further diminishes a rotation that has lost Max Scherzer and Jon Lester to trades, as well as Stephen Strasburg to thoracic outlet surgery. Martinez says that Sean Nolin could potentially get another start in Ross’s absence, per Dougherty.
With Ross going on the IL, Lane Thomas is taking his place on the roster, also per Dougherty. Acquired from the Cardinals in the Jon Lester trade, Thomas is a 25-year-old outfielder. He got into 32 games for St. Louis this year, with a paltry slash line of .104/.259/.125. But his Triple-A numbers are much better on the season, slashing .278/.343/.476.