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Mike Rizzo says Nationals have no plans to trade for starting third baseman

Mike Rizzo says Nationals have no plans to trade for starting third baseman

The Nationals may not have found an obvious replacement for Anthony Rendon at third base this offseason, but general manager Mike Rizzo feels comfortable giving top prospect Carter Kieboom an opportunity to earn the job in spring training with several veterans capable of handling the position should he fail to prove he’s ready.

“We’re not looking to make a trade,” Rizzo said at a press conference in West Palm Beach on Friday. “It’s nothing that has been a priority to us in the offseason. Like I said, we’ve handled all the options that we need to have at third base through the offseason and I think that it shows with the roster construction about how versatile this group is and how effective they can be.”

Rendon was the Nationals’ everyday third baseman from 2014-19; he put together a career year last season with a 1.010 OPS, 34 home runs and an MLB-best 126 runs batted in as he finished third in NL MVP award voting. But after Washington re-signed starter Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million deal at the Winter Meetings, Rendon inked a similar contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

That left a significant hole in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup. Rizzo said at WinterFest that Josh Donaldson was one of their free-agent targets until he agreed to a four-year, $92 million deal with the Minnesota Twins that proved to be too expensive for Washington’s taste.

On the trade market, Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado have been heavily rumored to be available in talks but The Athletic reported negotiations the Chicago Cubs for Bryant “have gone nowhere” and Arenado was never connected to Washington.

Kieboom, 21, will now have the chance to break camp with the team after switching from his natural position of shortstop over to third this offseason. The infield prospect appeared in 11 games for Washington last season but struggled both defensively and at the plate. He said at WinterFest that he gained 15 pounds this offseason and is excited to prove that he can handle third base.

“Carter is a guy that we’re hoping takes the reins and runs with it,” Rizzo said. “He’ll get every opportunity to make the club and to be our everyday guy. But we’ve got a lot of contingency plans if that doesn’t work out. We’ve got some really professional players that know how to play the position and I like our versatility. We’ve got sever guys who can play in that spot and we feel really good about all those options.”

Those contingency plans include Starlin Castro, who the Nationals signed to a two-year deal this offseason, as well as familiar faces Asdrúbal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick. All three veterans can play multiple positions and should be in the mix for the starting job at second base as well.

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Mike Rizzo on the Astros: ‘Somebody’s gotta say the words over there, cheated’

Mike Rizzo on the Astros: ‘Somebody’s gotta say the words over there, cheated’

In what was his first spring training press conference as the reigning World Series-winning general manager, Mike Rizzo was faced with questions Friday about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme they employed during the 2017-18 seasons.

“Somebody’s gotta say the words over there, cheated,” Rizzo said. “That’s important to me. For the sport to move on, which is what I’m most concerned about, we have ton make sure that all the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed on this investigation before we end it.”

Astros owner Jim Crane hosted a press conference on the other side of the two teams’ shared spring training facility in West Palm Beach on Thursday and was asked if their use of technology to steal opposing pitchers’ signs in real time could be considered cheating.

“We broke the rules,” Crane replied. “You can phrase that any way you want.”

The word “cheat” was never spoken by Crane throughout the lengthy press conference where he also said that the sign-stealing scheme they orchestrated during their 2017 World Series run “didn’t impact the game.”

“We keep skirting around the word and they cheated,” Rizzo said. “They were found guilty of it and I haven’t heard it yet.”

After The Athletic broke the story in November, MLB launched an investigation that resulted in a $5 million fine, significant losses of draft capital and one-year suspensions for GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Crane subsequently fired both Hinch and Luhnow later that day.

“It’s contingent on leadership to guide franchises,” Rizzo said. “I know for a fact that could not and would not happen with the Washington Nationals because I would not allow it happen with the Washington Nationals. So we certainly take pride in that, in the way we conduct our business and our process and like I said, we try to do things the right way for the good of the game in its entirety.”

Washington faced the Astros in last World Series, which the Nationals won in seven games. Starter Patrick Corbin said Thursday that the team “heard things” prior to the championship series and used a complex sign system that included laminated cards and multiple sets of signs for each pitcher in an effort to prevent Houston from deciphering their signs. Catcher Kurt Suzuki told The Washington Post that there was “no question” the Astros continued to steal signs through the 2019 World Series.

“I have no proof of what, if anything, they did in 2019,” Rizzo said. “We assumed they were and we prepared diligently for it.”

In an offseason that’s included a parade to celebrate D.C.’s first World Series title since 1933, a record-setting contract that landed Gerrit Cole with the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquiring Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox and a slew of rule changes that will change how relievers are used, it’s been the Astros who’ve been dominating the headlines.

“One of the problems I have with it is that opening day [of spring training] 2020, there’s 50 media outlet people here and 47 were at the Houston Astros who cheated to win a World Series and there was three of them here with the current reigning world champions and that’s not right.”

The Astros have yet to release any kind of statement clarifying Crane’s comments, but it was clear he was sticking to a script that included not admitting Houston cheated its way to a World Series title.

“My takeaway from it is that we’re the 2019 World Series champions,” Rizzo said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our group than that. We did it with character, dignity and did it the right way. So we feel good about that. The thing that pains me the most is that it put a black cloud over the sport that I love and that’s not right.”

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Josh Norman confirms Redskins released him: ‘It’s their choice not mine’

Josh Norman confirms Redskins released him: ‘It’s their choice not mine’

Four seasons after signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Redskins, Josh Norman was released by Washington on Friday, the cornerback told NBC Sports Washington’s Julie Donaldson.

The news was first reported by NFL Network's Mike Garafolo

“It’s their choice not mine,” Norman said. “Now I can start something new and fresh.”

Norman said “multiple teams” have contacted his agent about signing him as a free agent. His hope is to join a team that has a shot at winning a championship.

The 32-year-old defensive back had a tumultuous last few seasons in Washington, which culminated with his benching after Week 11. He ended the 2019 season with one interception, six passes defended and 40 tackles.

Norman’s departure could pave the way for Washington restructure the contract of cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who told NBCSW’s JP Finlay that we wanted to be traded before walking back his comments to say he “wants to know where he stands” with head coach Ron Rivera.

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