Scouting Beer – Strong Arm IPA from Three Heads Brewing

Like an area scout discovering an unknown prospect, recently NatsGM superfan Matt N. spotted Three Heads Brewing’s Strong Arm IPA sitting on the shelves of a New England grocery store and thoughtfully snagged a 4-pack for me to sample.

Due to the obvious baseball theme, plus the fact that NatsGM proudly supports local breweries, I figured we should bring back this recurring column and scout this beer.  Using a modified 20-80 scouting scale, Mrs. NatsGM and I held a beer tasting to properly evaluate this ale.  Below are our grades and a few notes on this delicious IPA.

Marketing & Presentation:         NatsGM  – 65      /             Mrs. NatsGM – 70

The beers come as a 4-pack of 16 ounce cans bound with a plastic binding.  The cans have a witty cartoon drawing of a left-handed pitcher delivering a hop, rather than a ball, toward home plate.  The pitcher is sporting a humorous, Rollie Fingers type mustache, which particularly stands out, along with vibrant colors on the jersey.  The dark background colors and lack of a box keeps it from a double-plus grade for me, but we are both huge fans of the cans’ artwork.

Appearance & Aroma:                  NatsGM  – 65      /             Mrs. NatsGM – 70

This IPA looks and smells wonderful when poured into a proper beer glass.  It has a beautiful dark, golden straw color and a cloudy, hazy appearance that makes it opaque.  It possesses a pleasant, light citrus and hoppy aroma, with hints of lemon.  It has a small-to-medium head of white foam, where much of the aroma originates.

Flavor & Taste:                                NatsGM  – 65      /             Mrs. NatsGM – 80

We both greatly enjoyed this IPA, as it has a quality flavor with plenty of hoppiness and a slight lemon citrus flavor.  This is not an overpowering IPA, as it is easy to drink and has a surprisingly mild finish on the palate.  We both described the flavor as crisp without being dry, slightly mild for an IPA and very smooth.  It is on the milder side for a traditional IPA, with only 6% ABV and 60 IBUs.

Overall:                               NatsGM – 65       /             Mrs. NatsGM – 75

Both Mrs. NatsGM and I agree this is a high quality and well-made craft beer offering from Three Heads Brewing based in Rochester, New York.  I would recommend this beer to most any fan of IPAs, but particularly those that prefer a mild, tropical flavor to a stronger hoppy taste.

It comes in four 16 ounce cans and costs approximately $11 per 4-pack, so it is not an inexpensive purchase.  However, considering the unique artwork and superior taste, Strong Arm IPA is a worthwhile purchase and a perfect gift idea for the (over 21-year-old) baseball fan in your life this upcoming holiday season.

For more information, visit ThreeHeadsBrewing.com and @3HeadsBrewing on Twitter!

THE NatsGM Show #139 – Guest Trevor Kieboom

THE NatsGM Show Episode #139 is now available for download and we proudly welcome MLB Certified Agent for Vanguard Sports Group, Trevor Kieboom!

Our conversation with Trevor begins with sharing the backstory of his playing career, how he became an agent and introduces his company Vanguard.  Next Trevor describes representing his brothers Spencer and Carter, plus how it affects their familial relationship.  Finally he shares his thoughts on the new Mets’ General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen and his unique shift from representing labor to working for ownership.

Thanks to Trevor for graciously sharing his time for this interview, and to you for downloading!

 

THE NatsGM Washington Nationals 2018-2019 Offseason Manifesto, Part-2 The Bats!

The 2018 season cannot be considered anything but a disappointment overall for the Nationals.  The team entered the season the clear favorite to win the National League East and one of the favorites to play in the World Series.  Unfortunately a near Perfect Storm of yuck occurred midseason and the Nationals stumbled to an 82-80 record.  Now the front office must turn their attention toward 2019 and figuring out the correct combination of players to get them back to the postseason.

Offensively Washington enters this winter with the major question if Bryce Harper will be their starting right fielder next year, plus the desperate need for a starting catcher and bench depth.  Last season Washington’s offense generated a solid season, producing a team .254/.335/.419 batting line, which compares slightly negatively to their 2017 results of .266/.332/.449.  Washington finished 2018 with 771 runs scored (3rd in NL), 191 home runs (5th in NL), 631 walks (2nd in NL), and 1,289 strikeouts (2nd in NL).  For comparison sake, the Nationals finished the previous season with 819 runs scored, 215 home runs, 542 walks and 1,327 strikeouts.

In Part-2 of THE NatsGM 2018-2019 Washington Nationals Offseason Manifesto, I first prioritized re-signing Bryce Harper to a long-term contract that could allow him to exceed both the top annual salary in baseball and the largest contract ever signed.  By doing so, I would backload the contract heavily to allow for inflation and give him incentives to continue to chase future free agent contracts.

Secondly, I co-prioritized finding a potential long-term solution at catcher for the Nationals.  The team does not presently have a starting-caliber catcher in the organization, and the lack of a serviceable backstop has severely hurt the team the past two seasons.  I then focused on signing a power-hitting left-handed bat, capable of starting at first base or backing up Ryan Zimmerman and provide some thump off the bench.  Finally and most importantly, I was resolute to stay within my stated payroll of $185 million and under $92.5 million for the offense.  With these goals in mind, here is my master plan for retooling Washington’s offense and capturing the 2019 World Series.

Transactions

1) Signed OF Bryce Harper, 12-years $415 million with opt-outs after 2021, 2024 & 2027

2)  Traded OF Adam Eaton & a Prospect (or Cash) to Cleveland for C Yan Gomes

3)  Signed 1B Lucas Duda, 1-year $3.5 million plus incentives

Lineup

Catcher:               Yan Gomes                                        $ 7,000,000

1B:                        Ryan Zimmerman                             $ 18,000,000

2B:                        Howie Kendrick                                $ 4,000,000

SS:                         Trea Turner                                      $ 5,250,000

3B:                        Anthony Rendon                               $ 17,500,000

LF:                         Juan Soto                                          $ 575,000

CF:                        Victor Robles                                     $ 575,000

RF:                        Bryce Harper                                    $ 31,500,000

Salary Total                                                                    $ 84,400,000

Proposing a hypothetical trade for Cleveland’s Yan Gomes is the worst form of playing “Blogger GM”, but recently reports have the small-market Indians perhaps open to moving several veterans, including Gomes.  Cleveland presently lacks any corner outfielders on their roster, making Adam Eaton’s reasonable contract and position flexibility particularly appealing to the Indians.  I feel like the Nationals likely need to sweeten the offer to include either cash or a prospect, but this looks like a pure baseball swap that could improve both teams.

The 31-year-old Gomes had a quality season for Cleveland in 2018, batting .266/.313/.449 with 16 home runs in 112 games played.  Gomes, a right-handed hitter, is a career .248/.295/.424 batting line and has the reputation as a solid defensive catcher and pitcher framer.  He will earn $7 million in 2019, with team options for 2020 and 2021.

Following a monster 2017 in which he was selected for the All-Star game and received MVP votes, Ryan Zimmerman could not follow up on that tremendous season, playing only 85 total games due to injury.  However, true to form, when Zimmerman was healthy and in the lineup, the 34-year-old was productive, batting .264/.337/.486 with 13 home runs and 51 runs driven in.  Zimmerman is under contract for one final season in 2019, and the Nationals desperately need him to play 120+ games if they hope to return to the postseason.

Howie Kendrick was off to a strong start offensively in 2018, batting .303/.331/.474 with 4 home runs, before a May Achilles injury abruptly ended his season.  The 35-year-old Kendrick is the definition of a “professional hitter”, batting .291/.334/.422 over his 13-year major league career.  His leg injury could hinder his defense, but Dave Martinez needs to get Kendrick’s bat in the lineup as often as his body allows.  Kendrick and Wilmer Difo should form a capable platoon at the keystone until the projected midseason arrival of uber-prospect Carter Kieboom, who should man the position post All-Star break.

Finally able to avoid the disabled list, Trea Turner played 162 games in 2018 and batted .271/.344/.416 with 19 home runs and 43 stolen bases.  In addition, Nationals’ fans have watched Turner develop into a solid defensive shortstop, with excellent range and a knack for making the “jump-throw” to first base.  Turner will reach arbitration for the first time this winter, and should be Washington’s starting shortstop the next few years.

My pick for the most underrated player in the National League, Anthony Rendon notched another tremendous season in 2018, hitting .308/.374/.535 with 24 home runs.  In addition, Rendon was a finalist for the Gold Glove award in the National League.  He is in his final season of team control in 2019, but expect Washington to attempt to work out a long-term extension for him this winter.

Juan Soto began 2018 as the starting right fielder for Low-A Hagerstown and finished the season with perhaps the greatest offensive season for a teenager in baseball history.  The left-handed hitting Soto batted .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs in 116 games, while playing a quality left field.  It will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to him in 2019 and if he can avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”.  Nevertheless Soto should bat in the middle of Washington’s order the next several years.

Victor Robles struggled through a mostly forgettable 2018, injuring his elbow in the first week of the season and spending most of the year rehabilitating.  He was able to return in September and play 21 games down the stretch for Washington, batting .288/.348/.525 with 3 home runs and dynamic defense in center field.  It is easy to forget amidst Soto’s stellar year and the lost season, but the 21-year-old Robles is still one of the top prospects in baseball and a true 5-tool talent.  Assuming he is fully healthy, he should be Washington’s Opening Day center fielder in 2019.

As difficult as it is to sign a player to such an large sum, the scout in me is loathe to let a potential Hall of Fame player about to enter his prime like Bryce Harper leave as a free agent.  While many will complain about what he has not accomplished, Harper has hit .279/.388/.512 with 184 home runs before his 26th birthday.  Even in a supposed down season in 2018, Harper still hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs and slugged .300/.434/.538 in the second half.  He will have plenty of suitors, but I truly believe he is most valuable to Washington and will eventually sign a contract with Washington to potentially keep him in D.C. the rest of his playing career.

Bench

Catcher:               Spencer Kieboom / Pedro Severino                           $ 575,000

INF:                       Wilmer Difo                                                                $ 575,000

OF:                        Michael A. Taylor                                                       $ 3,100,000

Bat:                       Lucas Duda                                                                $ 3,500,000

Bench Salary Total:                                                                                $ 7,750,000

Lineup Total:                                                                                             $ 84,400,000

Offense Total:                                                                                           $ 92,150,000

Pitching Staff Total:                                                                                   $ 92,150,000

2019 Total 25-Man Payroll:                                                                       $ 184,300,000

Due to injuries, both Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino received extensive playing time for Washington last season.  And while neither impressed with the bat, both showed the ability to lead a pitching staff defensively.  The 25-year-old Severino played 70 games for Washington, batting .168/.254/.247 with 2 home runs.  The 27-year-old Kieboom was only slightly more impressive offensively, hitting .232/.322/.320 with 2 homers in 52 games played.  Expect the Nationals to have both catchers compete for the backup position in Spring Training, but if a veteran catcher slips through the free agent cracks this winter, do not be surprised if Washington looks to upgrade this position.

Wilmer Difo had a disappointing 2018, as he had two separate opportunities to work as the starting second baseman for lengthy stretches, and neither time did he capitalize on the opportunity.  The 26-year-old switch-hitter hit only .230/.298/.350 with 7 home runs in 408 at-bats.  In fairness, he is an outstanding defender at second base and a capable defender at four different positions.  Difo has likely missed his window to become a starter, but has value as a versatile defender who can slug the occasional home run.

While there is a strong likelihood Washington will attempt to trade him this winter, considering his salary, defensive ability and lackluster trade value, I would use Michael A. Taylor as a 4th outfielder next season.  Taylor was yet another National that struggled through a subpar 2018, as he hit only .227/.287/.357 with 6 home runs and 24 stolen bases.  In spite of his contact issues and mediocre offensive numbers, he was still a productive player due to his impressive outfield defense and speed on the bases.  He could benefit from a change of scenery and a full-time starting role, but his best value to Washington is as their backup outfielder in 2019.

Finally, for the last spot on the bench I prioritized a left-handed hitter with power and someone capable of starting at first base on a daily basis.  Conveniently, there is a healthy supply of these players on the free agent market this season, with options such as Matt Adams, Brad Miller, Geraldo Parra, Logan Morrison, Geraldo Parra and Neil Walker.  Considering the team needs and the salary available for this spot, I believe the best fit is 1B Lucas Duda.

The 32-year-old Duda produced another solid season in 2018 for both Kansas City and Atlanta, batting .241/.313/.418 with 14 home runs in 328 at-bats.  For his 9-year major league career, the left-handed hitting Duda has a .242/.337/.452 batting line with 152 home runs.  Of particular interest is Duda’s success against right-handed pitching, as he has a career .251/.354/.485 batting line against righties.  He provides Washington a legitimate left-handed power hitter off the bench and a starting-caliber first baseman in case of a Zimmerman injury.

In this quest to retool the Nationals’ offense, the biggest challenge was staying within the $92.5 million allowance for position players and overall $185 million budget.  Next was finding a creative way to re-sign Bryce Harper in order to both satisfy his contract demands and still put 24 other solid players around him.  Almost as important as signing Bryce is securing a starting catcher for 2019, as Washington has desperately needed an everyday backstop ever since Wilson Ramos injured his knee.  Also, I needed to find a quality option to backup Zimmerman at first base.  Finally, I wanted to solve all of these issues without parting with any further prospects, as the farm system is not especially robust at present.

I should acknowledge the weaknesses of this hypothetical offense – First I feel apprehensive starting the combination of Kendrick and Difo at second base to begin the year.  Kendrick is coming off major surgery and will be a defensive liability, while Difo is a defensive wizard but subpar at the plate.  Ideally they would merge to form one terrific player, but Davey Martinez will need to be creative using these two until Kieboom is major league ready.

Second I wish I felt more strongly about the catching combination of Gomes and either Kieboom or Severino.  I have long been a fan of Gomes, but he does have injury concerns and is a bit of a streaky hitter.  In addition, Kieboom and Severino both had their opportunities last season, and both were underwhelming with the bat.  I wish the budget would allow the team to acquire a more complete backup catcher to compliment Gomes, but Kieboom and Severino, plus prospect Raudy Read, will have to handle the job in 2019.

Finally, much like the entire roster, I do worry many of the key Nationals hitters have injury issues and a track record of spending time on the disabled list.  The bench is pretty solid as a group, but there are depth concerns beyond them at the minor league level.  Every team needs some good fortune in terms of injuries, but Washington probably needs a bit more luck keeping their hitters from the disabled list than most teams.

Those concerns aside, I believe this offense projects as one of the strongest in the National League.  The team will have a heart of the order consisting of Harper, Rendon and Soto, table-setters in Turner and Robles, and veteran complimentary hitters in Zimmerman, Kendrick and Gomes.  The lineup is a bit right-handed, with six righties against only two lefties, but it is a deep order with eight productive hitters and a nice blend of speed and power.  Assuming reasonable health, Washington should have as much firepower as anyone in the National League.

Overall I am pleased with the overall lineup I was able to construct given the hypothetical and real world constraints the Nationals face this offseason.  There is more injury risk with this group than I would prefer and I wish the team defense projected to be elite, rather than average to above-average.  That said there are ten hitters capable of hitting 12+ home runs with enough playing time, plus a versatile bench filled with capable defenders and home run power.  IF they can remain relatively healthy, the Nationals should have a top-5 offense in the National League next season and stand an excellent chance of reaching the postseason for the fifth time in eight years.

*Thank you for reading!  This is my favorite column to write each year.  If you have comments or thoughts, please share them in the comment’s section.

Washington Nationals 2018-2019 Offseason Manifesto, Part-1 Pitching

The 2018 Washington Nationals languished to a disappointing season, winning only 82 games and finishing a distant 2nd in the National League East.  The combination of several key injuries midseason, coupled with mediocre performance from much of the roster, sent the Nationals to a near worst-case scenario of a season.

Last season Washington’s pitching staff was rather mediocre, finishing 9th in the National League in team ERA (4.04), 7th in strikeouts (1,417), 3rd in walks allowed (487) and 6th in batting average against (.242).  These numbers do not compare well with the 2017 staff that finished with a 3.88 ERA, 1,457 strikeouts, 495 walks allowed and a .239 batting average against.

This offseason began swiftly, as General Manager Mike Rizzo traded for Miami reliever Kyle Barraclough and signed former St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal to help overhaul their bullpen.  In addition, it was announced manager Dave Martinez and his entire coaching staff will return for 2019.

Washington’s front office now faces a difficult offseason, as the organization faces the difficult challenge of signing Bryce Harper and figuring out how much they can pay him going forward while building a championship club.  In addition, the team desperately needs a #3 starter to replace Gio Gonzalez and a starting catcher, plus additional bullpen and bench depth.  Finally, there are also significant questions surrounding the 2019 payroll, as the team’s payroll last season exceeded the luxury tax and there are incentives for teams to stay below this figure.  Not to mention the continued ambiguity over the team’s television revenue from the dispute involving MASN.

In Part-1 of the 2018-2019 NatsGM Washington Nationals Offseason Manifesto, I have attempted to bolster Washington’s pitching staff while being extremely budget conscious.  The team desperately needs a dependable starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but will struggle to sign an expensive free agent considering the salaries already committed to the two long-term.  In the bullpen Washington has already made two moves I particularly like, trading for Barraclough and signing Rosenthal, yet they still desperately need a lefty specialist.  Finally, I have tried valiantly not to part with any top prospects, as years of trades and small draft bonus pools have depleted a once rich farm system.

In conclusion, in order to make this as realistic as possible, I am assuming Washington is working with an opening day payroll of $185 million in 2019, up slightly from $180 million last year.  Therefore, I prioritized keeping the total salary for the pitching staff below $92.5 million, no small feat considering Scherzer and Strasburg combine for $55 million themselves.  With all of these factors in mind (and dozens I have failed to mention), here is my 2019 master plan for the Nationals’ pitching staff.

Transactions

#1           Trade INF Luis Garcia, RHP Jackson Tetreault & RHP Malvin Pena to Toronto for RHP Marcus Stroman

#2           Sign Free Agent LHP Jonny Venters, 1-year $2,750,000 plus a vesting option for 2020

#3           Designate Sammy Solis for Assignment

Starting Rotation

#1                                         Max Scherzer                     $30,000,000

#2                                         Stephen Strasburg             $25,000,000

#3                                         Marcus Stroman                  $7,200,000

#4                                         Tanner Roark                       $9,500,000

#5                                         Joe Ross                             $1,500,000

Salary Total:                                                                   $ 73,200,000

Max Scherzer is coming off perhaps his finest career season in 2018, which is quite an accomplishment for a 3-time CY Young award winner.  He threw 220.2 innings for the Nationals last season, with a 2.53 ERA and 300 strikeouts against only 51 walks.  Scherzer has been one of the greatest free agent signings in the history of D.C. sports, and will serve as Washington’s Ace again in 2019.

Injuries caused Stephen Strasburg to make only 22 starts and pitch 130 innings in 2018, providing Washington with a 3.74 ERA and 156 strikeouts against 38 walks.  He returned late in the season, but was clearly not the same pitcher in September, as his velocity was down several miles per hour.  Strasburg will use this offseason to get fully healthy, and he should be poised for a big season in 2019 if he can avoid the disabled list.

As much as I was loathe to trade prospect depth, Washington needs a dynamic starting pitcher to compliment Scherzer and Strasburg, and Marcus Stroman is the best fit considering his salary, being under team control for two more seasons and his overall risk verses reward.  The Blue Jays will want a strong package, likely headlined by infielder Luis Garcia, but Washington and Toronto should match up well in trade discussions.

The 27-year-old Stroman battled through injuries throughout a disappointing 2018, posting a 5.54 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 102.1 innings.  However, he is only one year removed from throwing consecutive 200+ innings seasons and establishing himself as one of the better young starters in the American League.  Washington drafted Stroman out of high school, and he feels like a perfect “change of scenery” candidate who could blossom outside of the American League East.  Washington would be wise to acquire him this winter as their next #3 starter.

Tanner Roark struggled through mechanical issues midseason, but rebounded to provide Washington with another solid year, posting a 4.34 ERA and 146 strikeouts over 180.1 innings pitched.  It was a tale of two halves for Roark, who had a 4.87 ERA in the first half and 3.43 ERA in the second.  A durable workhorse, this could be the final season in Washington for the 32-year-old, who is a free agent at the end of 2019.  That said he should slot in as Washington’s #4 starter next year and solidify the back-end of the rotation.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in mid-2017, Joe Ross returned to the mound for the Nationals late last season, making 3 starts and throwing 16 innings.  Ross, when healthy, has been a productive back-end starter for Washington, producing a 4.01 ERA over 271.1 career innings pitched.  He will be on an innings limit in 2019, likely around 125 total innings, so the team will need to be cautious with him, but he should be a nice boost to the back of Washington’s starting rotation.

Serving as starting rotation depth will be minor league prospects Erick Fedde, Kyle McGowin, Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth, plus a few minor league free agents Washington will sign this winter.

Bullpen

Closer:                                Sean Doolittle                                  $6,000,000

8th Inning:                          Trevor Rosenthal                              $6,000,000 + Incentives

7th Inning:                          Kyle Barraclough                               $1,900,000

RHB Specialist:                  Justin Miller                                      $575,000

LHB Specialist:                  Jonny Venters                                   $2,750,000

Middle Relief:                   Wander Suero                                     $575,000

Long Relief LH:                 Matt Grace                                          $575,000

Long Relief RH:                 Erick Fedde                                         $575,000

Salary Total                                                                                     $ 18,950,000

Pitching Staff Total                                                                          $ 92,150,000

The 32-year-old Sean Doolittle completed his finest professional season in 2018, posting a 1.60 ERA and 60 strikeouts, plus 25 saves, in 45 innings pitched, along with earning a second All-Star game selection.  Perhaps most impressively, he allowed only 21 hits and 6 walks all season.  The only true knock on Doolittle is his propensity to spend time on the disabled list, but he is one of the best relievers in the National League and should lock down the 9th inning for Washington again in 2019.

Last week Washington kicked off the Hot Stove season by signing Trevor Rosenthal to solidify the bullpen ahead of Doolittle.  Rosenthal missed the entire 2018 season following Tommy John surgery in September 2017.  Prior to injury, he was one of the best relievers in the National League, posting a 2.99 ERA, 121 saves and 435 strikeouts in his 325 career innings.  While his workload will need to be monitored, Rosenthal should be fully healthy by Opening Day as he will be nearly 18 months removed from surgery.  He projects as one of the better setup men in baseball.

Acquired several weeks ago from Miami, Kyle Barraclough struggled through an uneven 2018, posting a 4.20 ERA and 60 strikeouts against 34 walks in 55.2 innings.  Barraclough was a monster in the first half, allowing only a .124/.254/.217 batting line in 42.1 innings, verses a .361/.486/.667 in the second half.  He was placed on the disabled list in August due to a shoulder injury, perhaps explaining the subpar second half.  Over his career, Barraclough has a career 3.21 ERA and 279 strikeouts in 218.2 innings.  Assuming he is healthy, he should lock down the 7th inning in 2019.

After spending many years slowly climbing the minor league ranks, Wander Suero finally earned a promotion to the majors last season and provided the Nationals a 3.59 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 47.2 innings.  Suero’s best pitch is his cutter, which bores into lefties and helps him be equally successful against righties (.728 OPS) as lefties (.707 OPS).  In addition, on several occasions Suero pitched multiple innings in an appearance, giving him additional versatility.  He should begin the year working in middle relief, but do not be surprised if he throws high-leverage innings next season.

A minor league free agent signing last offseason, Justin Miller was a steadying influence in Washington’s bullpen last season, throwing 52.1 innings and posting a 3.61 ERA and 60 strikeouts against only 17 walks.  Interestingly, due to Miller’s closed delivery, the 31-year-old is significantly more effective against righties than lefties, allowing a .631 OPS to righties and a .823 OPS to lefties.  Manager Davey Martinez must shield him from left-handed hitters, but as a righty specialist in the middle innings, Miller can be a solid, low-cost piece.

My only move to improve the bullpen would be the signing of LHP Jonny Venters.  After missing six years with arm injuries, the 33-year-old returned in 2018 and pitched well for both Tampa and Atlanta, posting a 3.67 ERA over 34.1 innings pitched.  Impressively, Venters dominated left-handed hitters last season, holding them to a .133/.200/.200 batting line.  For his career, Venters has held lefties to a .516 OPS and has struck out 131 of the 316 hitters he has faced.  His extensive injury history is concerning, but Venters would be an ideal fit as a much-needed lefty specialist in Washington’s bullpen.

Quietly Matt Grace had a terrific season in 2018 and was probably Washington’s second best reliever, providing the Nationals with a 2.87 ERA, 1.140 WHIP and 48 strikeouts over 59.2 innings pitched.  Impressively, he was equally effective against both lefties and righties, allowing only a .650 OPS to RHBs and a .620 OPS to LHBs.  The 29-year-old has yet to reach arbitration so he will earn a minimum salary and see work next season both in middle relief and long relief.

The final spot in the bullpen should go to Erick Fedde, a pitcher I have long thought would be ideal in a 80-100 inning per year relief role.  His lack of a changeup hurts his ability to turn over a lineup multiple times, but utilized similarly to an “Opener” in Tampa Bay, Fedde could be a highly effective reliever.  However, I expect Washington to use this final spot rather interchangeable all season, with pitchers Austin Adams, Jimmy Cordero, Trevor Gott, Koda Glover, Kyle McGowin, Jefry Rodriguez, Austen Williams and Austin Voth throwing innings throughout 2019.

First, I want to acknowledge the assumptions I am making, as I hypothetically trade for Marcus Stroman and sign free agent Jonny Venters.  I believe both moves are plausible and I have gone to great lengths to confirm with others that I am not being a “fan boy”, but I am still playing fantasy GM at the highest level.

Next, I should point out the weaknesses of the fictitious pitching staff I have assembled – Each of the starters, aside from Scherzer, has battled injuries in the past two years and the organization does not have a great deal of starting pitching depth at the upper levels of the minors.  The bullpen looks solid on paper and with a renewed priority on velocity, but both Rosenthal and Barraclough have control issues and most of the pitchers have injury concerns.  There should be more reliever depth in 2019 than 2018, but the team will need big seasons from Doolittle, Rosenthal and Barraclough to reach the postseason.

That said the starting rotation still has two elite options in Scherzer and Strasburg, along with two solid mid-rotations arms in Roark and Stroman with rebound potential.  Furthermore, if Joe Ross can stay healthy, he has been a productive backend starter throughout his career.  There is plenty of injury risk, but on paper, this is one of the better rotations in baseball.

Additionally, the bullpen possesses three pitchers with closing experience, three pitchers capable of pitching multiple innings, and several with upper-90s velocity.  They are a relatively youthful bunch with plenty of injuries in their past, but there is a nice blend of pitchers with differing specialties and strengths.

In conclusion, I firmly believe this 2019 starting rotation to be superior to the 2018 version, as Stroman has more potential than Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross is an upgrade at the #5 spot.  The bullpen is more established and projects to have far more depth than in 2018.  Unfortunately I did part with three quality prospects, but I did acquire two low-cost seasons of Stroman, which helped keep the overall pitching staff payroll to $92,150,000.  Assuming a reasonable amount of health and overall luck, Washington should have one of the best pitching staffs in the National League in 2019.

Thanks for reading… Please return Wednesday for Part-2, as we retool the Nationals’ offense.