August 22, 2014

Brian Orakpo feels like he has nothing to prove to Washington Redskins

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

Redskins LB Brian Orakpo can only watch from sidelines in Week 2 loss to Rams. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Murphy)

The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals has come and gone and Brian Orakpo’s future with the Washington Redskins remains uncertain. The franchise tag will keep him in D.C. for this season, but beyond that there is plenty of reason to wonder if Orakpo will remain here in the future.

Orakpo was a first-round draft pick in 2009 when he was selected by the Washington Redskins and is a three-time Pro Bowler. The problem, however, is money. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals add defenseman Matt Niskanen

From the press release:

The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today.

“We are very excited that Matt Niskanen has chosen to sign with Washington,” said MacLellan. “At 27 years of age, he is just entering his prime for a defenseman. We feel he will be a staple on our blueline for many years to come. We have stated all along that upgrading the defense was our top priority this offseason and we feel we accomplished our goal with our signings today.”

Niskanen, 27, set career highs in points (46), goals (10), assists (36), games played (81) and game-winning goals (6) in 2013-14, led all NHL defensemen in plus/minus (+33) and was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year. He also recorded a career-high nine points (two goals, seven assists), led the team with six power play points and was first among team defensemen with 29 hits in 13 playoff games.

Capitals add veteran center Mikhail Grabovski

The Washington Capitals announced Friday morning the signing of center Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. Grabovski, 29, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and 24 PIMs in 48 tumultuous games with Toronto last season. In 2011-12, the Belorussian center recorded 23 goals and 28 assists with the Leafs, ranking third in both categories.

“Mikhail adds speed and offense to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals,” said Caps GM George McPhee through a team press release. “We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club.”

Grabovski fills a void left by the departure of Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after the free agent period opened last month.

As our friends over at Russian Machine and Japers Rink so aptly and thoroughly described, Grabovski might not put up top-of-the-leaderboard point totals, but he is particularly adept at driving play and making players around him better, and will help the Capitals tremendously in puck possession from the second line center position, theoretically lining up with Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer.

Grabovski’s arrival will have a ripple effect throughout the Caps lineup. It allows coach Adam Oates to slide Brooks Laich into the 3C slot, a much more natural position for him and a more comfortable grouping with Joel Ward, a fellow penalty killer, and Jason Chimera on the wings.

The signing does not come without warning though. Grabovski has had his share of on- and off-ice problems, including a feud with Randy Carlyle, his coach last season, that saw his role and ice time diminish, resulting in the Leafs buying out Grabovski under the contract amnesty clause of the CBA once the season finished.

But his arrival in Washington provides Grabovski with a clean slate, and considering his age, experience and contract status, he should be plenty motivated this season to play hard, keep his nose clean, and put up good numbers in order to secure a long-term contract once the season ends, whether he’s retained here in D.C. or he hits the open market once again.

Grabovski is scheduled to meet the Caps press this afternoon via teleconference, and District Sports Page will update this story as more information becomes available.

Washington Nationals notes: Nats add P Chris Young to stable of MLB depth

The Washington Nationals announced Thursday they signed starter Chris Young to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Young, 33, made 20 starts for the New York Mets in 2012. He went 4-9 with a 4.15 ERA in 115 innings, striking out 6.3 batters per nine innings while walking 2.8. He has dealt with shoulder problems the last three seasons, including surgery in 2011, which limited him to four starts in both 2010 and 2011.

In fact, the last time Young started more than the 20 games he saw last season was in 2007, when he was named the San Diego Padres representitive in the All-Star game. He finished that season 9-8 with a 3.12 ERA.

Young will join Ross Ohlendorf and Yuniesky Maya at Triple-A Syracuse as MLB depth for the starting rotation — if his often injured shoulder holds up.

Rizzo gets his man at his terms: LaRoche re-signs for two years

REPORTED $24 MILLION GUARANTEE, MUTUAL OPTION FOR 2015

Adam LaRoche taking curtain call after hitting 100th RBI - Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Adam LaRoche taking curtain call after hitting 100th RBI – Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The biggest question this off-season for the Washington Nationals was: Who will play first base for the club in 2013 and perhaps beyond. Tuesday morning, we found out, as news spread quickly that the team re-signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract with $24 million guaranteed, according to at least one report, citing a sources with knowledge of the agreement. That source also described a mutual option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout that would pay the slugger and slick fielder another $15 million.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo, speaking with reporters via conference call said, “Adam was a huge part of our success last year…who is very well respected in our clubhouse.”

“We were in a pretty enviable position negoitiation-wise, which allowed us to be patient with Adam. I wanted to do what was right by him and were willing to wait as we really wanted him to be with the ballclub.”

“We were patient with Adam. In the end, both agreed this was the best place for Adam to be.”

LaRoche,  33, hit with .271/.343/.510 with 33 home runs  with 100 RBI for in 2012. After missing most of 2011 with a torn labrum in his left  shoulder, LaRoche was essential in the middle of the Nats batting order, which at some points during the season missed Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Michael Morse . LaRoche produced his best season to date, winning both the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove at first base.

LaRoche and his representatives tried hard over the winter to secure a guaranteed three-year deal for a player that in all likelihood is signing his last big contract. But the new draft pick compensation rules limited the market for LaRoche, as a signing team would have surrendered their first round pick, while lesser free agents no longer required compensation. Other big-name free agents, such as Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse are finding the same problem this winter, that teams aren’t as willing to give up that first round pick as they might have been in years past.

Bringing LaRoche back creates quite the roster logjam, leading most to speculate about how Rizzo will shake up the roster. LaRoche at first base forces Michael Morse and Tyler Moore back into a crowded outfield, already staffed with Werth, Bryce Harper and recent addition Denard Span. Many pundits already assume Rizzo has a deal in the works to move Morse, and his reasonable $7 million salary (which expires at the end of 2013), most likely to an American League team that can utilize the slugger in his most natural position: Designated Hitter.

The Nats have a couple of areas they could use some depth when looking for a trade partner for Morse. Currently, they have one left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster, Zach Duke, a player that spent much of 2012 in the minor leagues — though Duke does have plenty on MLB service and was very strong for the team in limited duty at the end of last season. They are also thin at the upper levels in the minors at starting pitching, with the system being depleted in the deals for Gio Gonzalez and Span.

This move solidifies the Nats roster heading into spring training, leaving very few position open for the taking barring injury. The everyday lineup is rock solid and the bench looks to be as well, with Moore joining Roger Bernadina as backup outfielders and Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy in the infield.

Nats leave Winter Meetings much as they entered

The Washington Nationals had a pretty quiet Winter Meetings by all accounts, save for losing a couple of Rule 5 picks.  They watched some of the biggest names in the market go elsewhere, including to a division rival trying desperately to generate enough interest in their team to fill their new stadium, while they sat pat (for now) in their pursuit of a center fielder (one preferably who can hit leadoff), a dependable veteran starter, and bench help.

The biggest news of the meetings was Albert Pujols bolting the National League for the greener ($$$) pastures of Anaheim.  Los Angeles also added C.J. Wilson on a relatively modest five-year, $77.5 million deal.  Those deals overshadowed the Miami Marlins’ bid for respectability earlier in the week with the signing of SS Jose Reyes (six years, $106 million) and LHP Mark Buerhle (four years, $58 million).   The only other deal with repercussions to the Nats was Laynce Nix moving up U.S. 95 to Philly on a two-year, $2.5 million deal.

Obviously, the Nats had been mentioned as “in” on Wilson and Buerhle, two of the three acknowledged top pitchers on the market, along with 34-year old Roy Oswalt.  Wilson or Buerhle brought the extra added benefit of throwing left-handed and either seemed like a good fit in the Nats rotation, with right-handers Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang already pencilled in.  If the Nats were still interested in acquiring a lefty via free agency, the oft-injured Erik Bedard and Jeff Francis are still on the market, though both are a considerable drop-off from the Wilson/Buerhle tandem, and frankly may not be any better than players they already have under contract.

Mike Rizzo has to be concerned about the moves the Marlins have made, adding an All-Star caliber shortstop and top lefty pitcher to an already formidable array of talent moving into their state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium.  As if the Nats needed any more competition to move up the ranks of the N.L. East, the Marlins are definitely throwing their hat into the ring to get top-of-the-division competitive in a hurry. 

The Marlins can now boast a top-heavy rotation of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Buerhle, with Heath Bell (three years, $27 million) closing games for them.   It remains to be seen if new skipper Ozzie Guillen can massage Hanley Ramirez’ ego enough to convince him to play third (or center field), but the Marlins are much more dangerous now than they were this time last week.

So where does that leave the Nationals?

Well, several top-of-the-marquee free agents remain, such as Prince Fielder, Jimmy Rollins, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Beltran.  Any could be an intriguing fit for the Nats, depending on the price.  One could envision a scenario where Rizzo could make a play for any of these players.  Fielder would certainly fill that middle-of-the-order bat Rizzo covets, but his defense and fitness level are limiting factors when talking about a long-term contract.  Rollins would be an upgrade over Desmond at short, but isn’t a high-OBP guy you’d like to see at the top of the order. 

Ramirez’ combo of offense and defense make him very attractive, but he’s a natural third baseman and if the Nats pursued he’d probably be asked to move to first, limiting his value.  And Beltran’s days of playing center are over, so if the Nats brought him in it would be to play right field, with Werth moving over to center, something he may very well do anyway.

The pitching situation is a little more dicey.  After Oswalt (and his bad back), the list drops off precipitously.  Edwin Jackson (a player linked to the Nats previously), Javier Vazquez and Hiroki Kuroda are the next best available.  But neither Vazquez nor Kuroda want to pitch anywhere but where they were last season, so they probably aren’t realistic options.  No, if the Nats are going to upgrade their No. 3 pitcher spot, it will most likely come via trade.  They’ve been mentioned in the Gio Gonzalez sweepstakes, as have a number of teams, and the return for Gonzalez will be steep.

Japanese sensation Yu Darvish is also out there, but he could cost some $30 million just to get the right to negoitate with him.

The Nationals are in a precarious situation as the free agent market starts to settle.  The problem is that the Nats really don’t know what they need, and probably won’t until spring training.  They hope that 1B Adam LaRoche is healthy and available to play full-time right from the get-go, but the honest truth is that no one knows how strong his left shoulder is until he faces live pitching.  He hads extensive surgery and the recovery time can he lengthy (ask Jesus Flores).  If LaRoche can’t go — and with Chris Marrero out an undetermined time with a torn hamstring — that will require Michael Morse moving back to first base, freeing up an outfield spot. 

The Nats kind of have an injury-prompted game of musical chairs going on right now, and it’s tough for Rizzo to make decisions for his team for next year without really knowing where the needs are.  But one thing is certain.  The Nats desperately need a table-setter at the top of the order.  As much as they wanted and hoped Ian Desmond would be that player, the more at bats he gets the more it shows he’s more of a bottom-of-the-order slasher; a middle infielder with decent pop and good speed, but not enough plate discipline to be a catalyst. 

Is a No. 3 pitcher and lead-off hitter out there for Rizzo, either via free agency or trade?  Christmas is rapidly approaching, and most top free agents like to know where they are playing before the holidays.  Can Rizzo work some holiday magic for the Nats this year?

Nats reportedly bring back Chien-Ming Wang on one-year deal

According to multiple reports this afternoon, the Washington Nationals have agreed to a one-year deal with the free agent right-handed pitcher.  SI.com reports Jon Heyman reported the deal is worth $4 million and others have mentioned the deal includes incentives.

Wang, 32 at the start of spring training, completed a two-year comeback with the Nationals last season, appearing in 11 games, all starts.  He threw 62 1/3 innings with a 4.04 ERA and 1.283 WHIP, striking out 25 and walking 13.  In his six-year Major League career, Wang in 59-29 with a 4.15 ERA in 120 games.  He was twice a 19-game winner for the New York Yankees in 2006-07.

Chien-Ming Wang in his Nationals debut July 29, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

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