Nationals Sign Kevin Frandsen

frandsen philsYesterday afternoon, the Washington Nationals made a series of cuts that seemingly left their bench a man short — the two most obvious candidates for the last bench job, Tyler Moore and Jamey Carroll, had been optioned to AAA and given release papers respectively.  Manager Matt Williams stated yesterday that he was considering using extra catcher Sandy Leon or utility speedster Jeff Kobernus to fill the spot, but the moves caused speculation that the Nationals could look outside the organization.

Late last night, the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore mentioned that the Nationals were “one of two or three teams who reached out” to utility infielder Kevin Frandsen, who had been cut by the Phillies just hours before.  While not yet officially confirmed by the team, it seems the Nationals and Frandsen have reached an agreement:

Frandsen, 31, is a right handed bat with experience at all four infield spots in his major league career. Used primarily as a first baseman last year with Philadelphia, Frandsen posted a triple-slash of .234/.296/.341 in 119 games, with 5 home runs and 26 runs batted in.  According to both DRS and UZR, Frandsen is around league average in the field at first, second, and third base (he hasn’t played shortstop at the big league level since 2009).

For his career, Frandsen has marked platoon splits that make him a valuable bat against left-handed pitching — he has a .778 career OPS against lefties, versus just a .626 career OPS against righties (in 2013, the split was even more pronounced; .869 to .536).  If you recall, the Nationals were said this offseason to be interested in Jeff Baker, another right-handed corner infielder with career success against lefties — Frandsen’s skill set is that of a poor man’s Baker.

Frandsen also led baseball with 14 pinch-hits last year; for his career, he has hit .265/.318/.343 in a pinch-hitting role.  For perspective, the Nationals last year pinch-hit at a .208/.250/.358 clip, making Frandsen a clear improvement.

The Nationals decided Frandsen’s positional flexibility made him an improvement over Tyler Moore, and his relative youth and prowess against left-handed pitching made him preferable to Jamey Carroll.  His arrival leaves the Nationals with a bench that will break down like this:

IF Danny Espinosa (bats switch)

IF Kevin Frandsen (bats right)

OF Scott Hairston (bats right)

OF Nate McLouth (bats left)

C Jose Lobaton (bats switch)

There seems to be limited redundancy on that bench, as the balance in handedness and position ensures every player on it is likely to have a different role.

UPDATE: One other ramification of this deal, as mentioned by CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman:

As Zuckerman mentions, Perez is a candidate, as is catcher Jhonatan Solano.

UPDATE 2: The deal is now official:

In order to clear space for Frandsen on the 40-man roster, the Nationals removed Ross Ohlendorf from the 40-man by placing him on the 60-day disabled list with a “right lumbar strain.”

 

Nationals Roster Cuts — Down to 27

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster.

Following their last home game of Spring Training, the Nationals made a series of roster cuts that have finally given shape to parts of their Opening Day roster.  All told, the Nationals cut five players today — they  optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus, LHP Xavier Cedeno, and 1B/LF Tyler Moore to AAA Syracuse, while serving outright release papers to utility infielder Jamey Carroll and RHP Chris Young.  Additionally, they have informed righty reliever Aaron Barrett that he has made the Opening Day bullpen.

Coming into today, the Nationals had active competition for three spots on their roster — the fifth starter, the final reliever, and the final bench spot.  So how do these cuts affect the composition of the team?

Carroll and Moore were thought to be the only two players competing for that final bench spot — if one of them didn’t get it, it seemed likely that the other would.  But having either one on the roster would seemingly create redundancy on the roster.  Moore’s value is as a right-handed bat to platoon with lefty swinger Adam LaRoche, but Ryan Zimmerman’s ability to play first seemingly eliminates the need to keep a roster spot open for such a player.  Similarly, Danny Espinosa fills Carroll’s presumed role of utility infielder quite nicely, as he has displayed the ability to play excellent defense at multiple positions over his career.  So instead, the Nationals are going in a different direction:

Kobernus, who recorded 45 stolen bases last year in time at Syracuse and in DC, would provide the Nationals with a pinch runner in key situations — a position on the bench previous manager Davey Johnson eschewed in favor of “hairy-chested bench bats.”  Meanwhile, keeping Leon on the roster would allow the Nationals to use Wilson Ramos as a pinch hitter in days where he doesn’t start (and the fact that they are considering utilizing a roster spot just to have Ramos pinch hit shows how highly the Nationals rate his bat).

Meanwhile, adding Barrett, a 26-year old reliever with a killer slider who, nonetheless, has never pitched beyond AA, to the Opening Day roster completes the Nationals bullpen.  It means the Nationals’ bullpen will initially contain five right handers (Barrett, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, and Tyler Clippard), and two lefties (Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins).  Furthermore, it means that the loser of the fifth starter battle — either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan — will not then make the team as a long reliever.  Instead, they will be sent back to AAA Syracuse, where they will continue to start, ready to head to Washington in case of injury or ineffectiveness.  The Nationals were said to have been only considering using Roark in long relief, not Jordan, so this move might be a slight tip of the hand that Roark has earned the fifth starter job:

Keep in mind that major league rosters are extraordinarily fluid — the 25 men who will have their names announced at Citi Field on Monday are not going to be the same as the 25 men who are announced September 28th against the Marlins.  But after a long spring, today’s cuts have made manager Matt Williams’ vision of an ideal Opening Day roster quite clear.

 

What’s On Second? Settling the Keystone Situation

Will Espinosa Have the Starting Job, Or End Up Back in the Minors?

Yesterday morning, Baseball Nation’s Rob Neyer wrote a piece talking about Danny Espinosa’s injury woes in 2013, and how his broken wrist hurt the Nationals in 2013. The news of Espinosa’s broken wrist was broken at Nats Fest this weekend, when he told reporters that in April 14th game against the Braves, his wrist broke after getting hit by a pitch from pitcher Paul Maholm. While the injury was originally diagnosed as a bone bruise, it was discovered after the season that Espinosa had actually broke his wrist. From April 15th until his eventual demotion on June 2nd, Espinosa batted a lowly .158 with 2 home runs and a .425 OPS. This past week, Espinosa told reporters that he will be competing for the Nationals starting second base job, saying “Matt [Williams] and Mike [Rizzo] have both called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back.”  But is there room for Espinosa to even be on the Opening Day roster?

Last season, former first round pick Anthony Rendon took over at second base after Espinosa’s demotion to AAA. During his rookie season, Rendon went through streaks of hot and cold hitting, finishing the season with a .265 batting average and an 99 OPS+. While it did take Rendon some time to get acclimated the the second base position, by the end of the season, Rendon made good strides in being a league average second baseman defensively. Going into this season, Rendon will most likely have the edge over any other second base candidate, as it is his job to lose. There is also the option of Jamey Carroll, who the Nationals signed to a minor league deal earlier this month. Carroll, who last started in 2012 with the Twins, struggled last season, hitting .211/261/.251 with the Twins and Royals. While it would be a long shot for Carroll to be the Nationals second baseman, he will definitely be competing for a utility role this season. While there are other options, like Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burris, who were both signed to minor league deals earlier this offseason, the competition will most likely be between Espinosa, Rendon, and Carroll for the starting job and the utility infielder job.

In order to compare the three players, it is best to look at the last seasons that they started the majority of games for there teams. For Rendon, that season would be 2013, but for Espinosa and Carroll, 2012 was the last year that both players started regularly. Looking at offensive production, each player brings something different to the table. Espinosa is the best pure power hitter of the three, with a .402 slugging percentage and 17 home runs. Carroll has the highest average at .268 and highest OBP at .343. Rendon is more of a combination of the two, having the highest OPS+ at 99. Both Espinosa and Carroll have gapping holes in their game; Espinosa has a very high tendency to strike out and swing at bad pitches, while Carroll cannot hit for power. In his 12 year career, Carroll has hit a total of 188 extra base hits. To put that in perspective, Espinosa has hit only 50 fewer extra base hits in a little under 400 games. In terms of the most complete hitter of the three, that title would probably go to Rendon.

It isn’t very hard to compare these players defensively. If you want to look at defensive flexibly, Carroll would be your man. In his 12 season, Jamey Carroll has played every position except for catcher. Yes, he even pitched last season for the Twins.

But in terms of defensive ability, Espinosa probably wins the cake. He has the range and the arm of a shortstop, probably because he is a natural shortstop. When Espinosa is on his game, there are only a few second baseman better than him defensively.

Each player’s stats make a compelling argument for them to be on the opening day roster. However, there are other factors besides stats that come into play. First of all, the organization still has high hopes for Danny Espinosa, thinking that he still has time to live up to his potential. Secondly, Jamey Carroll has the option to refuse his assignment to AAA, and opt to be a free agent if he doesn’t make the club. If the Nationals want to keep Carroll with the organization, he would most likely have to make the club out of spring training. Third of all, like Espinosa, the Nationals want Rendon to get regular playing time so that he can play to his potential. The only conceivable way that all three of these players would be on the major league roster at the same time is if there were and injury to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any other option.

So, who will start for the Nationals come Opening Day? Most likely, it will come down to who has the better spring training. While it is important to take spring training statistics with a grain of salt, each player will be trying extremely hard to prove their worth. In the end, I believe that the Nationals will go with Anthony Rendon starting Opening Day, Jamey Carroll backing him up, and Danny Espinosa starting the season in AAA. Even though Espinosa is beloved in the Nationals organization, manager Matt Williams will do everything he can to win, and putting Anthony Rendon at second will lead to victories.

Way to go Anthony