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Can Trea Turner emerge as an MVP candidate? John Smoltz thinks so

Can Trea Turner emerge as an MVP candidate? John Smoltz thinks so

It's no secret the Nationals have an enormous hole to fill in the middle of their lineup following the departure of Anthony Rendon. And the Nationals don't have to look far to find a player more than capable of filling in those shoes.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer John Smoltz believes shortstop Trea Turner is the perfect player to slide down in the order to fill that void, and then some.

"I think he will be in the MVP conversation for years to come," Smoltz told the Nationals Talk podcast.

Turner had a solid season in 2019 (especially considering he played most of the season with just nine healthy fingers), but the Nationals hope their shortstop can make a jump in 2020 to even greater heights. 

With Rendon gone, there has been some talk of moving Turner down in the order from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 hole. Moving down in the lineup could be beneficial for No. 7, who would have more opportunities to drive in runs while having the protection of budding superstar Juan Soto hitting in the cleanup spot right behind him.

The Nationals like having Turner in the leadoff spot, especially with his speed on the base paths. Turner stole 35 bases a season ago despite playing in just 122 games. Should he stay healthy for the entire season in 2020, stealing 50 or more is certainly a possibility.

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Smoltz believes Turner's speed can allow him to stand out among other stars, especially with the number of stolen bases continuing to decline across the sport.

"He's a guy that can run," Smoltz said. "I love the fact that he's still running, still stealing bases even though stealing bases is a lost art in our game."

Washington added second baseman Starlin Castro this offseason, and the four-time All-Star went on an incredible stretch at the plate during the second half of the 2019 season. Castro also has experience hitting leadoff, and could do such for the Nationals if they want to move Turner down into the order. Outfielder Victor Robles could also be another option in the top spot of the order.

For Turner to emerge as an MVP candidate, he'd likely have to improve his power numbers. The 26-year-old has demonstrated power ability in the past but has never hit over 20 home runs in a season.

The shortstop would likely need to have a season where he hit 30 or more home runs with 100 RBIs in order to truly be in the MVP race, and Smoltz believes he has the ability to do that.

"Turner is one of my favorite players," he said. "As a broadcaster, to actually see what he's capable of doing if he stays healthy, he has so many skillsets. He's got power and plays a premium position."

Defensively, Turner has shown flashes of being a Gold Glove-caliber defender, but the advanced metrics don't necessarily support that. Should the shortstop become more consistent defensively, his natural abilities will allow him to become one of the best at his position.

There's a clear path to Turner becoming one of baseball's best in 2020, now it's just up to the shortstop to make the leap.

"When you talk about Mr. Turner at shortstop, he's a huge piece and a star for the Washington Nationals," Smoltz said.

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Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Early Tuesday morning, just after midnight, an ESPN story on a location and timeline for the resumption of baseball caused a stir. The reported proposal: All 30 teams in Arizona, the season starting around late May or early June.

From front to back, the ideas floated were loaded with caveats. They also illustrate baseball’s primary problem as it hunts solutions to become the first major pro sport to resume: it needs to maximize games and revenue while assuring safety. As the first swing showed, it’s not an easy task.

The ideas included playing without crowds at various facilities sprinkled around Phoenix; teams going only from the hotel to the park; the almost comical idea players would sit in the stands six feet apart as opposed to in a dugout; and other far-flung possibilities which seemed to prompt one response: Why bother?

If that’s what’s necessary for a minimal season, why would either side go through with it?

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Major League Baseball followed with a statement Tuesday morning.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan,” it read in part.

Everyone wants baseball to come back. It's how to bring it back safely in a timely manner that is so difficult to find a path.

Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on the eve of what would have been Opening Day that he expects baseball to be part of the healing process, comparing its resumption to the unity provided post-9/11 when the local nine returned to the field. That ideal is the wind behind a push for resumption.

The calendar is also an enormous factor for a sport based on a 162-game season. Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, told NBC Sports Washington last week he viewed June 1 as a target date to work around. Scherzer stressed nothing was firm. But, he did say the union looked at a possible resumption of spring training in May, then games -- in some form -- in June. That would push the playoffs into November, presumably at a neutral location where weather can be controlled (“Welcome to the Cubs-Yankees 2020 World Series live from Miami…).

Scherzer also said something else to remember: “I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in.”

Baseball’s core is structured around playing every day. Grinding it out. Hiding injuries in order to be on the field. Sleep deprivation. Never-ending travel. Slow-moving games. Pitch by pitch by pitch. The league is caught between maintaining the integrity of that idea and continuing to follow logical guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no perfect plan. And there won’t be. As Scherzer said, everything is on the table, which includes many of the ideas floated on Tuesday. However, the league would need to get the union to agree. The league would need to get local, state and federal authorities to agree. The league would need to be willing to absorb risk -- resumption will never be a zero-sum game no matter how diligent the approach -- when the first pitch is thrown.

So, everyone continues to wait and watch. Human nature is in a tussle with pragmatism. Everyone wants to play as soon as possible -- as soon as it’s safe. But at what risk? At what prospective cost now and later? Those are the unanswerable questions in any plan.

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MLB says it hasn’t settled on contingency plan to play out season in Arizona

MLB says it hasn’t settled on contingency plan to play out season in Arizona

Not yet.

At least that’s what Major League Baseball announced Tuesday morning in response to an overnight ESPN report which detailed a possible plan for the season to be played out in Arizona.

Here’s the statement:

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.

"While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

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ESPN’s report outlined a possible plan for all 30 teams to play their games in and around Phoenix. It was littered with contingency plans, what-ifs and far-reaching ideas to assure the health of players and everyone involved.

At the core of the report was the idea baseball could restart as soon as May or early June. And, it seemed to be an overnight trial balloon to test response to the idea.

For now, baseball has no start date and remains in the same holding pattern as the rest of society while the coronavirus pandemic continues. Spring training games stopped March 12. The Nationals’ spring training facility has been converted into a coronavirus test site. Players dispersed to work on their own. And the league has postponed things until at least mid-May.

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