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Second baseman Dan Uggla has done enough to make the Opening Day roster, but it’s unclear how he’ll be used, writes Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. After a couple dismal seasons, Uggla is in camp as a NRI. He’s hit a solid .278/.422/.500 after undergoing a new vision treatment over the offseason.
His lack of defensive versatility makes him difficult to roster. The club intends to use Yunel Escobar at second base with Danny Espinosa as a utility infielder. Uggla has an opt out, so he’s unlikely to remain with the organization if he’s assigned to the minors. Per Uggla, he wouldn’t feel comfortable in a reserve role. Once Anthony Rendon returns from injury, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals finding a place to keep Uggla.
- Reliever Casey Janssen will undergo a MRI on his sore pitching shoulder, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams described the injury as “generally it’s in his lat…it’s not something that’s normal soreness for him.” That’s worrisome because he missed time with a lat injury late last season. He’s also dealt with other shoulder injuries in the past. Janssen signed a one-year, $3.5MM over the winter and is expected to serve as the eighth inning reliever for the Nationals.
- GM Mike Rizzo won’t be tinkering with the roster much in the coming days. When asked if he could add players before the opener, he told reporters, including Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (on Twitter), “We’re satisfied. We like the team we have.” The injury bug has bitten multiple Nats player, including Denard Span and Rendon.
- The Nationals may allow star pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg to walk via free agency, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. The reason has nothing to do with their performance. Both pitchers received Tommy John surgery in the past. Per Boswell, the “life expectancy” for the reconstructed elbow is eight years. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs estimates that risk of re-injury increases sharply after just 400 to 600 innings. In either event, the injury history may partially explain the club’s willingness to add Max Scherzer over the offseason.
Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM contract with the Nationals is still the talk of baseball, and Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com was among the reporters to speak with GM Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family (who own the Nats) and agent Scott Boras at today’s introductory press conference. The massive deferrals in the contract — half of Scherzer’s guarantee is deferred from 2022-28 — were essential to its completion. “If that didn’t happen, there wouldn’t have been a deal,” said Mark Lerner. “It was really my father and (Rizzo) coming up with a creative deal and luckily it worked out for everybody.” Rizzo explained that a straight seven-year deal would not have fit into the team’s budgetary parameters. Boras, meanwhile, said that he had to have multiple discussions with the Lerner family, as the front office and manager Matt Willians approved of the move from a baseball standpoint. Said Boras: “It was really a matter of working out their interests, understanding the complexity, what’s going to be best for the team — long term, short term — their revenue dynamic.”
Here’s a bit more on Scherzer and his new team…
- ESPN’s Jayson Stark takes a look at the history of seven-year contracts for free agent pitchers and points out that the odds aren’t in the Nationals’ favor on this contract. Kevin Brown‘s seven-year deal with the Dodgers is probably the best signed by a free agent hurler, he writes, with CC Sabathia‘s current seven-year deal ranking second. Brown’s deal ended poorly, and Sabathia’s looks to be on a similar trajectory. Stark spoke with a number of executives about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of seven-year deals for pitchers, with several execs opining that Jon Lester (who signed a six-year deal) is a better bet to hold up in the long term than Scherzer. One GM plainly stated: “Look, these contracts are dumb to begin with. Really, only a three- or four-year deal makes sense. Seven or eight is what the players want. So they should come down to five or six, as opposed to seven. But here’s the thing: It’s all market-based, so you do it.”
- Boras spoke to reporters, including Tom Schad of the Washington Times, following today’s press conference and quickly debunked the rumor that another of his clients, Stephen Strasburg, is ready to move on from the Nationals. “We don’t know where that came from,” Boras explained. “Stephen Strasburg wants to play here and wants to be with Max Scherzer and grow.” Boras added that at the time of Scherzer’s signing, Rizzo informed him that the team’s intention was to keep the current roster intact. Owner Mark Lerner said the same to Schad.
- Boras expanded on those thoughts a bit on MLB Network Radio’s Inside Pitch with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern (audio link): “The Nationals have told us that they intend to keep their pitching staff. They intend to try to win a World Series, to try to move forward, and Stephen Strasburg is certainly a part of that…” Boras also explained why he doesn’t foresee the unique structure of Scherzer’s deal as the beginning of a trend, but rather as a unique situation.
- For those interested, the 15-minute press conference to introduce Scherzer to the D.C. media is available on MLB.com (video link). Scherzer discusses what drew him to the Nationals, being reunited with former teammate Doug Fister and his own reaction to the jaw-dropping $210MM guarantee he will receive. Rizzo talks about scouting Scherzer as an amateur and the Nationals’ offseason plan as a whole, while manager Matt Williams recalls a story from his days as Scherzer’s manager with the D-Backs’ Double-A affiliate.
The Rangers and Phillies had “in-depth trade talks” regarding lefty Cole Hamels before Texas pulled the trigger to add Yovani Gallardo, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. The sticking point in those discussions was money, tweets Morosi’s colleague Ken Rosenthal.
Here are some more notes on some of the game’s best starters:
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski discussed the signing of Max Scherzer with reporters today, and MLive.com’s James Schmehl has the report. Though agent Scott Boras reached out to the club to indicate Scherzer’s interest in exploring a reunion, Dombrowski said that no negotiations occurred. “We never 100 percent closed the door,” he said, “but we’re very happy with the rotation we have.”
- Perhaps most importantly, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch never fully re-engaged with the idea of keeping Scherzer for the long-haul after the righty famously turned down a $144MM extension offer, Morosi reports. As Morosi rightly notes, neither side can be faulted for pursuing its interests. In the end, Detroit did not go beyond its comfort zone and Scherzer was able to secure a better contract elsewhere.
- As for the notion that the Tigers could be in the market for James Shields, easily the best arm left on the open market, Dombrowski again emphasized that he was happy with the in-house options and was not looking to add. When asked specifically whether he wanted to comment on or debunk the Shields rumors, Dombrowski said: “I just did, didn’t I?”
- Of course, the big question now is whether Scherzer’s move to the Nationals will lead his new club to deal from its impressive rotation. While pending free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister have long been talked about as at least hypothetical candidates to move, the Scherzer signing has led to some suggestions that Stephen Strasburg could be dangled. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs discusses what kind of price tag might accompany the star righty, noting that it would likely be high given not only his immense talent but also his reasonable expected salary over the next two years.
- We have already covered a good bit of Scherzer analysis (see here and here), but ESPN.com’s Buster Olney also weighed in (Insider subscription required). He argues not only that Scherzer does not represent a significant upgrade over the already-deep group of Nats starters, but also notes that dealing away set-up man Tyler Clippard — and, if it occurs, trading other starters or shortstop Ian Desmond — could create significant issues elsewhere on the roster. All said, the long-term obligations in the Scherzer deal are something of an unnecessary risk, Olney suggests.
- The Nats shouldn’t trade anyone from their loaded rotation, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. Pitchers get hurt frequently, and the Nationals don’t need to deal a pitcher to fix a hole elsewhere — they’re strong all over the diamond and they have a good farm system.
- Scott Boras has said he often negotiates huge deals with owners, not GMs, and it’s unclear whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner was involved in negotiating the Scherzer deal or how GM Mike Rizzo might now plan if he did, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Nationals have discussed trades involving Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg throughout the offseason, Rosenthal notes. Now that they’ve added Scherzer, though, they could just keep accumulating talent, perhaps adding another Boras client in Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano for their bullpen.
- The Nationals might now be a “super-team,” Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The Nationals’ position players already projected for more WAR than any other NL team, and Scherzer’s signing will move them past the Dodgers for the most projected pitcher WAR as well.
- The Red Sox can still use an ace and would be able to pay the high price necessary to acquire Zimmermann, Strasburg or Doug Fister, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. It would perhaps be more likely that the Red Sox would acquire Zimmermann or Fister, given that Strasburg has two years of control left and would therefore cost more in a trade.
9:08pm: The deal is “close” but will not be completed tonight, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post tweets.
6:54pm: Scherzer is “very close” to signing with the Nationals, although the deal is not yet done, a source tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (via Twitter).
6:10pm: Max Scherzer is talking with the Nationals and one other team about a seven-year contract, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, on Twitter, categorizes the negotiations as “close.” Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweeted earlier the impression around baseball is the Nationals will sign Scherzer, but it was unclear whether a deal was imminent. Tigers President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski denies Detroit is the other team, telling Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press their pursuit of Scherzer is still inactive (Twitter). The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweets the Yankees are not the other team and Rosenthal reports the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers are also not in on Scherzer (Twitter links). The Angels aren’t the mystery team, either, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets, and neither are the Giants or Cardinals, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter links).
Agent Scott Boras has said it would be an ownership-level decision on whether a team will sign Scherzer and that it could be a “two-step process” – ink Scherzer and then trade another member of their rotation. Barry Svlurga of the Washington Post sees Boras pitching Nationals owner Ted Lerner the notion of signing Scherzer to win the World Series in 2015 knowing the salaries of impending free agents Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span will be coming off the books for 2016 (Twitter links).
The Nationals have engaged multiple teams over the past few weeks in trade talks for Zimmermann, tweets FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. If Scherzer signs, Zimmermann is the most likely trade candidate; but, if an acceptable offer for Zimmermann does not materialize, sources tell Morosi the Nationals will look to move Stephen Strasburg (Twitter links).
Washington, amidst reports the club has not had significant extension talks with Desmond, has discussed its All-Star shortstop with other teams, most notably the failed three-way trade involving the Mets and Rays. The Nationals also have not re-engaged Fister in extension talks since last spring and are said to be willing to listen to any trade proposals for the right-hander.
8:53am: Strasburg will earn $7.4MM in 2015, tweets Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post.
8:45am: The Nationals announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with right-hander Stephen Strasburg by agreeing to a one-year deal for the 2015 season. Terms haven’t been disclosed, although MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected an $8.1MM payday for the Scott Boras client.
Strasburg, 26, pitched a career-best 215 innings and made a career-high 34 starts in 2014, working to a 3.14 ERA with 10.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 45.9 percent ground-ball rate. The former first overall pick earned $3.975MM last year in his first trip through the arb system.
The Nationals are clearly in the process of running much of their roster through waivers, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that shortstop Ian Desmond and left-hander Gio Gonzalez have both cleared revocable trade waivers. Ace Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper were both claimed on waivers and subsequently pulled back, Nightengale adds (Twitter links).
That both Desmond and Gonzalez would clear waivers is a bit surprising, although even in the event that they had been claimed, it’s highly unlikely that the contending Nationals would’ve dealt away either key contributor. Desmond, 28, is in the midst of a down season at the plate but has still been valuable. He’s hitting .244/.296/.422 with 19 homers and 13 stolen bases. Defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved are down on his typically strong glovework in 2014, however. Still, as a shortstop with pop that is owed just $1.74MM through season’s end in addition to $11MM in 2015, it wouldn’t have been a surprise for a club to place a claim.
Gonzalez, also 28, has struggled in 2014 as well (by his standards). The lefty has pitched to a 4.00 ERA with 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 44.7 percent ground-ball rate. Though his ERA is higher than normal, ERA estimators such as FIP, xFIP and SIERA all feel that he’s having one of his better years. Gonzalez is controlled through 2016 ($11MM in 2015, $12MM in 2016) with a $12MM club option for 2017 and a $12MM vesting option for 2018. As noted before, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Desmond or Gonzalez being moved this month.
It’s hardly a surprise to see Harper and Strasburg claimed, but it’s even less surprising that the Nats promptly pulled them back. Harper is controlled through the 2018 season, and while he’s having a down season, he possesses a sky-high ceiling and was excellent in 2012-13 despite playing at the ages of 19 and 20. Strasburg is under control through 2016, and while his ERA is higher than normal, he’s sporting a 10.7 K/9 rate and an even 3.00 FIP. Both are Scott Boras clients, so while an extension is unlikely for either, they’re integral part of the Nationals’ plan in the coming seasons.
Both Desmond and Gonzalez will now be added to MLBTR’s growing list of players that have reportedly cleared revocable waivers.
In an interesting piece for FOX Sports, Dan Rozenson of Baseball Prospectus looks at the increasing proliferation of knuckle-curveballs around the game, and suggests that the pitch could be a better weapon than a traditional hook — especially for hard throwers — due to its more fastball-like release point and typically greater speed. While A.J. Burnett of the Phillies is one of the game’s better-known practitioners of the pitch, many others are less well-publicized and have only recently been identified in the PITCHf/x system.
Here are a few more brief notes from the game’s eastern divisions to start off the morning …
- When Brian Roberts joined the Yankees as their starting second baseman, he not only left the only organization he had known (the Orioles) but stood to replace one of the game’s best players in Robinson Cano. Adapting to his new environs and dealing with that pressure may have explained some of Roberts’s early-season struggles, writes Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. “I think it was more self-inflected than anything,” Roberts said of his slow start. “You try hard, I think. I’ve always said it’s got to be hard for guys to switch teams all the time. I was always so comfortable. It was like riding a bike every year.”
- The Nationals are increasingly setting loose ace Stephen Strasburg, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I mean, he’s our horse,” said manager Matt Williams. “He’s a guy that can go 120 [pitches].” While Strasburg’s fastball velocity is down and his results have lagged somewhat in the early going — thanks in large part to giving up lots of early runs — he is striking out batters at a ridiculous 12.2 K/9 rate and advanced metrics love his work. Strasburg has thrown 47 1/3 frames through his first eight starts, which lags Adam Wainwright‘s league-leading 58 innings in as many outings. But if the 25-year-old can continue working late into games, he could well make his first push past 200 innings. That could deliver a big bump in arbitration earnings for Strasburg, who netted a relatively modest $3.975MM in his first trip through the process.
The Nationals have announced that they've agreed to terms with pitcher Stephen Strasburg, avoiding arbitration. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets that Strasburg will make $3.975MM next year. He can also earn up to $125K in performance bonuses, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets. Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras.
MLBTR projected Strasburg would make $3.9MM in his first trip through the arbitration process. He also made $3.9MM in 2013 in what was effectively the final year of the Major-League contract he signed when the Nats drafted him in 2009. The Nationals control Strasburg's rights through 2016. The righty posted a 3.00 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 183 innings in 2013.
Let's take a quick look at some notes from the National League …
- Recent Cubs trade acquisition Jake Arrieta is struggling with consistency even while flashing the potential to be a dominant starter, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Of course, as MLBTR's Zach Links noted back when he was shipped to Chicago, Arrieta was a nice buy-low, change-of-scenery candidate precisely because of his historical inability to harness his stuff.
- Looking forward to the club's right field opening in 2014, the Mets probably lack the top-end young bat that would be necessary to draw Giancarlo Stanton away from the Marlins, writes ESPNNewYork.com's Mark Simon. (Simon notes that catcher Travis d'Arnaud could fit the bill, but his struggles at the MLB level lower his value and he fills an obvious need for his current club.) Looking elsewhere, Simon tabs Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence, Nelson Cruz, and recent Met Marlon Byrd as potential targets.
- Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg had his start skipped today after experiencing soreness in his right forearm, reports Tom Schad of MLB.com. Though manager Davey Johnson said that a medical examination revealed nothing of concern, the team is understandably proceeding with caution, even as it tries to hang on to the fringes of the Wild Card race. At this point, Strasburg has set himself up for a nice arbitration payday regardless of what happens over his remaining starts. He will enter the process for the first time with a career 2.95 ERA over 421 1/3 innings pitched, with 10.6 K/9 against just 2.5 BB/9, although his relatively low inning totals (he is at a career-high 170) and lack of wins this year (he has just seven) could limit his earning potential somewhat.