What latest roster moves say about Nats' player development

The Nationals made a handful of roster moves yesterday, headlined by officially announcing re-signing right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to a one-year deal. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-hander they designated Gerardo Carrillo for assignment.

Also part of the news dump was the Nats announcing they agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Tanner Rainey, avoiding arbitration, and that Lucius Fox cleared outright waivers and has been assigned to Triple-A Rochester. The Nats designated Fox for assignment last week when they claimed right-hander A.J. Alexy off waivers from the Rangers. A lot of moving parts for a simple one-year signing. But you can’t blame general manager Mike Rizzo for getting as much work done as possible before the holidays.

While we shouldn’t expect more news the rest of the week (my famous last words while I’m covering for Mark Zuckerman through Christmas), we can look back on the changes made to the Nationals roster so far this offseason and what they mean in the big picture.

Carrillo was the second of the four players the Nationals received from the Dodgers in exchange for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at the 2021 deadline to be designated for assignment this year. The Nats designated Donovan Casey for assignment in August when they claimed left-hander Jake McGee from the Brewers. Casey cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Rochester two days later.

After a year that was limited to 21 appearances overall due to injuries and saw him post an 11.32 ERA in 10 games at Double-A Harrisburg, Carrillo is expected to take a similar route as Casey and Fox, going unclaimed on waivers and being re-assigned to one of the Nats’ minor league affiliates.

On one hand, it’s a good thing he’ll remain with the organization. But it is telling that the Nationals exposed two prospects they received in one of the biggest trades in club history to waivers and neither were claimed by another team.

Yes, Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz were the main prospects in the package returning to Washington. But Casey and Carrillo were supposed to be two depth pieces for an organization trying to retool its farm system, and it seems their values have lowered.

Casey was promoted to the major league roster earlier this season, but never made his debut. He went on to slash .216/.279/.345 with a .623 OPS, 10 doubles, three triples, seven homers, 29 RBIs and six stolen bases in 84 games with Rochester.

Neither prospect was seen as worth a chance on a waiver claim by other teams, which shows how other organizations now view the Nats’ depth and player development.

There was a time over the last decade when the Nats couldn’t try to sneak young players through waivers. They built one of the best farm systems in baseball through the MLB Draft and the international free agent market, so any player left exposed to the waiver wire was immediately coveted.

Nowadays, the Nats can send players through waivers and eventually back to their minor league system without worry. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Now including Fox and Carrillo, the Nationals have removed 11 players from the 40-man roster this offseason, exposing them to waivers. (Optioning a player removes them from the 26-man roster, not the 40-man, and can only happen during the season.)

Tres Barrera and Francisco Pérez cleared outright waivers and were assigned to Triple-A Rochester when the players on the 60-day injured list were reinstated to the 40-man roster in November. Both Barrera and Pérez went unclaimed and elected free agency.

Later that same week, the Nationals released Seth Romero after his second arrest in Texas for driving while intoxicated. Although Romero is a different situation with his off-the-field issues, he is still an example of a former Nats prospect who remains unclaimed and a free agent.

Then came the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. The Nationals selected the contracts of Jake Alu, Matt Cronin, Jeremy De La Rosa, Jose Ferrer, Jake Irvin and Jackson Rutledge to add them to the 40-man roster. To make room for these prospects, they designated Tommy Romero for assignment before re-signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training last week. Yadiel Hernandez, Jackson Tetreault and Evan Lee also cleared waivers and were outrighted to Rochester to remain in the organization, though off the 40-man roster.

After signing Jeimer Candelario and Stone Garrett to major league deals to fill the 40-man again, the Nationals needed to create room ahead of their first pick in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. They sent Yasel Antuna and Josh Palacios through waivers and outrighted them to the minors. The Nats assigned Antuna to Rochester and Palacios to Harrisburg.

Again, a lot of minor league movement.

While all 11 players were made available to other teams, only Palacios is currently with another organization after the Pirates selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. And only Barrera, Pérez and Seth Romero are no longer with the Nats.

The roster flexibility and ability to keep guys in house is, of course, a plus. But the fact that these players are not desired by other teams shows the current reputation of the Nats’ player development around the league.

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