Washington Nationals – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-05T23:25:42Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Steve Adams <![CDATA[Nationals Reverse Decision To Cut Minor League Pay]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198205 2020-06-01T18:01:40Z 2020-06-01T18:01:40Z The Nationals drew pointed criticism yesterday after cutting the weekly stipend for their minor leaguers from $400 to $300 and even evoked a prompt response from their active roster. Left-hander Sean Doolittle and several other Nats veterans met “within hours” of the news, Doolittle tweets, quickly agreeing to cover the difference and ensure that minor leaguers would be paid their full stipend.

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” Doolittle wrote. “Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled. We recognize that and want to stand with them and show our support.”

The wave of negative backlash has clearly altered ownership’s thinking, as Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan now reports that the Lerner family today sent a memo to minor leaguers informing them that they will continue to receive the full weekly stipend (Twitter link).

It’s a rather embarrassing about-face for the Lerner family. The decision to slash the weekly stipend, after all, would likely have saved in the vicinity of $80-90K in the first place. As Britt Ghiroli and Emily Waldon of The Athletic pointed out, no other team in the league has opted to reduce that weekly amount. (The Athletics, though, opted to halt the stipend entirely.) It’s not clear how the organization plans to continue beyond the month of June, although it’s easy to imagine ownership being particularly wary of bad P.R. following this situation — particularly given how poorly it was received even among their own big leaguers.

Nats lefty Patrick Corbin retweeted The Athletic’s original story on the decision and also retweeted Keith Law’s observation that owner Mark Lerner’s net worth is estimated at $5.3 billion. Yan Gomes retweeted Doolittle’s speech and added the message: “Stand together!” Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and others also retweeted Doolittle’s message — one that resonated with other young players throughout the league. Rays minor leaguer Shane McClanahan (link) and young Indians southpaw Logan Allen (link) both tweeted that they hoped to someday be in position to make similar gestures. Of course, most would argue that players should never be in the position to have to step in like this in the first place.

While the Nats’ current minor leaguers are surely breathing a sigh of some relief, the organization also cut several minor leaguers over the past week — as has been the case with most other teams. (The Royals and Twins stand as notable exceptions.) Ghiroli and Waldon have the full list of 40 minor leaguers who were cut loose by the Nats (subscription required) — a group that includes former big leaguers Mac Williamson, JB Shuck, Allen Webster and Luis Sardinas.

Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Nationals Reduce Weekly Pay For Minor Leaguers]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198177 2020-06-01T04:19:54Z 2020-06-01T02:08:17Z Just as the A’s were heavily criticized for their decision, the Nats have already taken some heat for the stipend cut, considering that the total amount of money being saved is so relatively minor for a billion-dollar franchise.  As one unnamed Nationals minor league put it, even a reduced stipend is better than being released, but “For us lucky ones still getting help, it’s bittersweet. I wish the owners really weighed how much that $100 they cut us back is saving them versus how much it helps put food on the table for us and our families.”

The Nationals are among the teams who released several minor leaguers within the last week, with Brittany Ghiroli and Emily Waldon of The Athletic (subscription required) reporting that the defending World Series champions cut somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 players.  As for the remaining players in Washington’s farm system, the club will be paying them $300 per week through the month of June — down from the $400 weekly stipend that has become the norm throughout baseball, as per the March agreement between the players and the league.  “The Nationals are believed to be the only Major League team paying a lower stipend amount,” Ghiroil and Waldon write, though the Athletics announced earlier this week that they would be ending the stipend entirely at the end of May.

Just as the A’s were heavily criticized for their decision, the Nats have already taken some heat for the stipend cut, considering that the total amount of money being saved is so relatively minor for a billion-dollar franchise.  As one unnamed Nationals minor league put it, even a reduced stipend is better than being released, but “For us lucky ones still getting help, it’s bittersweet. I wish the owners really weighed how much that $100 they cut us back is saving them versus how much it helps put food on the table for us and our families.”

[UPDATE: Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted that he and the rest of Washington’s Major League roster will be supporting their organization’s minor leaguers by “committing funds to make whole the lost wages from their weekly stipends.  All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”]

Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Nationals Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198025 2020-05-28T18:08:20Z 2020-05-28T21:00:41Z We’re planning a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR – just for the fun of it!  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.  We’ll have plenty more next week, culminating in a live draft event.

The American League results are in!  Click here to see who’s protected and who’s available for each AL team.

Click here for previous entries in the series.  The Nationals are the last team up for discussion.

First we’ll remove free agents Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Kurt Suzuki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Sean Doolittle, Eric Thames, and Anibal Sanchez from consideration.  Adam Eaton’s $10.5MM club option for 2021 is worth entertaining, so I’ll add him to the poll.  Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg make the protected list due to their no-trade clauses.  We’ll lock down seven players out of the gate:

Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Juan Soto
Trea Turner
Patrick Corbin
Victor Robles
Carter Kieboom

That leaves eight spots for the remaining 23 players.  You can review the Nationals’ contract statuses and service time here.

Tres Barrera
Aaron Barrett
James Bourque
Starlin Castro
Wilmer Difo
Adam Eaton
Roenis Elias
Erick Fedde
Yan Gomes
Ryne Harper
Will Harris
Daniel Hudson
Kyle McGowin
Jake Noll
Tanner Rainey
Raudy Read
Joe Ross
Adrian Sanchez
Andrew Stevenson
Wander Suero
Michael A. Taylor
Austin Voth
Austen Williams

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly eight players you think the Nationals should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft.  Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Furloughs, Pay Cuts Among MLB Clubs]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197945 2020-05-28T00:08:21Z 2020-05-27T23:09:46Z 6:09pm: The Rangers have committed to $400 a week for their minor leaguers through at least June, Levi Weaver of The Athletic was among those to report. The same goes for the Braves, per David O’Brien of The Athletic, as well as the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic adds.

12:59pm: The Padres will also pay their minor leaguers the $400 weekly stipend through the end of August, Dennis Lin of The Athletic tweets.

12:34pm: Most of MLB’s 30 organizations agreed a ways back to pay their employees through the end of May. There were instances of lengthier commitments, but May 31 was broadly used as an initial endpoint, at which time fiscal matters would be reassessed. Minor league players have been receiving $400 weekly stipends during this time, but that arrangement is also only promised through the end of May. As you’d expect, clubs have begun to inform employees (both on the business and baseball operations side) and minor leaguers of their next steps. And, as you’d expect, in some instances it’s not pretty.

Yesterday was a particularly dark day in the Athletics organization, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the team informed minor league players they will no longer be paid their stipend as of June 1. Robert Murray of The Score shares the email that was sent to Oakland minor leaguers — one which was signed by GM David Forst rather than managing partner John J. Fisher. (Forst, of course, is being asked to play the messenger in this instance and is not the one making the decisions.)

Minor league players are generally undercompensated as a whole, and the $400 weekly stipend they’ve received over the past two months will now seemingly go down as the only baseball-related compensation they’ll receive in the calendar year. Their contracts, which are in a state of suspension but not terminated, bar them from “perform[ing] services for any other Club” and also render them ineligible for unemployment benefits, per The Athletic’s Emily Waldon (Twitter link).

As for the operations side of the equation, Athletics front office personnel will be either furloughed or see their pay reduced effective June 1 and running through the end of October, The Athletic’s Alex Coffey reports (Twitter thread). She adds that the maximum cut is 33 percent, and those determinations are based on seniority. Scouts aren’t considered front-office personnel, but they’ll be hit hard as well; USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that A’s amateur and pro scouts alike will be furloughed from June 16 through Oct. 31. Fisher did write a letter to the club’s fanbase confirming the dramatic cuts (Twitter link via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser), emphasizing the pain that went into the decisions and his “deep commitment to the long-term future of the A’s.”

Those cutbacks are similar to the substantial cuts the Angels put in place earlier this month, but other L.A. club isn’t taking such rash measures. The Dodgers have informed all employees earning more than $75K that they’ll be subject to pay reductions beginning June 1, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN (Twitter thread). The extent of the reductions is dependent on overall salary — larger salaries get larger percentage cuts — and will be capped at 35 percent for the most part, although that they could be greater for the team’s very top executives. Those measures are being taken in an effort to avoid the type of large-scale furloughs being put in place in Oakland and Anaheim.

Across the country, the Nationals have implemented a series of partial furloughs both in baseball ops and business ops, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports (Twitter thread). The Nats are still covering full benefits and haven’t made any layoffs, but they’re implementing a sequence of 10 to 30 percent reductions in pay and total hours. The Brewers, meanwhile aren’t making any baseball ops furloughs but are furloughing some business operation employees, Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets.

It’s not yet clear how every organization plans to handle the minor league pay dilemma, but Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser has heard from at least three clubs that plan to continue varying levels of compensation. The Phillies will keep paying their minor leaguers through at least June, but likely at less than the current $400 stipend. The White Sox are paying $400 per week through the end of June, and the Marlins have committed to paying their minor leaguers the full $400 per week through August — the would-be conclusion of the 2020 minor league season. The Marlins already informed players earlier this month that about 40 percent of the baseball ops department will be furloughed on June 1.

Connor Byrne <![CDATA[How Nats Could Continue Benefiting From Jordan Zimmermann’s Exit]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197970 2020-05-27T21:52:20Z 2020-05-27T21:52:20Z It’s true that right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has fallen on hard times over the past few years, but it’s indisputable that he’s one of the top starters the Nationals have had since they moved from Montreal to Washington in advance of the 2005 season. A second-round pick two years later, Zimmermann debuted in Washington in 2009, but it took him until 2011 to break out. From then through 2015, Zimmermann logged five straight seasons of 3.0-plus fWAR, went to two All-Star Games, and posted a stingy 3.14 ERA/3.30 FIP with 7.26 K/9 against just 1.69 BB/9 in 971 2/3 innings. In yet another impressive accomplishment, Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in Nationals history in 2014 (video here).

The year in which Zimmermann fired a no-no against the Marlins proved to be his penultimate season in a Nats uniform. He went on to parlay his success in D.C. into an expensive contract with the Tigers, who signed him for five years and $110MM before 2016. The Nationals haven’t missed him, though, while the Tigers surely wish they wouldn’t have taken such a big-money gamble. Zimmermann has never recorded an ERA below the mid-4.00s in a season in Detroit, where he has registered an overall 5.61 ERA/4.86 FIP through 508 2/3 frames in the first four years of his deal.

Considering how he has performed of late, not only does it look fortunate for the Nationals that they let Zimmermann walk, but doing so has a chance to continue benefiting the franchise for years to come. You see, by issuing Zimmermann a qualifying offer that he rejected, the Nationals received a high pick (No. 28) as compensation in the 2016 draft. They used that selection on on a Georgia-based high school shortstop named Carter Kieboom. There’s now a chance Kieboom will turn into a long-term linchpin at third base as the departed Anthony Rendon’s successor.

Now 22 years old, Kieboom has typically produced quality numbers in the minors – he batted .303/.409/.493 with 16 home runs in 494 plate appearances in his Triple-A debut in 2019 – and has rated among the majors’ highest-regarded prospects over the past couple seasons. In its most recent rankings, Baseball America (subscription link) placed Kieboom No. 1 in Washington’s system and 15th in all of baseball, calling him a potential “weapon” at the top of a lineup in MLB.

Kieboom was anything but a weapon during his first taste of MLB action last season, when he hit .128/.209/.282 in parts of April and May, but his woes only came over a 43-PA, 11-game sample size. The Nationals probably aren’t worried, though it remains to be seen how much of an impact he’ll make this season (let’s say one even happens). Kieboom hardly stood out in spring training, though you can take exhibition results with a grain of salt. Still, if the Nats don’t think Kieboom’s quite ready, they can plug Asdrubal Cabrera and perhaps Howie Kendrick in at the hot corner. Doing so likely wouldn’t stop the Nationals from believing Kieboom could be part of the solution over the long haul, and if he does eventually live up to the hype, it’ll be an added bonus for moving on from Zimmermann.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A Standout’s Unusual Path To D.C.]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197796 2020-05-25T23:17:14Z 2020-05-25T23:09:08Z Since he made his major league debut in 2015, Trea Turner has established himself as one of the reigning World Series champion Nationals’ most valuable players. A second baseman and then a center fielder at the beginning of his career, Turner took over as the Nationals’ shortstop in 2017 and now has a stranglehold on the position.

Dating back to his first full season in 2018, Turner has accounted for 8.3 fWAR and hit .283/.348/.451 (110 wRC+) with 38 home runs and 78 stolen bases – the second-highest total in MLB – across 1,309 plate appearances. And the 26-year-old Turner figures to contribute similar or better production in Washington for at least the next couple seasons, as he’s only now about to enter his first of three arbitration-eligible campaigns.

With Turner having already given the Nationals quite a bit of surplus value, it’s worth revisiting how he joined the team in the first place. To say the least, it was unusual transaction that led him to D.C. Turner was a 20th-round pick of the Pirates in 2011, but he elected to pass on signing with the Bucs in order to play at North Carolina State. That proved to be a wise decision by Turner, who increased his stock so much as a college player that the Padres took him 13th overall in 2014. Little did Turner or the Padres know then that he’d never play a real game in their uniform, nor was either side aware their relationship would end in such unconventional fashion.

While Turner continued to succeed as a young pro with the Pads, ranking as Baseball America’s 65th-best prospect prior to 2015, the club parted with him that year. Actually, though, San Diego agreed to trade Turner in December 2014 in a three-team blockbuster that also involved the Rays and Nats and. The Padres received outfielder Wil Myers, pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo, and catcher Ryan Hanigan. The Rays acquired first baseman Jake Bauers, righty Burch Smith, outfielder Steven Souza Jr., catcher Rene Rivera and lefty Travis Ott. The Nationals picked up righty Joe Ross and a player to be named later. Ross showed flashes at the beginning of his Nats tenure, but injuries have helped knock him off course in recent years. On the other hand, the PTBNL, Turner, has been a gem.

Although the Padres and Rays had a handshake agreement in regards to Turner, they weren’t allowed to make it official for a while because of previous MLB rules. The league formerly had a system in place that barred teams from trading anyone who wasn’t a year removed from being drafted. So, because Turner didn’t meet that requirement, he had to spend several more months with the Padres, even though he knew he wasn’t really a member of the team. Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry, suggested he’d fight the setup. In the end, however, Turner didn’t officially change hands until June 2015 – one month after the league instituted new rules to stop something similar from taking place.

To the Padres’ credit, they treated Turner well during his waning months with the club. Turner had to go to Padres spring training and play in the minors as part of the franchise as he waited for the finalization of the trade, and he complimented the team on multiple occasions during that period.

Unfortunately for San Diego, it hasn’t gotten nearly enough out of this trade in hindsight. Turner, after all, has clearly become the top player in this massive swap. Myers had an All-Star season in 2016, which persuaded the Padres to hand him a six-year, $83MM extension, but he has fallen off since then and is now someone they’d like to remove from their books. Reyes had a rough go in his MLB debut last season (7.62 ERA), though he did amass 38 strikeouts in 26 innings. Castillo performed well as a rookie two years ago, but injuries wrecked his 2019. Unlike those three, Hanigan never even played for the Padres, who quickly flipped him to the Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Although Middlebrooks did pile up 270 PA as a Padre in 2015, he was just a .212/.241/.361 hitter then.

It’s fair to say this deal will not go down as a shining moment for Padres general manager A.J. Preller. Conversely, it’s one of the many feathers in the cap of GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals, for whom a one-time player to be named later helped to a championship several months back.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steve Adams <![CDATA[Denard Span On His Future]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197786 2020-05-25T19:09:24Z 2020-05-25T19:08:14Z It’s been nearly 20 months since Denard Span suited up in a big league game, and the former Twins, Nationals, Giants, Rays and Mariners outfielder suggests in an interview with Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he may not do so again. Span reveals that he received offers in the 2018-19 offseason, although they clearly weren’t compelling enough to leave his young family. Span adds that he worked out this winter with an eye toward a 2020 return and received “two or three” minor league offers — but they came from clubs without much of a path to the Majors even in the event that he played well in Triple-A.

“I haven’t announced it, officially, but maybe this is it,” Span said when asked about retirement. “…I still would have the ability to help a team. But 36-year-old outfielders who haven’t played in two years … not happening. I’m very satisfied pouring my life into our family, to Anne, a wonderful person, and our two boys.”

Denard Span | Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If this is indeed it for the amiable Span, it’s been quite a strong career. A first-round pick out of high school by the Twins back in 2002, Span took nearly six years to ascend to the big leagues, but he made an immediate impact upon arrival. Twenty-four years old at the time, Span finished sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2008 and hit .294/.387/.432 (122 OPS+ and wRC+ alike) through 487 plate appearances, helping push the Twins to a dramatic Game 163 showdown with the White Sox. Minnesota fell in a crushing 1-0 loss to the South Siders, but Span had announced his presence in the big leagues and would never look back.

Over the next four seasons, Span was the consummate leadoff man in Minnesota, hitting a combined .283/.351/.381 with a nine percent walk rate and just an 11.5 percent strikeout rate. In addition to a knack for working counts and putting the ball in play, Span showed off well above-average baserunning skills and the ability to play plus defense wherever he was slotted into the outfield (center field, more often than not). Heading into the 2010 campaign, Span signed a five-year, $16.5MM contract extension that contained an option for an additional $9MM.

Span provided excellent value over the course of that contract, but he only spent half of it in a Twins uniform. As the Twins fell from their status as a perennial AL Central contender and moved into a rebuild, Span had two guaranteed years and the club option remaining on that highly appealing deal. Minnesota flipped him to the Nationals in a straight-up swap for then-vaunted pitching prospect Alex Meyer — a deal that proved regrettable for Minnesota after repeated shoulder injuries torpedoed Meyer’s career.

The Nats had no complaints, though, and that may have been the case even if Meyer had eventually developed into a quality big leaguer. Span hit .292/.345/.404 in three seasons with Washington, continuing to add value on the bases and in the field along the way. By the time he reached free agency, Span was solidified enough to command a three-year, $31MM contract from the Giants. Even as his glovework deteriorated — San Francisco didn’t help matters by continuing to play him in center for lack of a better option — Span remained solid at the plate. However, he played out the final year of that deal between his hometown Rays and the Mariners after the Giants sent him to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria trade.

All told, Span has logged 11 seasons in the Major Leagues and batted a combined .281/.347/.398 with 71 home runs, 265 doubles, 72 triples, 185 stolen bases (in 244 tries — 76 percent), 773 runs scored and 490 RBIs. He was never an All-Star despite a strong career that checked in at 28 wins above replacement per both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference — a likely result of the understated manner in which he brought value to his teams (on-base percentage, baserunning, defense).

Clubs clearly saw the value in Span, though, as he was a regular from the moment he debuted up through the end of the 2018 season, and he inked a pair of multi-year deals that helped propel his career earnings north of $58MM (including his draft bonus). Best wishes to Span moving forward, whatever the future holds.

George Miller <![CDATA[The Nationals’ Deadline Dandy]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197293 2020-05-19T14:39:42Z 2020-05-17T21:31:51Z Last year’s July 31 trade deadline featured plenty of notable deals, including the Astros’ last-minute acquisition of Zack Greinke; the Cubs’ trade for Nicholas Castellanos; the three-team swap involving Trevor Bauer, Yasiel Puig, and Franmil Reyes; and more. Overshadowed in that commotion was a trade went largely under the radar at the time, but wound up being perhaps one of the most important deals made last year.

The Nationals agreed to a swap with the Blue Jays, sending minor league right-hander Kyle Johnston to Toronto in exchange for then-32-year-old reliever Daniel Hudson. After beginning his career as a successful starter with the Diamondbacks, Hudson had since been moved to the bullpen, making stints with the Pirates, Dodgers, and then the Blue Jays.

To that point, Hudson had pitched 48 innings for the Blue Jays, striking out a batter per inning and posting an even 3.00 ERA. Make no mistake, he was viewed as a fine bullpen addition for Washington, but he alone wouldn’t solve all the Nats’ relief issues, and many would have preferred GM Mike Rizzo to make a play for Detroit’s Shane Greene, who was sent to the Braves.

For the remainder of the regular season, Hudson would go on to pitch to a stellar 1.44 ERA with the Nationals, pitching 25 innings and striking out 23. He proved to be less prone to walking batters, decreasing his BB/9 from 4.3 with Toronto to just 1.4 with the Nats.

That’s great, but he really found himself thrust into the spotlight with his postseason performance, serving as one of the most reliable arms in the Washington bullpen, helping to a World Series title.

He pitched in nine postseason games for the Nats, throwing 9 2/3 innings and striking out 10. He only surrendered 4 runs, 3 of which came in a clunker WS Game 5. He pitched again in the decisive Game 7, and is notable for recording the final out of the series for the Nats, striking out Houston’s Michael Brantley. The Nats won eight of the games in which he appeared, though of course that’s probably a chicken and egg situation.

In recent years, we’ve by and large seen workhorse starting pitchers go the way of the dinosaur, especially in postseason play: teams are relying increasingly on a cohort of stingy relief pitchers in October games. But the 2019 Nationals flipped that trend on its head, delegating the vast majority of innings to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, and Patrick Corbin–sometimes even deploying their starters in relief roles. That foursome combined to account for just about 70% of Washington’s postseason innings.

The Nats’ bullpen was a weakness all year, and many viewed that weakness as one of the biggest obstacles to their postseason success. But they simply chose to minimize that weakness on the backs of their starters; if the bullpen simply doesn’t pitch, it can’t hurt you, right?

And like we said before, one man cannot solve an entire team’s bullpen problems, but his impact is much greater when the team is only relying on three or four relievers consistently. With the aforementioned quartet picking up so much of the slack, Dave Martinez didn’t need all of his bullpen to perform; instead, he could delegate most of the relief work to Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and Tanner Rainey. Evidently, the strategy worked, and if there’s a team in baseball that can afford to put so much on the shoulders of its starters, the Nationals are probably it.

His performance with his new club earned him a new contract, with the Nats re-signing Hudson to a two-year, $11MM deal that will keep him in Washington through the 2021 season. He’ll play this season at age 33 and with a newfound popularity. We’ll see if he can replicate the success that endeared him to Nationals fans.

TC Zencka <![CDATA[Universal DH Would Allow Nationals To Reboot Their World Series Approach]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197243 2020-05-16T22:33:37Z 2020-05-16T14:32:31Z With the DH likely headed to the National League, at least for 2020, we’re going over each NL roster to find their best and most likely candidates to reap the rewards of the extra at-bats. We’ve already looked at the Cardinals and Reds from the Central, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks out West, as well as some free agent options still available. Let’s dip our toes into the NL East, and what better place to start than with the defending World Series champs: the Washington Nationals.

If there’s a team ready for post-coronavirus baseball, it’s the Nats. Last we saw of the Nationals, they were stomping the Astros on Houston’s turf en route to becoming the first team in history to win a World Series with four road wins. The Nats floundered with NL rules, scoring one run per game in front of their home crowd – but with Howie Kendrick at designated hitter, Dave Martinez’s club cannot be beat. They’ve proven they can win with their fans watching from home and their pitchers keeping a safe distance from the batters’ box.

Obviously, even the seven most high-pressure games in baseball is a poor stand-in for large sample data, and those games alone don’t suggest much of anything at all about how the Nats will actually transition to the universal DH. That said, Howie Kendrick remains their likeliest DH candidate, and that bodes well for Washington’s offense. Being able to let Kendrick DH most days should loosen Martinez’s strickly regimented rest schedule for his 36-year-old utility slugger. Given the discipline Martinez showed in limiting a healthy Kendrick to 70 starts last season – even as he put up a .344/.395/.572 line – it’s unlikely Kendrick suits up on an everyday basis. But two years removed from Achilles surgery in a shortened season with a DH: that might be the recipe for an everyday Howie Kendrick.

There could do a flip side to a shortened season, however, such as fewer rest days or stacked doubleheaders, so the Nats will need other options beyond Kendrick. Luckily, Washington has other options on the roster beyond its NLCS MVP, and if they want to station Kendrick in the field a time or two a week, he can capably man first, second, or even third.

In terms of alternative, Eric Thames should be liberally deployed against right-handers. Thames joins the roster in place of Matt Adams, who shouldered much of the first-base burden against tough righties last season. Beyond serving as injury insurance for Adam Eaton in right, that’s the role Thames should step into in Washington. With an extra bat in the lineup, the former KBO star ought to find himself in the lineup against right-handers most days, whether at first base, right field, or DH. Coming off a 25-homer season in which he slugged .529 against righties, he’s a weapon in the right spot.

As in 2019, the Nats will play a three-man game at first base, with no less than Mr. National himself taking up that third slot. Ryan Zimmerman should slot in for Thames or Kendrick on occasion against righties, but expect to find him in the lineup while Thames comes off the bench against lefties. Zim’s numbers last season could be construed as a vet nearing his last legs (.257/.314/.415), but the problem wasn’t his legs: it was his feet. Plantar fasciitis slowed Zimmerman for most of the season, but he came up with some big hits in the postseason, and the extra time to rest and recuperate this offseason should benefit the long-time National

The final consideration for the Nats’ DH spot is this: if top prospect Carter Kieboom starts the season in the minors, Asdrubal Cabrera will man third base.  But if the Nats deem Kieboom ready from the jump, then Cabrera could cycle through the DH role a bit as well. Cabrera was excellent after joining the Nats in 2019, finishing the year with a total line of .260/.342/.441 with 18 home runs and 91 driven in. For what it’s worth, Cabrera reached base at a higher rate while batting right-handed last year (.357 OBP to .337 OBP), but he slugged better while hitting from the left side (.452 SLG to .410 SLG).

If indeed the National League plays with a DH this season, Dave Martinez will juggle the role as he did with his veterans’ playing time in 2019. With the Kendrick/Thames/Zimmerman triumvirate time-sharing at-bats between first base and DH, the Nats may need the extra oomph from having two of the three in the lineup up every day to help offset the loss of Anthony Rendon. If nothing else, the Nats proved in the World Series they could thrive living the American League lifestyle. Soon, they may soon get the chance to prove it for a full (shortened) season.

Jeff Todd <![CDATA[The Nats’ Amazing Run Of First Round Draft Picks]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196982 2020-05-16T02:40:47Z 2020-05-12T16:08:31Z Let’s start with the obvious: it was easy for the Nationals to select Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the first overall picks of the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively. And the team was quite fortunate that its low point in the standings coincided with the appearance of two slam-dunk talents.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy for new GM Mike Rizzo to get those two Scott Boras clients under contract. Both went down to the wire. Strasburg finally agreed to terms after talk of $50MM demands. Harper, who was chosen the day before Strasburg’s memorable MLB debut, also waited until just before midnight on deadline day to get his deal done. Both commanded record-setting numbers.

The trick there was less one of talent evaluation than of relationship management and negotiating prowess. Tamping down the costs, ensuring the players came into the organization, and avoiding any long-term tensions were the priorities. Mission accomplished.

But that’s not the extent of the Nats’ remarkable run of first-round success. Let’s consider the organization’s entire stretch of selections between 2009 and 2012. By that point, the team was enjoying enough success on the field that it punted its ensuing first-rounder through the qualifying offer system.

Every single one of those players reached the majors for at least three seasons, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. More importantly, those drafts have collectively produced four players that have turned in one or more superstar-level campaigns. While all the selections haven’t all shaken out quite as hoped, and the Nats have cashed some in via trade, the net is remarkable.

  • Strasburg: 3x All-Star, 3x top-10 Cy Young voting, 32.3 rWAR
  • Storen: 334 innings, 3.02 ERA, 95 saves, 5.2 rWAR
  • Harper: 6x All-Star, 2015 MVP, 27.5 rWAR
  • Rendon: 1x All-Star, 4x top-10 MVP voting, 29.1 rWAR
  • Meyer: considered a top prospect when he was traded for Denard Span; career derailed by injury
  • Goodwin: traded away after marginal contributions in D.C.; 2.2 rWAR in 2019 with Angels
  • Giolito: 2019 All-Star, 6th in Cy Young voting; traded (with Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning) for Adam Eaton

Obviously, the bulk of the benefit to the Nats comes from the major stars that spent all of their arbitration-eligible seasons in D.C. Though Rendon has followed Harper in bolting for other teams via free agency, the Nationals enjoyed many cost-efficient prime years.

Then there’s Giolito, the one that got away — sort of. It’s easy to fixate on the fact that Eaton hasn’t been as productive as hoped, due in no small part to injury. But he has been a useful player and was quite valuable at the time of the swap due to his consistent productivity and highly affordable contract. The return on the 16th overall draft selection used to nab Giolito was quite good, all things considered. That’s bolstered by the fact that Giolito has now finally emerged as a star with the White Sox.

What of the others? Well, if you could go back in time, you might just take a chance on a different player from that 2009 draft class rather than grabbing Storen. But the collegiate closer did deliver more or less what was asked of him, running quickly to the majors and providing years of good service at the back end of the Nats’ bullpen — albeit on quite the roller-coaster ride — before he was swapped out in a deal that didn’t turn out for either team.

The Meyer trade worked out swimmingly. He had developed into a quality, near-majors prospect at the time, allowing the Nats to turn him into what became three highly productive seasons from Span. The center fielder contributed 8.4 rWAR during his time in the nation’s capital. Meyer seemed poised to realize some of his potential before longstanding injury concerns finally got him for good and forced an early retirement.

Goodwin is by some measures the biggest disappointment, but it’s generally hard to expect too much from a sandwich-round selection. He provided some useful action to the Nats for a while but never locked down a real opportunity in D.C. But Goodwin was and remains at least a useful fourth outfielder type. Last year, he turned in 458 plate appearances of .262/.326/.470 hitting with the Angels. It’s still possible he’ll end up turning in more significant contributions in the years to come, though they won’t redound to the Nationals’ benefit.

What of the next several seasons after sitting out that 2013 draft? Well, Erick Fedde was tabbed by some as a Giolito-like mid-round steal who fell due to health concerns. He has reached the bigs and remains a factor but hasn’t yet fully established himself. Dunning, shipped out with Giolito, has big talent but is also dealing with health woes. That was still a strong pick, as was fellow 2016 first-rounder Carter Kieboom, who is viewed as one of the game’s best overall prospects. More recently, the Nats selected hurlers Seth Romero and Mason Denaburg, who feature among top ten org prospects.

It doesn’t seem remotely likely that the latest run of selections will have anything close to the impact of the 2009-12 crop. But Rizzo and co. were working with much loftier draft selections in those days. And they set an impossibly high standard, even accounting for the advantages of the early selections. Any way you cut it, the Nats secured value exceeding 100 wins above replacement — whether directly or as acquired by trade — in those four years of first-round drafts.

Anthony Franco <![CDATA[The Extension That Kept The Future World Series MVP In D.C.]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196872 2020-05-10T17:25:03Z 2020-05-10T16:21:33Z Four years ago today, the Nationals made a franchise-altering decision. The club and Stephen Strasburg agreed on a seven-year, $175MM extension (with deferrals that lowered its present value) on May 10, 2016. The deal kept the then-27-year-old from hitting free agency that winter, where he’d have profiled as the top player on the market in the eyes of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes. It registered as a surprise given how close the former #1 overall pick was to the open market, made a bit more eye-opening by his status as a Scott Boras client.

Clearly, though, Strasburg was comfortable with the only organization he’d ever known. And the deal didn’t commit him to Washington for the full seven years; it came with opt-out clauses after 2019 and 2020. He’d have a chance to (and ultimately did) pitch his way to greater earnings in the future.

For the Nationals, the risk-reward calculus was apparent. The extension looked to be a discount relative to Strasburg’s overall earning potential, considering the $200MM+ guarantees secured by Max Scherzer and David Price the two prior offseasons. Still, committing well over nine figures to any pitcher, particularly one with a Tommy John Surgery under his belt, comes with potential pitfalls.

Over the first few seasons, the deal played as a fine one for the club, but it wasn’t any sort of massive bargain. Strasburg was very productive when healthy, combining for a 3.27 ERA/3.13 FIP in 404 innings from the time of signing through the end of 2018. Various injuries kept him just outside the game’s top tier of pitchers, though. In that two and a half year stretch, the right-hander hit the injured list five separate times with back, shoulder, elbow and neck maladies. None had ultimately proven serious, but he had assembled a somewhat ominous laundry list of health problems.

Entering 2019, it didn’t look as if Strasburg was on track to exercise the first of those opt-outs. Then, at age 30, he ripped off a career year. In the regular season, he tossed 209 innings (his first 200-inning season since 2014) of 3.32 ERA ball with stellar strikeout (29.8%), walk (6.7%) and ground-ball (51.1%) rates. That alone would’ve made his season a resounding success, but it was Strasburg’s October work that cemented his place in Nationals’ lore.

He kicked off the 2019 postseason with three scoreless relief innings behind Scherzer in the NL Wild Card game, allowing the Nats to rally late and knock off the Brewers. That was only the beginning. Strasburg would go on to start five playoff games thereafter. He tossed quality starts in all of them, and Washington would go on to win each one. He played a key role in three elimination game victories, including an 8.1 inning gem in Game 6 of the World Series in Houston. All told, he finished the postseason with a 1.98 ERA and an absurd 47:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.1 innings. He picked up a deserved World Series MVP award for his efforts in bringing the franchise’s first title to D.C.

Strasburg’s again back in the fold long-term. After opting out, he re-signed last winter on another seven-year deal for a $245MM guarantee. Regardless of how his next deal plays out, Strasburg will always have a spot in the heart of the Nationals’ faithful. That’s in large part thanks to the agreement the sides were able to put together four years ago.

Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Can The Nats’ Farm Produce More Stars?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196522 2020-05-05T03:30:33Z 2020-05-04T20:50:11Z The Nationals won the 2019 World Series and have much the same core in place for the next several seasons … with one major exception. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is now a member of the Angels after an astronomical effort last year.

Filling in at the hot corner is one thing. The Nationals gobbled up a bevy of veterans that can probably hold things down as needed. Well-conceived mix and match approaches can work; the Nats need not fret that they failed to retain Rendon or bring in a replacement on the order of Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado.

Relying on platoons and cycling through veterans is a fine strategy … to a point. It’s hard to platoon all over the field due to roster limitations. Grinding out good-enough, affordable production works best when it’s done as a complement to a fleet of star-level performers.

That’s essentially how the D.C. organization reached the promised land last year. The Nationals’ farm system has rarely ranked among the best in the game in recent seasons. But the team has nevertheless sustained exceptional overall results ever since its 2012 breakout — with a few peaks and valleys, but all winning seasons — due in large part to its ability to promote or sign new star performers. Even as Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Jordan Zimmermann, and Bryce Harper departed, the club brought in Max Scherzer and Patrick Corban via free agency … and, more importantly, graduated Trea Turner and Juan Soto. Now, with Rendon out — and even with Stephen Strasburg retained — the Nats’ mid-term outlook may depend upon the ability to find another core piece to deliver output worth far more than his salary.

For the Nats, the big question isn’t whether they’ve got someone to match Rendon’s production at third base in 2020; it’s doubtful they do. Rather, it’s whether they can cook up another high-level star to take Rendon’s place as a multi-year, cost-controlled stalwart.

That’s a long-winded way to say: ease off on poor Carter Kieboom. The Nationals’ top prospect could indeed be the heir to Rendon’s third-bag throne, but he’s not the only hope here. Kieboom is an exciting talent at the plate, but he’s just 22 years of age, struggled quite a bit last year in the majors, and hasn’t yet mastered the third base position despite coming up as a shortstop.

No doubt the dream scenario is for Kieboom to explode onto the scene. He’s ready for a full test, though the outcome remains uncertain. But really, he may actually not be the top candidate to step into the void. Rendon was long the lower-profile co-star to Harper. Perhaps Victor Robles — the organization’s former top-ranked prospect — can be the same to Juan Soto.

In the case of Robles, he’s already a valuable MLB performer — and he’s barely a hundred days older than Kieboom. Robles roamed center field for 155 games last year, performing at about 10 percent below a league-average offensive player. But he was an excellent defender and baserunner.

Just how good was Robles without the bat in hand? Plenty to make up for the so-so hitting effort. Fangraphs graded him out as a solid regular at 2.5 WAR in his rookie campaign. But Baseball-Reference, which relies upon DRS rather than UZR, was wowed by Robles’s glovework and credit him with over four wins above replacement.

Regardless, there’s a nice floor to work from. Any improvement at the plate — let alone a real breakout — could make Robles into a certified star. But there are reasons for trepidation, too. Though he popped 17 long balls, Robles managed only a meager 23.0% hard-hit rate (bottom 4% leaguewide) and carried a .292 xwOBA that lagged his .317 wOBA. Given that he faced questions about quality of contact in the minors, particularly after returning from a major wrist injury, it’s fair to wonder if Robles will ever really do much more damage at the dish.

While most of the top Nats prospects are pitchers, there is one other possibility of interest: middle infielder Luis Garcia. He ran into some difficulties last year at Double-A, but did so while playing at that lofty level at 19 years of age. Garcia was turning heads this spring, with a .417/.462/.542 output in 27 plate appearances. The odds are low that he’ll blossom into anything approaching a star on Rendon’s order, but his ceiling probably encompasses some All-Star level performances.

Perhaps it’s too much to say that the Nationals absolutely need another young star. But it’d represent far and away the clearest path to a return to the top of the NL East heap after two seasons spent chasing the Braves. The Nationals can’t assume their expensive and excellent (but not especially youthful) rotation will be as good as it has been. The bullpen is a perennial question mark. And there are veteran timeshares scattered over much of the rest of the roster.

A breakout from Robles or Kieboom — or, in the near-future, Garcia — would potentially give the Nats a trio of position-player stars to help keep the contention window open for a full decade or more. Or, perhaps, two of those youngsters may settle in as excellent, cost-controlled regulars, which might be about as good as a single star. Regardless, the point remains: the Nationals’ top-heavy roster and farm needs to score a few more hits. If that doesn’t come to pass, it’s fair to wonder whether the relatively thin farm system will be enough to support a winning team for much longer, given the ever-rising costs of the team’s stars (even in relation to a hefty payroll) and the pending free agency of other significant portions of the roster after the 2020 campaign.

Jeff Todd <![CDATA[10 MLB Teams Whose Business Initiatives Face Coronavirus Hurdles]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196402 2020-05-02T03:35:02Z 2020-05-02T02:34:53Z Like most every person or business, all thirty MLB teams face tough questions during the time of COVID-19. Some are relatively similar for all ballclubs, but there are obviously quite a few unique issues — some more pressing than others.

Dealing with the implications of this pandemic is probably toughest for organizations that are in the midst of executing or planning major business initiatives. We’ll run down some of those here.

Angels: The team has been cooking up potentially massive plans to develop the area around Angel Stadium. Fortunately, nothing is really in process at the moment, but it stands to reason that the project could end up being reduced in scope and/or delayed.

Athletics: Oof. The A’s have done a ton of work to put a highly ambitious stadium plan in motion. Massive uncertainty of this type can’t help. It isn’t clear just yet how the effort will be impacted, but it seems reasonable to believe the organization is pondering some tough decisions.

Braves: Luckily for the Atlanta-area organization, the team’s new park and most of the surrounding development is already fully operational. But with the added earning capacity from retail operations in a ballpark village comes greater exposure to turmoil.

Cubs: Like the Braves, the Cubs have already done most of the work at and around their park, but were counting on big revenue to pay back what’s owed (and then some). Plus, the Cubbies have a new TV network to bring up to speed.

Diamondbacks: Vegas?! Vancouver?! Probably not, but the Snakes do want to find a new home somewhere in Arizona. That effort is sure to be dented. Plus, the team’s recent initiative to host non-baseball events at Chase Field will now go on hiatus.

Marlins: The new ownership group has had some good vibes going and hoped to convert some of the positivity into a healthy new TV deal. That critical negotiation will now take place in a brutal economic environment.

Mets: So … this is probably not an optimal moment to be selling your sports franchise. The Wilpon family is pressing ahead with an effort to strike a new deal after their prior one broke down (at the worst possible time).

Orioles: That bitter television rights fee dispute that just won’t stop … it’s not going to be easier to find a resolution with less cash coming through the door. It was already setting up to be a rough stretch for the Baltimore org, with past TV money due to the Nationals and more bills to come, even while going through brutally lean years on the playing field.

Rangers: The new park is now built. While taxpayers footed much of the bill, the club still has to pay back a $600MM loan. Suffice to say the Rangers (and municipal authorities) anticipated game day revenues of more than $0 in year one when they planned out the loan repayment method.

Rays: The club’s preferred Ybor City option flamed out and it is currently engaged in a somewhat confusing effort to split time between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. Existing hurdles to that arrangement seem only to be taller in the age of the coronavirus.

Others: We may be missing some, but it seems most other organizations are engaged more in usual-course sorts of business initiatives rather than franchise-altering efforts. For instance, the Nats have an interest in that TV deal as well. The Red Sox have been working to redevelop areas around Fenway Park. The Blue Jays are dabbling in future plans. And the Dodgers have a new TV rights deal, though that came to fruition after the pandemic hit and may not be impacted any more than any other existing carriage arrangements.

Steve Adams <![CDATA[No Contract Talks Between Nationals, Dave Martinez]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196367 2020-05-01T17:55:26Z 2020-05-01T17:54:56Z Nats skipper Dave Martinez spoke with reporters on a conference call this morning and, when asked whether there have been any talks regarding his contract status, replied with a simple, “Nothing” (Twitter link via Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington). The 2020 season is the final guaranteed year on Martinez’s contract, although the Nats do hold a club option on the 2021 season.

It’s not surprising to hear that there have been no talks during the pandemic shutdown, but it’s a bit curious that the two sides hadn’t spoken about a new deal earlier in the spring. The 55-year-old Martinez, after all, was at the helm for one of the most remarkable turnarounds any team has made in recent memory. In the absence of an extension, the Nats could’ve perhaps picked up Martinez’s 2021 option in advance; such measures are fairly common throughout the league (particularly for winning managers) in order to spare managers the dreaded “lame duck” status and the frequent questions and speculation that accompany such contractual uncertainty.

Then again, the Nationals aren’t anything close to a typical organization with regard to how they handle their managers. Martinez, for instance, became the sixth man to manage a Nationals game in an eight-year span (2011-18) when he was hired and took the field for the first time. No Nationals manager has ever lasted more than three seasons on the job, and in addition to generally having a short leash with managers, the Nats have a reputation for not compensating their skippers as well as other clubs throughout the league. (Recall that the team wanted to hire Bud Black to manage in the 2015-16 offseason but made him only a one-year, $1.6MM offer despite a nine-year run as a well-regarded manager in San Diego.)

If anyone were to buck those trends, it’s easy to imagine Martinez being the man to do so. His Nats famously surged back from a 19-31 start to the 2019 season to capture the franchise’s first World Series win and finished above .500 the season prior as well. Logically speaking, one would expect Martinez to stick around for at least the 2021 season, but the Nats’ track record in this arena illustrates that they’re difficult to predict. As the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga highlighted in early March, general manager Mike Rizzo is in a similar spot (minus the club option), but ownership has seemingly yet to make any sort of final decision on its organization’s leaders.

Steve Adams <![CDATA[Ryan Zimmerman On Playing Beyond 2020]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196309 2020-04-30T21:48:39Z 2020-04-30T21:48:39Z After capturing a World Series title at age 35, in the same season his six-year, $100MM contract came to a close, Ryan Zimmerman could’ve opted to hang up his cleats in storybook fashion had he so wished. But the two-time All-Star clearly felt he had more left to experience in the game and ultimately took a sizable pay cut to return to the Nationals on a one-year, $2MM deal this winter. With the season on hold indefinitely, Zimmerman acknowledges within a self-penned guest piece for the Associated Press that it’s been hard not to think about life after baseball, but he indicated that as things stand, he hopes to continue playing not only in 2020 but perhaps beyond.

“If it turns out there isn’t a 2020 season, and I had to decide right now about 2021, I would say: Yes, I definitely would plan on playing next year,” Zimmerman writes. The 15-year Nationals veteran adds that he had no interest in signing anywhere but back with the Nationals this winter and only plans to sign one-year deals from this point forth, so as to assess how his body holds up on a year-to-year basis. Of course, based on his age and level of play in 2019, that was all that was reasonable to expect anyhow.

Zimmerman spent much of this past season on the injured list due to plantar fasciitis, and when he was healthy enough to take the field, he wasn’t particularly productive. The 2019 season marked just the second time in his excellent career that he rated below league average at the plate, by measure of wRC+ (89) and OPS+ (86). Through 190 plate appearances, Zimmerman slashed a .257/.321/.415 with six long balls and nine doubles.

Zimmerman’s balky foot quite likely impacted his performance in virtually all aspects of the game, and it should be pointed out that from 2017-18, he turned in a quite-productive .289/.350/.542 batting line. However, staying on the field has also become increasingly difficult for Zimmerman as he’s played into his mid-30s. Dating back to the 2014 campaign, he’s averaged just 92 games and 364 plate appearances per year while missing time due to to oblique, wrist, hamstring and rib cage issues in addition to three separate IL stints for plantar fasciitis.

Presently, it appears the downtime has done Zimmerman some good. He writes that he feels “unbelievable” having been able to work out without grinding through the rigors of a 162-game schedule, although he makes clear that he’s eager to return to the field and experience the feeling of defending a World Series title for the first time. It seems nearly impossible to envision Zimmerman playing anywhere else, and given that the team values him beyond his on-field contributions, it’s not tough to see him suiting up for a few more years if he feels up to the challenge.