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Craig Kimbrel reportedly signs with the Cubs, so where do the Nationals turn?

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Craig Kimbrel reportedly signs with the Cubs, so where do the Nationals turn?

All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has finally found a new home. But it is not Nationals Park. 

Kimbrel has agreed to sign a three-year, $43 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. The deal was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. 

The race for Kimbrel heated up on Monday when teams no longer had to give up a compensatory draft pick to sign him. The good news for the Nats is he didn't end up with an NL East rival like the Phillies or the Braves, Kimbrel's former employers. 

The bad news, of course, is he won't be joining Washington's bullpen, which still holds the highest bullpen ERA in baseball. 

That said, Kimbrel joining the Nats was always a long shot, as Todd Dybas wrote Monday,

"They are desperate to remain under the competitive balance tax this season," wrote Dybas. "They want to save pennies now to save dollars later. It’s short-sighted. But, it’s where they are."

Given the Nats' budgetary constraints and Kimbrel's high salary demands, his path to D.C. faced major complications from the beginning. And if Washington wants to upgrade its bullpen now, it will have to do so via trade, likely giving up a prospect in the process.


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MLB has interviewed 60 witnesses, reviewed 76,000 emails in Astros probe

MLB has interviewed 60 witnesses, reviewed 76,000 emails in Astros probe


Major League Baseball has interviewed almost 60 people and obtained tens of thousands of electronic messages in its investigation into allegations the Houston Astros broke rules by using a television camera to steal signs.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers sparked the investigation when he told The Athletic last month the Astros had used the camera to steal signs in 2017 during the team's run to its first World Series title.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said last month MLB was investigating Houston's conduct for the past three seasons, and he hoped to complete the inquiry before the start of next season.

"I think that this is probably the most thorough investigation that the commissioner's office has ever undertaken," he said Wednesday at the winter meetings. "I think we've interviewed already nearly 60 witnesses, 76,000 e-mails, a whole additional trove of instant messages.

"That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing. It is my hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible, but it's really hard to predict how long something like that is going to take."

Astros manager AJ Hinch and Boston manager Alex Cora, the Astros' 2017 bench coach, said they had spoken with MLB investigators, and Hinch said he had been involved in several sessions. New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, a Houston player in 2017, refused to say whether he had been interviewed.

"At this point in the investigation it would be wholly inappropriate for me to speculate about what types of discipline might be in play," Manfred said. "I'm going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible on discipline."

MLB strengthened its rules against electronic sign stealing before the 2019 season, and Manfred said the rules are reviewed each offseason to determine whether more alterations are warranted.


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Inconsistent seams and player behavior were behind MLB's home run uptick, not juiced baseballs

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Inconsistent seams and player behavior were behind MLB's home run uptick, not juiced baseballs

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Baseballs weren't juiced during a record-setting 2019 regular season, according to a study commissioned by Major League Baseball.

They were just flying farther.

A four-person committee of scientists concluded baseballs this year had less drag on average than in previous seasons, contributing to a power surge that resulted in a record number of home runs. Their report released Wednesday blamed the spike on inconsistencies in the seam height of the baseballs, as well as "changes in player behavior." Batters connected 6,776 times in the regular season, smashing the record of 6,105 set in 2017.

The committee says it did not find evidence that MLB intentionally altered baseballs and believes inconsistencies were due to "manufacturing variability." The balls are hand-sewn by workers at Rawlings' factory in Costa Rica.

"We have never been asked to juice or de-juice a baseball," Rawlings President and CEO Michael Zlaket said. "And we've never done anything of the sort. Never would."

The 27-page report was authored by physics professor Alan Nathan, statistics professor Jim Albert, mechanical engineering and mathematics professor Peko Hosoi and mechanical engineering professor Lloyd Smith.

The committee concluded 60% of the home run surge across 2018-19 could be attributed to an increase in carry, with 40% due to players attempting to hit more fly balls.

Scientists recommended MLB consider installing humidors at all 30 ballparks "to reduce the variability in storage conditions" and install atmospheric tracking systems in each stadium. They believe Rawlings should begin tracking dates that baseballs are manufactured and shipped, and they also suggested a study with a larger sample size to explore the possibility carry is influenced by the rubbing mud applied to bright, white baseballs before they are used in games.

MLB plans to accept those recommendations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league does not want to abandon the handmade balls from the Costa Rica factory in favor of an automated manufacturing process with synthetic materials.

"I think we understand the variability in the baseball better today than we did at any point in the history of the game," Manfred said. "The fact that we understand the variability, I don't really see as a motivator to do something drastic in terms of changing the way the game is played."

The committee confirmed suspicions by players and coaches that the "juiced" ball was carrying less during the 2019 postseason. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said during the NL Championship Series that St. Louis' analytics team believed fly balls were traveling 4 1/2 feet less on average. That backed a study published by data scientist Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus showing the balls suddenly had less drag.

The scientists could not determine why the October balls weren't flying as far. MLB has said the postseason balls were pulled from the same batch as the regular-season ones, and Nathan said there was no discernible difference in the seam height among the samples studied.

The aerodynamics of baseballs were found to be notably different within each season. Even during a given game, there could be significant disparity in ball flight caused by shifts of just .001 inches in seam height. The committee cited "ball-to-ball variation in the baseball drag that is large compared to the year-to-year change in the average drag."

Triple-A used Rawlings balls from the Costa Rica factory for the first time this season, and hitters at that level also blew past the Triple-A home run record. Zlaket said that was because the balls from Costa Rica were closer to specifications because they were of a higher quality.

Not juiced balls, but spruced balls.

"The ball we make for Major League Baseball is much more precise," Zlaket said.

MLB owns a minority stake in Rawlings, and Peter Seidler, the San Diego Padres general partner, has chief oversight of the equity firm that owns a majority share.

The study was conducted using laboratory testing of baseballs dating to 2013, as well as data pulled from MLB's Statcast tracking system. The group said it "significantly modified" its lab tests from a previous study released in 2018, which also found that drag in the baseball was decreasing but did not confirm that seam height inconsistencies were the strongest factor.

Changes to the roundness of the ball, surface roughness and the thickness of the laces were found to be "relatively consistent."