- The Washington Nationals aren’t any closer to coming to terms on an extension either for manager Dave Martinez or GM Mike Rizzo, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (Twitter links). Both are in the final year of their current deals. The Nationals have proven a fairly conservative organization and one that won’t budge due to public perception. For their parts, both Martinez and Rizzo appear to have great trust in the organization. Given that the Nats are coming off a World Series championship, it’s hard to imagine either man moving on. Rizzo is the longstanding architect of these Nats – one of the most sustainable contenders of the last decade – while Martinez is the culture of the club in its current iteration. He has both the respect and the admiration of his players, by all accounts. This is pure conjecture, but Nats ownership may be taking a principled stance by waiting on these extensions. They’ve routinely let star players play out the final seasons of their deals, and it shows some organizational continuity to do the same with Rizzo and Martinez.
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg will make his 2020 debut Sunday against the Orioles, Jessica Camerato of MLB.com reports. Manager Dave Martinez indicated the Nationals are hopeful that Strasburg will give them 75 to 80 pitches in his first start of the season.
Strasburg has been on the shelf with a nerve issue in his right hand, which is certainly not the way he or the Nats expected him to begin the seven-year, $245MM contract they re-signed him to last offseason. Injuries have often been a problem for Strasburg, whose career began with great fanfare in 2010, but he stayed healthy in 2019 en route to a 209-inning campaign and a 3.32 ERA/3.25 FIP with 10.81 K/9 and 2.41 BB/9. He put the cherry on top with a marvelous playoff performance that concluded with a title for the team and a World Series MVP for himself.
This year’s Nationals have come out of the gates slowly at 4-5, but a few of the starters they’ve used – Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde – have done well to prevent runs. Scherzer left his start Wednesday with a hamstring injury, but the three-time Cy Young winner is optimistic he’ll make his scheduled start, per Camerato.
Looking at long-range payroll commitments, there’s a fairly sizable gap between the top-five spenders and the number six club (the Padres, at a total of $396MM). Here’s that top-five:
That list isn’t remotely surprising. Some other deep-pocketed teams have pared back or simply not yet agreed to blockbuster extensions with existing stars. The handful of teams listed above have each recently agreed to monster contracts with one or more superstars.
Looking at a team’s future outlook involves quite a bit more than its contractual commitments. We’d want to consider controllable young talent, the prospect pool, and a wide variety of business factors in assessing which organization is best-situated for the long haul.
Here, though, we’ll just focus on the deals that are already locked in. First, I’ll re-list each of those five teams’ eexisting commitments. Then, you will vote for the one that you’d most prefer to have were you operating a large-budget franchise. (Click on the links to expand the image.)
The Angels feature two mid-prime superstars, including the greatest player of this generation.
The Yankees have an ace, a former MVP who could still return to his former glory, and a group of quality players.
The Dodgers had only limited future commitments until they struck a bold deal to keep one of the game’s best players.
The Nationals are all-in on high-grade rotation pieces.
The Phillies spent big to pluck high-end talent from division rivals.
Which is the best slate of contract commitments? (Poll link for app users; response order randomized.)
Bonifacio, 35, hadn’t seen the majors in the past two seasons but drew the Nats’ attention as an offseason target. He seemed to have a bead on a utility role but ultimately saw little action, striking out twice in three plate appearances.
The Nationals ended up securing the services of Josh Harrison, who has been given more opportunities in the early going. And the team evidently still prefers not to give up on the out-of-options Wilmer Difo. That left Bonifacio on the chopping block.
7:59pm: Thankfully, Scherzer is not dealing with an arm issue. He says he has a hamstring issue that flared up during the game, as Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com was among those to cover on Twitter.
5:32pm: The Nationals pulled ace Max Scherzer from tonight’s game after one inning. It’s not yet clear what drove the decision.
Scherzer had a bit of a rough frame, throwing 27 pitches and allowing one run. He had exhibited lower-nineties velocity — not necessarily a bright red flag in its own right, but a step down from his typical heat.
This is a developing story …
The Nationals have activated outfielder Juan Soto and right-hander Wander Suero from the injured list, the team announced. Outfielder Andrew Stevenson was optioned to the alternate training site to open one roster spot, while the team’s recent placement of Will Harris on the IL left them with an existing vacancy.
Soto isn’t in tonight’s lineup, manager Dave Martinez told reporters (Twitter thread via Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com), but he’s available to pinch-hit. Soto himself told the club that he felt he needed at least another day to get up to speed for a full nine-inning game. The 21-year-old has yet to play this season since testing positive for Covid-19 on Opening Day and also missed much of the team’s Summer Camp, so he’s a bit behind. Recently signed utilityman Josh Harrison is getting the nod in left field in Soto’s place tonight.
The Nats have gone 3-4 in Soto’s absence. Their schedule has been partly interrupted by the Marlins’ Covid-19 outbreak, as the Nats were scheduled to face the Fish over the weekend but saw that series postponed due to ongoing health concerns with the Miami organization. In a way, the Nationals will benefit from that postponement, as they’ll now likely have Soto back in the fold for three games he’d have otherwise missed. For the time being, they’ll host the Mets for the first of a two-game set. Washington’s next dozen games will come against the Mets and the Orioles. Soto won’t be back in the everyday lineup right out of the gate, but he’ll be back in the heart of the order before long.
Nationals superstar Juan Soto is making progress on the clearance process to rejoin the team. He has been cleared to resume action by Major League Baseball after receiving two negative coronavirus tests, manager Dave Martinez told reporters including Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic (Twitter link). Jon Heyman of MLB Network had previously tweeted the news.
Trouble is, Soto still has one more hurdle to clear. He’s in need of approval from the Washington, D.C. Department of Health. The hope is that authorization can be obtained in time for Soto to suit up on August 1st.
While the Nats would have preferred not to go without Soto at all, this still rates as generally promising news. He ought to be able to participate in the bulk of the 2020 contests. Unfortunately, the club is already in a hole after a 1-4 start.
The Nats are also still waiting for co-ace Stephen Strasburg, who has experienced nerve irritation in his hand. He’ll skip another start tomorrow, with Erick Fedde taking the ball in his place. It does sound as if Stras is nearing readiness to ramp back up.
5:15pm: Nats manager Dave Martinez tells reporters that Soto has now received the required back-to-back negative test results from Major League Baseball’s approved labs (Twitter link via Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). The team is simply awaiting league/city clearance for Soto’s return at this point.
11:15am: Nationals star Juan Soto is currently out due to a positive COVID-19 test, meaning he needs consecutive negatives before he’ll be allowed to return to action. It seems he’s currently registering mixed results in testing, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter.
Per the report, Soto has registered six negative tests — three from official league tests and three from team-administered tests. He has yet to string together two negatives that qualify to clear him for activation. Putting aside the phenom’s own situation, it’s yet another reminder that testing for the virus is anything but a foolproof means of ascertaining an infection.
For the Nationals, the first concern is obviously with Soto’s own well-being. From a pure competitive perspective, he’s obviously also of critical importance to the team’s hopes of pulling off a repeat title run. The charismatic 21-year-old carries a .287/.403/.535 batting line through his first 266 MLB games and was every bit as good during the team’s 2019 postseason run.
Major League Baseball has formally announced a series of alterations to the upcoming schedule in the wake of the Marlins’ Covid-19 outbreak. The changes are as follows:
- All Marlins games are postponed through Sunday. As a result, the Marlins aren’t expected to play until next Monday.
- The remainder of this week’s Phillies-vs.-Yankees games have been postponed. As a result, the Phillies aren’t expected to play until Friday.
- The Yankees and Orioles are now scheduled to play at Camden Yards on Wednesday and Thursday.
- Additional scheduling alterations for the week of Aug. 3 will be announced by the league later this week.
Those alterations seemingly leave the Nationals without an opponent this coming weekend, as had been recently reported to be the case by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Major League Baseball concluded its press release with the following statement:
The difficult circumstances of one Club reinforce the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field. We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments. The realities of the virus still loom large, and we must operate with that in mind every day. We are confident that Clubs and players will act appropriately, for themselves and for others, and the data provides reason to believe that the protocols can work effectively.
Notably, the release doesn’t address the bizarre scene on Sunday that saw Marlins players and field staff make the final call on playing — rather than a league official or health expert — even as positive tests piled up. Both shortstop Miguel Rojas and manager Don Mattingly said after the game that the team never gave strong consideration to calling off the game. It’s rather remarkable that the decision on whether to play that day fell the field level in the first place, however. Whether any alterations to that decision process will be implemented moving forward remains unclear.
MLB’s press release indicates that the other 29 teams have not had any new positive tests among on-field personnel since July 24. That would seem to clash with the Reds’ July 25 announcement that Matt Davidson has been placed on the IL following a positive Covid-19 test, though that test may have technically been conducted prior to the 24th. There have been several other players placed on the IL without a reason given, although that doesn’t ensure any have had a positive test. Teams are permitted to place players on the Covid-19 IL if they show symptoms or are exposed to someone known to have tested positive.
1:45pm: In addition to the Phillies being paused through Friday and the Marlins being paused until Monday, the Orioles and Yankees are now indeed likely to play one another on Wednesday and Thursday, Sherman tweets. The Nationals, meanwhile, won’t have a game at all this weekend, since they’d been slated to play the Marlins.
1:26pm: The current plan is for the Marlins to be held out from playing until “at least” next Monday, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link). Incorporating doubleheaders and making use of some off-days could help to make up ground in the schedule, although with only a week’s worth of off-days worked into the existing schedule, there are some potential pitfalls with that approach as well.
12:58pm: The Phillies are expected to resume action against the Blue Jays on Friday, Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets.
12:52pm: The Marlins’ 2020 campaign has been “paused,” according to Craig Mish of Sports Grid (Twitter link). That development is part of an apparent effort on the part of Major League Baseball to tweak its schedule to account for the breakout of COVID-19 cases within the Miami organization.
With the Phillies also sidelined, at least for the short term, the league is left with two teams out of action. It’s considering a plan to match up those two organizations’ previously scheduled opponents — the Yankees and Orioles — in order to keep logging as many games as possible, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link).
While the Philadelphia organization doesn’t have any new positive tests to worry about, it recently took the field against the Marlins. The Phils will also be held back for at least some time as a result, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links).
The idea, it seems, would be to get the Marlins and Phillies caught up on total contests later in the season. If they don’t quite make it to 60 total games, postseason qualification could still be determined by winning percentage. It isn’t clear exactly what standards the league will apply to determine when to resume action for these teams.
This on-the-fly scheduling construction is obviously fraught with difficulty. Many problems could end up being kicked down the road, particularly if the Marlins have further difficulties or the breakout turns out to have expanded to other organizations.