Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of SBNation’s Federal Baseball discussed the Washington Nationals most recent roster moves and how the roster seems to be taking shape for opening day.
As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.
If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.
With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.
For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.
Here’s the schedule:
Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen
In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.
Josie’s on a vacation far away…
Jayson Werth, RF: Werth was a stealth candidate for MVP last season, and actually ended up 13th on the postseason award ballot. The .318/.398/.532 line he posted at age 34 had everything to do with that. Werth enjoyed one of his finest seasons in the bigs, despite missing 33 games due to injury, which has to be expected from the guy at this point in his career. There’s no way he’ll every live up to the immense contract he signed to come to D.C., but when he’s been in the lineup the past two seasons he’s outdone what could have reasonably been expected of him. How long does that production continue? His defense is already slipping greatly and he has four more seasons to his contract, so it becomes an important question as Werth enters the twilight of his solid career.
Denard Span, CF: Trivia: He’s the only player in Major League history by the name of Denard. Or Span. Anyway, Span rescued his season with a torrid seven weeks at the end of the season, which was along the lines of what GM Mike Rizzo expected when he traded pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins for him. Span bottomed out on Aug. 16 at .258/.310/.353, nowhere near what’s necessary in the top spot in the batting order. For the next 39 games, he hit .338/.375/.459, instrumental in the Nats late resurgence. It was too little, too late to save the Nats playoff aspirations, but the Nats have to get more near his career line (.283/.351/.387) on a more consistent basis to make this offense work.
Bryce Harper, LF: Bam Bam put up a .274/.368/.486 line his sophomore season at the age of 20. That’s at once hard to comprehend and easy to overlook. He’s doing remarkable things at such an early age. Unfortunately, he’s his own worst enemy right now with his “balls to the wall” approach at defense. At some point, self-preservation has to take hold. No manager or coach wants to tell Harper to slow down, but he needs to stay on the field – and healthy – to fulfill his promise. After crashing into the wall at Dodgers Stadium in May, he played all season on a knee that required surgery at the conclusion of the season, under the radar while many weren’t paying attention to baseball. He needs to figure out lefties (.214/.327/.321/ in 158 PAs) and breaking balls, but the talent is there. He just needs to stay on the field.
Nate McLouth, OF: Last season was the first time since 2009 McLouth played more than 90 games at the Major League level. His resurgence for the Orioles is nothing short of astounding, considering the trajectory his career was taking. In ’10 and ’11 with Atlanta he hit .190 and .228 with 10 homers combined. His first 34 games with Pittsburgh in ’12 were no better: .140/.210/.175, leading to his release. He rediscovered himself in Baltimore, hitting .26/.342/.435 and .258/.329/.399 the past two years. Now 32, McLouth will see plenty of at bats with the injury-prone Nats outfield and as a late inning pinch-hitter. By default, he becomes the leader of the Goon Squad.
Scott Hairston, Corner OF: Hairston is the right-handed hitting Ying to McLouth’s Yang. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. But Hairston’s overall numbers last year (.191/.237/.414) and age (34) – not to mention his paltry .214/.259/.484 against LHPs, who he’s supposed to “mash” – signal the end is rapidly approaching the once versatile and useful player. It’s true, all 10 of Hairston’s homers last season came against lefties, but as his slash line indicates, it was literally all or nothing for Hairston. 10 of his 27 hits in 140 plate appearances against LHPs were home runs. Against righties? .097/.147/.276. Can this actually be the Nats primary right-handed bat off the bench? With a walk rate of 5 percent and contact rate of 72 percent, this a guy whose skills aren’t declining, they’ve just about evaporated.
Jeff Kobernus, Corner OF: Kobernus made his MLB debut last year at the age of 25, past prospect status. His tryout lasted 36 PAs and resulted in a .167/.306/.267 slash as he played all three outfield positions. Small sample caveats abound, as the converted second baseman held his own in Syracuse, hitting .318/.366/.388, all minor league career highs. You like to see a player whose numbers rise as he goes up the ladder. He’s had 40+ steals each of the past three seasons in the minors and folks love his work ethic. But there’s not a lot of room in the bigs for a right-handed hitting speedster without obvious elite skills and no pop, especially in the outfield.
Eury Perez, CF: Did you see the last sentence I wrote about Kobernus? It applies even more toward Perez. His stolen base numbers have plummeted as he’s risen through the ranks, from 64 to 51 to 23. He’s always made good contact, as his lifetime .305 average will attest to. But there’s no power, less willingness to walk, and he’s only an average defender despite his speed – though he has a decent arm. Perez is destined for pinch runner/Quad-A status.
Steven Souza, Corner OF: Souza was a third round pick in 2007 out of high school, so he’s been in the system for-e-ver, toiling first in anonymity, then infamously due to his PED suspension in 2010. But Souza has blossomed a little bit the past two seasons and put himself back on the radar of the big club. He has an interesting pop/speed combo (15 homers, 20 SBs in 323 PAs for Harrisburg in ’13) with good plate discipline (.396 OBP) and had a nice appearance in the Arizona Fall League in October. The 25-year-old could have a chance to impact the big roster yet.
Brian Goodwin, CF: Goodwin is the heir apparent to the center field position at Nats Park. The 34th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Goodwin has an impressive arsenal of tools. He possess elite plate discipline, something that might actually hurt his counting numbers in the minor leagues, as he simply won’t expand his strike zone for inferior pitchers. When he does swing, he has a nice blend of pop to go along with squaring up on the ball. Goodwin is a fine defender in center, though his arm isn’t the greatest, and he’s still learning to use his speed on the bases (just 19 of 30 last season). He struggled at the start of last season in Double-A, but picked up as the season went on. There’s plenty of time for the 23-year old as Span plays in his walk year this season (barring Nats picking up Span’s $9M option for ’15).
Michael Taylor, OF: Scouts have been drooling over Taylor’s athleticism since being drafted in the sixth round of the ’09 draft. Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s never really been able to translate all that athletic ability into production on the baseball field. He’s still young (23 in March), so he’s got time to “put it together”, but in over 1600 minor league at bats, Taylor owns a .249/.319/.399 slash. He repeated High-A last season and tore it up on the base paths (51 of 60 on steals) and his slash went up a little bit across the board. Double-A this year will tell the story of whether he’s a baseball player or athlete.
According to multiple sources, the Washington Wizards on Friday traded Emeka Okafor and a protected 2014 first round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for center Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee. According to The Washington Post, the team expects to release Brown, Marshall and Lee.
“We have solidified our frontcourt by adding a player who has established himself as a very consistent and productive inside presence over the last three seasons,” Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld said via press release. “Marcin’s ability to rebound, defend and score will allow us to continue where we left off last season and pushes us further toward our goal of becoming a playoff team.”
Gortat, 6’11″, 240, averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds last season for the Suns. He missed the last 21 games of the season with a right foot injury, though he did play summer ball in his native Poland. Gortat is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $7.7 million this season.
Okafor has missed the Wizards training camp with a herniated disk in his neck and it’s still to be determined when he can resume basketball activities. He averaged 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds last season in 79 games. Okafor is in the final year of his $14.5 million per season deal.
The 2014 first round pick is protected through the No. 12 overall selection.
This move further signifies the Wizards insistence on making the playoffs this season, though it hardly ensures anything beyond this year. The team is unlikely to re-sign Gortat short of an All-Star campaign, and they surrender a high pick in what should be a very deep draft class next year. GM Ernie Grunfeld has made every move this off-season with an eye toward the post-season, and the revenue that is associated with that distinction, even if those moves aren’t necessarily long-term in thinking.
It was kind of a busy media day at Kettler for the Washington Capitals Friday, as Adam Oates changed up his forward lines quite a bit and announced that F Tom Wilson will stay with the Caps all season.
Wilson, 19 and earning just 6:41 per game, could have been returned to his Juniors team without counting against his contract up until his tenth game of the season. But GM Geprge McPhee and Oates both reiterated that Wilson would stay in D.C. for the long-term. Wilson is not eligible to play in the AHL this season due to some quirky age and draft restrictions.
As for the forward lines, in an effort to try to add offense to the second line, Oates moved Martin Erat up to the left wing spot there, sliding Brooks Laich to center with Troy Brouwer keeping his familiar spot. He then dropped Mikhail Grabovski to center the third line with wingers Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. The fourth line had Jay Beagle centering Aaron Volpatti on the left and Wilson and Eric Fehr slotted at right wing.
Some of the changes make a lot of sense, and some others remain head-scratchers. After keeping the forward lines intact the first seven games of the season — with decidedly mixed results — Oates’ tinkering here is not insignificant. Caps fans are used to constant line shuffling, as previous coach Bruce Boudreau, and even Dale Hunter to an extent, fiddled with the line combinations on a regular — even nightly — basis.
For my money, the Caps best line this season to this point was the third line, with Fehr between Chimera and Ward. That group has had the best puck possession numbers of any of the groups of forwards. Fehr, a natural scoring winger, has been doing a credible job in the faceoff dot, but to me the experiment to line him up in a pivot position was always a reach — essentially, the Caps were trying to shoehorn him into a spot in order to increase his flexibility in order to justify keeping him over Matthieu Perreault.
Where I don’t see Fehr is on the right wing on the fourth line. Granted, Wilson isn’t getting a ton of ice time yet this season, but that kinda has to be his spot to justify the Caps decision to keep him with the big club and not let him play full minutes every night in Juniors.
Also, it seems to be a bit of a waste to move Grabovski down between Chimera and Ward, two players not particularly gifted skills-wise. Granted, Grabovski puts up good possession numbers and this line should be able to generate some chances due to that, but it will certainly limit Grabovski’s ability to be more creative with the puck — not that he was having a whole lot of success in that area between Laich and Brouwer.
I really do prefer Laich at the center position, but I’d like to see him at the pivot on the third line with fellow grinders Chimera and Ward, especially since Laich sees a lot of penalty kill time with Ward. But the Caps made a huge investment in Laich and have maintained that he is a Top-6 forward and can center the second line, so it appears we’re going to see that combo, at least for the time being.
Of course, none of these changes affect the top line, where Marcus Johansson has been a passenger all season. He’s contributed a meager three shots on goal in seven contests and is routinely being run off puck in all three zones. Johansson is not small (listed at 6’1″, 205) but plays much smaller than his actual stature.
His best asset is his skating ability, but he rarely puts himself into position to fully utilize his skills. And on the rare occasions that he is in the right place at the right time, he usually passes up the shot in deference to his two senior linemates.
The Caps play Saturday night against Columbus in the last of a five-game homestand before heading out on a Western Canada swing next week that will see them through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before heading back to the Atlantic Coast to play Metro Division foe Philadelphia before coming back home. It will be an arduous road trip and it could very well tell us exactly what type of team the Caps are going to be this season.
The Washington Capitals reportedly placed right-handed defenseman Tomas Kundratek on waivers Wednesday, with the plans to send him to Hershey if he clears waivers. The rest of the league has until Thursday at noon to make a claim.
Kundratek’s removal from the roster removes his $550,000 salary cap hit, giving the Caps a little more room under the cap with which to maneuver.
The move could be a pre-cursor to the team keeping Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old winger that has made a terrific impression in camp. He is not eligible to play in the AHL this season, so if he doesn’t make the Caps, he’d have to be returned to his junior team. Coach Adam Oates has made several comments that he’d like to have Wilson’s size and presence on the fourth line this season and that he’s already outgrown major Juniors, calling him a man among boys at that level.
The Caps top two defense pairing seem set, with veterans Karl Alzner and Mike Green as the top pair and John Erskine and John Carlson the second duo. The Caps then have several candidates to fill the bottom pair.
Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy finished last season as that third pairing, but Kundratek’s overall game seemed to be a good fit to stick around as the seventh defenseman or eventually step in for Oleksy.
Then there’s Dmitry Orlov, who at one time seemed destined for top-four minutes. A series of injuries, including a concussion that saw him miss over three months last season, derailed those plans.
In Adam Oates’ pregame comments before the team takes on Nashville Wednesday night at Verizon Center, he said that Kundratek is “a good hockey player. If he gets picked up [on waivers], I hope he does well. If he doesn’t, I hope we see him again.”
The Washington Capitals announced early Saturday morning via e-mail they re-signed forward Marcus Johansson to a two-year, $4 million deal. Johansson will earn $1,825,000 in 2013-14 and $2,175,000 in 2014-15.
Here are the vitals from the press release:
Johansson, 22, recorded 22 points (6 goals, 16 assists) in 34 games during the 2012-13 season. He ranked tied for fourth on the Capitals in assists and tied for fifth in power-play goals (3). The 6’1”, 205-pound center posted career marks during the 2011-12 campaign when he collected 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) in 80 games with Washington. He ranked third on the team in assists, tied for third in points and tied for seventh in goals.
The Landskrona, Sweden, native has collected 95 points (33 goals, 62 assists) and 22 penalty minutes in 183 regular-season games with the Capitals. Among his 2009 draft class, Johansson ranks fifth in goals and points, seventh in assists and eighth in games played. In addition, the center has recorded four goals and seven assists in 30 career NHL playoff games.
Johansson tweeted his reaction mid-day Saturday:
Proud and excited to be a part of the Washington Capitals team and organization for 2 more years!! Can’t wait to get started! #RockTheRed
— marcus johansson (@mjohansson90) September 7, 2013
Johansson may be the most-talked about “disappointing” prospect that has come through the Caps system. Often criticized for what he is not instead of praised for what he does well, Johansson has been a target for detractors because he’s failed to put up big scoring numbers despite playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom for the most part the last two seasons.
But Johansson is still just 22 years old and an elite skater — both speed and technique — and with a full training camp with head coach Adam Oates he has the skills to be able to flourish in Oates’ forechecking and pressure offense.
From Japers Rink post-season player evaluations:
Johansson also looked much more confident and assertive when he returned from injury, using his speed to open up space in the neutral zone and gain the offensive blue line. As long as he is playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, he’ll need to continue to find ways to use his skill set to create opportunities for those players. The assertive play following his return to the lineup also coincided with much stronger possession numbers.
There’s time yet for Johansson to assert himself and take advantage of the minutes he gets playing on the top line for the Capitals and live up to his lofty first-round selection in the draft. He now gets two years to continue to progress and develop into the player the Caps think he can be.
The contract is reasonable for a player of his age and skill set, though it does push the Capitals right up against the salary cap, according to Capgeek.com.
The Washington Nationals added five more players to their active roster with September roster expansion, selecting SS Zach Walters from AAA-Syracuse and recalling OFs Corey Brown, Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez and LHP Xavier Cedeno from Syracuse. All but Walters have been on the big league roster at some point in their tenure in the Nats system. Walters will make his MLB debut with his first appearance.
Walters hit .253/.286/.517 with 29 home runs and 77 RBIs in his first full season in AAA this year. The International League All-Star tied for first in the league in homers and led the league in extra-base hits.
Cedeno has been recalled by the Nats on three occasions so far this season, pitching a grand total of 1 1/3 innings with one strikeout. He’s 2-0 with four saves and a 1.31 ERA and 1.136 WHIP for Syracuse.
Brown, 27, hit .254/.326/.473 with Syracuse with 26 doubles, 19 home runs and 56 RBIs in 107 games. Kobernus, 25, hit .318/.366/.388 with one home run and 42 steals in AAA. Perez, 23, hit .300/.336/.442 with seven home runs and 23 stolen bases in 96 games for Syracuse.
The Washington Capitals move to bring in center Mikhail Grabovski this week will send ripples down – and maybe even up – the Caps active roster, and may even prevent a top prospect from breaking camp with the team. But the bottom line is that they are better equipped today to deal with the rigors of an 82-game schedule than they were when the free agency period opened up, or perhaps at any point last season.
Grabovski has strong puck-possession numbers for his career and makes players around him better. The numbers are there to consider, if math doesn’t scare you. In fact, his puck-possession numbers are so much better than the player he takes the place of, the departed Mike Ribeiro (or anyone else on the Caps’ current roster that could fill the second-line center position) that the upgrade in that area should make the loss of Ribeiro’s supreme passing skills negligible.
For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to assume Caps GM George McPhee and Marcus Johansson’s representatives work out a deal to bring the slick-skating Swede back into the fold. There isn’t a whole lot of cap space available after Karl Alzner’s new deal and Grabo’s contract, but there still is some dead weight McPhee can trim to fir Johansson into the salary structure.
So, even though D.C. is still under a blanket of summer humidity and the chill of Kettler’s air conditioning for training camp doesn’t start for a few weeks, let’s take a look at how some of the line combinations might work with the addition of the Caps newest play-driving center.
Here’s a handy infographic of my interpretation of the Caps lines and we’ll discuss them below.
I think the top line is set in stone, with the caveat that McPhee gets Johansson under contract, something he indicated in his press conference Friday morning was still in the works, but that the right deal had to get done. It will get done.
The second line, as constructed here, should be a quality second scoring option for the Caps this upcoming season. Erat had a rough go of it at the end of last season, not really fitting in immediately after the trade, then getting hurt and missing out on the playoffs. But he’s a quality skater with good hands and should bounce back with solid – and regular – linemates. Troy Brouwer, on the other side, is coming off a real nice season goal-scoring wise. His 19 goals (in just 47 games in the lockout-shortened season) were second most in his career and should find many more quality opportunities at regular strength with this group.
The third line is the “lunchpail” group. If Laich is indeed going to play center, he profiles much better on the third line with similar grinders than he does in the top six where he would be expected to contribute more to scoring. With Chimera’s speed, and the work ethic of the three across the board, this line should see plenty of ice time against the top lines in the newly formed Metropolitan Division. In addition, Laich and Ward should see top duty on the penalty kill as well, and grouping them together on a skating line makes more sense than breaking the two apart on different lines.
The fourth line becomes something of a mish-mash though. Of the veterans available to pick from, Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr profile more as scorers than fourth line muckers. At least, that’s their pedigree. Jay Beagle is a defense first (and only) center and isn’t really the best pivot for the other two. But all have established themselves as NHL players and it would be surprising to see any left off the team in favor of the players in the next group – unless a player is moved between now and the start of camp, which is entirely possible considering the logjam of forwards and the salary cap ramifications.
Aaron Volpatti and Brandon Segal are fourth-line journeymen. Both are relatively capable in their low-leverage assignments but have very limited ceilings and should be valued as such. Michael Latta, the other player acquired with Erat in exchange for top prospect Filip Forsberg, can play. Just 22, he brings skill and toughness and carries himself bigger than his 6’0, 213 frame.
Many would like to see Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old 6’4″, 210 winger the Caps called up during the playoffs to add toughness against the New York Rangers, make the team out of camp. But the Caps seem to have enough depth now that they don’t have to have him in D.C. this season.
Eventually, Beagle, Latta and Wilson could combine to form a formidable and punishing fourth line for this organization, something that the team has been missing since the Bradley-Steckel-Gordon combo was broken up several seasons ago.
With the addition of Grabovski, the Capitals now have better forward depth and multiple choices of how to line up those forwards. Before, forcing Laich into a second line role caused second-guessing and questions throughout the line-up. This team might not have moved to the top of the list of Stanley Cup candidates with the acquisition of one second line center, but it certainly made for a more solid NHL roster from top to bottom – at least from the aspect of the forward lines.
The Washington Capitals announced Friday morning the signing of center Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. Grabovski, 29, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and 24 PIMs in 48 tumultuous games with Toronto last season. In 2011-12, the Belorussian center recorded 23 goals and 28 assists with the Leafs, ranking third in both categories.
“Mikhail adds speed and offense to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals,” said Caps GM George McPhee through a team press release. “We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club.”
Grabovski fills a void left by the departure of Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after the free agent period opened last month.
As our friends over at Russian Machine and Japers Rink so aptly and thoroughly described, Grabovski might not put up top-of-the-leaderboard point totals, but he is particularly adept at driving play and making players around him better, and will help the Capitals tremendously in puck possession from the second line center position, theoretically lining up with Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer.
Grabovski’s arrival will have a ripple effect throughout the Caps lineup. It allows coach Adam Oates to slide Brooks Laich into the 3C slot, a much more natural position for him and a more comfortable grouping with Joel Ward, a fellow penalty killer, and Jason Chimera on the wings.
The signing does not come without warning though. Grabovski has had his share of on- and off-ice problems, including a feud with Randy Carlyle, his coach last season, that saw his role and ice time diminish, resulting in the Leafs buying out Grabovski under the contract amnesty clause of the CBA once the season finished.
But his arrival in Washington provides Grabovski with a clean slate, and considering his age, experience and contract status, he should be plenty motivated this season to play hard, keep his nose clean, and put up good numbers in order to secure a long-term contract once the season ends, whether he’s retained here in D.C. or he hits the open market once again.
Grabovski is scheduled to meet the Caps press this afternoon via teleconference, and District Sports Page will update this story as more information becomes available.
According to this Washington Times article, the Washington Nationals have traded catcher Kurt Suzuki to the team they acquired him from, the Oakland Athletics, in exchange for an unnamed prospect.
In 78 games this season, Suzuki hit .223/.284/.311 with just three home runs and has been a man missing in action since Wilson Ramos’ return from the disabled list.
The A’s, in post-season contention, have dealt with a string of injuries to their catching corps. Starter John Jaso has been out over a month with concussion symptoms and Derek Norris injured his toe the other day and is destined for the disabled list.
The Nats will need to activate a catcher to back up Ramos and the most likely candidate is Jhonatan Solano.
Suzuki had a team option for next season, but at $8.5 million, the Nats were not likely to pick up that option. It remains to be seen the player the Nats will receive for Suzuki, but if they knew they would let him walk, at least they were able to get a return for him.
This also might signal the team’s acceptance that the Nats aren’t going to contend for postseason play this season. Manager Davey Johnson has been working Tyler Moore and a few others into the lineup on a platoon basis lately, so the team is entering the evaluation phase for next season it appears.