Nats face tough decisions after learning Fedde is out of options

Davey Martinez’s message to the three pitchers competing for the No. 5 starter’s job this spring has been consistent throughout.

“Regardless of who’s going to start or what, they’ll have an opportunity to pitch,” the Nationals manager repeated Tuesday during a Zoom session with reporters. “Like I’ve said before, we’re gonna need all these guys across the course of the year.”

Indeed, the Nats know they’ll need far more than five starters in a 162-game season. And that’s why even as it has become clear Joe Ross will be in the rotation to begin the year, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde surely will be part of it at some point along the way as well.

Part of it, that is, provided the Nationals can manage to keep both right-handers in the organization, a task that has recently become more challenging than initially expected.

The club has been proceeding throughout the spring believing it would be able to send Fedde to the minors to open the season if needed, because the 28-year-old remarkably still had another option to his name. In other words, he could be demoted to Triple-A and recalled to the majors whenever needed.

Fedde-Dealing-at-SF-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThat has since been declared untrue. The Nationals and Fedde recently learned that an independent arbitrator ruled in the pitcher’s favor and he is now out of options, a source familiar with the decision confirmed.

Most professional ballplayers get three option years in which they can be called up and sent down as many times as their teams want. A select few who reach the big leagues quickly are granted a fourth option year, and Fedde met the necessary criteria in 2020. And because he wound up spending the entire shortened season on the big league roster, it was believed that fourth option would carry over into 2021.

Fedde, though, filed a grievance, claiming the shortened season should count as much as a full season would have, thereby no longer making him eligible to be optioned to the minors. An independent arbiter agreed, as first reported by The Washington Post, so Fedde’s final option is now no more.

What that means: The Nationals cannot send any of the three rotation candidates to the minors without first exposing them to waivers, which would allow every other club to claim them at no cost. If they want to avoid taking that risk, they’ll need to keep all three on the 26-man major league roster (or the injured list) the entire season.

Can the Nats afford to keep them all on the roster? Only if they’re willing to carry two long relievers in their bullpen. Perhaps that’s a valuable asset in early April, when starters aren’t fully stretched out to throw 100-plus pitches every five days. But over the long term, it’s not an ideal scenario, especially for a team that expects to have one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball.

Whether in the next week or sometime during the regular season, the Nationals are probably going to have to decide which pitcher to risk losing on a waiver claim. They would first designate that pitcher for assignment, then wait to see if another team claimed him. If somehow the player went unclaimed, he could then be outrighted to the minor leagues, remaining in their organization but no longer on the 40-man roster.

Though Voth and Fedde alike have yet to establish themselves as consistently effective big leaguers, both would probably garner some interest from other clubs. A rebuilding team, in particular, might believe it’s worth claiming one and giving him a chance to pitch in their major league rotation.

It might not be that significant a loss for the Nationals if the organization was stocked with plenty of up-and-coming pitching talent. But that remains a problem area, with few legitimate pitching prospects anywhere close to big league ready.

The club’s top two prospects are 2019 and 2020 first-round picks Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli. Both right-handers are highly thought of, but neither has spent a full season in the minor leagues and both need plenty more development before they’re considered major league material.

The Nationals’ closest-to-ready rotation candidates are Rogelio Armenteros (who hasn’t yet pitched in a game this spring due to a sore arm), Seth Romero (who also hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game yet), Ben Braymer (who made his major league debut last summer) and Paolo Espino (a journeyman who made one emergency start last September).

In other words, the organization may have little choice but to do everything it can to retain Voth and Fedde, just to ensure it has viable replacement options should a regular starter go down.

It’s far from an ideal scenario, but it’s where the Nationals now find themselves in the final week of camp.

blog comments powered by Disqus