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Lefties on agenda as Winter Meetings commence

Dec 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

Associated Press Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Hello from the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World, where the Winter Meetings officially open for business this morning.

That’s assuming everyone made it out of the snow/ice up north. By all accounts, it appears everyone associated with the Nationals did make it, including your trusty beat writer, who was delayed getting out of Dulles yesterday afternoon/evening but still managed to make it here in relatively simple fashion.

The Nats find themselves in unusual territory at these meetings. Unusual because they already addressed two of their biggest roster needs last week — trading for Doug Fister to fill out the rotation and signing Nate McLouth as a top left-handed bench bat — and thus don’t need to accomplish a whole lot over the next four days.

Their agenda does include a few items, though, and right at the top of that list is a left-handed reliever.

We’ve been talking about this for the last two months, and nothing really has changed in this regard aside from some potential targets (Javier Lopez, Manny Parra, Wesley Wright) signing elsewhere. Any other lefties who remain unsigned (Eric O’Flaherty, J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Scott Downs, Oliver Perez) all are on the Nationals’ radar to varying degrees. It seems a certainty they’ll wind up with one of those guys. It’s only a question of who. And when.

There’s been increased buzz about O’Flaherty, and for good reason: He’s far and away the best of the available lefties, and the Nationals (like several other clubs) have significant interest in him. The trick is figuring out an appropriate contract offer for a guy still recovering from Tommy John surgery on May 21 who won’t be ready to pitch on Opening Day.

Mike Rizzo has never been afraid to take a chance on pitchers with elbow problems, and he certainly knows what a healthy O’Flaherty could do for the Nationals bullpen. Rizzo just has to come up with an offer that both makes sense for his team and remains the most appealing option for O’Flaherty.

That offer probably will include incentives based on games pitched in 2014, and it probably will include some kind of option for 2015 (unless another club is willing to give O’Flaherty two guaranteed years, at which point Rizzo has to decide if he’s willing to take that risk as well).

I would imagine we’ll be hearing plenty more about this pursuit in the next few days. Rizzo is scheduled to meet with reporters this afternoon, and Matt Williams to is due to hold his first-ever Winter Meetings media session tomorrow.

You’ll find plenty of updates right here over the next four days.

  1. water47 - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    Maybe Rizzo splits his time between signing the LH such as O’Flaherty and moving a few pieces to other teams in return for MiLB talent to continue the stocking the minors. He has parts that can be moved and this is a decent time to do it.

    Thanks Baseball America!

    MLB – Rule 5 players

  2. NatsLady - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    The Winter Meetings has an app. LOL! You can imagine you are there… well, except for the weather.

    http://app.core-apps.com/winter-meetings2013

    • natsjackinfl - Dec 9, 2013 at 7:55 AM

      No imagining here. I will be roaming the lobby staring about 3 PM.

      • scnatsfan - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:46 AM

        jealous!

  3. Sonny G 10 - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    I’d like for us to get O’Flaherty and Howell.

    • scnatsfan - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:03 AM

      I don’t see roster spaces for both. Who are you cutting?

      • Sonny G 10 - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:47 PM

        I put O’Flaherty on injured reserve until he’s ready and then re-assess.

  4. jd - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Sonny,

    That’s not really a good use of resources getting 2 high paid lefty relievers. If they sign O’Flaherty I have no problem starting the year with what we have until he is ready to return.

    As far as backup catcher I sure hope we do better than Buck. We need someone to play competently about a 3rd of the games.

    • Jw - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      Kurt Suzuki.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        I vote that the team swings a deal with Tampa for Jose Lobaton now that they have a surplus of catchers. Lobaton is average for the position with the bat and also is a bit above average defensively. The free agent market doesn’t have very many sound options.

        JD, John Buck is the best free agent option. He is rated very highly on defense by fangraphs and has been worth 2.7, 1.6, 0.9 and 1.6 WAR over the last 4 years and has power. He would be able to handle a 3rd of the teams games I would think. I wouldn’t want him as my #1 option if we didn’t have Ramos but he would be much better than Suzuki or the rest of the group.

        Michael McKenry would be my sleeper free agent option. In 2011 and 2012 he graded out WELL above average defensively according to fangraphs. In 2012 he had .762 OPS with 12 homers in 88 games. He will be only 28 instead of mid 30s like most of the other options and a 1 year deal would basically include multiple team options due to his arbitration status. He has about the same power as Buck so that is worth something.

  5. masterfishkeeper - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    Suzuki is very limited offensively; defensively, he blocks pitches in the dirt well, but doesn’t frame them very well. I’d be happier with a catcher who either has something to offer offensively or one who frames pitches well.

    • Doc - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      I remember the discussion, last season, when we all saw stats showing a significant discrepancy between Ramos and Suzuki concerning our pitchers’ ERA’s. Even Davey didn’t have a stats rationale for the differences.

      Turns out that our former guy Suk is one of the weakest C’s in MLB at framing pitches—now we know the rest of the story!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:31 AM

        Surprising comments on Suzuki and in Game 5 his ability to anticipate pitches and set-up were possibly a contributing issue to the meltdown and some of the most strategic parts of catching and framing is anticipating where the ball ends up.

        Suzuki had a pitch low in the zone against Molina that was a point of debate at the time. That art of framing in the 9th inning could have been a factor at the most crucial time. Suzuki set up higher on a slider and moved his mitt down in the zone to catch the ball and then brought it up. We will never know if that could’ve made a difference.

        Given all that, I would still take Suzuki back as a. Backup. He is very able as a backup and is more productive as we have seen when he’s fresh. I believe Davey ran him too hard and it showed.

  6. Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Like everyone else, I’d love to have O’Flaherty in our bullpen, but is there any way of telling at this point how long his recovery from the TJ will take? I thought the recovery varied from 12-18 months. Obviously, there’s a big difference between being available to pitch (in the minors for rehab) on May 21 vs. November 21. Both Stras and JZnn were on the low side. Has that become the norm?

    scnats fan, surely there is someone to cut from the 40 man if we want to sign Howell and bring up O’Flaherty for a September run, but we don’t have to make that decision until he comes off the 60 man DL, do we? Or do we have to cut someone before putting him on the DL?

    • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      There is some dead weight on the 40 man. Corey Brown, Erik Davis and maybe by mid season Christian Garcia if he can’t get healthy. Not to mention there could be some minor trades involving someone like Eury Perez, Jeff Kobernus etc.

    • Jw - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      There is no 60-day DL until ST starts, or maybe later. If they sign Eric O’F now, someone on the 40 man has to get cut.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:35 AM

        Clearly would be Corey Brown as he has no options and very little trade value. Corey would then become a Free Agent. He could resign on Minor League deal.

  7. pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    Section 222,

    In order to sign O’Flaherty the team would need an open spot. Then once the team gets into spring training they can put him on the 60 day DL. This would open up a spot for a minor league free agent until O’Flaherty is ready but Jw is correct that a spot has to be available for them to add him on a major league deal.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:26 AM

      I was wondering the same thing; thanks to you and jw for answering 222’s query.

  8. Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    Thanks for the clarification, and for the reminder that Corey Brown is good to go… away. Does anyone really think he has any value to the team at this point.

    It seem to me that thinking that O’Flaherty solves our lefty in the bullpen problem for this year is wishful thinking f He could easily not be ready to pitch in the the majors until the All Star break. Some here may be fine with using Det or Solis till then, but I’m not. For one thing, Det may very well be our best option for No. 5 starter. I hope Rizzo makes a play for Howell.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:27 AM

      +1

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:50 AM

        222, very good analysis. It’s risky business counting on Solis on the OD roster. For the past 3 seasons the Manager has been saddled with a poor OD bullpen. From Rule 5 Brian Broderick to Henry Rodriguez to Slaten.

        Matt Williams needs a 7 man pen that is ready with 2 able leftys on OD.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        Pitcher A over the last 3 years.

        2011 – 1.34 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 3.40 xFIP,
        2012 – 3.15 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.81 xFIP,
        2013 – 2.49 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.30 xFIP,

        62.6% GB rate, left handers have hit .207 vs pitcher A and he has an 81.8% strand rate over the last 3 years.

        Pitcher B over the last 3 years.

        2011 – 6.16 ERA, 5.41 FIP, 4.35 xFIP
        2012 – 3.04 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 4.17 xFIP
        2013 – 2.18 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.48 xFIP

        52.9% GB Rate,left handers have hit .193 vs Pitcher B and he has a 76% strand rate over the last 3 years.

        Pitcher A is Scott Downs who will likely sign a 1 year deal due to his age. Pitcher B is JP Howell who wants a multi year deal probably in line with Javier Lopez. I take the consistency of Downs over the up and down of JP Howell.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:08 AM

        pdowdy, good stats. Downs has been more inconsistent while Howell’s line is improvement year over year. I am more comfortable with Howell factoring in age and progression.

        Nice that Rizzo has options but neither will come cheap.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:26 AM

        Yes. Both pitchers have the leverage at this point. I take Downs if Howell wants a Javier Lopez deal but if it is a Sean Burnett type of contract I go for Howell.

  9. scnatsfan - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    I guess Rizzo has to make the decision are you happy as Cedeno as the LOOGY until possiby the all star break if you sign O’Flaherty.

    • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      If he signs O’Flaherty I would hope he signs someone like Jose Mijares just for short term depth. I think it would be ill advised to go with Cedeno as the only lefty option. Mijares is only 1 year removed from a good season and if used strictly as a LOOGY could be good enough in tandem wit hCedeno to hold the fort down until June or July I think. It would be about the same as Abad and Krol.

  10. scnatsfan - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    One more thought – Rizzo might even have a deal with either Howell or O’Flaherty but with the 40 man the way it is he might need to wait and get rid of someone at the meetings before announcing the signing.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      Could happen. I still think Stammen is very tradeable as is Zach Walters and TyMo. Still wouldn’t shock me to see Drew Storen traded to a lower level team looking for a closer.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        I think Stammen and Storen are the prime trade trips. I would think the team would retain Storen just to avoid selling lower on him at this point and because Soriano hopefully will be gone in 2015.

        I wonder what the Marlins would think of a trade for Logan Morrison. He could be a fit for teh bench and a replacement for LaRoche without having to invest a lot. The talent is there. Maybe a change of scenery would help.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:45 PM

        Yes, they wouldn’t achieve top value on Storen. After 2014 not sure who the closer will be. Back to Storen?

  11. NatsLady - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    Roy Halladay is going to retire as a Blue Jay.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      Good for him. Better than a Phoolie.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      Wow. I thought you meant he had signed a one- or two-year deal with them and it was likely to be his last contract. But now I see he’s really retiring immediately.

    • Doc - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      Take your savings account and run, big guy!

  12. dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Am I alone in being completely sold on Roark as our #5? Yes, it would give us 4 righties, and Det isn’t the perfect lefty out of the pen, but Roark was just nails last season in BIG games. I would still pursue O’Flaherty/Howell and use Det for long relief. Det would also be our #6 starter if 1-5 go on the DL.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      My concern goes back to the factor of scouting. Most teams weren’t familiar with Roark giving him a slight advantage. He got hit hard in 1 start and it has to be a concern as to how Roark will make adjustments 2nd time through the NL East.

      Taylor Jordan to me has more potential. Good 2 seam and changeup with an improving slider and a developing cutter. That’s a deadly repertoire.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:22 AM

        Agreed. I think Roark could assume the role of a useful reliever but I am not 100% sold he would be able to come close to what he did last year as a starter. He only faced one good team and he struggled a bit against them. He looks like a guy who could be used in the role that Stammen has been used in the last 2 years and be succesful. Having Roark and Ohlendorf locked in gives the team the ability to move someone like Stammen or Storen and still be comfortable on the right hand side of the ‘pen.

        I also agree that Jordan has more potential. If he has a good spring he is my 5th starter. The best part about him though is his option status. If Detwiler looks healthy I would be fine with starting the year as him being the 5th starter with Jordan as very good depth at AAA.

      • Doc - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        Correctomundo Ghost on TJordan’s stuff vs. Roark’s stuff.

        However, as we agreed previously, location is the #1 pitching ingredient and Roark, at least last season, had better command than TJ.

        If given a choice, the previous field general Davey would take Roark. Both lack experience at the ML level, and I guess the jury is still deliberating.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        Doc, yes on location but that is also mechanics
        that TJord can refine. I like his potential.

        pdowdy, very impressive. You are really making some great posts.

        Great to have choices!

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      Roark has certainly earned a shot, but no way has he locked anything up after less than 55 IP in the big leagues, and all of 5 starts.

      • dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 1:39 PM

        It’s funny–I think Roark has terrific stuff. A consitent 94 mph 2 seamer with location AND a nasty curve which he has great command. I’ve drank the Roark koolaid and am completely hooked.

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Marvin Miller left out again.

  14. NatsLady - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    I like Roark a lot, and not just stuff-wise. He’s older than the average rookie, spent more time in the minors. As a result he has a lot of poise and has other skills, such as fielding his position. Also, he seems to possess, for lack of a better word, “grit.” People like to say a lot of baseball is mental, and mental is where I think Roark shines.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:48 PM

      Very true. He doesn’t panic. I think he has a future with the team. I’m just thinking for now it’s the bullpen.

    • dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      Exactly! Well said. The way he bounced back in his last start really impressed me. He’s mentally tough. I didn’t get that impression from TJord or even Det for that matter!

  15. Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    I don’t disagree with any of the laudatory comments about Jordan and Roark. They have great potential, and I hope they fulfill it next year or in the future. But potential isn’t what we want in the No. 5 spot. If Det is healthy and show’s he’s ready to go every fifth day, then he should be in the rotation. If there’s a spot for Roark in the bullpen (maybe because Stammen is traded for a lefty), then fine. Otherwise, he and Jordan can continue to develop their potential in Syracuse and be excellent injury and doubleheader insurance policies.

    • dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      The only reasons to keep Det at #5 is he is lefty and it would upset him a lot to go to the bp. However, he is probably not better than Roark. A big problem the Nats had last year was waiting too long to make changes to the lineup due to loyalty/patience. Read Espinosa, the whole bench, the lack of lefties in the bp. We lost so many games early last season because of that. It may have cost us the playoffs. I think Roark is way better than Det. We should go with the best pitcher at #5.

      • Section 222 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        I very much agree with your criticism of Davey/Rizzo “waiting too long” to make changes. I’d add sticking with Haren to that list, although he got better at the end and Det’s injury made it tough to do without him. I agree that the best pitcher should be the No. 5. I guess where we differ is on the evaluation of Det vs. Roark. Roark pitched very well, that’s for sure. But how much was that was being a new and unknown quantity? Can he keep it up over a full season? I’m not convinced he’s ready to do that. Det pitched very well over 27 starts in 2012, and in his playoff start. Roark has five major league starts. Not nearly enough to award him the job… yet.

      • unkyd59 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:28 PM

        +1, Deuces….

      • dgourds - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:57 PM

        It will be an interesting spring training. The competition will make the team better. May the better pitcher win the spot.

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