In discussing what went wrong for the Washington Nationals in their disappointing 2015 campaign, GM Mike Rizzo, in an MLB Network Radio interview in September, put the blame on himself for some of the Nats' struggles.
"Specifically the injuries in the bullpen were problematic because we didn't backfill those spots when a [Craig] Stammen and then later on when a [David] Carpenter went down and that type of thing.
"We relied on some young players in the back end of the bullpen at the back end of games and they weren't fully-developed and fully ready for the role and I take responsibility for that portion of it."
Now-former pitching coach Steve McCatty described the loss of Stammen to a torn flexor tendon in his right arm as "a big blow to the bullpen," in a separate MLB Network Radio interview this week.
Last night, the Nats made the decision to non-tender the 31-year-old, seven-year veteran, making the right-hander a free agent.
After the decision was announced last night, NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, in noting that the Nationals could just bring Stammen back on an incentive-laded deal, wrote that a, "... source familiar with the decision said the reliever wouldn’t rule out that possibility but doesn’t necessarily expect an offer to be made and is prepared to sign elsewhere this winter."
Stammen earned $2.25M last season. MLBTraderumors.com projected a $2.4M salary for 2016.
Will the Nationals' 2005 12th Round pick end up pitching for a new organization for the first time in his career this season or will he end up back in the nation's capital?
After acquiring veteran infielder Yunel Escobar in a January 14, 2015 trade with Oakland that sent right-hander Tyler Clippard to the A's, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier that he and his front office staff did their homework on the then-32-year-old, eight-year veteran.
"By all of our scouting reports and [internal] sabermetric evaluations, we feel that [Escobar is] more than capable of playing above-average defense at shortstop and at second base," Rizzo said.
"The public defensive metrics are something that we take with a grain of salt. We have our own private internal defensive metrics that we utilize more often and the scout's eye and the analytics combined is what we always use in our evaluations and we feel that 'Yuni' is a really good defender at both middle infield positions, can really play shortstop and can play second base and has performed offensively throughout his career."
Escobar, in his second season with the Tampa Bay Rays, posted a .258/.324/.340 line in 137 games and 529 PA's in 2014, connecting for 18 doubles and seven home runs in a -0.1 fWAR campaign.
"Had a little bit of a down year last year," Rizzo said. "We think he's a rebound candidate that's going to get back to his career norms and have a really solid year for us and upgrade our ballclub both offensively and defensively."
Escobar, who dealt with shoulder and quad injuries in 2014, did bounce back offensively, putting up a .314/.375/.415 line with 25 doubles and nine home runs in 139 games and 591 PAs, over which he was worth 2.1 fWAR.
Defensively, the veteran infielder, who was expected to play second, but ended up playing third when Anthony Rendon was injured, finished last among qualified NL third basemen at -11 Defensive Runs Saved, with a -7.7 Ultimate Zone Rating, also last among qualified NL third basemen and a .970 fielding percentage, which was actually second among qualified NL third basemen at the so-called hot corner.
With Rendon expected to return to his most-comfortable position at third base in 2016, Escobar, Danny Espinosa, Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo are expected to compete for the starting roles at short and second since Ian Desmond is now a free agent.
Though Escobar struggled at short in his final season in Tampa Bay, Rizzo told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner, that he thought the infielder could still play the position he's played for most of major league career.
"I don’t see any reason why he can’t," Rizzo said. "He may not have the range [he had] at 28 years old but he’s a sure-handed guy and his feet work at shortstop. He’s much more comfortable playing shortstop than third base. You’re talking about a guy who had to learn third base. He took it like a trooper and it was a team-first decision."
Another possibility? The Nationals could sell high on the infielder coming off a bounce-back campaign. Escobar is under contract for 2016 (at an affordable $7M) with a club option for 2017 at $7M (or a $1M buyout). FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthl wrote this morning that it's a possibility:
One player who is expected to be shopped next week in Nashville: #Nationals IF Yunel Escobar.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 3, 2015
Do the Nationals need to acquire an infielder (like a Ben Zobrist?) if they do deal Escobar, or do they go into the season with unproven commodities like Turner and Difo and the resurgent but still questionable Danny Espinosa as their middle infield options?