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There was never quite a Jefry Rodriguez Narrative in Washington. That would have required him being a fixed part of the Nationals’ plans — not a fringe pitcher who, in November 2018, was traded to the Cleveland Indians in the deal that netted catcher Yan Gomes. But before and after Rodriguez left, there was mixed messaging about whether he was a future starter or reliever.

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And now, at last, it could all get cleared up this spring.

The Nationals have signed Rodriguez to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. Rodriguez struggled with Cleveland in 2019, missed 2020 with back and shoulder injuries and was non-tendered this month. He battled poor command, too, though it was health that limited him to eight starts and two relief appearances. Then he returned to Washington for an outside chance to make the club.

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But there are additional wrinkles after Ross opted out of playing in 2020. By doing so, he forfeited his salary — also an agreed-upon $1.5 million — and a full year of major league service time. As a result, he will be arbitration eligible for a fourth time after next season. That will delay his ability to become a free agent, giving the Nationals an extra year of team control. Ross was acquired in the 2014 trade that also brought Trea Turner to Washington.

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With Ross’s deal out of the way, the Nationals have two more arbitration-eligible players in Turner and Juan Soto. They happen to be franchise cornerstones. Turner, a 27-year-old shortstop, is in his third year of eligibility and was set to make $7.45 million in 2020 before salaries were prorated. Soto, a 22-year-old phenom, is in line to be Super Two eligible and is due for a big raise on the $629,400 salary assigned to him by the Nationals this past year.

Spencer Kieboom built his life around baseball. Then he quietly walked away.

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Washington can negotiate salaries with either player at any time. But if they don’t agree before 7 p.m. Wednesday — the non-tender deadline — the Nationals will have to officially tender contracts to Turner and Soto. This is one of the bigger formalities of baseball’s offseason. The club is of course interested in retaining its two best hitters. Devising long-term contracts for Turner and Soto comes at different phases of the team’s five-year plan. In the meantime, though, they’ll have to go through the arbitration process and negotiate with a pair of young stars who tore through the pandemic-shortened season.

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That leaves a lot of details to be worked out. Ross’s deal followed the logic that, without playing in 2020, his initial salary for that season was transferrable. It thus makes sense that he was first to settle with the Nationals.

Without Ross this past summer, the club leaned on Austin Voth and Erick Fedde to round out its rotation. Prospects Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer got shots to start, too. But after Voth fumbled an opportunity, and with Fedde serving well in a do-everything role, it’s likely that Ross has the inside track for a rotation spot. He was the last-minute fill-in for Max Scherzer in Game 5 of the World Series in 2019. He was trending in the right direction before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. He was solid for parts of 2019, working his sinker-slider combo, and could slot in behind Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and an undetermined fourth starter whenever the season begins.

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The start date, like everything else, is solidly up in the air. So is whether there will be a universal designated hitter and how big the playoff field will be. Ross, on the other hand, knows how much money he’ll make if everything goes as planned. That’s one small box to check off.

Will that really show whether the Nationals view him as a starter or reliever? Maybe not. Nonroster invitees have to impress enough to earn a coveted 40-man roster spot. The Nationals padded their rotation depth by adding Rogelio Armenteros off waivers Dec. 7. They otherwise have Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer after Kyle McGowin, once a depth starter stashed in the minors, was moved to the bullpen in 2020. So Rodriguez could arrive in the spring, throw a bit and be gone by the regular season, off to find another chance. But how he is used in West Palm Beach, Fla., will be telling. With a few backfield workouts, a few scrimmages, the mystery of Jefry Rodriguez should fade.

First, a short history: At the general managers’ meetings in November 2018, The Washington Post asked Mike Rizzo about adding a versatile, multi-inning reliever. Josh Hader had just lit up the playoffs for Milwaukee. It built on what Andrew Miller did for Cleveland in 2016, fitting the trend of shorter starts and more creative bullpen usage. Rizzo entertained the idea.

Well, he sort of did.

“Sure, I’d love that,” he said, sarcastically hinting that pitchers such as Hader and Miller are a rare find. “Who do you have in mind?”

That’s when a reporter suggested Rodriguez.

“Jefry’s certainly got good stuff, multi-innings, rubber arm, can bounce back. I still see him as a real good starting piece for us,” Rizzo said. “To me, the industry, us as an industry, we develop more relievers than starters. I like to get pitchers that have the capacity to start every opportunity to start, keep them stretched out.”

Now fast-forward three weeks, right after Rizzo traded Rodriguez and outfielder Daniel Johnson for Gomes. When asked about dealing Rodriguez, thus thinning the Nationals’ rotation depth, Rizzo took a slight turn.

“It’s one starting candidate we don’t have anymore,” Rizzo said. “We thought Jefry’s primary role on our team in the future was going to be in the bullpen.”

 

At the time, this was either the truth or post-trade spin. Perhaps it was some combination of the two.

But even before Rizzo’s parting comments, it was fair to ask whether Rodriguez could flip to the bullpen. He has a mid-90s fastball and a decent curve, and he hasn’t developed a second off-speed pitch. The Nationals briefly tested him as a reliever in 2019. As they did, Manager Dave Martinez daydreamed — out loud — about Rodriguez becoming Dellin Betances, a four-time all-star then with the New York Yankees. The logic was that, with only a few outs to record, Rodriguez’s velocity could tick up and overpower hitters. It was a big ask.

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BALTIMORE- In August of 2013, the Nationals traded veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Oakland A’s for a minor-league pitcher from a college known more for basketball.

Today, nearly seven years later, that pitcher made his Major League debut and is now teammates on the Nationals with Suzuki.

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Dakota Bacus, 29, drafted out of Indiana State by Oakland in 2012, pitched two innings and did not allow a hit or run in the completion of the suspended game against the Orioles.

Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development for the Nationals, has been monitoring Bacus at the alternate site in Fredericksburg. The right-hander from Moline, Illinois made 225 minor-league appearances, with 65 starts, before his first MLB contest.

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“We are very excited for Dakota,” Scialabba wrote to Federal Baseball on Friday night. “He’s grinded his way through the minor leagues for a long time and earned this opportunity.”

“He’s a fearless competitor that showed a great deal of resilience and perseverance throughout his career,” Scialabba added. “Over the last couple of years he’s really focused on how to effectively utilize his strengths and consistently attacks the zone with his sinker, slider, curveball combination.”

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“He looked good. He threw the ball really well. He got some outs for us. It was good to see. He came in and he looked good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels for the second game, but he threw the ball, he threw strikes, which is nice.”

The year prior, Garcia had an issue with surrendering the long ball, even though he finished the season with a WHIP of 0.866.

Sam Clay was signed to a major league contract without having pitched in the majors largely because he is a ground ball pitcher. Last year Garcia had a ground ball rate of 41.7%. There is room in the bullpen for two guys who induce hitters to pound the ball into the ground.

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Injuries in 2020 forced a lot of the younger Nationals pitchers to see action before they normally would have. Acquiring Garcia would mean Seth Romero, Ben Braymer, and Dakota Bacus are not rushed into action before they are ready, should injuries rear their ugly head again.

Garcia is due about $2M in arbitration this season and is a free agent at the end of the year. The Marlins are still budget conscious and will be willing to sell high on Garcia before they lose him next year without getting anything in return.

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Even though the Marlins made the playoffs last year (thanks to the expanded format), they are still a couple years away from seriously contending. They’d be happy to flip Garcia for a guy with more years of team control. Say, Ryne Harper or Austin Voth. Players with big league experience who have struggled some, though have potential and may just need a change of scenery.

Bacus pitched in 46 games last year at Triple-A Fresno out of the bullpen in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

His pitching coach there was Brad Holman, now the pitching coordinator in player development for the Nationals.

“It’s a great success story,” Holman told Federal Baseball from Fredericksburg on Friday. “He just goes about his business as a professional. He finally bought into who he is. He learned to pitch with what he’s got.”

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A ninth-round draft pick, Bacus began his pro career in the Arizona League with Oakland in 2012.

After he was traded to the Nationals, he made it to Double-A Harrisburg for the first time in 2015 and he also spent part of 2016-19 in the Eastern League.

Bacus reached Triple-A for the first time last season, and was 5-5 with an ERA of 3.58.

“He worked really hard to be here,” Martinez said Friday. “He threw the ball well. He threw the ball well in Spring Training in March. We liked his stuff. He worked really hard during this whole Fredericksburg deal, and we thought he was ready to come up here and help us. As you can see he threw the ball exceptionally well, we liked what we saw. Hopefully he continues to do that and helps us win games.”

The Orioles won 6-2 to finish the suspended game on Friday. Since it was a home game for the Nationals, the victory gave the Orioles a three-game sweep against the Nats on the road for the first time since 2015.

And despite an injury to Starlin Castro and bullpen woes, Bacus was one of the few bright spots on a damp Friday night in Charm City.

“As you can see, he threw ground balls. But he’s got a good sinker, he’s got a really good slider/curveball, and he uses all his pitches,” Martinez said. “For a guy that came up for the first time, as you can tell, he knows who he is. He shook Yan Gomes off quite a few times to get to the pitch that he wanted to throw, that he felt comfortable throwing, and that’s good to see.”

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Rogelio Armenteros, 26, underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from right elbow this past March, so he didn’t pitch in 2020, and the former Houston Astros’ pitcher, who was
claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this month, was claimed again, this time by the Washington Nationals, who announced this afternoon that they’d added
Armenteros to their 40-man roster by claiming him off waivers from the D-Backs.

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Born in La Habana, Cuba, Armenteros signed with the Astros as an amateur free agent in 2014, and made his major league debut for Houston in 2019, going (1-1) in five games and
two starts, over which he had a 4.00 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, five walks, 18 Ks, and a .243/.293/.314 line against in 18 IP.

Armenteros was primarily a starter in his five seasons in the Astros’ system, making 106 total appearances, 93 of them starts, in which he had a combined 3.45 ERA.

The righty has a four-pitch mix, with nothing particularly overpowering, working with a 91 MPH fastball, 83 MPH changeup, 79 MPH curve, and 85 MPH slider.

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Armenteros was ranked 21st on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Astros’ top prospects prior to the 2019 campaign, with their scouts noting that though the 6’1’’, 243 lb pitcher,
“… only has one pitch that grades better than average, he has thrived because his tumbling changeup and his feel for sequencing and locating his entire repertoire keeps
hitters off balance.”

“He changes eye levels with sinking 88-90 mph two-seam fastballs and riding 90-92 mph four-seamers, and he has hit 95 mph at times. His average slider/cutter and fringy
curveball rarely buckle knees but he utilizes them well off each other.”

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Projecting the right-hander as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, the Pipeline scouts noted then that, “he [had] one of the highest floors among the [Astros’] pitching
prospects but no clear opportunity in Houston.”

He’ll likely get an opportunity to claim a spot in the Nationals’ rotation this spring.

In a post on the Diamondbacks claiming him earlier this month, MLBTraderumors.com’s Steve Adams noted that the right-hander has an option remaining.

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Today’s move, the Nationals noted on Twitter, leaves them with 34 players currently on the 40-Man roster in D.C.

It was a busy day for Cuban major leaguers, as Raisel Iglesias was traded and Rogelio Armenteros has a new home.
The Cincinnati Reds have traded their closer Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for reliever Noe Ramirez and a player to be named later.

The 30 year old closer had an exceptional year out of the pen in 2020 coming off a subpar season the year before. In 22 appearances the hard throwing Cuban saved eight games in ten opportunities, posted an ERA of 2.74 and opponents hit a paltry .193 against him. He also had a career high SO/9 of 12.1 and a career low WHIP of 0.91. He’s owed $9.1 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

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I reached out via telephone to get the native of the Isle of Youth’s response to the trade and he had this to say about the transaction, “I’m very grateful to the Reds organization for signing me out of Cuba and making me the pitcher I am today. I’m also very appreciative of the support the fan base gave me while I was a member of the team. I will never forget my time in Cincinnati and will always have a spot in my heart for those fans.”

RELATED STORY: How Iglesias re-established himself
“The Angels have a lot of talent especially in the pen and on the lineup. I’m looking forward to making my mark as the closer. Knowing that I’m an impending free agent is going to motivate me to have a great season and leave it on the field for the Angels.”

Armenteros claimed off waivers by Nationals

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Crafty righty Rogelio Armenteros has been claimed off waivers for the second time in two weeks. The team that originally claimed him two weeks ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks inexplicably placed on waivers and he quickly picked up by the Washington Nationals.

The addition of Armenteros gives Washington a possible 4th or 5th starter behind Strasburgh, Corbin, and Scherzer or at worst a very talented long reliever.

NEXT: Plenty of moves amongst Cuban players
The righthander debuted in the majors in 2019 with Houston and posted a 1-1 record with 4.00 ERA in 19 innings of work. Armenteros missed last year due to injuries. The team expects to pencil him in somewhere on the roster whether it be the bullpen or the rotation.