Prepare for a Rolling Roster Shuffle

Bottom Line

-With a bunch of DL players heading for rehab assignments, the Nats have some tough position choices to make and a lot of players on the roster now won’t be in a month

-Some players will move to odd roles/positions due to considerations

-Juan Soto seems unlikely to stick with the tam when Adam Eaton returns, pending more injuries or a reassessment of Michael Taylors value

Pre-Reading

This article talks a lot about “options “ and “designated for assignment” . If you aren’t familiar then:

Options: If a player still has options, they can be sent to the minors at will. Players with 5 years service time can decline assignment even if they have options, though doing so usually means they will be released.

Designated for Assignment( DFA): If a player is out of options, they can be sent to the minors, but only after clearing waivers first, meaning any team can claim them. Those with more than 5 years in the league can opt for free agency instead of going to the minors.

These matter because the risk of losing a player when designating them means teams will sometimes keep players longer than their talent indicates due to not wanting to waste an investment.

Some # Content

Believe it or not, the Nats are about to see some crowdeding in the outfield soon. Howie Kendrick’s brutal injury aside, the Nats existing injuries have been (knock on wood) trending in the slightly less terrible direction recently, at least as much as a team that has two levels worth of outfield depth on the DL can be. Matt Grace, Brian Goodwin and Daniel Murphy are starting rehab assignments and Adam Eaton doesn’t seem far behind. Even Ryan Zimmerman is making progress. Rather than write another injury report update, the more interesting question to me is how the roster shuffle will play out over the next several weeks and who is or isn’t going to be back to the minors, cut or shifted . Currently the Nats are carrying 8 relievers and 4 bench players, which makes sense given their general lack of usable position players these days but it seems certain they will go back to a 5 man bench in order to better mix depth and their hot hitting but positionally limited bats.

Full disclosure, I’m working under the following assumptions:

– That Goodwin and Murphy (currently on rehab assignments ) will be back before Eaton (ineligible for rehab assignment until June 8).

-Matt Grace and Ryan Madson will be back within the next 2 weeks based on Grace’s rehab assignment and Madsons generally favorable reports

-That the Nats wills shift back to a 5 man bench with 7 relievers (currently they are running 4 bench players and 8 relievers) in order to accommodate the shockingly large number of high performing power hitters that have stood up recently

-They will eventually run a pen with 4 lefty’s (Doolittle, Solis, Collins, Grace) and 3 righty’s (Madson, Kintzler, Shawn Kelley until they give up on him) since Matt Grace and Sammy Solis don’t really have meaningful Lefty/Righty splits

-Koda Glover and Joaquin Benoit won’t be ready anytime soon, if at all.

 

The Obvious Demotions

Andrew Stevenson

Options Left: Yes

Stevenson has a lot of potential as a 4th outfielder but aside from 5 hits in a 13-2 game he still looks lost at the plate, which is completely unsurprising given that he hasn’t played much AAA ball and had his development stunted last season.

Likely Outcome: Demoted to AAA whenever Brian Goodwin is ready.

Adrian Sanchez

Options: Yes

Sanchez was a pleasant surprise last year, providing competent utility help in the infield while batting acceptably. That said, the fact that last year was his first call up after ten years in the minor leagues pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how he’s viewed with the Nats.

Likely Outcome: Demoted whenever Daniel Murphy is ready to come back.

Trevor Gott

Options: Yes

Gott is a strange case. On one hand, his fastball and pitch arsenal profile him as someone who should do well at the major league level. On the other, his best pitches just don’t seem to play well at the major league level. While reliever ERA is obviously a bunk stat since 1 inning can crew it up, the more damning sign than Gott’s 5.4 ERA is his usage in recent weeks. Generally, the Nats have only been using him when in low leverage situations or use patterns of other relievers made him the only available right handed option. This screams demotion as guys get ready:

Likely Outcome: Goes down When Ryan Madson or Matt Grace is ready to return

 

The “Fire When Ready” Guys

Shawn Kelley

Options: No (Can refuse minor league assignment, unlikely to be claimed on waivers)

Kelley has perhaps become exhibit A for why teams should never give relievers more than 2 year deals. Kelley is effectively on the roster only because he is in the final year of a 15 million dollar contract. While he was amazing in 2016 ,he has been a home run surrendering machine for over a year now, which seems unlikely to improve. Eventually the Nats won’t be able to stomach it anymore. Kelley has settled in a little recently, but only as someone who can split innings as a righty specialist in low leverage/no other option situations.

Likely Outcome : It will take awhile, but Kelley will likely be designated for assignment closer to the trade deadline, when I expect the Nats to add 1 or 2 middle relief types to lessen the burden on the big 3 + Solis.

Justin Miller

Options: No (Unclear if could pass waivers)

Miller has a lot of potential as a bounce back candidate given his incredible velocity increase and past flashes of brilliance in Colorado, but he hasn’t exactly gotten much action yet outside of striking a dude out on 3 pitches and a 1-2-3 inning today, but that was, the Marlins. All scouting based accounts are favorable, but he has demonstrated limited proof of being good over his career. and may well be the odd man out as Tim Collins continues to show his old form and give the Nats a solid lefty specialist option.

Likely Outcome: When Ryan Madson returns or the Nats choose to go back to a 5 man bench (which likely happens when Adam Eaton returns in June) he will be DFA. There is a chance his 4 batters faced are a sign he really is that good, but it’s too early too know.

 

The Really Hard Choices

 

Juan Soto

Options : Yes

Soto has shown that he is without a doubt major league ready. While the Padres and Marlins are not exactly top tier competition, his well documented command of the strike zone and plate discipline has been everything you could hope for and more. Also, he possesses a million dollar smile and media savvy personality which most 19 year olds don’t have. The problem becomes what happens when we have a glut of left handed hitters returning?

Likely Outcome: probably remains as the left fielder when Brian Goodwin comes back, No disrespect to Goodwin but his ceiling is 4th OF, and Soto is showing the potential to be a truly special player. The challenge comes when Adam Eaton returns and they have to choose between playing the amazing prospect and the impact player they acquired.

Whenever Adam Eaton returns later in June I have to think that Soto will get his first taste of AAA until the Nats have another OF spot open up. Soto is everything you could hope for from a 19 year old but he probably needs more time to develop into a guy you trust to hit well against top tier competition.That kind of development isn’t going to happen if he isn’t playing every day. There is an outside possibility that the Nats decide that Michael Taylor’s .190 BA isn’t going to improve and shift Eaton back to CF and Michael Taylor to the bench, but I find that unlikely because of Taylor’s gold glove caliber defense and the fact that Eaton’s move to LF was just as much to lower the risk of reinjury to his surgically repaired ACL/ankle on a defensively tough play as it was to take advantage of Taylor’s phenomenal defense.

Wander Suero

Options: Yes

Suero has certainly had the results for that Nats with a solid ERA as well as the ability to go multiple innings and pitch his way out of jams. The problem in my mind is that the advanced metrics seem to indicate he is extremely lucky, which given that he’s been on the good side of plays like this may be fair. Specifically, Fielding Independent PItching (FIP) , which measures run prevention indepent of the defense behind the pitcher is a rather poor 5. This indicates that he’s been the beneficiary of some very strong defense and is due for regression. Given that the Nats are likely going to need to reduce the bullpen size at some point , Suero seems like a strong candidate.

Likely Outcome: Demoted when the Nats go back to a 5 man bench or his outcomes catch up with his peripherals, whichever happens first.

Mark Reynolds

Options : No (Can refuse assignment and extremely unlikely to clear waivers)

Admittedly, it is a small sample size largely against frittata opponents but Reynolds’ 5 homers since being called 2 weeks ago has given this team a right handed power monster the Nats haven’t seen since Chris Heisey’s 2016 campaign. The problem for Reynolds is that when Ryan Zimmerman gets healthy that leaves the Nats with 3 first baseman , two of whom have been generating large amounts of offense. Clearly, the Nats aren’t going to get rid of Reynolds while he produces this much offense but he’s about to be without a position. While Adams has exclusively been a first baseman for two years, he has over 600 starts at 3B and- well if a statue like Matt Adams can handle LF- why not a veteran who has never seriously played the position?

Likely Outcome: ends up on the bench as a PH specialist and will also start getting some reps at 3B and LF.

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