THE NatsGM Show #84 – Special Guest Chris Hero

Chris Hero & NatsGM

Chris Hero & NatsGM

Ahead of Thanksgiving, the latest episode of THE NatsGM Show is now available and we proudly welcome the best independent wrestler in the world today, Chris Hero!

In this special interview, first Chris shares his thoughts on NoVA Pro Wrestling, his appearance November 25th against Arik Royal and how he found out about the company.  Next we discuss his impressive career as an independent wrestler, the evolution he has witnessed and his thoughts on tag-team wrestling present day.  Finally, Chris reflects on his time in NXT, his thoughts on this season’s Duke basketball team and participates in a round of Rapid Fire!

Special Thank You to Chris for joining us and to NoVA Pro Wrestling for their help.  Please check out their event on November 25th at http://novaprowrestling.tumblr.com/.  Thank you for listening!

THE NatsGM 2017 Washington Nationals Offseason Manifesto Part-2 Offense

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Although Washington failed to advance in the playoffs and continued their string of postseason misfortune, the 2016 season must be considered a success for the Nationals.  The team won 95 games in route to winning the National League East in dominating fashion. Unfortunately as talented as the team was in 2016, they still fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to the eventual champions the Chicago Cubs, so the front office must improve the roster this winter in hopes of winning the 2017 World Series.

Offensively, the Nationals enter the offseason with a major void as longtime catching stalwart Wilson Ramos is likely to depart via free agency.  Further, Washington needs to settle on a defensive position for talented youngster Trea Turner and additional depth on their bench.  Finally, considering the ambiguity with the team’s revenue from MASN, the payroll is unlikely to surpass the last two seasons at $162 million and $145 million.

Last year the Washington Nationals overcame surprisingly poor seasons from Ben Revere and Ryan Zimmerman, plus subpar numbers from Bryce Harper to produce a .256/.326/.426 team battling line.  Washington finished with 763 runs scored ( 4th in NL), 203 home runs ( 4th in NL), 536 walks ( 5th in NL) and 1,252 strikeouts (4th in NL) in 2016, which compared extremely favorably with their 2015 numbers of .251/.321/.403 with 703 runs scored, 177 home runs, 539 walks and 1,344 strikeouts.

In Part-2 of this Manifesto, I focus first on moving Trea Turner permanently to shortstop, then filling the subsequent vacancy in center field plus at catcher.  Next I sought to fill these spots with at least one left-handed hitter and two players who have a track record of getting on-base.

Also I attempted to strengthen the depth and quality of the bench, gathering players with position versatility and offensive skills.  Finally I (almost) stayed within an $85 million budget for the 13 offensive players, which when combined with my sub $75 million payroll for the pitching staff, keeps me under my hypothetical $160 million limit.  With this in mind, here is my master plan for rebuilding the Washington Nationals’ offense and capturing the 2017 World Series.

Part-2 Hitting

Signings ->          1) Re-signed OF Chris Heisey 1yr $1.4 million plus incentives

2) Sign OF Dexter Fowler 4yrs $67 million ($12m, $16m, $19m, $20m)

Trades ->             1) Trade LHP Gio Gonzalez to Miami for IF/OF Derek Dietrich and a Prospect

2) Acquire Derek Norris from San Diego in exchange for IF Drew Ward

Lineup

Catcher –                                             (Derek Norris R/R)                           $3,750,000

First Base –                                        Ryan Zimmerman R/R                    $14,000,000

Second Base –                                   Daniel Murphy L/R                          $12,000,000

Shortstop –                                         Trea Turner R/R                                $525,000

Third Base –                                       Anthony Rendon R/R                     $6,400,000

Left Field –                                          Jayson Werth R/R                            $21,571,000

Center Field –                                    (Dexter Fowler S/R)                           ($12,000,000)

Right Field –                                       Bryce Harper L/L                              $9,300,000

Starting Lineup Salary Total:                                                                         ($79,546,000)

The catching position will see turnover in 2017, as it seems unlikely that Wilson Ramos returns to Washington if indeed he is seeking a 4-5 year deal.  Assuming another team offers him a 4-year deal, it will be difficult, but the proper decision to let him leave and move on at catcher.

After scouring both the potentially available free agents and trade options, I feel the best choice would be to acquire San Diego’s Derek Norris.  The 27-year-old Norris suffered through a difficult year in 2016, hitting only .186/.255/.328 with 14 home runs and 42 runs driven in over 125 games played.  Quite simply, there is little excuse for last season; however, prior to 2016, Norris had produced three consecutive solid seasons, including an all-star appearance in 2014.

Without question I am concerned with his decline in performance and his lack of success against fastballs, but considering his age, salary and previous track record of performance, Norris represents an intriguing gamble this winter.  San Diego has been known to be shopping Norris and after his difficult 2016, so he should be readily available.  While not a superstar, in this uninspiring catching market, I am willing to wager he can rebound in Washington.

Returning at first base this season will again be “Face of the FranchiseRyan Zimmerman, who scuffled through a difficult season in 2016, hitting .218/.272/.370 with 15 home runs over 115 games played.  The 32-year-old Zimmerman has struggled the past three seasons with injuries and poor performance, leading many to worry if he can recover offensively.  His stature in the organization and his salary will make him the opening day starter at first base, and the team will be hoping he rebounds at the plate in 2017.

After coming over from New York last winter, Daniel Murphy put together one of the best statistical seasons in franchise history, hitting .347/.390/.595 with 25 home runs and 104 runs batted in.  In addition, he won the silver slugger for second base and made the All-Star team.  The 31-year-old will act as Washington’s starting second baseman again next season and continue to make Mets’ fans bitter with each extra base hit he notches.

Wow Trea Turner, have yourself a rookie season!  After somewhat controversially spending the first half of the year in the minors, Turner reached the majors midyear and took the league by storm, hitting .342/.370/.567 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases in only 73 games played.  Entering 2017, the biggest question is where the Nationals will play him defensively, as he is versatile enough to play center field, second base or shortstop.  My belief is the team should and will move him permanently to his natural shortstop and into the leadoff spot in 2017.  While he will still make mistakes like any young player, Turner is one of the best young players in baseball.

Anthony Rendon bounced back from a difficult year in 2015 to post a solid season for the Nationals, batting .270/.348/.450 with 20 home runs and 85 runs batted in.  In addition, Rendon played a spectacular third base, making only 9 errors in 155 games along with several stellar defensive plays.  The biggest question with Rendon is his lingering injury concerns, but if he stays off the disabled list, he is one of the best third baseman in baseball.  He should remain at the hot corner for Washington the rest of the decade.

Somewhat similarly to Rendon, Jayson Werth overcame an injury-riddled season in 2015 to stay relatively healthy and post another solid season for the Nationals.  Werth hit .244/.335/.417 with 21 home runs and 69 runs driven in over 143 games played in 2016.  The 37-year-old team leader enters 2017 in the last year of his memorable 7-year $126 million contract and should have enough in the tank to produce one more productive year in Washington.

The biggest offensive acquisition I make during this manifesto is the free agent signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler, who re-enters free agency this winter coming off a career season for Chicago.  The 30-year-old Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases, while playing a reasonable defensive center field.  He recently rejected a qualifying offer from the Cubs, meaning the Nationals will lose their 1st round pick in 2017 if he signs with Washington.  As a self-confessed draft and player development nerd I am loathe parting with draft picks, but Washington’s 1st round pick is 28th overall, making it less painful than in other years.

Even with losing their 1st round pick and signing him to a 4-year $67 million contract, I think he is a perfect fit in Washington.  He would be a terrific #2 hitter due to his excellent on-base skills and aptitude to make contact, plus he gives the team another left-handed bat.  Defensively he would play center field between Werth and Bryce Harper, with a probable shift to left field when uber-prospect Victor Robles is major league ready.  While I worry about signing anyone for four years past age-30, I think his skill set ages well and is an ideal signing for Washington.

Bryce Harper was not able to match his historical 2015 season in 2016, when he hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, 99 runs batted in and unanimously winning the National League MVP award.  Last season Harper hit .243/.373/.441 with only 24 home runs and 86 runs driven in over 147 games played.  Although it was never publicly acknowledged, most believe Bryce was playing much of 2016 with an injury or injuries, as he never seemed fully comfortable.  With a full offseason to rest and rehabilitate, I would be surprised if Bryce did not rebound with a monster season in 2017.

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Bench

Backup Catcher –                          Jose Lobaton S/R                                    $1,500,000    

Infielder #1 –                                  (Derek Dietrich L/R)                                    $1,700,000

Infielder #2 –                                  Wilmer Difo       S/R                                  $525,000

4th Outfielder –                               Michael A. Taylor R/R                              $525,000

5th Outfielder –                               Chris Heisey R/R                                    $1,400,000

Bench Salary Total:                                                                                            $5,850,000

Total Offense Salary:                                                                                         $85,396,000

Total Pitching Salary:                                                                                         $74,476,000

2017 Total Payroll:                                                                                            $159,872,000

Returning for his fourth season, the 32-year-old Jose Lobaton should see more playing time with the Nationals in 2017.  Lobaton hit .232/.319/.374 with 3 home runs in 39 games played last season, serving as Wilson Ramos’s backup.  The switch-hitter should consider giving up hitting right-handed, as he hit a reasonable .262/.344/.393 against righties and a woeful .067/.176/.267 against southpaws.  While Lobaton is far from a superstar, he is a solid defensive catcher and could quietly form a solid catching platoon with Derek Norris.

A long-term personal favorite, Derek Dietrich has stealthily developed into a quality, versatile player for the Miami Marlins.  Last season the 27-year-old Dietrich hit .279./.374/.425 with 7 home runs in 128 games, while seeing action at first, second, third and left field.  A left-handed hitter capable of playing multiple positions, there is opportunity for Dietrich to see 300-400 at-bats with Washington.  He will reach arbitration this winter and is under club control through 2020.

The Marlins are looking for pitching this winter after the horrific passing of Jose Fernandez and Gio’s relatively club friendly contract, along with his popularity in South Florida, make him a natural fit for Miami.  Dietrich is blocked at his natural positions of third base and left field in Miami, making him potentially available in trade discussions.  I do not believe Gio for Dietrich straight-up is fair, but if Miami included a prospect, this could be a nice swap for both teams.

Serving as the team’s utility middle infielder will be the 24-year-old switch-hitter Wilmer Difo, who showed well in 31 games last season, hitting .276/.364/.379 while playing second, shortstop and third base.  The team might prefer to sign a veteran for this role and give Difo more seasoning in the minor leagues.  And there is merit if the team makes this choice.  However, I believe his versatility, speed and aptitude for making contact at the plate should give him the opportunity for 200-250 at-bats next season in a backup role.

Michael A. Taylor will return as the 4th outfielder for Washington in 2017, providing the team a tremendous defensive outfielder at all three positions, along with some speed and occasional home run power.  Unfortunately the nearly 26-year-old struggled in a backup role last year, hitting only .231/.278/.376 with 7 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 237 plate appearances.  Ultimately, he might be better served as a trade chip to a team that would give him more playing time.  That said, if he can cut down on his strikeouts, I could see him developing into a quality 4th outfielder.

Late Friday evening it was announced that Washington and Chris Heisey agreed to terms on a new 1-year contract worth $1.4 million plus incentives.  Heisey was solid in a reserve capacity with Washington last season, hitting .216/.290/.446 with 9 home runs in 83 games and 139 at-bats, while seeing time at all three outfield positions.  Most notably, Heisey hit a monster 2-run pinch hit home run in Game 5 of the NLDS to get Washington back in the game.  Notably, Heisey hit 4 pinch hit home runs last season.  Heisey is a quality reserve with a good reputation in the clubhouse, making him an ideal 5th outfielder.

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In rebuilding the offense for 2016, the biggest challenges were staying within an $85 million budget and $160 million overall, plus deciding the defensive position for Trea Turner.  After Turner was put at shortstop, I needed to find a starting catcher and center fielder, not easy with budget constraints and a weak free agent market.  Also, I wanted to improve the bench, as one of the major takeaways I learned from 2016 was the value of a quality, talented reserve corps.  One of the main reasons the Dodgers defeated Washington was the depth of their roster from #18-#25.  Unfortunately considering the impact of the MASN deal to the payroll, I had to make sacrifices at catcher and the bench.

I must acknowledge the weaknesses of this hypothetical everyday lineup –  First, I wish I felt more confident in the catching tandem of Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton.  While I think both are solid defenders, I do wish I was able to acquire a “better” starter and have one as a backup.  In addition, there are health concerns with several players and legitimate apprehension surrounding Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.  Finally, I wanted to add another player or two to strengthen the bench in case of injuries, but I was unable to fit these veterans within the budget.

Those concerns stated, I do believe this lineup projects as one of the strongest in the National League.  By parting with Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, I have subtracted some power in exchange for on-base percentage and fewer strikeouts.  The offense now has five right-handed hitters, two left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter, complemented with two right-handed hitters, two switch-hitters and a left-handed batter on the bench.  Furthermore, with Turner and Fowler atop the lineup ahead of sluggers Murphy, Harper and Rendon, this offense has a chance to score runs.  And if they can get reasonable seasons from Werth and Zimmerman, along with a rebound from Norris, they could have as much firepower as anyone in the National League.

Defensively losing Ramos and Espinosa will clearly hurt, as both were outstanding defenders.  However, considering the potential upgrade of Fowler from Turner in center field and a healthy season from Harper, the team should still be one of the better defensive units in baseball.  Not to mention a full season of Turner and the addition of Fowler should make Washington a top base running team and more athletic overall.

Overall I am extremely pleased with the offense I have been able to construct within the hypothetical and real world constraints for the Washington Nationals.  The offense should see an uptick in overall team on-base percentage with the acquisitions of Fowler and Norris and should make more contact with the subtraction of Espinosa.  The lineup has excellent on-base ability and speed at the top with Turner and Fowler, plenty of power with Murphy, Harper and Rendon in the heart of the order, and proven veterans Werth, Zimmerman and Norris at the bottom.  There are injury concerns, but the bench is stronger than last season, which should help maintain performance when starters miss time.  IF the team can stay relatively healthy, I see little reason they will not have a top-5 offense in 2017 and win their 4th division title in the past 6 years.

THE 2016-2017 NatsGM Washington Nationals Offseason Manifesto – Part 1 Pitching

The 2016 Washington Nationals enjoyed a tremendous year, winning 95 games and capturing the National League East division for the 3rd time in 5 seasons.  No question the loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series leaves a sour taste for both the fans and organization, but most should consider last season a success.

Now General Manager Mike Rizzo and Washington’s front office must look toward 2017 and how they can improve their roster to advance in the playoffs and win a World Series.  The roster seems fairly spoken for, with potentially 20 of the 25 roster spots already locked up, although the team has clear needs at catcher, closer and improved roster depth.  Also, there are questions about payroll, as the ambiguity involving the team’s television revenue likely puts a ceiling on what the team can spend this winter.

Last season Washington’s pitching staff was outstanding, finishing 2nd in Major League Baseball in team ERA (3.51), 2nd in total strikeouts (1,476), 11th in total walks allowed (468), and 3rd in batting average against (.234).  These numbers compare favorably against the 2015 pitching staff, who finished with an ERA of 3.62, 1,342 strikeouts, 364 walks allowed and a batting average against of .250.

In Part-1, I have tried to rebuild the back of Washington’s bullpen through trades in order to be budget conscious, while also building a deep relief corps with pitchers of varying styles.  The starting rotation will miss Gio Gonzalez’s dependability, but considering the overall payroll and his status as the 5th starter, his departure and the reallocation of his salary was necessary.  However, I did not want to rely too heavily on youngsters Joe Ross and a the combination of A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to manage the back-end of the rotation, so I signed a competent, veteran innings-eater to shore up the pitching staff.

Finally, to make this realistic, I am assuming Washington will have a $160 million payroll next season, up from $145 million last season but in line with the $162 million in 2015.  Therefore, I prioritized keeping the salary total for the 12 members of the pitching staff below $75 million, no small feat considering Scherzer and Strasburg make a combined $40 million themselves.  Keeping these factors in mind, here is my master plan to build a pitching staff capable of winning the 2017 World Series.

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2017 Washington Nationals Hypothetical Payroll ->  $160 million

Signings ->          Jon Niese 1yr $4 million plus incentives

Trades ->             1) Washington trades LHP Gio Gonzalez to Miami for *** and A Top Prospect

                            2) Washington trades RHP Blake Treinen and OF Andrew Stevenson to St. Louis for RHP Trevor Rosenthal

                            3) Washington trades SS Danny Espinosa to Seattle for RHP Steve Cishek

Starting Rotation

SP #1 –                  Max Scherzer                                     $22,143,000

SP #2 –                 Stephen Strasburg                              $18,333,000

SP #3 –                  Tanner Roark                                      $6,100,000

SP #4 –                  Joe Ross                                             $525,000

SP #5 –                 (Jon Niese )                                        ($4,000,000 Plus Incentives)

Starting Rotation Total Salary:                                      $51,101,000

Depth:  A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez & Austin Voth

In the 2nd year of his 7-year $210 million contract with Washington, Max Scherzer was again stellar for the Nationals, throwing 228.1 innings with a 2.96 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 284 strikeouts this past season.  In addition, he is one of three finalists for the National League Cy Young award.  He is one of the top handful of starting pitchers in baseball and should serve as Washington’s #1 starter again in 2017.

Stephen Strasburg endured a rather adventureous season in 2016, starting off the year in dominant fashion and finishing July with a 14-1 record, a 2.68 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 127.2 innings pitched.  Along the way, Strasburg also signed a monster 7-year $175 million extension with Washington, likely keeping him under contract for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately August hit and Strasburg struggled the rest of the season with injuries and ineffectiveness, finishing 2016 with a 15-4 record, a 3.60 ERA and 183 strikeouts over 147.2 innings pitched.  In early September Strasburg was diagnosed with a partial tear of the pronator tendon in his pitching elbow, which forced him to the disabled list for the season.  Assuming a winter of rest and rehabilitation can cure his ailing elbow, Strasburg should again serve as Washington’s #2 starter (or Co-#1) next year.

Bravo Tanner Roark!  After a demotion to the bullpen in 2015 and a mediocre season pitching in relief, Roark was a revelation for Washington last season, finishing 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 210 innings pitched.  Not to diminish Scherzer’s excellence, but it often felt like Roark was the stopper and the backbone of the 2016 starting rotation.  As a result, Roark will see his salary jump quite significantly this winter in his first time through salary arbitration and should begin 2017 as Washington’s #3 starter.

It was a bit of a tale of two seasons for Joe Ross in 2016, as he was excellent through mid-June (3.01 ERA, 59 strikeouts in 72 innings) but unfortunately a shoulder injury cost him much of the second half of the season.  Ross looked rusty in his return from the disabled list in September and finished 2016 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and a 93/29 strikeout to walk ratio.  A full offseason to rest and recover should greatly benefit Ross, and the 23-year-old projects as Washington’s #4 starter next season.

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In this exercise I have traded away Gio Gonzalez – this was primarily due to the fact he will make $12 million in 2017 with an option for $12 million in 2018.  He is a solid pitcher and worth his salary, but as the Nationals projected 5th starter, I “traded” him to clear payroll, improve the bench and bolster the farm system.

But after “trading” Gonzalez, I did feel the need to replace him in the starting rotation.  In his proxy, I was looking for a durable left-handed pitcher, who has consistently thrown 150+ innings per season and has mild salary demands.  After scouring the available free agents and the potential trade market, I believe LHP Jon Niese capably fills this role at a solid price.

Prior to last season the 30-year-old Niese had spent his entire 8-year career with the Mets with generally solid results, throwing 1,068 innings for New York with a sub-4 ERA.  From 2010-2015 Niese made 24+ starts each season and provided the Mets with 143+ innings annually – certainly not a superstar, but a capable #4/#5 starter.

Unfortunately Niese was traded last offseason to Pittsburgh and struggled through a mostly nightmarish year, posting a 4.91 ERA in 110 innings before the Pirates traded him back to the Mets.  Niese only threw 11 innings for the Mets before suffering a season-ending knee surgery.  Now he enters free agency coming off his worst career season with a 5.50 ERA in only 121 innings pitched.  Obviously Niese is a gamble for whichever team signs him, but considering his age, prior track record of success and history of durability, he represents a potentially nice value in free agency this winter.

Bullpen

Closer –                 (Trevor Rosenthal)                          ($6,300,000)

8th Inning –            ((Steve Cishek))                               ($6,000,000)

RH S/U –              Shawn Kelley                                     $5,500,000

RH S/U –              Koda Glover                                       $525,000

LH S/U –               Sammy Solis                                     $525,000

LH S/U –               Oliver Perez                                       $4,000,000

Long –                   A.J. Cole / Austin Voth                        $525,000

Bullpen Total Salary:                                                                       $23,375,000

Pitching Staff Total Salary                                                             $74,476,000

Much like his teammates in St. Louis, Trevor Rosenthal struggled through a disappointing, injury-plagued 2016, posting a 4.46 ERA, 3.72 FIP and 56 strikeouts against 29 walks in only 40.1 innings.  Prior to 2016, Rosenthal had established himself as one of the top relievers in the National League, with two consecutive seasons of 45+ saves and an all-star appearance in 2015.  Rosenthal lost the closer job to Seung-hwan Oh last season and St. Louis might be interested in clearing his projected $6.3 million salary to shore up other weaknesses.  I would think an offer of Blake Treinen and his four years of control plus a strong prospect like Andrew Stevenson (or someone similar) could bring back the new Nationals’ closer.

Additionally, I am proposing trading the last year of Danny Espinosa’s contract to Seattle in return for side-slinging righty Steve Cishek.  I can envision these players being the frame work of a mutually beneficial trade for both teams, as Seattle seems to want a shortstop to allow prospect Ketel Marte to further develop and Washington needs relief help more than Espinosa.

The 30-year-old Cishek was impressive in his first year in Seattle last year, providing the Mariners a 2.81 ERA, 1.016 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched, along with notching 25 saves.  His unique delivery makes him especially difficult against righties (.573 OPS) and his experience as a closer would provide nice depth in case Rosenthal struggles.

In the first year of a three year contract, the 32-year-old Shawn Kelley was a reliable member of Washington’s relief corps, providing Washington with a 2.64 ERA, 0.897 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched.  The Nationals must protect Kelley a bit more than the average reliever due to his past Tommy John surgeries, but he should form a potentially lethal right-handed setup combination with Cishek.

A revelation in his rookie season, the 23-year-old Koda Glover went from an 8th round pick in 2015 to become a major cog in Washington’s bullpen, pitching 19.2 innings for the Nationals with a 5.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts.  He did appear to tire down the stretch in his first full professional season and there are reports he was dealing with an injury, causing his numbers to suffer.  Glover should be fully healthy by spring training and projects as a major piece of the relief corps going forward.

Sammy Solis has long struggled with injuries but the 27-year-old stayed relatively healthy in 2016 and provided Washington with an effective lefty in their bullpen.  Solis made 37 appearances for Washington with a 2.41 ERA, 1.268 WHIP and 47 strikeouts over 41 innings pitched.  His success was a big reason Washington parted with Felipe Rivero in the Mark Melancon trade last July.  Assuming Solis can stay healthy, he should serve as Washington’s top left-handed reliever in 2017.

Signed as a free agent last winter, Oliver Perez had mixed results for the Nationals in 2016, making 64 appearances and throwing 40 innings with a 4.95 ERA and 46 strikeouts.  Perez was reasonably successful against lefties last season, allowing a .720 OPS and has a career .684 OPS against left-handed hitters.  He might not be the dominant lefty specialist Washington hoped when they signed him, but his experience and skills against lefties should allow him to rebound in 2017.

The long reliever role in Washington’s bullpen will likely be a competition between Washington’s most experienced young righties, A.J. Cole or Austin Voth.  The 24-year-old Cole spent much of 2016 in Triple-A with strong results, and showed some promise in 8 starts and 38.1 innings pitched, striking out 39 and allowing only 37 hits.  The also 24-year-old Voth spent the entire 2016 season at Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 3.15 ERA with 133 strikeouts in 157 innings pitched.  After an impressive collegiate career, Voth has now logged nearly 500 minor league innings and deserves the opportunity to prove he can be a major league contributor.

Further bullpen depth can be provided by RHP Trevor Gott, acquired from Los Angeles last winter in exchange for Yunel Escobar, along with LHP Matt Grace.  In addition, I would not be surprised to see the front office sign several minor league free agents like Sean Burnett, hoping to uncover another Matt Belisle type value among the group.

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In Part-1 of this endeavor, I must first acknowledge the many assumptions I am making, as I am hypothetically trading Gio Gonzalez, acquiring Steve Cishek and Trevor Rosenthal, plus signing a free agent in Jon Niese.  I have reached out to various people to ask their opinion of the plausibility of each individual move and want to avoid hindering the legitimacy of this piece with lopsided, fantasy style deals.

Next I should confess the weaknesses of this 12-man pitching staff I have assembled – The starting rotation, while extremely talented, has several members such as Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross who have injury concerns entering 2017.  Additionally, the team will be relying on unproven young arms like Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole to provide depth when injuries occur.  Losing Gio Gonzalez weakens the rotation, but I am confident Niese can suitably replace those lost innings.  Finally, I am counting on the health and return to form of new closer Trevor Rosenthal, along with Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis avoiding the disabled list.

That said, the starting rotation has the potential to have four excellent right-handed starters, along with a proven left-hander looking to pitch well enough to sign a big contract next winter.  In the bullpen, the team has two pitchers with closing experience, several power arms and a collective group with various differing styles.  Health questions aside, this pitching staff has a nice mix of veterans and young players, and nearly everyone has experienced success in the major leagues.

In conclusion I believe this starting rotation is comparable to last season’s, with the legitimate possibility one of Lopez or Giolito blossoms into a impact starter during the season.  The bullpen is deeper with more quality arms than last season, as five possess closer quality “stuff”.  Finally, I have preserved the farm system by not parting with any top prospects and have successfully kept the budget for the pitching staff below $75 million.  Overall, if the team can stay relatively healthy, there is no reason they do not have a top-5 pitching staff in 2017.

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

5 Washington Nationals Free Agent Targets

This week Major League Baseball held their General Manager’s meetings, which is the unofficial start to the offseason and free agency.  Washington enters this offseason with much of their roster settled, yet with obvious issues at closer, catcher and depth throughout the roster, there is plenty of work to be done by the Nationals’ front office.

While big name free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen have been linked with Washington, I wanted to highlight five cheaper options that could also bolster Washington’s roster next season.

Jon Jay                                 OF                          San Diego Padres

A steady left-handed hitting outfielder, Jay has quietly produced a solid 7-year major league career, hitting .287/.352/.384 while playing all three outfield positions.  The almost 32-year-old was hitting .296/.345/.407 for the Padres last season before injuring himself in June.  Primarily a center fielder, Jay profiles best as a 4th outfielder at this point in his career due to his declining foot speed, range and lack of home run power.  That said Jay is a consistent, productive player and would fit well in Ben Revere’s role for Washington next year.  He might command a multiyear contract in this market, but could serve as a nice fallback option if Washington fails to acquire a long-term solution in center field this winter.

Steve Pearce                      1B/2B/LF              Baltimore Orioles

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This 10-year veteran had another productive major league season in 2016, hitting .288/.374/.492 with 13 home runs in 85 games for Tampa Bay and Baltimore.  Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to an injury to his forearm, an injury that should be healed before spring training.  The 33-year-old Pearce has a career .852 OPS against left-handed pitching, which when coupled with his defensive versatility makes him an ideal bench player.  His injury last season should keep his salary demands reasonable and Washington would be wise to sign him.

Jason Castro                      Catcher                                Houston Astros

The 29-year-old Castro finds himself in a unique position this winter, as he is probably the best free agent catcher behind the pricey Matt Wieters and the injured Wilson Ramos.  In addition, many teams, including the Nationals, need catchers this winter, making this a potentially expensive market with limited supply and high demand.

A former all-star, Castro has the reputation as a solid defensive catcher with strong framing skills.  Offensively Castro hit .210/.307/.377 in 113 games for Houston last year, in line with his career .232/.309/.390 batting line.  He struggles mightily against left-handed pitching with a career .536 OPS, making him an ideal platoon candidate.  If he can be had on a 2-year contract for $6-$7 million annually he could be a nice value, but odds are his numerous suitors drive that price significantly higher.

Greg Holland                    RHP                        Kansas City Royals

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Certainly Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon are the top closers on the market this winter and will receive consideration, but their potential salaries could have Washington seeking alternate options.  The almost 31-year-old Holland was one of the top relievers in baseball from 2011-2015, saving 145 games and making two all-star appearances before having Tommy John surgery in October 2015.  Holland spent all of last season recovering from surgery before performing earlier this week for scouts.

Assuming he is healthy, there should be enough interest for him to sign a multiyear deal, likely filled with contract incentives.  Holland is one of the more intriguing risk verses reward options in free agency this year and could be a nice option for Washington in the late innings.

Brad Ziegler                       RHP                        Boston Red Sox / Arizona Diamondbacks

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Although the primary bullpen need is at closer, do not be surprised if the Nationals also look for additional help for right-handed setup men Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen.  Somewhat quietly the 37-year-old Ziegler has been one of the better relievers in baseball, posting a 2.44 ERA, 1.228 WHIP and 3.38 FIP over his 9-year career.  In addition he has notched 85 career saves, giving him experience as a closer.

Due to his age and unique side-arm throwing motion, most teams will view him as a right-handed specialist and set-up man, likely putting a ceiling on his salary demands.  However, as one of the better relievers on the market, he should have 10+ teams seeking his services, giving him a chance to sign a multiyear contract at $7 million or more per year.  If Washington does not bust their bullpen budget signing a closer, Ziegler could be a tremendous addition to the Nationals’ relief corps.