Reaction to and analysis of developments for the Nats and O’s at their camps
1. The Nationals’ second-best pitching prospect is a bad boy
We learned on Monday (March 5) that the Nats had sent Seth Romero home from their spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida due to a violation of club policies. The violation reportedly was a curfew violation. This was not a shocker. But this is troubling.
Romero is a lefty who was ranked as the Nats’ no. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline in February. They took him with the no. 25 overall selection in the 2017 draft out of Houston in what was a value pick but also a risk pick. Romero fell in the first round due to, ahem, character issues. He was suspended indefinitely by the Cougars in Feb. 2016 for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The conduct was believed to be poor conditioning. He was suspended again by Houston in April 2017 reportedly for failing a drug test, missing curfew and being photographed in a team uniform while holding a bong. Romero was reinstated but then dismissed from the Cougars in May 2017 reportedly due to getting into a fight with a teammate.
What makes this situation tricky are a few things. The Nats spent a first-round pick on this guy, and so they want to be right. Romero is talented, having recorded 35 strikeouts in just 22 innings (14.3 K/9) for the Gulf Coast League Nationals and short-season Single-A Auburn Doubledays in 2017. And the Nats aren’t exactly oozing with great pitching prospects right now. The team, remember, traded three pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton in Dec. 2016. The Nats didn’t have a single pitcher in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list in January. The stock of the Nats’ top pitching prospect, Erick Fedde, has fallen. Especially with Stephen Strasburg a perpetual injury worry, Gio Gonzalez entering a contract season and Joe Ross coming off Tommy John surgery, the Nats are in no position to just punt on pitching prospects. The team needs Romero to pan out. He seems like he has some growing up to do.
2. Another catcher option for the Nationals is off the frozen free-agent market
It’s looking increasingly likely as if the Nats will be going into the 2018 season with Matt Wieters as their starting catcher. Oakland on Friday (March 9) reportedly agreed on a one-year deal with Jonathan Lucroy. So he joins Welington Castillo (who signed with the White Sox), Chris Ianetta (Colorado) and Alex Avila (Arizona) as veteran free-agent catchers who might have made sense for the Nats but signed elsewhere. Lucroy was terrible for Texas last season, but he was traded to Colorado on July 30 and posted a 115 OPS+ over 175 plate appearances with the Rockies. Barring a trade for Miami’s J.T. Realmuto or the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal, the Nats appear content to go with a slimmed-down Wieters and the hope that he somehow bounces back from his abysmal 2017, during which he had a career-worst -0.6 bWAR and was the worst hitting catcher in the majors (wRC+ of 62, which was no. 33 out of 33 catchers each with at least 300 plate appearances).
Interestingly, A’s insider Jane Lee of MLB.com actually tweeted the following on Friday: “To clarify, A’s have been in talks about either trading for Matt Wieters or signing Jonathan Lucroy. Sources indicate they will get one of them.” Remember this the next time that you hear about the Nats having faith in Wieters for this coming season. The team tried like heck to trade to Realmuto and now, at least according to this tweet, was discussing sending Wieters to the A’s, for whom the Nats almost certainly would have paid a sizable chunk of Wieters’ $10.5 million salary.
3. Is the Nationals’ window really closing?
MLB insider Joel Sherman of The New York Post had an interesting piece last Saturday (March 3). The headline: The 5 MLB contenders whose windows can slam fast. The no. 1 team on the list was Boston. The no. 2 team on the list was Houston. And the no. 3 team on the list was – yes – the Nats.
Wrote Sherman: “This franchise has never won a championship. It has won the NL East four times in the past six seasons without ever winning a playoff round. Tick-tock. Bryce Harper is a free agent after this season — as are Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Madson. Anthony Rendon is free after 2019, as are Tanner Roark and Sean Doolittle. Harper, Gonzalez and Rendon are repped by Boras — you might see who will be controlling much of the top of the market the next few years.”
Sherman is right about all of that, but there are a few things that he conveniently left out.
I don’t buy that the Nats’ window is closing as much as some think. Now, if Scherzer all of a sudden falls apart, and/or Strasburg’s right elbow becomes a major issue again, and/or guys like Turner, Taylor, Robles and Soto flop, then we have a different story. But one of the reasons that I’m such an endorser of the Ninja, Mike Rizzo, is that he has positioned this ball club to be good for years to come. It is his impending free agency that is the most worrisome.
4. The Orioles continue to get wacked like a piñata
That piece by MLB insider Joel Sherman of The New York Post from last Saturday (March 3) – The 5 MLB contenders whose windows can slam fast – included Sherman mentioning the Orioles as a reason for writing the piece:
“The Orioles are Exhibit 1A for just how proactive an organization must be, especially because teams have so lowered what they are willing to pay for even stars entering their walk year. Baltimore has kept trying to win around Zach Britton, Adam Jones and Manny Machado — knowing all can depart after this year.
“This offseason, the Orioles for the first time strongly considered dealing Machado, but as a free agent after 2018, he did not elicit enough in return offers for Baltimore to blink. Meanwhile, Baltimore talked and talked last July about moving Britton, didn’t, and then he blew out his Achilles tendon this offseason. Meanwhile, Jones’ value has decreased not only because of approaching free agency, but advancing age (33 in August).”
I have made this point many times, so I will spare you another rant. But it’s worth pointing out that it’s not just me who feels this way. I know that many of you feel this way too. And we are not alone. National MLB insiders like Sherman continue to pound the O’s.