Winter Meetings bring possibility, anxiety

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In D.C., mentioning the Nationals on the street right now would be a crime, with the 5-6 Redskins poised to make a mediocre run into forgettable history. (The Capitals? What Capitals? The Wizards? Is that some new fringe card game like Pokemon? ). But months from now, when the hot summer sun is beating down and the ballpark is alive once again, with fans, music and baseball, this week will be an important one to look back on – in fact, it may be the biggest factor in those summer months. So go ahead, talk about the team. Just don’t be worried when you get some crazy looks. Because, believe it or not, despite the temperature and the date, the Nationals are at a critical junction, possibly more critical than any they’ll face all season, and it’s unclear to everyone, maybe even including the General Manager Mike Rizzo, where they’ll go from here.

The Lerners, who sit up in ownership, have serious decisions to make about how they’ll use their money – whether it’ll be taking on an already bloated contract, trading a fan favorite (yes, your favorite player, be worried) or adding a free agent. Mike Rizzo has some serious decisions to make as well, regarding the cutting and trading of Papelbon and Storen, respectively, adding to the bullpen, and adding offensive pop as well as figuring out who it’s okay to part with. And in all likelihood, if the Nats feel like making a huge splash, it’s going to happen this week, at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

If there was ever a moment for front office staff to feel like players on the first day of Spring Training, full of belief and hope that they can really go all the way this year, it would be at the Winter Meetings. The Winter Meetings, which for reasons unknown, are run by Minor League Baseball, have no boundaries. For one time, and only one time during the year, everything and everyone seems to be on the table. Rumors fly rampant and only the most elite of the stars are left out of them. Free-agents meet with teams (paging Ben Zobrist…) For the Nationals, they’ve been linked to everyone from O’Day to Chapman, Zobrist to Rollins and everyone in between, including Jonathan Lucroy. Players on the table have ranged from Strasburg to Ramos as well as Espinosa and Escobar. Papelbon and Storen, two players ironically linked, have come up in every conversation. It’s a given that some moves will be made. However, the question of what the right moves are still looms.

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A function of dysfunction; Nationals get a manager, but questions about ownership are raised

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We now conclude the most interesting twenty four hours the Nationals have had since they signed Max Scherzer this past January. Thank you for watching.

After a day when nothing, and I mean nothing seemed certain for the Washington Nationals, the fans can go to bed with one certainty – the biggest issue the Nationals may be facing right now has nothing to do with who will manage their team.

After an embarrassing season filled with gaffes and poor decision making, the Nationals chose to fire their manager, Matt Williams and start the search for a new one. General Manager Mike Rizzo, who’s status had quickly gone from an irremovable messiah to an executive on the hot seat after the disappointing season, noted that the Nationals “certainly would lean toward someone who had some managerial experience, particularly at the major league level.” (C/O Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post) Soon, after not-so extensive interviews, the Nationals seemingly had their guy, Bud Black. Black, who had been recently fired by the Padres, was not set in his ways, shifted, but was still high up on the experience scale. The other finalist for the job, who in a quote to the San Francisco Chronicle, said that he thought he didn’t “think anyone would have been as good for the job as (he would’ve). It seemed like a perfect fit.”, and later explained how he handled the disappointment.

Well, he didn’t have to deal with it for too long. The Nationals, despite having the news of Bud Black’s hiring breaking, never announced his hiring. At first it seemed trivial, and they were just waiting for the World Series to end. But as other teams made their announcements, the Nationals stayed quiet. Fans went to bed on Monday night with the managerial post occupied by Bud Black, and woke up with Dusty Baker. Talks fell through with Black, and Baker was offered the job.

This should seem abnormal, but not completely problematic. And then the numbers come out. The Nationals offered Bud Black $1.6 million for a one year deal. Offering Bud Black, the experienced manager who they wanted, $1.6 million dollars and one year, the number closest to zero, to a manager who at least deserves two guaranteed to put down an anchor in the clubhouse, while Don Mattingly, Black’s former counterpart in Los Angeles, received four years and ten million dollars in Miami is like offering Bryce Harper $100 million while Mike Trout makes $400 million. Has one been better overall during their career? Yes, but there’s not a drastic difference.

So, they turned to Dusty Baker, who immediately accepted a two year deal, which, according to MLB Network Radio, is worth $3.7 million, more than the salary of Black. Ted Lerner, upon hiring him, said in a press release that “During (the Nationals’) broad search process, it was clear that Dusty’s deep experience was the best fit for our ballclub.”

That leaves one critical question: why attempt to hire Black in the first place, if you know you want another guy?

More and more, it seems like the Lerners are controlling the team beyond what’s appropriate. And frankly, that should be more worrying than whoever manages the team. Continue reading

Medlen’s injury just more validation for Strasburg’s shutdown

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Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery.

Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery. (BleacherReport)

This is a tale of two Tommy John surgeries.

Within fifteen days of each other, both Stephen Strasburg and Kris Medlen tore their UCL, requiring baseball’s most dreaded and talked about surgery – Tommy John. The two promising prospects returned in September 2011. This is where the stories differentiate.

In March of 2012, it was announced that no matter what, Stephen Strasburg would be shut down after pitching a certain amount of innings.  Kris Medlen would start the season in the bullpen, and then become a starter in July.

Kris Medlen had a good start, but began his domination of the National League as a starter. He completely dominated the Nationals throughout the entire season, and for that matter, the National League. But Medlen’s start in the NL Wild Card game proved ineffective as the Braves lost the “infield fly” game.

Strasburg had a very good season also, not as dominant as Medlen, but really showing what he would be like in the future. However, as the shutdown loomed, he began to stop producing, and finished early. Strasburg did not play in the playoffs at all, as Rizzo knew it would be better for the overall future, even though the Nats lost in game five, and many people said the opposite, and that if Strasburg had pitched in the NLDS, it might’ve been a different story.

After both posted a good, but not as good follow up year, the two promising prospects entered this year’s Spring Training with high hopes for division titles and great seasons.

Both started this year’s spring training hot. However, one sunny March afternoon, after delivering a pitch, Medlen grimaced, and jogged off the mound. It was later announced he was likely to get a second Tommy John Surgery.

Six days later, Strasburg matched up against Josè Fernandez and the Marlins, giving up two hits over four innings, completely dominating them.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Even though it was a meaningless Spring Training Game, it showed what road Medlen could be on right now – and that two years later, it’s clear that Mike Rizzo made the right move.

The baseball offseason in review

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There are quite a few holidays in the good ol’ U.S.A. Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, Presidents Day, Easter, Hanukkah, and my personal favorite after Hanukkah: Opening Day. However, there is one more I didn’t list there. The day that pitchers and catchers report.

The month is February, and the days are short, gray and cold. But you know, that somewhere in Southern Florida or Arizona, the boys of summer are getting ready. Maybe they’re just catching up on what happened in those long months or sharing glory from the World Series, or doing basic drills. But they’re back in uniform, in the heat, and everyone is optimistic. That will change for most teams, but this is the most hopeful day. So, as baseball starts up again, we have to look back at the offseason.

The first thing was managerial positions, the most important thing in my opinion. Former players like Matt Williams & Brad Ausmus both got the most appealing jobs, for the Nationals and Tigers. Lloyd McClendon, Bryan Price and Rick Rentaria all joined the Mariners, Reds and Cubs, respectively.

Back in November, which feels like forever ago at this point, the first truly major name switched teams. Tim Hudson left the Atlanta Braves for the Giants on a two year deal.

However, the real stuff didn’t start for another few days. This was one of the most unexpected deals, with Prince Fielder being traded to the Rangers for cash and Ian Kinsler.

This shocked the baseball world in ways more than one. However, I feel like I said something about this a while back…

After this, the bigger deals started. Jhonny Peralta went to the Cardinals, and before you could say that “The Cardinals are the Yankees of the NL!” The Yankees made a splash and a half by signing Jacoby Elisbury and Carlos Beltran, creating a starting outfield with a combined age of 96 and 3 other outfielders including Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Sheesh.

This is where it gets interesting for Nats fans. For barely anything unless you are a citizen of Natstown, The Nats acquired Doug Fister for prospect Robbie Ray and second baseman/utility man Steve Lombardozzi. Even more interestingly, the deal was reported by a high schooler.

Next, a confusing three-team deal sent Mark Trumbo to the D-Backs. The next day, the Nats traded for Jerry Blevins, a lefty reliever. The day right after that, Nate McClouth made the cross-beltway journey to join the Nats as a utility man. Right after, Mike Napoli resigned with the Red Sox, and beards everywhere rejoiced. However, the biggest deal of the offseason was yet to come. The Seattle Mariners somehow got their hands on Robinson Cano, for ten years and $240 million.

Trying to replace the big bat that Helton provided, Morneau decided that he would spend the next two years in Colorado. The Giants then added Michael Morse. The final big deal before the new year was Sin Soo Choo signing with the Rangers for seven years. Jamey Carroll came back to Natstown, again, except he’ll start (in all likelihood) in Syracuse. Right before MLB approved instant replay, A-Rod was suspended, and it was announced he would miss all of the 2014 season.

Coincidentally, the final “really big deal” happened when the Yankees spent the A-Rod money on Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees.

The final relatively important deals were made on January 26th, when Matt Garza signed with the Brewers.

The only big names that remain are Nelson Cruz, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.

So, if there’s anything I missed, I apologize. It’s pretty hard to put an entire offseason into 700 words.

But everything is in place for an awesome season. What will be a bust? What will work? What was stupid? What was smart? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, see you on Opening Day!