Washington Procures Brandon Kintzler

Mere minutes before the MLB Trade Deadline, the Washington Nationals reached an agreement with Minnesota to acquire RHP Brandon Kintzler for LHP Tyler Watson and international bonus pool money.  A 2017 all-star for the Twins, Kintzler has worked as Minnesota’s closer the past two seasons, and should immediately upgrade the Nationals’ bullpen.  In a related move, the Nationals have designated RHP Jimmy Cordero for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster.

The 32-year-old Kintzler was a middling reliever for Milwaukee the first six years of his career, before breaking out the past two in Minnesota, posting a 2.98 ERA and 45 saves over 99.2 innings with 62 strikeouts against only 21 walks.  While Kintzler lacks big swing-and-miss stuff (only 6.3 K/9), he limits his walks (2.2 BB/9), home runs allowed (0.8 HR/9) and induces ground balls at a strong 57.8% for his career.  He features primarily a 94mph sinker, along with a mid-90s 4-seam fastball, 87mph slider and upper-80s changeup.  There is some question whether he will work as the primary closer for Washington, but he should form a strong trio with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in the late innings.  Washington is on the hook for the remainder of Kintzler’s $2,925,000 salary before he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

In return for Kintzler, Washington was forced to part with Tyler Watson, the team’s 2015 34th round pick who was signed to an overslot $400,000 bonus.  Blessed with a projectable 6-5 200lbs body, Watson possesses an impressive 3-pitch arsenal, featuring an 89-91mph fastball, a low-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball.  Watson is a polished lefty with impressive command and an advanced approach attacking hitters.  Both his fastball and changeup project as average to above-average, with his curveball lagging behind as a probable fringe-average pitch.  Watson profiles as a #5 starter or long-reliever, with the ceiling of a #4 if his curveball improves with experience.

For more on Watson, please see my scouting report here -> http://natsgm.com/2017/05/10/scouting-tyler-watson-lhp-hagerstown-suns/

Also, Washington will send international bonus pool money to Minnesota in this trade, reported to be $500,000 by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.  Due to ramifications from last year’s budget-breaking international crop, Washington is facing penalties internationally this year, making these funds somewhat extraneous.  However, it is still disappointing to see Washington not investing the portion they could trying to discover the next Victor Robles.

Washington and Minnesota completed a rather traditional trade deadline swap, as the contending Nationals acquired an impending free agent to bolster their bullpen from the rebuilding Twins.  Minnesota should be commended for obtaining a intriguing prospect plus international money for two months of Kintzler.  On the other hand, Washington’s bullpen and roster are stronger now with Kintzler, who lengthens the bullpen and gives them another closing option.

Unfortunately this feels like a small “overpay” by the Nationals, giving up yet another left-handed pitching prospect and a hefty international sum for the pure rental of a non-elite reliever.  Kintzler does not feel like the “significant upgrade” Washington arguably needed to compete with Chicago and Los Angeles to reach the World Series.  Considering superior option Justin Wilson was traded and Zach Britton and Brad Hand were likely available, this deal feels underwhelming like getting a pair of Latrell Sprewell’s Spinner shoes rather than classic Air Jordans.  Eventually I would have likely made this same swap, but I am left feeling like this was not the best move Washington could possibly make.

NatsGM Grade  ->           C / C-

Washington Acquires Howie Kendrick

Friday evening the Washington Nationals made their second significant trade deadline acquisition, receiving IF/OF Howie Kendrick and cash considerations from Philadelphia in exchange for LHP McKenzie Mills and international bonus money.  Due to injuries to OFs Jayson Werth, Michael A. Taylor, Ryan Raburn and Chris Heisey, Washington found themselves with only three healthy outfielders on the roster earlier this week, forcing the team to look for reinforcements.

The 34-year-old Kendrick has battled injuries much of this season, but has been productive when healthy, batting .340/.397/.454 with 2 homers and 8 stolen bases.  For his 12-year major league career, Kendrick has a .290/.334/.418 batting line with 97 home runs and 119 stolen bases.  Kendrick has impressive barrel skills and a compact swing, giving him an easy plus hit tool.  Additionally, Kendrick has added defensive versatility the past two seasons, seeing time at first base, third base and left field, along with his natural second base.  He is not a great defender, but his speed and reasonable arm allow him to be passable at each spot.  He should see plenty of at-bats in left field for the Nationals until either Werth or Taylor returns, when he should slide into a super-utility role.

In exchange for Kendrick, Washington parts with 21-year-old left-handed pitcher McKenzie Mills, their 18th round selection in 2015.  Mills is having a tremendous season for Low-A Hagerstown, posting a 3.01 ERA with 118 strikeouts over 104.2 innings pitched: this success earned him a promotion to High-A earlier this week.  Mills possesses a 4-pitch repertoire, with a low-90s fastball, a mid-70s slider and changeup, along with a low-70s curveball.  He has a solid fastball and the changeup is promising, but his difficulties spinning a breaking ball limits his ceiling.  If he can improve his breaking pitches, he has a chance to work as a backend starter, with his likely role being a Triple-A starter.  Mills is a nice starter kit for a major league pitcher, but he needs more work than his impressive statistics might imply.

* For more information on Mills, please see my evaluation article here -> http://natsgm.com/2017/05/08/evaluating-mckenzie-mills/

According to various media reports, Philadelphia is sending enough money to Washington to cover nearly all of Kendrick’s salary, allowing the Nationals not to add to their payroll or get closer to the luxury tax.  On the flip side, Washington is sending Philadelphia international bonus pool money, which the Phillies have been known to covet and was somewhat superfluous to the Nationals due to ramifications from last year’s budget-busting international crop.  Essentially both teams receive something significantly more valuable to them than what they are parting with, sweetening the deal for both sides.

Both Washington and Philadelphia did well in this trade.  Philadelphia receives a  prospect and additional international money in exchange for a rental player and his salary, making this a worthwhile swap for the Phillies.  And Washington parts with an A-ball pitcher with a mild ceiling and spare international funds to fill a current hole in left field, while bolstering their bench ahead of the playoffs.  Kendrick is a versatile defender with speed, along with a proven contact hitter, traits that make him particularly valuable as a bench player and pinch hitter.  Not to mention Kendrick has 103 postseason at-bats, giving him plenty of playoff experience.

Washington’s past playoff struggles have often been a direct result of subpar bullpen pitchers and bench options, so this trade specifically targets one of these weaknesses.  Certainly losing Mills hurts the organizational pitching depth, but this trade immediately improves the Nationals’ roster and leaves them in position to make yet another trade ahead of the trade deadline.

NatsGM Grade     ->   Strong B

The Washington Nationals Acquire Sean Doolittle & Ryan Madson from Oakland

After watching his bullpen implode yet another time Saturday evening, Sunday General Manager Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on a deal with Oakland, acquiring LHP Sean Doolittle and RHP Ryan Madson for RHP Blake Treinen, LHP Jesus Luzardo and 3B Sheldon Neuse.  In related news, the Nationals placed RHP Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list to create room on the 40-man roster for the new relievers.

Drafted by Oakland 41st overall in 2007 from the University of Virginia, the almost 31-year-old Sean Doolittle has been a key component of the Athletics’ bullpen for the past six years, posting a career 3.09 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 rate against a 1.7 BB/9 over 253 career innings.  This year Doolittle is having another solid campaign with a 3.38 ERA and 31 strikeouts against only 12 hits and 2 walks allowed in 21.1 innings pitched.  In addition, he has accumulated 3 saves this season and 36 for his career, giving him experience as a closer.

Doolittle features a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider, along with the occasional splitter and changeup.  The biggest knock on Doolittle has been his rather extensive injury history, especially to his shoulder, which limited him to only 52.2 innings pitched in 2015 and 2016.  Furthermore, his HR/9 rate has jumped the past two seasons (1.4 HR/9 in 2016, 1.3 HR/9 this year), which is a cause for some concern.  Nonetheless, Doolittle is a devastating lefty reliever signed to a team friendly contract, earning approximately $1 million more this season, plus $4.35 million in 2018 and club options for $6 million in 2019 and $6.5 million for 2020.

Additionally, Washington receives almost 37-year-old right-handed reliever Ryan Madson, who most Nationals’ fans will remember from his days in Philadelphia.  Madson is in the midst of yet another solid season in 2017, providing Oakland with a 2.06 ERA in 39.1 innings, allowing only 25 hits and 6 walks against 39 strikeouts.  For his 12-year career, Madson has a 3.40 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, and a 7.8 K/9 ratio against only 2.6 BB/9.  In addition he has a solid 0.8 HR/9 career rate and has notched 86 total saves.  Madson utilizes a mid-90s sinker and 4-seam fastball, along with a changeup and curveball, to rarely walk hitters or allow home runs, while missing bats as well.  Signed through 2018, Madson is earning $7.667 million this season and next season.

In exchange for these two pieces, Washington was forced to part with prospects Luzardo and Neuse, along with bullpen stalwart Blake Treinen, a pitcher who began the season as the team’s closer before subpar performance caused a demotion.  After three seasons of quality numbers, Treinen has been rotten this season, posting a 5.73 ERA over 37.2 innings, allowing 48 hits and 13 walks against 32 strikeouts.  The 29-year-old Treinen is blessed with one of the best sinkers in baseball, averaging 97mph, along with a slider and the occasional changeup.  Unfortunately, his sinker has such impressive movement, it often floats outside the strike zone, giving him below-average command.  Treinen is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and Oakland will attempt to rebuild his value in their pitcher-friendly home ballpark.

Considered a potential 1st round pick entering the spring, an unfortunate Tommy John surgery knocked Jesus Luzardo down to the 3rd Round in 2016, where Washington happily selected him.  Prior to surgery, Luzardo possessed a mature 4-pitch arsenal, highlighted by a low-90s fastball and a quality changeup.  He has recently returned to action in the Gulf Coast League, with scouts buzzing about his fastball now reaching 96-98mph, along with an improved slider.  Almost 20-years-old, Luzardo is raw and Oakland will need to be cautious developing him, but he is an intriguing lottery ticket for the Athletics.  He has both injury and development risk in his profile, but Luzardo has a potential ceiling as a #3 starter if everything comes together.

Drafted by Washington in the 2nd round, 58th overall in 2016, Sheldon Neuse has flourished in 2017 for Hagerstown, hitting .291/.349/.469 with 9 home runs.  Neuse is blessed with a plus or better arm, fringe-average speed and decent hands – this allows him to profile as an above-average future defender at the hot corner.  Offensively Neuse has attempted to shorten his swing this year to solid results, giving him the potential to be an average hitter with slightly above-average power.  There is risk involved in his profile, specifically questions on his hit tool and distance from the majors, but Neuse has the ceiling of an average to above-average 2-way third baseman.

If you wish to read more on Neuse, here is a link to my scouting report -> http://natsgm.com/2017/06/19/scouting-sheldon-neuse/

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I believe this to be a “win-win” trade for both Oakland and Washington.  The rebuilding Athletics did well to clear $12+ million in future payroll while acquiring an intriguing change of scenery reliever (Treinen), a potentially league-average third baseman (Neuse) and a lottery ticket with significant prospect helium (Luzardo).  The combination of age and injury risk with both Doolittle and Madson kept them from receiving one of Washington’s prized prospects but this still must be considered a successful return for Oakland.

On the other hand, Washington must be pleased as well, as they receive two lethal relievers both under contract through next season.  And the Nationals were not forced to part with a top prospect or significant prospect depth, leaving them in prime position to make another trade.  Without question neither pitcher is the dominant closer every team covets, and ideally Doolittle and Madson would form a lethal duo in the 7th and 8th innings ahead of a monster closer.  However, they should form a potent combination in the 8th and 9th innings based on matchups, while putting other relievers like Joe Blanton, Oliver Perez and Enny Romero in more appropriate, lower-leverage situations.

Overall Washington is taking on plenty of future payroll and injury risk with both pitchers, issues that cannot be ignored.  Nonetheless, the Nationals’ front office should be commended for significantly improving the team’s biggest weakness without mortgaging their future.  I fully expect Treinen to rebound in Oakland and I am a big fan of both Neuse and Luzardo, but this was an offer Washington could not refuse.

NatsGM Grade ->    B / B+

Jackpot Ennyone – Washington Obtains Enny Romero From Tampa Bay

Wednesday, in their most substantial effort to bolster their 2017 bullpen, the Washington Nationals announced they had agreed to obtain left-handed pitcher Enny Romero from Tampa Bay for Jeffrey Rosa.  Tampa needed to create a space on their 40-man roster to accommodate recent signing Logan Morrison, and Washington, with open spaces on their 40-man, capitalized on the opportunity to add this intriguing southpaw.

The 26-year-old Romero scuffled with Tampa last season, posting a 5.91 ERA in 45.2 innings pitched, striking out 50 hitters while allowing 42 hits and 28 walks.  Over three seasons and 80.1 major league innings, he has a 5.27 ERA with 82 strikeouts against 82 hits and 45 walks allowed.  Despite his impressive 9.6 K/9 ratio, his dreadful 5.0 BB/9 plus mediocre 42.7 GB% and 0.9 HR/9 rates explain his struggles in the big leagues.  In addition, Romero is out of minor league options, meaning he will need to make the Nationals opening day roster or risk being exposed to waivers at the conclusion of spring training.

However, there are reasons for optimism with Romero: he possesses elite fastball velocity, sitting between 96-97mph according to BrooksBaseball.net, with some natural arm-side movement.  Romero also throws an 88-91mph cutter/slider hybrid with impressive sinking action and a mid-80s curveball that has late tumbling action.  In short, Romero has one of the strongest left-handed arms in baseball and an elite repertoire for a reliever.  Finally, Romero has spent his entire career with Tampa, signing with them in 2008, making him a credible “change of scenery” candidate.

In exchange, Washington sent 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Jeffrey Rosa to Tampa Bay.  Signed as an international free agent for $10,000 in May 2015, Rosa has pitched 96.1 professional innings across two seasons for Washington, with a career 3.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts against 49 walks.  Rosa has an intriguing pitcher’s frame at 6-3 190lbs and possesses a naturally fast arm. He throws a mid-90s fastball that has reportedly reached 100mph, along with a slider and a nascent changeup.

Rosa has not been ranked on any prospect lists for Washington this offseason and did not project to make my top-30 as well.  There is extreme risk in his profile due to his age, distance from the majors and how raw his skills are, but Tampa did well to add a power arm with some potential as a future reliever to their organization.

On the surface this seems like a natural trade between the two teams, although somewhat in reverse.  Typically the team projected for the playoffs (Washington) trade players lacking options and an obvious role to a rebuilding team (Tampa) for a prospect, yet the situation is occurring in reverse.  Washington found themselves in the position of having empty spaces on the roster and wanting additional bullpen depth, while giving noted pitching guru Mike Maddux a fascinating project to tinker with this spring.  Romero will head to Spring Training competing for a spot in the bullpen against lefties Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis, along with holdover Matt Grace and several minor league free agents.

This trade reminds me of a story from a few years ago – a large group of us were on a bachelor party at a casino and at the end of the night a buddy found $10 in his back pocket.  We were walking past a roulette wheel and sure enough, he bets on 24 because that was his age and it hit.  We went from heading to bed to straight to the bar to celebrate his new wealth.  Enny Romero is that $5 bet – most of the time you bet on one number at the roulette wheel at 2am, or in this case, a hard-throwing lefty with control issues, you lose.  But on the rare occasion, everything “Comes Up Milhouse” and you hit big.

I see little middle ground on this trade, as he is unlikely to last through 2017 with the Nationals, yet I feel compelled to go against the odds and gamble something clicks in Washington for Romero.  I do not envision Rosa developing into a major league pitcher, so the risk feels relatively minimal, and the upside is obtaining a high-leverage lefty under salary control through 2021.  If we keep expectations tempered, I think Washington is wise to gamble on Maddux’s aptitude improving pitchers and Romero’s special arm.

NatsGM Grade  ->           B / B-