THE NatsGM Show Episode #24 – Guest Keith Law

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This week on Episode #24 of THE NatsGM Show, I am honored to be joined by ESPN Senior Baseball Writer Keith Law.

Keith recently published his 2015 Prospect Rankings and I was fortunate to receive the opportunity to interview him about the Washington Nationals. Keith shared his general opinion on the Nationals’ farm system, provides his scouting thoughts on Lucas Giolito, Joe Ross, Michael Taylor & Trea Turner and names his sleepers in the organization.  Special thanks to Keith for being such a terrific guest!

The Pirates Ship Travis Snider to Baltimore

Oriole Park at Camden YardsAfter a painfully quiet offseason for Orioles fans, Tuesday Baltimore acquired OF Travis Snider from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Stephen Tarpley and a Player To Be Named Later. Snider will attempt to fill one of the spots vacated when veteran OFs Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz signed free agent contracts earlier this offseason.

The 27-year-old left-handed hitter was a former 1st round pick, 14th overall, in the 2006 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. After a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays system, Snider found himself in the big leagues less than 2 years later at age 20. Snider struggled through his five seasons in Toronto, occasionally showing flashes of brilliance around mostly underwhelming offensive numbers before a trade in 2013 to Pittsburgh.

But last season Snider began to finally fulfill some of his former offensive promise, batting .264/.338/.438 with 13 home runs for the Pirates. Furthermore, Snider was particularly outstanding in the 2nd half, slugging .288/.356/.524 in 188 plate appearances. However, the projections do not expect this breakout to continue, as Baseball Prospectus forecasted Snider to hit .250/.314/.387 with 8 home runs in 328 plate appearances for Pittsburgh this season.

Defensively Snider has split time in both corner outfield spots, with the numbers showing a quality, above-average defender in left field and grading as below-average in right field. Scheduled to earn $2.1 million this season, Snider is under team control through the 2016 season.

In exchange for Snider, the Orioles were forced to part with left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley, Baltimore’s 3rd round pick in the 2013 draft. Selected out of an Arizona community college, the nearly 22-year-old Tarpley posted solid numbers in 2014 at Aberdeen of the New York Penn League, providing the IronBirds with a 3.68 ERA and 60 strikeouts over 66 innings pitched. A well-built 6-1 180lbs, Tarpley was ranked as Baltimore’s #9 prospect by Baseball Prospectus this offseason.

In search of a scouting report on Tarpley, I contacted Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team member Tucker Blair, who knows Orioles’ prospects as well as anyone I know. Thankfully he responded with these thoughts:

“Tarpley was one of my sleepers in the O’s system, and began to flash this raw talent last season with Aberdeen. I saw two starts from Tarpley, and came away fairly intrigued. The fastball held velocity into the 5th and 6th innings during both starts, and he touched a lot of 94s and 95s throughout the outing. The lefty’s arm is loose and the fastball has armside movement. The mechanics have long been a concern of scouts and evaluators I have talked with, but he has definitely cleaned them up since being drafted. I imagine the mechanical progression is also a reason why he was a 2nd year JUCO guy still pitching in short-season ball, but nonetheless he is a talented arm. I have concerns with the overall command of his arsenal, and the CB and CH still lag behind for me. However, this is a fresh arm and I wouldn’t be shocked if he shoots through the Pirates’ system now.”- Tucker Blair, Baseball Prospectus

Overall I tend to like this deal for both teams, as the Orioles have done well in recent years finding similarly underappreciated assets (i.e. Steve Pierce, Nate McLouth, and Delmon Young) and Snider fills a major need for Baltimore as a left-handed power bat with defensive versatility. As for the Pirates, they clear some payroll and receive a pitching prospect with potential in Tarpley, along with another player, in return for a player who would struggle to find playing time in Pittsburgh.

Both teams are trading somewhat extra pieces and gambling that what they receive will have more value to them than what they parted with – as a gambler myself, I would wager the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter use Snider in a proper platoon and he swats 15+ homers for Baltimore next season, which would make this one of the better values of the winter.

The Washington Nationals Sign Casey Janssen

IMG00009-20101222-1024(1)Wednesday the Washington Nationals attempted to fill their last remaining major roster flaw by signing veteran right-handed relief pitcher Casey Janssen to a 1-year $3.5 million dollar contract with a mutual option for 2016 at $7 million, with a $1.5 million buyout. With Rafael Soriano departing as a free agent and Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard both traded earlier this offseason, the Nationals have been shopping for a veteran reliever with closing experience to help bolster the back of their bullpen and provide depth for closer Drew Storen.

The 33-year-old Janssen struggled a bit in 2014, posting a 3-3 record with a 3.94 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 1.182 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts against only 7 walks in 45.2 innings pitched, while converting 25 of 30 save opportunities for Toronto. However, some of these struggles seem directly attributable to a severe case of food poisoning Janssen suffered midseason, which caused him to implode to a 6.26 ERA in the second half of the season.

Prior to last season’s poor second half, Janssen had established himself as one of the better relievers in the American League, as he has provided the Blue Jays with a sub-3 ERA and 50+ appearances per season for 5 consecutive years, while notching 84 saves for Toronto. For his 8-year major league career, all spent with Toronto, Janssen has a 3.52 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 1.219 WHIP, 6.7 K/9 rate against a lowly 2.2 BB/9 ratio.

Janssen relies primarily on three pitches, a 90-91mph fastball, an 89-91mph cutter and a mid-70s curveball. Occasionally he will also throw a slider, changeup, or sinker, but about 75% of his pitches are of the fastball or cutter variety. He maximizes his stuff by limiting the number of walks allowed and generating a healthy groundball rate, 47.1% for his career.

Certainly this signing comes with question marks, as the veteran had his worst statistical season in five years and watched his strikeout ratio plummet from 8.5 K/9 in 2013 to 5.5 in 2014.  Also, his velocity did drop midseason but recovered slightly later in the year.  But the biggest question to ask is – how well can Janssen replace Tyler Clippard in Washington? According to the newly printed Baseball Prospectus Annual, here are their projections for both players in 2015:

Clippard – 63 Innings, 2.37 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 10.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9
Janssen – 43.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 8.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9

While everyone should acknowledge Clippard as the better pitcher, if Janssen can edge closer to 55 innings pitched in 2015, the gap between the two pitchers narrows considerably. Not to mention the move to the National League for the first time and playing in a pitcher’s park in Washington gives Janssen serious rebound potential for Washington next season.

Essentially the Nationals front office chose 3-years of Yunel Escobar and 1-year of Casey Janssen rather than 1-year of Tyler Clippard for nearly the same salary commitment in 2015. In that light, it is difficult to argue that the Nationals roster is not more complete both short and long-term with the combination of Escobar + Janssen rather than Clippard.  Janssen is a quality insurance policy in case Storen struggles as the closer, or young relievers Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen fail to replace departed relievers Clippard and Soriano.

Janssen was the best remaining free agent relief pitcher available in free agency, and the Washington Nationals were smart to secure his services on a reasonable contract.

NatsGM Overall Grade -> B to B+

THE NatsGM Show Episode 23 – Guest Former MLB Pitcher Eric Milton

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On Episode #23 I am fortunate to be joined by former major league starting pitcher Eric Milton.  We discuss his All-Star game appearance, throwing a No-Hitter, being traded for Chuck Knoblauch, and we catch up with what he’s doing post-career.

Download and Enjoy… Cheers!