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Bryce Harper breaks hearts with bat flip dagger after second-deck homer at Nationals Park

Bryce Harper breaks hearts with bat flip dagger after second-deck homer at Nationals Park

What started off as a great day for Nationals fans, especially after Max Scherzer struck out Bryce Harper in his first at-bat in D.C. as a member of the Phillies, went south quickly.

Harper recorded three hits, and in the 8th inning he uncorked a rocket into the second deck in right-center, just a few paces away from where he used to stand for 162 games a season.

Twitter was buzzing after the blast, thanks to Harper unleashing one of the most aggressive bat flips in recent baseball memory.

This isn’t just tossing the bat to the side, or high in the air. This is a true bat flip, as Harper’s weapon of choice spirals several times in the air.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this violent bat flip went in the clear direction of the Nationals dugout, though it would have been hard to avoid considering the location of home dugout at Nationals Park. 

It’s hard to imagine Harper had any issues with the actual players and coaches in the Nationals organization, so it wouldn’t make sense to read too much into that aspect.

Harper has been crushing the ball with Philadelphia, as he’s hit two of the five longest home runs in the Statcast era. He also owns two of the three longest home runs in baseball this season, after hitting just two bombs more than 450 feet in all of 2018, according to ESPN.

Unfortunately for Nats fans, if Harper keeps hitting this well over the next 13 seasons, there could be a few more bat flips on the horizon.

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Is there any chance the Nationals trade for Mookie Betts?

Is there any chance the Nationals trade for Mookie Betts?

The Boston Red Sox have been widely reported to be open to trading star rightfelder Mookie Betts, opening the door for fans of every team to clamor for their club to acquire the former MVP.

Hosts Tim Shovers, Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes discussed the possibility of Betts being shipped to D.C. in Monday’s episode of NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast.

“The Nationals…don’t have the assets to satisfy a Mookie Betts trade and the Nationals don’t have a need to pull off a Mookie Betts trade,” Dybas said. “Sometimes I say there’s a zero percent chance of something happening and I would say this is very close to zero percent.”

Betts is a four-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, the winner of four straight Gold Gloves and the 2018 AL MVP—oh, and he just turned 27 in October. The only reason Boston is considering moving him under new Chief of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom is the state of its payroll.

According to Spotrac, the Red Sox have had the highest payroll in baseball each of the past two seasons. Heading into 2020, the team is looking at paying over $92 million just to David Price, Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Dustin Pedroia—all of whom have significant questions surrounding either their production or performance.

That doesn’t even include Betts, who’s projected to make over $27 million in arbitration, or Xander Bogaerts, their star shortstop whose salary jumps to $20 million next season.

Meanwhile, the team enters the offseason following a disappointing campaign in which it finished 84-78 and missed the playoffs. If Boston aims to compete again in 2020, it’s going to need to find a way to satisfy a long list of roster needs while simultaneously cutting costs.

A trade of Betts would certainly help take some money off the books and could go a long way toward replenishing the Red Sox’ depleted farm system. If the Nationals were to make a run at him, they’d almost certainly have to build a package around Carter Kieboom, who’s the 20th-ranked prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline.

But Dybas says Kieboom is “a damaged asset after last year.” The 22-year-old got his first taste of the majors in late April and struggled both at the plate and in the field. He did have a strong season at AAA-Fresno (.902 OPS and 16 home runs in 109 games), but opposing scouts will point to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League as a contributor to his success.

There’s also the fact that the Nationals already have a set outfield of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. Soto and Robles are both considered key parts of Washington’s future while Eaton is signed to a team-friendly deal with a team option for 2021. In fact, the Nationals’ best option for enticing Boston to make a deal might involve Eaton.

The market for one-year rentals (Betts is a free agent after next season) has plummeted as analytics-savvy executives have taken over front offices across the league. Paul Goldschmidt, widely considered one of the best hitters in the game, was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason for a three-player package that involved just two top-100 prospects—and none from the top 50.

Betts is a better player than Goldschmidt was, and several years younger, but there is a chance Boston finds few willing suitors if a top-20 prospect is its main target. Washington could offer a package centered around Kieboom and Eaton, allowing the Red Sox to significantly cut payroll, boost their farm system and remain competitive all in one deal.

A lot would need to happen for the Nationals to acquire Betts. Although the odds are low—“very close to zero percent,” as Dybas says—the market has been known to produce signings and trades no one saw coming.

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What are the chances of Howie Kendrick returning to Nationals?

What are the chances of Howie Kendrick returning to Nationals?

Davey Martinez’s handling of Howie Kendrick was a point of contention back when his managerial ability was held in less esteem. The Nationals struggled, Kendrick did not, and the question was why Kendrick didn’t play more.

The situation tested Martinez. One of his few early-season answers needed to be slow-played, not pushed, so he could be part of the effort later -- if there was a later. Kendrick started the season on the injured list. He was coming off a lost year after tearing his Achilles tendon. He would soon be 36 years old. Martinez had every reason to protect or play him. He just had to decide which.

His decision to take it slow with Kendrick became a key to the postseason. Kendrick's grand slam against Los Angeles will long stand as one of the biggest hits in organization history. His two-run homer against Houston may supersede in the organization’s annals. And the wonder this offseason is if Kendrick will provide anything else to Washington.

He’s 36. Somehow, 2019 became the best offensive season of his 14-year career. Kendrick’s .966 OPS was 122 points higher than the second-best total in his career. However, those two years came near each other. His 2017 work -- split between Philadelphia and Washington -- led to what appeared to be an outlier then, an .844 OPS, before his 2019 surge. 

Kendrick is a free agent. He’s the oldest free agent to be considered a first baseman. He also led that batch of players in WAR by a wide margin. His days of playing second base are likely over -- barring an emergency wherever he goes next. All of which makes him appear to fit back in the American League. He can be a designated hitter, occasionally play first, pinch-hit. This is a good time to note the Nationals do not play in the American League.

But, could he still fit back in Washington? In short, yes. His 2019 OPS was .930 against right-handed pitching (.758 career). If the Nationals are looking for a left-handed bat to pair with Ryan Zimmerman at first base, how many of those hit right-handed pitching better than Kendrick? Eric Thames last season against right-handers: .877 OPS. Mitch Moreland against right-handed pitching: .887 OPS. He plummets to .598 against lefties.

The recent elevation of Kendrick’s numbers against right-handed pitching present a challenge. Do the Nationals believe them to be repeatable, making a left-hand infield bench bat unnecessary? And, do they make paying Kendrick worth it?

The market may help them. As Kendrick mentioned during the season, he could well have begun the year without a job if he didn’t have a second season on his contract. League front office folks aren’t keen on 35-year-old hitters coming off Achilles tendon surgery. 

Kendrick rolled his eyes at those who doubted his return chances. He mentioned in the offseason he was on pace to be ready in spring training. When he arrived, he proved that to be true. The rest of the season just amplified how ready he indeed was.

Next season is what matters to him and the Nationals now. Kendrick mentioned rediscovering his joy for baseball when joining the Phillies then moving to Washington. He lost it when struggling in Los Angeles. So, is there another year together? Maybe two? Mike Rizzo doesn’t share his fellow general manager’s reluctance to hire 30-somethings. But, did they receive all the could from Kendrick, who made just $4 million last season? It's another offseason question to decide.

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