As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Joe Ross, who was wildly erratic during a season that included several promotions and demotions, and then surprisingly started Game 5 of the World Series.
PLAYER REVIEW: JOE ROSS
Age on opening day 2020: 26
How acquired: Traded with Trea Turner from Padres, with Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott going to Rays in three-team deal, December 2014
MLB service time: 4 years, 18 days
2019 salary: $1 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2022
2019 stats: 4-4, 5.48 ERA, 27 G, 9 GS, 0 CG, 64 IP, 74 H, 41 R, 39 ER, 7 HR, 33 BB, 57 SO, 4 HBP, 1.672 WHIP, 84 ERA+, 4.59 FIP, 0.7 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR
2019 postseason stats: 0-1, 5.14 ERA, 2 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 1 SO, 0 HBP, 1.143 WHIP
Quotable: “I definitely noticed them kind of roaring as I went to the field, which was pretty cool. I would say probably louder than any previous start than I’ve had. So I would say I appreciate the fan support, even from pregame through the game.” - Ross, on the crowd reaction to his Game 5 start in the World Series
2019 analysis: The Nationals had no need for another starter early in the season, but they certainly had need for bullpen help. So they took a chance and summoned Ross from Triple-A Fresno to try to patch up that leaky unit. It did not go well. Though his velocity was up, he was hit hard. In 18 relief appearances, he had an 11.17 ERA and 2.172 WHIP, with opponents slugging a gaudy .616 against him.
Later in the summer, though, the Nationals’ need was in the rotation, with both Max Scherzer and Jeremy Hellickson on the injured list. So Ross got another chance, and this time he was successful. Relying more on his sinker down in the zone, he made nine starts and posted a 3.02 ERA and 1.455 WHIP, with opponents slugging a mere .363 off him.
With their top four starters healthy by October, Ross found himself observing the postseason from the bench. Until the World Series, when he surprisingly was added to the active roster and was available out of the bullpen. Turns out the real need for his services was as an emergency starter in Game 5 of the World Series when Scherzer was scratched with a neck injury. Ross’ final line in that start - four runs in five innings - wasn’t great, but he received mostly positive reviews for his effort in an unexpected situation.
2020 outlook: So where does Ross stand within the organization after all that? He certainly seemed to re-establish himself as a candidate to fill out the back end of the rotation. And even if the Nationals re-sign Stephen Strasburg, they’ll still have one open spot for a starter, with Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth the prime candidates.
Here’s the problem: All three of those young right-handers will be out of options in 2020. All must make the opening day roster or else be exposed to waivers. It seems unlikely any would go unclaimed.
So that could create quite a spring training competition for the No. 5 starter’s job, and Ross would seem to go into that with a slight leg up on the others given his longer track record and late-season success once he returned to starting full-time.
If, however, the Nationals aren’t convinced he can duplicate that improved performance, they could try to see if there are any takers for Ross on the trade market this winter. Or, given his status as an arbitration-eligible player who already makes seven figures, they could elect to non-tender him this winter. Suffice it to say, Ross’ status and role are very much up in the air at this point.