November 27, 2014

Washington Nationals exersize option on Span; decline LaRoche and Soriano

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals exercised their $9 million team option on Denard Span on Thursday, ensuring the team’s leadoff hitter and Gold Glove caliber center fielder will remain on the roster for at least the next year.

Span, who will be 31 on opening day, hit .302/.355/.416 last season, leading the Nats in hits and setting team marks for hits and multi-hit games. He was 31-for-38 in stolen base attempts and hit five home runs to boot.

Bringing Span back reduced the Nats decisions on potential free agents down to five (ages on opening day).

Adam LaRoche (35, .259/.362/.455, 26/92): LaRoche had a mutual option for ’15 of $15 million with a $2 million buyout, but declined the option. With Ryan Zimmerman’s limitations in the field, it would be very surprising if the Nats re-upped with LaRoche.

Rafael Soriano (35, 4-1, 32 svs, 3.19/1.129): The veteran reliever looked like the Nats’ All-Star rep at the break, but was atrocious in the second half before going lights-out in the playoffs in a very limited role. Team option for $14 million was declined and considering the way things ended, very unlikely he re-signs in DC.

Asdrubal Cabrera (29, .229/.312/.389, 5/21 in 49 games for Nats): Cabrera became free agent at conclusion of World Series. Was excellent defensively and had a couple of offensive highlights, but his age and already diminished results suggest Nats will let him walk.

Scott Hairston (34, .208/.253/.299, 1/8): Hairston has outlived his usefulness as a Major League Player. That might sound harsh, but it happens to everyone. Was once known as a “lefty-killer” (even if it wasn’t entirely true, but his .293 OBP against lefties this season seal his fate.

Nate Schierholtz (31, .195/.243/.309, 1/4): The “other” Nate, Schierholtz was a waiver wire pickup midseason when Nate McLouth went down for the season to injury. Schierholtz was even worse than McLouth at the plate overall, though did chip in in the playoffs. With another $5 regrettably due McLouth, Schierholtz rides off into the sunset.

Washington Nationals sign outfielder Nate Schierholtz

The Washington Nationals signed free agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz to a minor league contract and assigned him to AAA-Syracuse on Monday. Schierholtz is a left-handed hitter with a career .254/.303/.406  line and will provide insurance against injury down the stretch.

From the team’s press release:

The Washington Nationals today agreed to terms with outfielder Nate Schierholtz on a minor-league contract. Schierholtz will be assigned to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

Schierholtz is a .254 career hitter (520-for-2050) with 117 doubles, 51 home runs and 224 RBI in 776 career games with the Cubs (2013 – ‘14), Phillies (2012) and Giants (2007 – ‘12). Earlier this season, he tallied 19 extra-base hits (10 doubles, three triples, six home runs) in 99 games for the Cubs.

A left-handed hitter, Schierholtz is a career .289 pinch hitter (48-for-166) with four home runs and 23 RBI. Schierholtz’s .763 OPS in the pinch ranks fourth among active players with at least 150 career plate appearances in a pinch-hitting role.

The 30-year-old Schierholtz is one season removed from his finest offensive campaign. In 2013, his first year with the Cubs, he hit .251 and established career highs in home runs (21), doubles (32), extra-base hits (56), RBI (68) and runs scored (56).

Schierholtz is a veteran of 11 postseason contests and earned a pair of World Series rings, both with the Giants (2010, ’12). A U.S. Olympian (bronze medal) in 2008, Schierholtz was originally San Francisco’s second-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft.

In related news, we’ve now added “Schierholtz” to our word processor dictionary.

Washington Capitals add Orpik, Peters in free agent frenzy

On the first day of the NHL free agent signing period, the Washington Capitals address two major needs, adding veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and backup goalie Justin Peters. Orpik, 33 and two-time U.S. Olympian, signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract, while Peters inked a two-year, $1.9 million deal. Caps GM Brian MacLellan announced both deals.

From the press releases:

“We are very excited to welcome Brooks to Washington,” said MacLellan. “We feel Brooks’ leadership and experience will greatly enhance our defense for years to come. Brooks plays tough minutes against the opposition’s best players.”

-snip-

Orpik played in 72 games for the Penguins in 2013-14, earning 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) and 46 penalty minutes and ranked first on the team in blocked shots (143) and first among Pittsburgh defensemen in hits (221). Orpik was drafted by the Penguins in the first round, 18th overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

and…

We are pleased to sign Justin to a two-year contract,” said MacLellan. “We feel he is just entering his prime and has a tremendous upside. We look forward to him working with our goaltending coach Mitch Korn to reach his potential.”

Peters, 27, appeared in a career-high 21 games during the 2013-14 season, recording a 7-9-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. The Blyth, Ont., native also represented Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship. Peters has posted a 22-31-8 record with three shutouts, a 3.05 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in 68 career NHL games with the Carolina Hurricanes.

In addition, the Caps re-signed forward Michael Latta, 23, to a two-year, $1.15 million contract.

How much does Hershey’s success impact Capitals player development?

I realize the can of worms I’m opening here. The Hershey Bears are one of the most successful minor league hockey franchises in North America with a fan base whose passion has no rival. Year-in and year-out they reside at the top of the American Hockey League and have won 11 Calder Cups in the franchise’s 76 years of existence. In the nine years that they have been associated with the Washington Capitals, they’ve won three Cups alone.

This isn’t to knock or “blame” Hershey for the current woes of the Caps.

But are the long-term goals of both franchises aligned? Does Hershey’s ultimate pursuit of winning Calder Cups have a negative impact on player development in the Caps system?

I don’t know the answer, which is why I’m asking the question and exploring the idea.

As the Capitals continue to languish in some sort of NHL purgatory — perennial playoff qualifiers but tragically flawed enough to not challenge past the first or second round — and now in real jeopardy of wasting another Hart Trophy caliber season in the prime of Alex Ovechkin’s eventual Hall of Fame career (along with another fine campaign of his running mate, Nick Backstrom), we have to examine any possible contributing factor to the Caps lack of depth on the big league roster.

Certainly, long-term contracts doled out to players that aren’t earning them — notably Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Mike Green — is the major and overriding factor. But the fact that the Capitals are having trouble calling up players from the affiliates able contribute meaningfully at the NHL level is worth noting and exploring.

The harsh reality is that the Capitals haven’t had a player — other than Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green — drafted and developed by the organization since Ovechkin (2004), record a 20-goal season or be named an All-Star. That covers 15 first round and 12 second round picks in 11 years.

[Maybe it should be noted: of the 15 first round picks, only five were Canadian, and just five of the 12 second rounders were Canadian. Does that matter? I don’t know?]

That’s not to say the Caps aren’t drafting and developing NHL players. Since 2004, 21 of their 80 draft picks have played in the NHL, with the bulk of those becoming regular players in the league. But players like Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov and even to an extent, John Carlson, haven’t become the players the Caps thought they were drafting.

Is that amateur scouting? Is it player development?

Every team has draft busts (see: Pokulok, Sasha; Finley, Joe; Gustafson, Anton), but the Caps seem particularly stricken with an inability to manage high-profile draft picks to an elite level in the NHL.

Meanwhile, the Caps continue to sign veteran AHLers as free agents during the off-seasons instead of fixing the NHL roster, which is filled with bloated contracts and perennial injury cases.

Look at last year’s free agent crop. Sure, Mikhail Grabovski has been a revelation, but the Caps and Grabovski were almost forced together by the hockey gods after Grabo was largely ignored on the open market. The other signings were two-way contracts, meant to stock Hershey’s roster with older, more experienced players.

Defensemen Tyson Strachan (28) and David Kolomatis (24), forward Matt Watkins (26) and goalie David Leggio (28) were all signed as free agents over the summer. I’m sure that none were considered moves to help out the big club, and except for Strachan, that’s been the case. We’ve seen a wave of minor leaguers make guest appearances for the Caps this season, and defenseman Julien Brouillette (27) is just the latest.

The previous summer, the Caps’ “big” free agent signings were Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb, with the rest slated for Hershey, including ECHL journeyman Steve Oleksy.

All of this ties together. A draft record spotted with big home runs (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green) and lots of strikeouts. A minor league affiliate with a rich tradition of competing for the Calder Cup. Bloated big league roster reducing free agent activity to reinforcing the affiliate with long-time minor league experienced players.

All of it contributes to what we see today: a Caps team unable to call up players to contribute at the NHL level when injuries thin a veteran, injury-prone roster.

How much of the Caps’ free agent and player development “strategy” is aimed at helping the Caps roster, how much is dictated by necessity and finances, and how much is dedicated to stocking Hershey with veteran AHLers for another Calder Cup run?

Washington Nationals add middle infielders to competition

According to reports, the Washington Nationals have signed infielders Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to minor league contracts, with both players receiving an invitation to spring training.

Carroll, 40, hit .211/.267/.251 last season split between Minnesota and Kansas City, playing primarily second and third base. Fontenot, 33, last played in the majors in 2012, spending last season in AAA Durham, where he hit .264/.335/.379.

These moves serve as backup to the primary option at reserve middle infield, Danny Espinosa. Espinosa comes off a dismal 2013, where he was injured and when in the lineup, performed horribly. In the majors, he hit .158/.193/.272, and wasn’t much better in the minors after being demoted, where the hit .216/.280/.286 in 313 plate appearances.

Espinosa suffered a torn rotator cuff in late 2012 and broke his wrist early in 2013 and played through both injuries before the Nats finally shut him down for a disabled list stint in May.

Washington Capitals announce three free agent signings

The Washington Capitals announced Monday signing free agent defenseman Tyson Strachan, right wing Matt Watkins and goalie David Leggio.

Strachan, 28, has the most NHL experience of the trio. He played 38 games with the Florida Panthers last season, compiling four assists and 40 penalty minutes. He brings size (6’3″, 225) to the blueline.

Watkins, 26, scored 11 goals and 19 assists for AHL Bridgeport last season and served as that team’s captain. He has appeared in one NHL game with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Leggio, 28, went 38-24-1 with a 2.56 GAA and .924 SV% for AHL Rochester last season.  He led the league in wins and games played in 2012-13, ranked tied for fourth in the AHL in save percentage and19th in goals-against average last season. Leggio set career-best marks last season in games played, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

All three players were signed to one-year, two-way contracts and will most likely spend the season rostered in Hershey.

NHL Free Agency: Washington Capitals leaving dance card open as veterans depart

Friday is the first day NHL GMs can start signing free agents, and the Washington Capitals have already seen three of their prominent free agents take employment elsewhere.

Mike Ribeiro, the long-awaited No. 2 center, signed a four-year deal with the Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes and fan favorite winger Matt Hendricks got his own four-year deal with the Nashville Predators. D Jeff Schultz, who was waived earlier in the week, signed a one-year deal for $700,000.

Good for all, bad for the Caps.

Hendricks’ deal with Nashville will pay him $7.4M over the length of the contract ($1.85M per annum), while Ribeiro will make $22M on his contract, a $5.5M cap hit each season.

The Caps simply could not afford either player for their market value.

It leaves George McPhee in an interesting place, especially with his team poised to join a more competitive division next season. The team is still negotiating with RFA Karl Alzner, but sources indicate that negotiation could end up in arbitration.

One the Caps spots that could use bolstering is another top defensive contributor on their blue line to push John Erskine into more of a third pairing/situational seventh defenseman spot. They do have several youngsters that will compete for playing time on the back end, but most are the puck-moving variety.

Up front, Ribeiro’s exit once again creates a gaping hole at 2C.

The Caps expect Brooks Laich to enter camp completely healthy, but he’s much more suited to wing on the second line or center on the third line. His versatility is one thing the Caps really like about Laich, but he’s just not offensively gifted enough to be counted on as a playmaker on a scoring line, such as Ribeiro was. The Caps once hoped Marcus Johansson would be that player, but his ineffectiveness in the face-off circle and lack of presence on the defensive end makes him more suited to play wing, which we saw him do primarily last season.

To make matters worse, unlike with the defenseman, there are no prospects waiting in the wings to push veterans for playing time at center within the organization.

Many expected (hoped) the Caps would re-sign Ribeiro, eliminating the need to look outside the organization for that 2C as they have so often in the past. Now that Ribeiro has moved on to greener pastures officially, the Caps hand is finally forced. But among the free agent candidates, there are no logical solutions. The only player on the market that really suited their needs at the position is the one that just left.

The Caps will probably have Martin Erat skate with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line next season. If the Caps don’t make a push and sign a free agent –or make a trade — to bolster that second line, it will be formed from a mish-mash of Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and Mattieu Perreault, with the leftovers joining the third line with Joel Ward. Two-thirds of the the fourth line looks pretty set with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti.

A third line of Brooks Laich centering Chimera and Ward is a line with a purpose — defensively responsible with speed on a wing, with two of the three also poised for lots of penalty kill time.

But unless the Caps are willing to get creative and make some deals, they won’t have that luxury. With the road to the playoffs that much more congested, it’s a bad time for the roster to be in such a state of flux.

Washington Redskins Re-sign Tight End Fred Davis Agree To One-Year Deal

It took a little longer than expected, but Redskins tight end Fred Davis has decided to stay in Washington. According to multiple reports, Davis agreed to a one-year contract Friday morning to remain with the team through 2013.

The 27-year old tight end made his decision to return to the Redskins after being briefly courted by teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. But in the end, he decided that Washington was still the best fit for him.

Davis, who is entering his sixth season in the NFL, is coming off a serious achilles tendon injury that ended his season in a Week 7 game against the New York Giants. It appears other teams in the league were reluctant to sign him to a long term deal because of his health issues and his history of violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Add in the fact that the Redskins had the best quarterback situation among the teams interested in him, and it’s easy to see why Davis chose to return for another year.

The one year deal is a win-win for both sides. For the team, it’s a low-risk signing to bring back one of their most explosive players on offense. For Davis, it’s a chance to get healthy, perform at a high level, and get paid in 2014.

Despite the team’s salary cap troubles due to the league’s $18 million dollar penalty, the Redskins’ have been able to continue their offseason trend of keeping their own. With Davis back in the fold, they have now handed out 11 new contracts to players who were on the team in 2012. The only major contributor to sign elsewhere was Pro Bowl special teamer Lorenzo Alexander, who left for the Arizona Cardinals.

Washington Redskins announce roster moves

The Washington Redskins announced via press release on Monday several roster moves.

The team signed unrestricted free agent lineman Kory Lichtensteiger, restricted free agents LB Rob Jackson, TE Logan Paulson, LS Nick Sundberg and Darrel Young, veteran free agent T Tony Pashos, tendered NT Chris Baker and terminated the contract of CB DeAngelo Hall.

From the press release:

Lichtensteiger, 27, started all 16 regular season games and one postseason game for Washington in 2012, just one season removed from a season-ending ACL injury suffered in Week 6 of the 2011 season. His play earned him the team’s Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to a player who displays extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. He was part of a unit that helped the Redskins to 2,709 rushing yards in 2012, setting a team record and giving Washington its first league rushing title since 1933. Lichtensteiger (6-2, 284) entered the NFL as a fourth round pick (108th overall) of the Denver Broncos in the 2008 NFL Draft before joining the Redskins as a free agent prior to the 2010 season. He has appeared in 53 career games with 35 starts, including 37 games played and 35 starts with Washington.

Jackson, 27, started 14 regular season games and one postseason contest for the Redskins in 2012 and set career highs in sacks (4.5), interceptions (four) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (one). His four interceptions were tied for second-most on the team and helped the Redskins’ linebackers to 10 interceptions on the season, the most by a linebacker corps in team history. Originally selected by the Redskins in the seventh round (242nd overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, Jackson (6-4, 266) has appeared in 42 career games, all with Washington.

Paulsen, 26, set career highs in receptions (25) and receiving yards (308) in 2012. He appeared in all 16 of the team’s regular season games with 10 starts and also started the team’s postseason game against Seattle, catching a four-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Paulsen (6-5, 261) has appeared in 43 career games with 16 starts, all with Washington, since entering the NFL as a college free agent with the Redskins prior to the 2010 season.

Sundberg, 25, snapped in eight regular season games and one postseason game for the Redskins in 2012. Sundberg’s play became national news after Week 1, in which he continued to snap in Washington’s 40-32 win at New Orleans despite suffering a broken left arm. Washington finished the year 8-0 in regular season games in which Sundberg played. Sundberg (6-0, 251) has appeared in 40 games with Washington since joining the team prior to the 2010 season.

Young, 25, was a vital piece of Washington’s offensive attack that became the first in NFL history to register 3,400 passing yards and 2,700 rushing yards in a season in 2012. He played in 16 games with eight starts in 2012, rushing 14 times for 60 yards and catching eight passes for 109 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He helped block for running back Alfred Morris’ team-record 1,613 rushing yards and Robert Griffin III’s 815 rushing yards, the most by a rookie quarterback in league history. Young (5-11, 251) originally entered the NFL as a college free agent linebacker with Washington prior to the 2009 season. He has appeared in 45 career games with 16 starts, all with Washington.

Pashos (PAH-shos) was originally drafted out of Illinois by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round (173rd overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft. He has appeared in 92 career games with 70 starts. From 2003-06, he played in 38 games with 23 starts at right tackle for Baltimore. In 2006, he helped Baltimore allow 17 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL.

Pashos signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars on March 2, 2007. He started 15 games at right tackle in 2007, helping Jacksonville rank first in the AFC in rushing (2,391 yards). In 2008, he did not miss an offensive snap for Jacksonville, starting all 16 games and two postseason contests.

Pashos was released by Jacksonville on Sept. 6, 2009, before signing with the San Francisco 49ers a day later. In 2009, with San Francisco, Pashos appeared in five games before being placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Oct. 26. On March 7, 2010, he signed with the Cleveland Browns as an unrestricted free agent, appearing in 18 games with 15 starts at right tackle for Cleveland during the 2010-11 seasons.

Pashos, 32, played collegiately at Illinois where he started in 47 games at right tackle and was named first-team All-Big Ten twice.

Pashos was born on Aug. 3, 1980, in Palos Heights, Ill. He attended Lockport (Ill.) H.S. and was a second-team all-state selection by the Chicago Tribune.

Baker, 25, played in 14 regular seasons games plus one postseason game with Washington in 2012. Coaches credited him with 26 tackles (14 solo), four quarterback pressures and one pass defensed. Baker (6-2, 333) joined the Redskins as a free agent during the 2011 season after entering the NFL as a college free agent in 2009.

Hall, 29, played five seasons (2008-12) with the Redskins, appearing in 68 regular season games with 63 starts and registered 19 interceptions. He started all 16 regular season games in 2012, finishing with 115 tackles (89 solo), including six for loss, 16 passes defensed, four interceptions, one fumble recovery and one sack.

Washington Nationals sign pitcher Jeremy Accardo, catcher Chris Snyder to minor league deals

The Washington Nationals announced via Twitter they signed veteran right-handed relief pitcher Jeremy Accardo and veteran catcher Chris Snyder to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.

Accardo, 31, played for Oakland and Cleveland last season. In 27 appearances he posted a 4.82 ERA and 1.554 WHIP in 27 appearances. He is an eight year MLB veteran with a career 10-20 record (all in relief) with a 4.30 ERA and 1.402 WHIP. In his best season in 2007, he saved 30 games for the Toronto Blue Jays with a 2.14 ERA. He suffered an injury in 2008 and was never the same pitcher.

Snyder will be 32 opening day. A nine-year veteran, last year he played in 76 games with the Houston Astros. He hit .176/.295/.308 with seven homers and 24 RBIs. He is a career .225/.329/.385 hitter with 77 homers and 297 RBIs and is considered a decent backstop with a good throwing arm. Snyder has put together four double-digit home run seasons, including 2008 when he hit a career-high 16.

According to reports, Snyder has an “out” clause that would require the Nats to allow him to become a free agent should he not make the roster.

Both players are short-term insurance for the Nats Major League roster. Accardo seems to have a tough battle to take a spot in an already deep bullpen, but Snyder could see significant playing time in the spring as the Nats will ease Wilson Ramos back in to playing shape after missing much of last season rehabbing from knee surgery. Snyder gives the Nats a veteran option at catcher should Ramos not be ready to break camp, though the team at this point expects Ramos to be healthy and ready for opening day.

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