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-

Danny Espinosa Takes His Talents To Anaheim

Saturday evening the Washington Nationals traded infielder Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for minor league pitchers Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin.  Earlier in the day, reports surfaced Espinosa had skipped the team’s WinterFest this weekend due to his displeasure following the Adam Eaton trade.  Expected to play a reserve role in Washington, Espinosa immediately becomes the projected starter at second base for Anaheim.

Drafted in the 3rd round in 2008 from Long Beach State, Espinosa has spent his entire career with Washington, playing 779 games for the Nationals over seven seasons.  Last year the switch-hitting Espinosa batted .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs and 9 stolen bases while acting as the starting shortstop.  For his career, Espinosa has a .226/.302/.388 batting line while playing multiple defensive positions.  An outstanding defender with a cannon-like arm, Espinosa is one of the better defensive middle infielders in baseball.  Sadly, the 29-year-old has always struggled making contact, as evidenced by his career 28.1 K%, which limits his overall value.  Espinosa is under salary arbitration for one final season and is projected to make $5.3 million in 2017.

In return Washington receives two 25-year-old right-handed pitchers, Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin.  Drafted in the 8th round in 2012 from the University of South Florida, Adams was added to Anaheim’s 40-man roster this winter after a successful 2016 spent primarily in Double-A.  Last season Adams threw 41.1 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 61 strikeouts against 24 walks and 29 hits allowed.

According to scouts, Adams possesses a lively 93-96mph fastball that touches the upper-90s along with a devastating slider.  Unfortunately Adams struggles with his location and command, as shown by his 6.4 BB/9 career ratio.  He did trim his walks allowed last season and if he cuts his walks allowed closer to 4.0 per 9, he could be an asset in a setup capacity.  He is unlikely to see major improvements at his age, but it is a low-risk gamble to bet on a change-of-scenery for an obviously talented arm.

Perhaps the better-known of the two players, McGowin was drafted in the 5th round in 2013 and was recently rated as the 20th best prospect in Anaheim’s organization.  McGowin has long impressed scouts with a quality 3-pitch arsenal, featuring a low-90s sinking fastball along with a decent slider and changeup.  However, his results have never matched his repertoire, as he has a career 4.77 ERA with a 7.7 K/9 ratio against a 9.2 H/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 ratio over 375.2 professional innings.  In addition, McGowin has struggled with various injuries throughout his career, limiting him to only 75 appearances and 67 starts in four seasons.

Due to organizational need following the departure of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, McGowin will likely remain as a starter next season.  However, his long-term role is likely in the bullpen, which could allow his stuff to “play up” and help him stay healthy.

The bottom line on this deal is Washington understood Espinosa would not accept a bench role in 2017, so the team decided to swiftly part with the disgruntled infielder for salary relief and two depth arms.  Washington made the correct decision to trade Espinosa and showed tremendous class sending him back to the west coast.  Those are all positives, yet I am still left feeling utterly unimpressed with the players coming back to Washington.

For all his flaws, Espinosa is a tremendous defensive infielder with power and should provide Anaheim with 1.5-2.0 WAR next season for a reasonable $5.3 million salary.  Certainly I have no way of knowing what, if any, other offers were made, but this package feels underwhelming for a starting-caliber player.  I would have preferred Washington wait for more attractive offers later this winter or during spring training rather than settle for this offer.  It feels like Washington preferred a quick resolution to this situation, rather than maximizing the potential value of their asset.  I can understand the rationale behind this decision, but cannot support the conclusion the organization ultimately reached.

NatsGM Grade ->             D

Meeting Adam Eaton – Washington Acquires Adam Eaton From Chicago

After a week filled with rumors, Wednesday afternoon the Washington Nationals acquired OF Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for right-handed pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.  This trade immediately makes Eaton Washington’s centerfielder next season and shifts Trea Turner back to his natural shortstop position.

The 28-year-old Eaton was outstanding for Chicago in 2016, batting .284/.362/.428 with 14 home runs, 52 extra base hits and 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts in 157 games played.  Originally drafted by Arizona in 2010, Eaton was traded to the White Sox as part of a 3-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Angels in December 2013.  Over his three seasons in Chicago, Eaton provided the White Sox with a .290/.362/.422 batting line with 29 home runs and 47 stolen bases.  During his 5-year major league career, Eaton has a .284/.357/.414 batting line with 34 home runs and 54 stolen bases in 521 total games.

Defensively Eaton has above-average but not elite speed and a strong arm, making him profile well in the corners and fringe-average in center field.  He played the majority of last season in right field, but is expected to shift back to center field in Washington.  Eaton will make $4 million next season and is under contract through 2021, making $6 million in 2018, $8.4 million in 2019 and team options at $9.5 million for 2020 and $10.5 million for 2021.

In order to secure Eaton and team-friendly contract from Chicago, Washington was forced to part with three of their top-5 pitching prospects and top-7 prospects overall in Giolito, Lopez and Dunning.

Lucas Giolito was Washington’s 1st round selection, 16th overall, in the 2012 Draft and agreed to an over-slot bonus of $2.925 million mere moments before the signing deadline.  Almost immediately after signing, Giolito underwent Tommy John surgery, effectively costing him the 2012 and 2013 seasons.  Once returning to the mound, Giolito has steadily climbed the minor league ladder before receiving a 21.1 inning cameo in Washington late this season.

Giolito possesses an intriguing 3-pitch arsenal, consisting of a low-to-mid 90s fastball with good downward plane, a devastating low-80s curveball with excellent vertical drop and a low-80s changeup with promising sinking movement.  Listed at 6-6 255lbs, Giolito is a large man with long limbs that he uses to get good extension toward the batter.  However, his size works against his ability to repeat his delivery and causes him to struggle with his command and control of the strike zone.

Although he reached the majors in 2016, Giolito’s struggles against big league hitters proved he is still quite raw and needs additional development.  However, the 22-year-old has elite talent and the potential for three above-average pitches inside an ideal pitcher’s frame.  If he can learn to repeat his delivery and improve his command, Giolito still has the potential to be a #2 starter in the majors.  Unfortunately he seemed to regress in 2016 and figures to develop more likely into a #3 or #4 starter.

Signed for $12,000 in June 2012 as an international free agent, Reynaldo Lopez has gone from an unknown to one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in four years.  The nearly 23-year-old Lopez does not possess the prototypical pitcher’s body, standing only 6-0 185lbs, although he does have muscular legs and a well-developed upper body.  His delivery has some excess movement and he throws off a stiff front leg, but his impressive athleticism allows him to repeat his simple delivery fairly well.  Although the superficial statistics look just mediocre, Lopez was impressive in his 44 inning cameo with Washington last season, striking out 41 hitters against 47 hits and 24 walks allowed.  Lopez still struggles with his command of the strike zone, but has made solid improvement in this area in the past 12 months.

Lopez has a powerful 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a 95-98mph fastball, touching 100mph, with late life and some sink.  In addition, Lopez possesses an inconsistent but promising upper-70s curveball with sharp downward movement and a low-80s changeup he throws with good deception and arm speed.  His off-speed offerings lag behind his monster fastball, but both pitches have improved as he has climbed the organizational ladder.  His detractors are skeptical about his size and off-speed pitches, leading them to label him a future reliever.  However, his elite arm speed, excellent athleticism and development on the mound give him a chance to profile as a mid-rotation starter if he continues to improve.  While he has flaws, Lopez is a special arm and was the best pitching prospect in the organization prior to the trade.

Washington’s second 1st round pick (29th overall) last June, Dane Dunning spent most of his collegiate career at Florida as a midweek starter and multi-inning reliever on the weekends.  A lean 6-3 205lbs, Dunning possesses a solid 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a low-90s fastball with outstanding sink, an 82-84mph slider with good depth and range, along with the occasional fringy changeup.  He showed better command out of the bullpen in college, although he will be developed as a starter as a professional.  The 21-year-old Dunning shows a potential long-term “60/65” fastball due to the impressive velocity and movement, a “55” slider and possible “45” changeup – this arsenal, along with a clean delivery and solid command, allows him to profile as a future back-end starter or impact 7th or 8th inning reliever.

In a vacuum, I believe Washington did significantly better in this trade than the general consensus around baseball, who have widely questioned and panned the trade.  Washington traded three of its top five pitching prospects, which hurts the depth of the minor league system.  But, in addition to the obvious risks associated with prospects, especially pitching prospects, each of Giolito, Lopez and Dunning have major risks associated with them.

Giolito has already undergone Tommy John surgery, does not possess ideal mechanics and looked poor in his brief time in Washington.  Lopez does not have the ideal pitcher’s body and most undersized right-handed pitchers eventually end up pitching in relief.  Finally, Dunning does not have a monster ceiling typically associated with a 1st round pick and many scouts predict he is a reliever long-term.  Certainly this highlights the negatives with each pitcher, but it should remind us none of these three are a slam-dunks to be impact players.  That said I would be surprised if all three did not have productive careers.

On the other hand, for all the risks associated with the prospects traded away, Adam Eaton is quietly one of the most consistent and better outfielders in baseball.  He does not do anything spectacularly well besides his corner outfield defense, but Eaton is one of the few five tools players in the majors and is above-average offensively, defensively and on the bases.  Eaton has strong bat-to-ball skills, sneaky power especially to the pull side and has a knack for getting on-base.  He should slot in perfectly as Washington’s leadoff or #2 hitter with Turner, and they should drive opposing pitchers crazy in front of Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon.

Defensively Eaton will immediately move back to center field between Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper next season, with the likely plan to shift him to a corner when Werth’s contract is over and center field prospect Victor Robles is major league ready.  His skills, in addition to his extraordinarily team-friendly contract, make Eaton one of the more valuable players in baseball.  In short, Eaton is a perfect fit for the Washington Nationals.

However, I must briefly digress and take a bigger picture view of this trade.  Although Eaton is a tremendous addition, there was a large supply of talented and potentially available center fielders this winter, several of whom would not have been so “expensive” to acquire.  For example, free agent Dexter Fowler is still available, not to mention possible trade targets such as Andrew McCutchen, Ender Inciarte and Jarred Dyson.  So we must ask not just was this a good deal, but also was it the smartest decision overall for the franchise.  Personally, I would have preferred paying Fowler or Ian Desmond, losing my 1st round pick in 2017 but keeping these three young arms in the organization.  This fact cannot be overlooked when judging the trade as a whole.

Overall I think Washington did fairly well in this deal, as they acquired an underrated player perfect for their team on a great contract for the next five years.  Washington had to part with three talented, high ceiling prospects in order to do so, but general manager Mike Rizzo decided to part with these somewhat risky assets for a proven commodity.  An analogy would be he sold three high-risk high-reward technology stocks to buy shares of a company like IBM.  So while I can understand and appreciate that decision, I would have preferred Washington invest in another asset, also known as Dexter Fowler.  Therefore, while I am extremely excited to watch Adam Eaton daily for the next five years, I would have passed on this offer and looked for another alternative to fill the vacancy in center field.

NatsGM Grade  ->           C- / D+

Welcome Back! The Washington Nationals Acquire Derek Norris


In the midst of rumors surrounding Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Friday the Washington Nationals struck a deal with San Diego, receiving catcher Derek Norris from the Padres for prospect Pedro Avila.  This trade brings the former Nationals’ prospect back to Washington and could potentially spell the end of Wilson Ramos’s time with the team.

The 27-year-old Norris suffered through a woeful 2016, hitting only .186/.255/.328 with 14 home runs and 42 runs driven in over 125 games played.  However, prior to last season, Norris had produced three consecutive quality seasons, including an all-star selection in 2014.  For his 5-year major league career, Norris possesses a .231/.309/.380 batting line with 54 home runs in 557 major league games.

Defensively Norris has the reputation as just a mediocre catcher, although the metrics seem to regard him more positively.  His pitch framing numbers according to Baseball Prospectus are some of the best in baseball and his career 26% caught stealing percentage is in line with the 27% major league average.  He does not have a particularly strong arm or look like a magician behind the dish, but Norris is an average to slightly above-average overall defender.

Washington’s 4th round pick in 2007, Norris was a key part of the Gio Gonzalez trade with Oakland several years ago and this deal returns him to his first professional organization.  Norris will enter arbitration for the 2nd time this winter and is projected to earn approximately $4 million.  He is under contract through 2018 and represents an intriguing gamble in this winter’s rather lackluster catching market.

In return for Norris, Washington was forced to part with right-handed pitching prospect Pedro Avila, a 19-year-old who spent 2016 in Low-A.  Signed as an international free agent in July 2014, Avila threw 93 innings last season for Hagerstown, posting a 3.48 ERA with 93 strikeouts against 86 hits and 38 walks allowed.  He is somewhat undersized at his listed 5-11 170lbs, but possesses a solid frame and a fast arm.

Avila has a quality 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a quality low-90s fastball that I have seen touch 94mph, along with a solid mid-70s curveball and a developing changeup.  Like most teenagers his command and control need work, but Avila has a potential “55/60” Fastball, “50” Curveball and “40/45” Changeup in the future, giving him a profile of a back-end starter or middle reliever.  He does not have a major ceiling, but this is a quality arm with major league potential.

NatsPark Late AM

As I discussed in my Offseason Manifesto several weeks ago, I felt like Derek Norris was the best fit to fill Washington’s hole at catcher this winter in terms of skill-level, salary and cost to acquire.  Certainly Norris comes with his warts or else a 27-year-old catcher under contract for two years would not be available for a low-A pitcher.  He is coming off a poor year in 2016, is not an elite defender and projects to make nearly $4 million next season.

That said if we can somehow ignore his 2016 statistics or chalk it up to injuries, Norris has the potential to rebound with a change of scenery in Washington.  Defensively Norris has developed into a fantastic pitch-framer, which when coupled with his average ability to throw out runners and impressive athleticism, makes him a far better defender than his reputation.

At the plate, Norris hit 14 home runs each of the last two seasons in cavernous San Diego, possesses a career .309 on-base percentage and a career .806 OPS against left-handed pitching.  Finally, Washington will be asking Norris to bat 8th in a potent lineup, hoping he can rebound to his career .309 OBP and hit 12-17 home runs while platooning with Jose Lobaton.  In other words, the team does not need him to be an all-star, just to bounce back to his previous form.

Overall this is a solid baseball trade for both teams.  San Diego is in the midst of a rebuild, making it more valuable for them to clear $4 million from their payroll, acquire an intriguing prospect, and make room for their top prospect Austin Hedges than keep Norris at catcher.

For Washington, they are dealing with some budget constraints this winter and are seeking a major (and likely expensive) upgrade in center field.  These factors, combined with the weak free agent class of catchers, made gambling on a 27-year-old who has a past track record of success likely the best choice of many mediocre options. In addition, Norris allows Washington to keep prospect Pedro Severino in the minors next season.  Severino looked good in his late season cameo after Wilson Ramos got hurt, but the 23-year-old still needs seasoning in the minors to enhance his skills.

Avila is a solid arm and I wish the Nationals had been able to part with another, lesser prospect.  However, Avila’s loss is unlikely to burn Washington in the future.  On the other hand, Norris fills a major need and makes Washington’s roster stronger than before the deal.  While there is some risk involved, this was a shrewd gamble by Washington’s front office to reacquire Derek Norris.

NatsGM Grade   ->           B-