December 21, 2014

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Nats Nightly: Washington Nationals mid-winter update; trades; Harper

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals offseason moves thus far, including the Steven Souza and Ross Detwiler trades and the Bryce Harper grievance non-hearing.

Check Out Baseball Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals acquire Trea Turner, Joe Ross from Padres; send Steven Souza to Rays

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals completed a three-way deal with the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Nats will acquire SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross from San Diego and sent OF Steven Souza, Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa. Tampa sent Wil Myers and others to San Diego.

Turner and Ross are both former first round picks and were on the Padres Top 10 Prospect List.

Since Turner was drafted this past summer, he will have to be included in the deal as a “player to be named later” and will most likely play in extended spring training next season until the deal can be consummated.

Turner, 21, was the 13th overall pick by the Padres in last summer’s amateur draft. He hit .323/.406/.448 with four home runs and 23 steals in 27 opportunities between low- and high-A last year in 321 plate appearances. He grades out with 80 speed according to MLB scouts with the defensive ability to stick at shortstop.

Ross, 21, was the 25th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Padres. In 62 minor league appearances (60 starts) he’s 15-18 with a 3.90 ERA, 1.308 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. His strikeout numbers took a tick up last season moving from low- to high-A and he made four appearances in AA at the end of last season. According to one report, Ross features a plus fastball in the low 90’s with heavy life, a slider that projects as above average, and a changeup that is still mostly a show-me pitch.

Souza, 26 on opening day, enjoyed his career last season in Syracuse, hitting .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs in 407 plate appearances. He will forever be remembered by Nats fans for making the spectacular diving catch to save Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the last day of the 2014 season.

Ott, 19, is a former 25th round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 23 appearances, mostly in rookie league and short-season A ball. He’s a soft-tossing lefty with limited MLB upside.

This trade, as with last season’s deal for Doug Fister, is a bona fide and clear win for Nats GM Mike Rizzo. He moved an older prospect and a fringe at best lefty for two of the Padres top minor league prospects, both legitimate MLB talents. Turner obviously becomes the Nats best middle infield prospect, providing strong insurance if the Nats can’t — or won’t — re-sign Ian Desmond to a long-term contract. Ross is added to an already crowded stable of hard-throwing right-handed starters in the Nats minor league system.

Souza was clearly a fan favorite for his catch and power potential, but he had no place in the Nats outfield and, frankly, has limited MLB potential. He owns a long swing and is not a quality defender, despite his tremendous diving catch. The Nats got two of the three best players in this 11-player deal and didn’t give up the third. The Nats got better for the future without giving up any of the present.

Win-win for Rizzo and the Nats.

DSP REVIEWS: Episode 1 of Epix Road to Winter Classic: Capitals vs. Blackhawks

Journey with us, back to Tuesday night, when Epix debuted its first episode of Road to the Winter Classic. It was just like HBO’s 24/7, only even more melodramatic and over-scripted. Anyway, District Sports Page’s Capitals crew watched, took notes, and provides these reviews, which probably coincide greatly with what you already thought about it.

Dave: To be honest, I couldn’t care less about the family narratives these shows give us. I know there’s a large section of the fan base that want to see the players and coaches with their kids. I get that it “humanizes” them. I really do. I just don’t care. So if the best parts of this hour of hockey-related content comes from them showing the family aspects or how quirky Mitch Korn is in his living arrangements, I’m not gonna be happy.

If the league gave us a premium subscription channel of the benches, creases and locker rooms mic’d up — and no other sound — I’d pay at least double, if not triple, than what I already do for Center Ice. That’s what I want to see and hear. And there wasn’t enough of it.

As for the “interviews”, I found it particularly difficult to sit through the semi-scripted narratives that were presented. More real-life, less faux documentary, please. And what was with the backwards chairs?

Most memorable line: “I have a four-year college education.” Joel Ward, responding to Jason Chimera accusing him of only “reading the pictures” in the newspaper.

1 1/2 pucks out of four.

J.J.: The narrator first refers to the Caps as a “proud franchise.” Maybe Washington sports have left me a bit jaded, but I feel you need more than one conference championship before you can be labeled a proud franchise.

The show tackled the issue of whether Alex Ovechkin was coachable right away. Despite everyone on the team, every coach and every analyst close the team saying that uncoachable narrative surrounding the Great 8 is overblown, every armchair GM continues to run with it. Multiple coaches come and go and Ovechkin remains, so all of the team’s problems must stem from him. It’s lazy analysis and I was glad to see the show tackle it right away. Granted it’s not as if Barry Trotz can go on camera and say Ovechkin is a pain and they can’t work together, but I liked seeing their interactions with one another.

Bruce Boudreau was the breakout star of the HBO series in the Caps’ first Winter Classic and unfortunately this first episode lacked that kind of show-stopper personality. Barry Trotz was featured prominently and showed why he is one of the most likeable people in hockey, but he didn’t steal the show the way Bruce did.

Maybe I’m just weird, but did anyone else notice that for every one-on-one interview they had the players and coaches sit backwards in a chair like he’s the cool kid in high school? Why? It didn’t really bother me until the interviewed Ovechkin who was too big for the chair. He looked like a teenager trying to sit in a toddler’s big wheel.

Hockey players are just different. If my face ever looked like Brian Bickell’s did in this episode, I’d be in the emergency room just hoping I didn’t have the bubonic plague.

Line of the night: An angry Trotz wanted an explanation for the Jason Chimera penalty that cost the Caps the game against Columbus and was promptly told, “You were on the power play all f***ing night.”

Overall it was a good episode, but not great. What makes these shows fun is getting to see the real world of hockey, the part most people don’t get to see. I love seeing the coaching the pregame/postgame speeches, the interactions during the game, etc.

This episode did a lot of game by game recap. Most people watching this show know what happened in each game and those who don’t can look it up. That’s not why we’re watching. We want to go deeper than that. I even wanted to see more of some of the Chicago storylines like how Scott Darling prepared for his first game or felt afterwards. There was none of that, just more recaps. Save that for SportsCenter.

2 pucks out of four.

Katie: Most memorable quote:  “It’s a really, really nice apartment, but we don’t have … really nice things.” -Tom Wilson, on the apartment he shares with Michael Latta.

Biggest surprise: How little time was devoted to things that probably deserved longer segments. It felt rushed.

Biggest laugh: Joel Ward and Jason Chimera chirping each other in the locker room while Ward was reading the paper. It captured them perfectly.

Least favorite part: The overwrought writing and lack of memorable music. Hockey is intense, Epix, we know this. The voiceover felt bland and was too heavy-handed for my taste. Show, don’t tell. Let people actually see things rather than explain to them what they’re seeing.

While the production value was good, the episode itself felt rushed. It seemed like the series was geared toward attracting new hockey fans, rather than people who watched because they are already fans. Ted Leonsis talking about Alex Ovechkin and how much the team wants to win a cup was overkill. Every team wants to win a cup, and no one in their right mind thinks Ovechkin is a coach-killing scrub. Spend more time on developing stories, and less time on game footage. Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn have the greatest possibility of stealing the show. Their segments were arguably the most interesting.

2.5 pucks out of four.

Eric: Most memorable quote: “If I step on toes, I step on toes” -Barry Trotz

Biggest surprise: With a lot of the folks that worked on HBO’s productions coming over, I was slightly surprised by the heavy use of archival footage early on, and an overall lack of “behind the scenes” footage and heavy emphasis on game footage compared to the past couple seasons.

Biggest laugh: I loved hearing Scott Darling list all the teams he’d been part of in the past four years. I lost track at nine.

Least favorite part: I didn’t enjoy what I thought was an over-emphasis of Chicago. I’ll chalk that up to an Epix oversight, but I remember HBO giving each team relatively equal airtime in 2010-11, 2012-12 and 2013-14.

In general, I thought that it wasn’t as good as the three HBO editions of the series. With that said, I’m willing to give Epix a pass simply because they haven’t done anything like this before. I was pretty underwhelmed with the production value and I’m glad I watched, but there was a lot left to be desired.

2 pucks out of four.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers Dec. 16

In the most #CapsCats game ever, the Washington Capitals fell to the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout that lasted 20 rounds, beating the previous league record for shootout rounds previously held by a Caps-Rangers game in 2005.

Troy Brouwer scored a power play goal for the good guys, Derek McKenzie potted one for the Kitties, and both Braden Holtby and Roberto Luongo were exhausted after the 20-round shootout gimmick.

With no further adieu…

FIRST STAR: Braden Holtby. The dude made 25 saves in regulation plus overtime and was once again the best player on the ice for the Caps. The only goal allowed came after a bad turnover behind the net by Mike Green.

SECOND STAR: Alex Ovechkin. He was a hitting machine and his pass to Brouwer in the slot for the power play goal was born of tremendous vision and surgeon’s precision on the pass.

THIRD STAR: Brooks Orpik. Why not? Was credited with seven hits and I’m making it a rule that every time Orpik scores in a shootout he has to be awarded at least one of the stars of the game.

Washington Capitals Game 30 Recap: Caps come up short in epic shootout with Florida

By Brian Barnard

Following their Saturday night victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals faced another former Southeast division rival on Tuesday. The Caps were greeted in Sunrise by a surging Florida Panthers team that has gone 5-3-2 over its last ten games. When the two squared off in mid-October, the Caps won a 2-1 shootout victory.

This time around, the Panthers returned the favor, winning the game 2-1 after a shootout that went 20 rounds and involved rally helmets on the bench. It was officially five rounds longer than the previous record-holder, the Capitals vs. the Rangers at MSG in 2005 (see, Marek Malik). [Read more…]

Nationals avoid hearing with Harper with 2-year deal

OUTFIELDER SIGNS TWO-YEAR, $7.5 MILLION CONTRACT

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract Sunday evening according to reports, which will allow the sides to avoid a messy, potentially ugly grievance hearing which was scheduled for Tuesday.

The grievance stemmed from a complication in the original rookie contract Harper signed after his draft. The player’s agent, Scott Boras, believed Harper had the right to opt out of that original contract and be eligible for salary arbitration this season, as Harper qualifies for “super two” status.

The “opt-out” clause is common in the industry but not standard, and was not included in Harper’s original contract. There has been speculation why the language was not included, but the team reported said it was an oversight due to the speed of last-minute negotiations as the sides approached the deadline for a deal.

Harper will make $2.5 million in 2015 and $5 million in 2016, comparable to what he might have made in arbitration. He will then have two arbitration years before becoming a free agent after the 2018 season.

OPINION: Dysfunctional Washington Redskins need major overhaul once again

With the Washington Redskins 24-13 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, the Burgundy and Gold will finish in last place in the NFC East once again, which makes it six of the last seven years. With the double-digit loss seasons piling up, and the ownership obviously not changing, someone has to be held responsible.

Team president and GM Bruce Allen is an easy target. At least superficially he’s the architect of this mess. The Redskins inability to scout, draft, develop and manage personnel properly runs as a current though the entire organization and goes back for the full 15 seasons Daniel Snyder has owned the team, so it’s deeper than Allen himself. But that where it all starts.

Think to yourself: When was the last time a player, coach or administrator left the Redskins and had success anywhere in the league? This is where folks in the NFL go to get paid then ride off into the sunset, and it’s been that was forever now.

Take Dan Snyder’s money? Sure. But you carry that stink on you for the rest of your days.

Regardless of what Snyder decides on the RGIII/Gruden debate, Allen was responsible for both hires, so he has to answer for crippling the franchise yet again. Don’t want to fire him outright? Fine. “Promote” him to what he does best — marketing and alumni relations. As a personnel evaluator and organizational executive, he has failed — miserably.

The player personnel department? Scouting and development? Anyone ever associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Gone too.

Snyder should seriously seek counsel of the Commissioner’s Office to determine the best candidate available to take over managing every single aspect of football operations. There’s precedent — in the 70s Pete Rozelle forced the Mara family to hire George Young to rescue a moribund and dysfunctional franchise in the league’s premier market and all Young did was turn the Giants into perennial contenders.

Roger Goodell is a self-identified Redskins fan. He considers Snyder as one of his strongest allies. He should counsel Snyder in this issue to hire a competent executive then force Snyder to get the hell out of the way — really out of the way — for the first time in his ownership. Let that executive build the franchise back from the ground up. Scouts. Personnel department. Offensive and defensive linemen. Defensive coordinator.

No more glad-handing high profile free agents. No more coddling first round bonus babies. No more roaming the sidelines at training camp. No more personal relationships with any of the active players. No more meddling and undermining the football operations by blurring the lines between ownership and football management.

It’s a daring concept, I know.

Unfortunately, the more likely scenario will be Snyder leaving Allen in a position to waste more time, effort and money. The two will fire Gruden and hire the only man they can at this point to coach the team, Art Briles — Griffin’s college coach at Baylor — in a last-ditch effort to resurrect the once franchise-saving phenom. We can all watch as that plan backfires, as it always does, and wait in wonder what Snyder will do again for an encore.

We’ve only been watching it for 15 years, what’s a few more at this point?

OPINION: For the Caps, it’s not the end of the world

“It’s not the end of the world,” Troy Brouwer, on Jason Chimera’s overtime penalty on Thursday.

For years, the Washington Capitals have been battling the perception that they aren’t intense enough, that they collectively lack an ethic tough enough to compete as a team at the highest levels in the NHL.

George McPhee thought so, or he wouldn’t have fired the most successful head coach in the franchise’s history to hire a coach out of the Juniors with no NHL coaching experience at all whose reputation was nothing but hard work, diligence, and yes, toughness.

Brian MacLellan must think so too, as he was part of the braintrust to bring in Barry Trotz — a coach whose reputation for discipline and hard work goes without question — to replace another offensive-minded, but failed, head coach.

Certainly it’s been part of the Canadian media’s mantra about “what’s wrong with the Capitals” the entirety of Alex Ovechkin’s tenure rockin’ the red.

Taken with that background, then, Troy Brouwer’s comments on Friday about Jason Chimera’s boneheaded penalty in overtime Thursday night can be read several ways, depending on your impression of the team and your feelings about the players themselves.

First, Brouwer’s actual comments, unfiltered:

“We’ve all been in that situation where you’re helpless. You’re in the box after you do something unintentional that might cost your team a couple points.

“[Chimera] felt bad about it and he apologized after the game. It could happen to anybody and it does happen to a lot of guys.

“I’m sure he felt isolated, but that’s when we as teammates have to pick him up and let him know that it’s not the end of the world, we’re still here for him, he’s a big part of our team, and we’re going to need him to rebound.” [emphasis added]

On Friday, Trotz indicated he had not spoken with Chimera directly about the incident, and Chimera — surprisingly — did not speak with media after practice, something he rarely avoids, at least in my experience covering the team. So that left Brouwer to speak for him.

First of all, Brouwer’s opinion that Chimera did “something unintentional” is not supported by the facts. Chimera’s interference penalty — knocking down defenseman Jack Johnson far away from the puck — was certainly intentional. Poor judgment? Yes. Unintentional? Absolutely not. So that part of Brouwer’s comments seem excuse-making.

Anyway…

If you want, you can interpret Brouwer’s comments as “standing up” for his teammate. He specifically says that as teammates they “have to pick him up.” All that said, if he had stopped there, it would have been easy to take Brouwer’s comments at face value.

But he goes on to say that “it’s not the end of the world.” Maybe not. But with the Caps still mired in the middle-to-low side of the pack in the Eastern Conference, every point is going to matter at the end of the season. Every single point.

If you want to read into Brouwer’s comments and believe that they perpetuate the narrative that the Caps are too complacent — that they lack the urgency, intenseness or toughness requisite to be one of the top teams in the league and truly compete for a championship in a sport that’s as much about desire as skill — it’s right there for you.

If you see this team underperform again and again (winning three straight on the road only to lose to an inferior team at home) and want to look for reasons deeper than possession metrics, Brouwer’s comments certainly opens those doors for you.

If you buy into the perception of a lax atmosphere that surrounds and permeates the Caps — the team, organization, media, and yes, fans — then it probably doesn’t surprise you that Brouwer thinks “it’s not the end of the world.”

If you want to look at the Washington Capitals and wonder why they never seem to play up to their collection of talent, you’re within your right to read Brouwer’s comments and interpret them outside of face value.

I guess if the Caps miss out on the playoffs by one point in April, it won’t be the end of the world.

Washington Nationals trade Ross Detwiler to Rangers for minor leaguers

According to multiple reports, the Washington Nationals on Thursday traded LHP Ross Detwiler (29 opening day) to the Texas Rangers for two minor leaguers. According to USA Today, those players are 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos.

Detwiler, the former No. 6 overall draft pick of the Nats, was left off the playoff roster last season as his stock had fallen from Game 4 playoff starter in ’12 to middle reliever to afterthought in two seasons.

The tall lefty battled delivery issues early in his career, which led to hip injuries and decreasing velocity. With the loss of speed, Detwiler also lost any semblance of a strikeout pitch, as he turned completely into a “generate weak contact” type of pitcher. He threw his sinking fastball over 90 percent of his pitches and never did develop suitable secondary pitches.

He has never struck out more than 5.8 per nine innings in his career.

Bostick, 22 in March, hit .251/.322/.412 in 130 games in double-A single-A last season in the Rangers organization with 11 homers and 24 steals. He exclusively played second base the past two seasons.

de los Santos, 22, was 5-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.959 WHIP and 10.4/2.9 K/BB ratio in 41 appearances between low and high-A for the Rangers last season. In 105 minor league appearances he owns a 9.2 K/9 ratio.

Perhaps the most significant by-product of the deal is shedding Detwiler’s $3 million contract for the upcoming season as the Nats still do not have an answer for their 2B/3B opening as the Winter Meetings come to a close.

Should Washington Nationals trade Tyler Clippard?

I usually stay out of the fray when it comes to the Hot Stove league. Generally, I’d rather comment on what happened rather than try to sift through all the noise that the click-baiters are trying to generate this time of year.

But one of the Washington Nationals biggest decisions — among several, I might add — is whether to seize a good opportunity to move a reliable, veteran player that is going to get expensive very quickly before he is eligible for free agency.

Not Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or Ian Desmond, though the same applies to all three.

No, obviously from the title of the article you know that I’m already talking about Tyler Clippard.

Clippard, 30 on opening day, is already getting bites from general managers across the league. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said on the radio the other day he’s already “penciled in” Drew Storen as closer for next season, which leaves Clippard as the main set-up guy again, a role he’s performed admirably the past six-plus seasons, including two all-star campaigns.

Clippard has shown no signs of slowing down, posting a 7-4 record, 2.18 ERA, 0.995 WHIP and 10.5/2.9 K/BB ration last season. In fact, it might have been his most impressive season, including his 32-save year of 2012.

But here’s the deal: desperate teams will dramatically overpay for a closer, and Clippard could fill that bill. He’s reliable, consistent and excellent. He’s also going to get very expensive for a set-up guy very quickly, but still have a quite reasonable salary for a closer.

Think that’s screwed up? Sure it is. But that’s how desperate teams think. To go out on the free agent market to acquire a veteran closer is a fool’s errand, and it’s prohibitively expensive. One needs to look no further than the two-year Rafael Soriano experiment here.

So smaller or mid-market teams looking for a veteran reliever that can close can do that on the trade market easier than outbid the bigger-market teams in free agency.

Clippard made $5.875 million last season and is 3rd year arbitration eligible, meaning this is his last arbitration before becoming a free agent at the age of 31 after the upcoming season. Considering his track record of excellence, two all-star noms and almost unprecedented reliability, Clippard will probably command $8 million-plus in arbitration this year.

Can the Nats afford to pay their set-up guy $8 million, and have any hope of re-signing Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond? Not to even mention looking down the road at Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.

Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are going to have some bridges to cross in the next couple of seasons, and this is one of them. The team has plenty of arms currently in the bullpen and plenty more candidates where they came from. If Rizzo has proven one thing as GM, it’s that he loves stockpiling mid-level starter prospects with big arms and has had real good success turning them into reliable relievers.

Clippard was the first.

Despite the Lerner’s deep pockets, they aren’t limitless — at least when it comes to baseball finances. Rizzo might have to start to pick-and-choose on the players he retains and the players he moves to re-stock the cupboards.

Clippard might be that first hard choice this winter, even before Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond.

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