As everyone from the world of baseball has now checked out from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, the 2012 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings have come to a conclusion. Unlike most years, this edition was mostly quiet, with the largest financial commitment being a 4-year $40 million contract by San Francisco with outfielder Angel Pagan, the biggest trade involving Ben Revere and Vance Worley changing cities, and the hottest piece of news probably the Nationals signing 3-time All-Star Dan Haren Tuesday morning to replace Edwin Jackson in the starting rotation. I wrote about the Haren signing yesterday, but four days of baseball activity has left me with a few Nationals topics worth discussing, namely the Zach Duke and Bill Bray signings on Monday and the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning.
The first day of the MLB winter meetings found general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals searching for some left-handed depth for their bullpen, signing Zach Duke to a 1-year major league deal and agreeing to terms with Bill Bray on a minor league contract. Zach Duke, 29-years-old and a former 2009 All-Star representative as a member of the Pirates, spent the majority of 2012 in Triple-A Syracuse posting a 15-5 record with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts and 164.1 innings pitched, then was promoted to Washington in September and impressively provided the Nationals with a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings of relief. After experiencing a career free-fall in 2010 and 2011, a reunion with Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams helped Duke rediscover his ability to get hitters out. Duke will enter spring training expecting to replace Tom Gorzelanny as the team’s left-handed long reliever and spot starter: while I prefer Gorzelanny, Duke should be a passable replacement at a fraction of the cost next season.
Bill Bray returns to the organization that originally drafted him #13th overall in the 2004 draft, after struggling through a difficult season in 2012, only pitching 8.2 innings in 14 games with a 5.19 ERA and 7 strikeouts against 14 walks. Bray was part of the July 2006 blockbuster trade which sent himself along with Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris, Gary Majewski, and Daryl Thompson to Cincinnati in return for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner. Although Bray struggled with injuries last season, he posted a 2.98 ERA in 79 appearances in 2011, and for his career, he holds left-handed batters to a meager .218/.312/.331 batting line. If he can prove his back and groin injuries from 2012 are behind him next spring in Viera, Bray stands a good chance of finding his way onto the roster as a left-handed specialist, making this a intriguing and potentially shrewd minor league free agent signing.
Ever since major league baseball altered the rules for eligibility of prospects available, the Rule 5 draft has been rendered significantly less effective than in its previous form, but like Stephen Strasburg’s inning shutdown, this event is thoroughly overanalyzed by those throughout the internet. The Nationals entered the Rule 5 will a fairly full roster and amidst reports that Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson left Nashville Wednesday evening, leaving everyone expecting the team not to make a selection during today’s draft.
True to expectations, the Nationals decided to stand pat this morning while watching the Colorado Rockies select LHP Danny Rosenbaum, and infielder Jeff Kobernus chosen by the Boston Red Sox (who quickly traded him to the Detroit Tigers in a separate trade). Rosenbaum, 25-years-old, spent 2012 in Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 8-10 record with a 3.94 ERA in 26 starts, striking out 99 batters and walking only 39 in 155.1 innings pitched. A soft-throwing left-handed pitcher, Rosenbaum’s ceiling is not particularly high so his loss should not hurt the organization in the future, but as one of the few starters above Double-A, his loss further depletes an organizational weakness and increases the need for the Nationals to find additional starting pitching depth this winter.
Former 2009 2nd round pick, Jeff Kobernus has steadily risen up the organizational ladder since being drafted, reaching Double-A in 2012 and batting .282/.325/.333 with 1 home run and 42 stolen bases. Kobernus was projected to hit for more power when he was drafted, with the assumption that as he filled out he would find some pop, but now 24-years-old and with 9 total home runs in 1,172 at-bats in the minor leagues, it feels safe to project him as a backup at 2B and 3B with the ability to post a decent batting average with some speed and little else. I was a big fan of Kobernus when I watched him in college at California-Berkeley, thinking he might eventually develop into an average starting second baseman: safe to say I was wrong on that projection, as it appears now Kobernus will work to carve out a career as a backup infielder and pinch runner with Detroit next spring.
In addition, in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft the Nationals also lost LHP Jack McGeary to Boston and RHP Hector Nelo to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many Nats fans will recognize McGeary’s name, as he was the drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 draft from a Massachusetts high school and signed for a $1.5+ million dollar bonus. This contract allowed him to attend Stanford as a student but not play baseball for the Cardinal during the school year (as he was no longer an amateur), only playing for the Nationals during the summer. McGeary underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and has pitched 25.1 innings in the past 2 seasons, making him a clever pick by his hometown Red Sox but highly unlikely to haunt the Nationals in the future. Hector Nelo throws a powerful mid-90s fastball but his career 5.41 BB/9 ratio is the reason he was available and leaves baseball people skeptical he will develop enough control to pitch in the majors. Anyone with that type of velocity is interesting to gamble on, but at 26-years-old, time is running out for him to learn to command the strike zone.
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