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Braves announcer questions age of Nationals phenom Juan Soto, draws response from GM Mike Rizzo

Braves announcer questions age of Nationals phenom Juan Soto, draws response from GM Mike Rizzo

The Nats are hosting the Braves for a series this week, and Atlanta announcer Joe Simpson must have figured he was past due for another “old man yells at cloud” comment.

As many opposing announcers do when facing the Nationals, Simpson spent some time raving about Juan Soto, who hit his 14th home run of the season tonight. What makes this number so incredible is Soto’s age, which is 19.

It’s one of the most impressive seasons by a teenager in history, only Joe Simpson isn’t so sure we’re actually talking about a teenager.

During Game 1 of today’s doubleheader, Soto was at the plate. Here’s what Simpson had to say (h/t @DCBarno/Twitter for the audio). 

“He is...If he’s 19, he has certainly got his man growth. He is...big and strong.”

First of all, “he has certainly got his man growth” is a really weird way of saying Soto is a muscular, well-built guy.

But, let’s go ahead and highlight the most important three words: “if he’s 19.” I’m not sure if this is a case of bitterness that the Nats’ young phenom is better than Acuna, the Braves’ 20-year old star (it probably is), or if it’s just prejudice (it almost definitely is) or if it’s a little bit of both.

Latin American countries and their players have long dealt with rumors and accusations of age fraud. As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan points out, however, this line of thinking is outdated.

I won’t give them the dignity of linking to their tweets, but some fans responded to Passan on Twitter saying without a birth certificate we don’t have proof. Good to know some people think it’s worth spending their time asking the tough questions and getting #MadOnline.

Simpson probably didn’t intend to come across as prejudiced, but it’s hard to imagine him making a similar comment about a white player from America.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic got the reaction of Nats GM Mike Rizzo, who apparently spoke with Simpson in between today's games. Here's a tweet with the link, if you're a subscriber ($).

It's unclear if Simpson has made an apology directly to Soto, but after his conversation with Rizzo, Simpson walked back his comments on-air during Game 2. According to the transcription, as seen in The Athletic, Simpson made the following comments.

"If you were with us in Game 1, you might have heard me make a comment off the top of my head about if he's 19. Well, he is. He’s bona fide 19. And he is a full-grown man. He is strong. And he is one heck of a player. You might well just write his name in on the Rookie of the Year award right now."

It's a gesture Simpson needed to make, though it is a little hard to take his comments completely seriously. Simpson has done a lot to earn his reputation as a stereotypical angry old fan who has fallen behind today’s game. Less than two weeks ago, during a Braves-Dodgers game, Simpson took issue with the Dodgers’ unprofessional look during their own batting practice. According to him, Dodgers fans should be “embarrassed."

Not only is this patently ridiculous, but it’s also hypocritical. The Dodgers certainly aren’t the only team to warm up in something other than their full uniforms. Plus, the t-shirts they were wearing that he had such a problem with? Many of them read “K Cancer.”

Again, I doubt Simpson meant to imply anything against the idea of fighting cancer, but this coupled with his offensive comments on Juan Soto, are not a great look for him.

Hopefully, Simpson will find a way to move beyond his outdated, crude stereotypes. That would be a “man growth” I think we’d all like to see.

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Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

LAS VEGAS -- Scott Boras slid through a crush of media to step onto a 1630 Pelican Transport case in front of a 25-foot tall Christmas tree with 2,240 ornaments Wednesday, then stole its shine.

If that sounds silly, or over the top, or extravagant, it should. For anyone else. This is standard for Boras, agent to the stars, voluminous speaker, deliverer of ideas on how to shape the world around him.

He’s also Bryce Harper’s agent. That made Boras more in demand Wednesday than any time prior in his life. The Alex Rodriguez chase of 2000 delivered a mania of its own. But not like this. Not in the age of cell phones and social media, when passersby in Mandalay Bay stopped to ask whose skull was raised two feet above all else thanks to the boost from a hard exterior case designed to protect television equipment. Security shooed them along.

Boras touched on Harper’s status, the extension process with Anthony Rendon, how he would change the playoffs, and dropped a nurse-thermometer reference when talking about the New York Yankees. He spent more than an hour on center stage with the giant tree sparkling behind his 66-year-old head. Boras appearing after a puff of smoke or being lowered from the ceiling to his speaking spot would not have seemed out of place.

Chopping through his statements revealed little. Harper met with several teams. The Nationals are still in the mix, as much as they can be if their top offer is $300 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman backed away from the idea of signing Harper on Tuesday. Boras reeled him back in Wednesday. 

“When you're talking about star players, I go back to Mark Teixeira,” Boras said. “The Yankees are very adept. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it.

“When the nurse walks in the room with a thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day. The issue is the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital. They're not ready to leave the hospital yet.”

So, there’s that.

The Nationals are not out of this. According to Mike Rizzo and Boras, anyway. Doors are open, but likely only propped by a foot, a touch of light squeezing through. Boras and Rizzo have been on-message since Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggested last week Harper’s future lay elsewhere.

“I’ve heard resonance of it,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington about Lerner’s comments. “Whenever I talk to Mark or Ted Lerner or Mike Rizzo, from our standpoint, their door is very open to us and our door is very open to them. We’ve always had a great working relationship, we will continue to do so and we’ll continue to have dialogue on this subject.”

Rizzo said Wednesday, like he said Tuesday, the Nationals have no scheduled meeting with Harper while in his hometown. He gave a quick summary of why Wednesday from a posh, bright white suite near the top of the Delano hotel.

“We know Bryce better than anyone in this building,” Rizzo said. 

And Boras knows them equally well. 

“The Lerners and Bryce are both collectively going to do what’s best for them,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington. “I think going into this situation in D.C. whether it be Max [Scherzer] or [Stephen Strasburg] or even the draft picks themselves, we’ve had very productive results and the franchise has grown dramatically. They’re a multi-billion dollar franchise. Their attendance has gone up from way back when they started in the early 2010s. The winning has been great. I’m sure they want to get to the higher levels. But for franchises that hope to aspire to where they are, I think it’s all gone positively. It’s been a great working relationship with the Lerner family and the Nationals and Mike Rizzo. For those reasons we just continue to talk and see where we can go.”

Boras was at Nationals Park for Harper’s last home game, an attempt at final resonance struck down by rain. Harper took the uncommon action of coming to work early that day. He pulled on his Nationals jersey long before anyone else in the clubhouse was dressed. Most days, he moved about in a sleeveless gray sweatshirt with his “BH” logo in red across the front. Not that day. He knew it could be the end. So did Boras.

Harper’s long-anticipated move into free agency followed, becoming the rarest of experiences in his life: something new. Harper has managed media and fame from the time he was 16 years old. His laps around the baseball world finished early. However, he’s never been through this. Harper doesn’t know -- yet -- where he will play next year. He has to discuss it with his wife, Kayla, and his father, Ron. So many factors abound when making what could be a decade-long decision.

“I think when you’re in Bryce’s shoes, you have no way of really knowing how this is going to turn out,” Boras told me. “He has great regard for the organization, Washington fans, his teammates. There is certainly a potential where that [final] day could come. It could be his last day wearing that [Nationals] uniform. And there’s potential where it could go on for the eternity of his career.” 

Boras finished his day by swashbuckling through a series of individual interviews. He compared his hotel room to Penn Station, satiated a gaggle of foreign press members, then rolled into the late afternoon dusk. Once he was gone, the tree resumed its station as the hall’s brightest light.

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Anthony Rendon is open to listening to the Nationals about an extension

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Rendon is open to listening to the Nationals about an extension

Nationals fans have certainly grown accustomed to their team’s attempts at retaining its top players by now. Stephen Strasburg signed a 7-year, $175 million contract entering the 2016 season and Bryce Harper is being pursued by nearly half the Major Leagues right now.

Next season, they’ll go through the same process again with star third baseman Anthony Rendon. That is, unless they can come to an agreement early, something agent Scott Boras wouldn’t rule out during his press scrum at this year’s Winter Meetings.

When asked about his client potentially signing an extension prior to spring training next season, Boras told reporters Rendon “has made it known he’s open to listening to what the Nationals say.”

Nats fans would certainly love to see this come to fruition, with many seeing him as an even higher priority than Harper given his position. Washington is of course flushed with young, controllable talent in the outfield, yet don’t have as many clear replacement options in the infield.

Boras’ clients typically wait until free agency arrives in order to maximize their contracts, though of course, Strasburg represents a willingness to sign an early extension if the terms are right.

Rendon was drafted by the Nationals with the 6th overall pick in the 2011 draft after a standout career at Rice. He likely only even fell as far as he did due to injury concerns, and while he has dealt with occasional stints on the disabled list in Washington, it hasn’t been a real long-term concern. He’s certainly proven himself to be a valuable selection, as his career Wins Above Replacement is higher than any player selected ahead of him, and behind only Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor among players drafted in 2011.

Rendon has flown under the radar from a national perspective, something Boras is quick to point out when discussing his client.

“Again, he has been in the top 10 players in the game for the last three or four years,” Boras explained. “For Anthony, the recognition that he’s received for his performance has, for whatever reason, not been to the level of his talent, and just this offseason I think people are starting to really recognize what type of player he is.”

“He’s really an MVP-type player, and certainly I think the Nationals are aware of who he is.”

Since 2014, Anthony Rendon only failed to lead Nationals position players in WAR twice, and once was his injury-plagued 2015 season. The other was Daniel Murphy’s terrific 2016 year. In 2014 and 2017 he was the most valuable National overall, and this past season he was behind only Max Scherzer.

In other words, despite playing on a team with Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, and others over the last half a decade, Rendon has been the most consistently valuable position player in the organization and hasn’t been too far behind Max Scherzer overall.

Rendon is already 28, so while he doesn’t have the same extreme youth appeal as Harper does this offseason, he still has many years left in his prime. There are plenty of obvious reasons why the Nationals would want to keep him around long term. His agent thinks there would be clear reasons for Rendon to want to stick around too.

“I think any player ideally wants to be in one place for a long time, and also to establish his legacy,” Boras shared during his press conference. “Part of free agency is to bring about goals of the player, and I think for anyone that’d be a goal.”

Now, to be clear, that quote came in response to a question about Bryce Harper, but it’s hard not to see the parallels with Rendon. The star third baseman is also in position to potentially spend his entire career starring for the same organization, and while he doesn’t have quite the level of brand recognition as Harper, he still comes with pedigree and plenty of talent.

Anthony Rendon as a lifetime National would be almost as impactful as Bryce Harper off the field, and potentially more so on the field.

Ultimately, both sides may want to get something done, but the allure of open free agency can be pretty appealing. Boras hasn’t gone into detail yet with Rendon, but these things can get done pretty quickly if both parties find themselves motivated.

“I haven’t really discussed with Anthony what his intentions are,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington. “I know that he has instructed me to listen to anything at all that the Nationals want to propose and discuss, and once I receive that information I’ll forward it to Anthony. Then he and his family will let me know what to do with it.”

At the end of the day, it will be Rendon’s decision if he wants to continue to make the nation’s capital his home.

The Nationals would certainly enjoy the peace of mind an early extension would bring. Avoiding a second straight season full of questions from fans about the lingering free agency of one of their team’s biggest stars would be an added bonus.

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