July 29, 2015

MLB Trade Deadline: Nationals reportedly add Jonathan Papelbon

DEAL CONTINGENT ON PAPELBON CLOSING, NATS PICKING UP ’16 OPTION; STOREN DEMOTED TO SET-UP

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals made a bold and controversial move on Tuesday, sending AA pitcher Nick Pivetta — the Nats No. 12 prospect — to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for closer Jonathan Papelbon. The deal is contingent on the Nats committing to Papelbon as the closer, and the team picking up his option for 2016 for $11 million, according to the reports. The teams had not announced the deal at the time of this posting.

Papelbon, 34, is 2-1 with 17 saves (in 17 tries) with a 1.59 ERA and 0.983 WHIP this season, with a 9.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, some of his best work in his illustrious career. He’s saved 342 games in 11 seasons at an 88.6 percent success rate, elite for a closer with his mileage.

The biggest drawback to taking on Papelbon is, frankly, his attitude. He’s always been seen as a “me-first” guy, and his insistence on being the nominal “closer” for accepting a trade of any sort is the type of behavior that has been commonplace in Papelbon’s career.

A search for “Papelbon jerk” on any search engine gives a litany of the sort of behavior that makes it difficult to root for the player.

GM Mike Rizzo has been very careful over the past several seasons to acquire quality people in addition to quality players, but this deal is about filling a very big hole in what should otherwise be a championship-contending roster, now that the walking wounded are returning to the lineup.

In Tuesday night’s lineup, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joined Anthony Rendon in the batting order, Werth for the first time this season. Only Denard Span remains on the disabled list. If Ian Desmond has turned a corner hitting-wise, the additions of Werth and Zimmerman (if they can return to pre-injury production) give the Nats a very solid batting order.

The bullpen, however, has been a source of concern all season long. Really, since the day Rizzo traded Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar. Anticipated set-up man Blake Treinen was sent to the minors because he can’t get left-handed hitters out, Tanner Roark has been spotty in any role in the pen this season, and dumpster-diving acquisition David Carpenter ended up on the disabled list.

The only constant in the pen has been at the very back end, in Drew Storen. Storen has put up All-Star caliber numbers this season, with a 1.73 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He’s been, simply, excellent. It seems the Nats have continually been looking for ways to replace Storen at the back end, and he just continues to play good teammate. It seems a shame that Storen is the one to get demoted in this deal, though all he’s done is his job all season long.

It’s a dicey situation all around. Papelbon is a quality pitcher that makes the bullpen longer and stronger, but at the same time, he’s a divisive personality that has been difficult to root for at every stop in his career. Add in the fact that his acquisition means a reduction in service for a fan favorite, and it makes for a tough situation.

The team gets better by adding a divisive personality and demoting a fan favorite. It’s more than wins and losses — fans need a vested interest in players to root for, unless your personality is such that all you care about is the bottom line and you root for the laundry, no matter who’s in it.

The big question now is can the Nats rehabilitate Papelbon so that fans can get behind the deal? That will take a LOT of work in certain circles, and may not be possible for some — even if the move brings a World Series Championship.

MLB Trade Deadline: Nats close on Papelbon?

There are plenty of rumors flying around NatsTown these days, with the Washington Nationals seemingly in the market to add another closer to the bullpen, though they possess one of the statistical best this season. Nevertheless, the Nats have been linked to Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Clippard (until he was traded to the Mets) and now Jonathan Papebon.

On the surface, Papelbon is probably the least expensive — in terms of prospects — for the Nats to acquire. But he has some unusual demands in his contract that would have to be satisfied for him to accept any deal, especially to a team that has an established closer.

According to multiple reports, Papelbon has a full no-trade clause and will reject any deal where he won’t be assured of the closer role and his vesting option for 2016 isn’t picked up. He will make $13 million next season if the option is picked up by whatever team acquires him.

Papelbon is having another quality season closing for a crummy Phillies team (1.59 ERA, 17/17 saves, 9.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9). But his prickly demeanor and me-first demands have made him a hated enemy in NatsTown and his contractual demands make this a complicated deal to consider.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo could entice Papelbon to come to set up Drew Storen by guaranteeing the 2016 money, but then you’ve got a disgruntled guy in your bullpen not happy with his role. It’s a dicey situation all around.

 

Washington Nationals Series Preview: Miami Marlins

The Washington Nationals look to bounce back from a rough series in Pittsburgh as they continue their 10-game road trip with three in Miami.

The Nats (52-45) lost three out of four in Pittsburgh, but face a free-falling team in the Marlins (41-58). Jayson Werth will reportedly rejoin the lineup on Tuesday, as the Nationals enter the series holding a two-game lead in the National League East, with a matchup in New York against the second-place Mets looming this weekend, with newly-acquired reliever Tyler Clippard available in the Mets pen.

The Last Time…

The last time the Nationals and Marlins faced off was in early May. The Nationals took two out of three from Miami in Washington, as the teams came into that series separated by just a half-game in the standings. (The Nationals are now 12 games in front of Miami.) The Marlins swept a three game series in April in Miami.

In The Other Dugout

The good news: The Nationals will not have to face Giancarlo Stanton in this series. Stanton will begin hitting a ball off a tee as he comes back from a wrist injury, but is not expected to rejoin the Marlins anytime soon. Dee Gordon, on the other hand, may be back from the DL during the series — he suffered a thumb injury just before the All-Star break.

The bad news: The Marlins’ young ace Jose Fernandez has been stellar since coming back from Tommy John surgery, and the Nationals will face him in the series opener on Tuesday night.

Matchup To Watch

If Werth returns for the series, his timing couldn’t be much better — he is hitting .346 combined against Tom Koehler and Dan Haren, Wednesday and Thursday’s Marlins starters. He has two homers against Koehler and one against Haren. He’s only 1 for 8 against Jose Fernandez…but that one hit is also a home run.

For the Marlins, Martin Prado is a combined 15-for-33 against Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer.

Probables

Tuesday, 7:10pm: Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.30 ERA) vs. Jose Fernandez (3-0, 2.77 ERA)

Wednesday, 7:10pm: Doug Fister (3-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Tom Koehler (8-6, 3.16 ERA)

Thursday, 12:10pm: Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.33 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (7-6, 3.51 ERA)

MLB Trade Deadline: Nats all-in on Kimbrel?

The Washington Nationals have been linked to talks with the San Diego Padres on closer Craig Kimbrel. In fact, by the time you read this the deal may have been done. Kimbrel is owed $11M in 2016 and $13M in 2017, with a team option for $13M in 2018.

Now, the Nats already have a pretty good closer (whom they used a first round pick on), but they seem to want to replace him at any chance they can get.

It strikes me strange that GM Mike Rizzo would be willing to assume $24 million over the next two seasons on a redundant part, especially since he can’t have any idea what he’s going to get health or performance-wise from his aging and injury-prone left fielder and first baseman, if and when they take the field.

Thus far, Rizzo has been very judicial in how he’s managed the Lerner’s money. He’s willing to allow Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span to walk at the end of the season. He traded Tyler Clippard instead of paying him. The only big contracts he’s doled out were Jayson Werth’s original deal (when the Nats were still a very bad team), Ryan Zimmerman’s extension, and Max Scherzer this off-season.

Trading for a closer still on the hook for $24 million over two years, when they already have an affordable one on the roster, just seems, to me, counter to how Rizzo’s managed this roster thus far.

But it’s not just about the money, either. National baseball writers had the Padres asking for Trea Turner back in a deal for Kimbrel. Rizzo will balk at that, but that’s the level of prospect the Padres want, and they’ll want more than one. Can the Nats afford to deal one top-flight prospect and a couple of lesser ones with the holes this roster is going to have over the next season or two with free agents moving on?

Of course, if Rizzo thinks Werth and Zimmerman return to their pre-injury production down the stretch and Kimbrel is the last piece of the puzzle, then we’ll have to reserve judgment and see how things play out. But color me skeptical on any of those three propositions being fulfilled.

MLB Trade Deadline: Where do Nats fit in?

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is this Friday. It’s a frenzied time of year, with baseball fans glued to social media to see who their favorite team has picked up — or traded away.

Fans of the Washington Nationals are no different, with rumors the team has been attached to acquiring big-name relievers such as Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and former Nats-Tyler Clippard, who was traded to the division-rival New York Mets on Monday.

It’s easy to assume, then, that the Nats are looking for bullpen help. The anchor of the bullpen, Drew Storen, has All-Star qualifications this season, but the rest of the equation is still a work in progress. Matt Thornton, quietly, has been excellent, but Tanner Roark has been wildly inconsistent, Blake Treinen was demoted and David Carpenter, a basement-bargain pick-up, was disabled.

So it only seems that a deal for consistent reliever would be in the offing.

But looking at the roster, it’s hard to determine, other than that, what the Nats really need.

We still haven’t seen the real Nats on the field this season with all the injuries. It’s easy to see Anthony Rendon back in uniform, and imagine Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joining the team as well to finally field the team Mike Rizzo thought he put together at the start of the season.

Many have been trying to make the point that the Nats are in first place without all these starters on offense, so their re-joining the team will be better than any trade deadline acquisition — without giving up any prospects to do so.

But what are the Nats getting with these guys coming back to the lineup? Rendon is still young and should reasonably perform up to standards once he gets him MLB timing back. Span was performing admirably before his balky back required a now-lengthy stay on the DL. But Werth and Zimmerman have been accumulating injuries the past several seasons and there’s really no way to tell what they are going to provide to the offense until they are back in the lineup.

We can’t just assume they will both return to their pre-injury performance level. Werth’s age, and the nature of Zimmerman’s injury, really leave the door open to what level of play they’ll bring once they return to the field.

It’s one thing for a fan to look at the sheer number of players returning from the DL and assume things will be better once all these players are back in the lineup. And there’s no doubt Rendon and Span should provide a boost to the top of the order.

But counting on Werth and Zimmerman to provide pre-DL production is a risky move for anyone looking at the roster with an analytic approach.

 

Washington Nationals Game 94 Review: Fister is Shaky While Pittsburgh’s Offense Comes Alive

The Pittsburgh Pirates pounced all over starting pitcher Doug Fister on Thursday night at PNC Park beating the Washington Nationals 7-3.

Fister pitched five innings and gave up nine hits and four runs while walking one batter, striking out six, and giving up one home run. He threw 99 pitches and 65 strikes.

Pittsburgh scored first and early with one out in the bottom of the first inning when outfielder Andrew McCutchen went home on a triple hit by Starling Marte. The Pirates tacked on another run in the second inning with a solo home run hit by first baseman Pedro Alvarez, putting the Pirates up 2-0 over Washington.

The Nats eventually got on the board in the fifth inning when outfielder Clint Robinson reached home on a wild pitch thrown by Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.

But Pittsburgh answered right back in the bottom half of the fifth inning with two more runs scored when Marte scored on a one-out double hit by third baseman Jung Ho Kang, making it a 4-1 ball game. Then, a pair of home runs — including a two-run shot by McCutchen in the seventh and a solo bomb off rookie reliever Abel De Los Santos in the eighth — widened the score gap to 7-1 before the Nats made a last-ditch effort to score more than one run.

Shortstop Ian Desmond came up big against Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero and hit his hundredth career home run – a two-run shot – bringing a Nats closer to beating the Pirates at 7-3 but that was it for Washington’s offense after the blip sign of offensive production.

THE HERO: Desmond. A career milestone moment in the bottom of the ninth is something worth special note and recognition.

THE GOAT: Fister. The Pirates hit him. And they hit him hard.

UP NEXT: Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.09) and the Washington Nationals face Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01) and the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Washington Nationals Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Nationals (51-42) kick off a 10-game road trip in Pittsburgh against the Pirates (54-40).

The Nats, courtesy of their 8th inning comeback Wednesday afternoon against the Mets, enter the  four game series 3 games in front of New York in the National League East.

The Pirates own the second-best record in the National League, but the only team with a better record (and in fact the best record in the majors) is the St. Louis Cardinals, who lead the Pirates in the Central by six games.

*The Last Time…

The Nationals and Pirates last faced off a month ago in Washington. The Pirates came into the series as the hottest team in baseball, but the Nationals cooled them off quickly, sweeping the 3-game series, which featured Max Scherzer’s no-hitter…and near perfect game.

*In The Other Dugout

The Pirates went rolling into the All Star break, beating their division rival Cardinals three out of four games to end the first half. But things have not gone the Pirates’ way coming out of the break. Not only has the team lost five of six, but they lost shortstop Jordy Mercer to an MCL sprain earlier this week. He joins infielder Josh Harrison on the disabled list, with neither one expected back before September.

*Matchup To Watch

Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez is 4-for-7 against Thursday night’s starter, Doug Fister. After that, though, Alvarez is a combined 0-for-18 against the three remaining Nationals starters in the series.

*Probables

Thursday, 7:05pm: Doug Fister (3-5, 4.30 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98 ERA)

Friday, 7:05pm: Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.09 ERA) vs. Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01 ERA)

Saturday, 7:05pm: Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.93 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (8-3, 2.44 ERA)

Sunday, 1:35pm: Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.31 ERA)

Washington Nationals Game 93 Review: Taylor, Espinosa lead comeback over Mets

TAYLOR DRIVES IN THREE IN COMEBACK WIN OVER SECOND PLACE METS

Michael Taylor and Danny Espinosa delivered clutch hits in the eighth inning to trigger a three-run frame, helping the Washington Nationals to come from two runs down and beat the New York Mets 4-3 at Nationals Park, rescuing the rubber match of the three-game series.

The Nats (51-42) lead in the N.L. East returns to three games over the Mets. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 92 Review: Ross Starts Strong, Nats Fall to Mets

What started as a potential pitcher’s duel ended in favor of the New York Mets on Tuesday night when they beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 amid a sticky summer evening.

The arms on the mound – 2015 All-Star Jacob deGrom from the Mets and rookie call-up Joe Ross from the Nats – faced the minimum nine batters through the first three innings pitched before New York scored took to the scoreboard first. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 91 Review: Nats take advantage of unsharp Harvey

Matt Harvey had a very un-Matt Harvey-like start, Gio Gonzalez pitched six solid innings and the Washington Nationals took the first of a three-game series from its closest competitor, knocking off the New York Mets 7-2 at sweltering Nationals Park.

Gonzalez (W, 7-4) allowed two runs on six hits and three walks, striking out four. His only bad inning was the fourth, when — all with two outs — he loaded the bases and gave up a two-run single to Harvey. As anemic as the Mets offense has been these days, maybe they’ll consider giving Harvey at bats when he doesn’t pitch.

As for his work on the mound, Harvey hadn’t pitched in nine days due to the All-Star break and it showed. He walked four to go along with five hits over seven innings, striking out just three. He had men on base in just about every inning. He was taxed with providing innings for the beleaguered Mets staff, which suffered through an 18-inning affair on Sunday.

The Nats (50-41, +3 in NLE) had several hitting heroes. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and ignited the offense with a bunt single off Harvey in the two-run first inning. Clint Robinson had a booming two-run double in the third and finished 2 for 4, and Ian Desmond got into the act, delivering a first-row two-run homer in the eighth off reliever Alex Torres.

NATS NEWS: The Nats sent struggling reliever Blake Treinen to Syracuse and recalled RHP Abel de los Santos from Harrisburg. de los Santos was acquired along with SS Chris Bostick from Texas in the Ross Detwiler trade. Detwiler was DFA’d by Texas last week and he signed with Atlanta.

 

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