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In an era of young talent, Nationals’ ‘viejos’ hanging in

In an era of young talent, Nationals’ ‘viejos’ hanging in

WASHINGTON -- Two of the “viejos” turned 35 years old this season, acknowledging birthdays two months and a day apart. 

Max Scherzer passed the mark July 27, and when asked what he would do to celebrate, he announced they were all the same now. He’s a dad. Party’s over. 

Ryan Zimmerman turned 35 years old Sept. 28, shrugging off the idea of any possible citywide celebration. Instead, he ended up at home in a T-shirt with his wife, Heather, in front of a basic white cake adorned by a green-rimmed “3” and “5” atop it. 

They are among the team elders who have begun referring to themselves as “viejos,” adopting the Spanish word for “old” and receiving a kick out of the concept. Kurt Suzuki turned 36 on Oct. 4. Sean Doolittle hit 33 on Sept. 26. Howie Kendrick turned 36 on July 12. 

Baseball, more and more, does not want to sign or promote players of this age bracket. The game has turned to youth, providing a different pulse and swarm of young talent to promote. Some of the high-end whipper-snappers even share the clubhouse with Scherzer and company. Juan Soto’s entrance into the postseason has helped boost the 20-year-old’s countrywide recognition. Victor Robles, 22, joins Soto among the in-house youngsters. The Dodgers' postseason roster includes four rookies, all of which were on the field at one point Monday night.

Zimmerman and Scherzer find this idea interesting in two ways: First, Zimmerman, despite being a former top prospect who came up at an early age (20), at times grumbles about what he perceives to be an over-reliance on youth, particularly for winning teams. 

“Not everyone is Juan Soto,” he said earlier in the season.

For Scherzer, the topic relates to labor discussions. An easy way for teams to save money is by populating the roster with controlled contracts, not pay veterans for past performance. It’s also now recognized as a sound team-building philosophy. But, older players who can feel their time dwindling in the league, have a natural affinity for proven commodities versus just-able-to-buy-alcohol dice rolls.

Scherzer and Zimmerman laughed about -- and jousted back at -- the idea of their production and age Monday night after each grandly influenced Game 4 of the NLDS. Zimmerman’s contract being at the end of its final guaranteed year was brought up postgame the way it was pregame, and Scherzer jumped in quickly after Zimmerman began to address the topic. 

“There's been a lot of people that think these are my last games,” Zimmerman said.

“I really don't think these are his last games,” Scherzer said. “All of you think it's his last games.”

Then Scherzer stared, with both his brown and blue eye, at a reporter in from New Jersey wondering about Zimmerman’s longevity and future.

They later laughed together when asked about their veteran status amid baseball’s swing the opposite way. Zimmerman even smirked while the questions was being delivered. 

“Yeah, we joke about that,” Scherzer said. “We're a bunch of Viejos, we're old guys. Old guys can still do it.”

“Yeah, nice way to say veterans,” Zimmerman said.

“I feel young and I'm older than you,” Scherzer informed him.

Zimmerman reveled in the aging process this season. His in-dugout home run celebration includes the “Chicken Dance” preceded by the use of an invisible walker to shuffle across the dugout to the dance party’s edge. Robles provided an added touch Monday when tapping a bat head on the concrete for an audio effect as the unseen walker touched down and moved forward.

In Wednesday’s Game 5, only Scherzer will be among the Viejos unavailable to help decide the season’s next step, either an end in Los Angeles or a rerouted flight to Atlanta or St. Louis. Scherzer admitted postgame Tuesday his “arm is hanging.” He put a visual stamp on the idea when struggling to pull his polo shirt on at his locker postgame. A lot of maintenance and recovery is ahead before he throws again.

Zimmerman, Kendrick, Doolittle and Suzuki will be ready. While much of the league bends toward younger rosters, the Nationals are trying to finally punch their way out of a playoff round behind their “old” guys. One chance remains to do so.

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Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

While Nationals fans are understandably disappointed Anthony Rendon is no longer a member of the Nationals, they can rest easy knowing he didn't see himself signing the the NL rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers never made an offer to Rendon, per The Athletic, after "sensing that he didn’t want to play in Los Angeles." He instead signed with the Los Angeles Angels, inking a seven-year, $245 million deal to play for the California team that receives considerably less media attention than its in-state rival.

Now entrenched in the AL on the other side of the country, Rendon won't face the Nationals very often nor will his team's play have any effect on Washington's playoff chances from year to year. It was a best-case scenario for fans after it became likely he wouldn't be returning to Washington.

After being spurned by Rendon and losing out on top free-agent pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the Dodgers are still looking to make their first big move of the offseason.

There's still plenty of time for them to make a move, but Los Angeles can expect little sympathy from Nationals fans that Rendon won't be suiting up in Dodger blue for the next seven years.

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Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Here’s the list of players on the Nationals’ active roster who could play third base: Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, Adrián Sánchez, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kieboom. Career major-league starts at the position: Difo, 29; Noll, one; Sánchez, nine; Kendrick, 25; Kieboom, zero. 

Such is the state of third base for the defending World Series champions. Not good. 

Which makes Josh Donaldson’s agent smile and any semi-skilled third baseman with a pulse a possible target. Possible trades? Count the Nationals in. On most. Not on Nolan Arenado. That’s a non-starter because Washington is not going to send assets (prospects) for a contract it was unwilling to give Anthony Rendon in the first place. Zero chance. Zilch.

However, Kris Bryant is more intriguing depending on the years and ask -- as always with trades. Beyond him and Kyle Seager, is there another third baseman the Nationals could pursue in a trade? The question takes on weight because of the aforementioned toothless list of in-house candidates and shallow free-agent talent pool beyond Donaldson.

Any trade consideration needs to begin with an understanding of the parameters Washington is working from. Last season, Rendon’s one-year deal to avoid arbitration earned him $18.8 million. When Washington looks at the cost for its next third baseman, the number will be similar to last season’s cost for Rendon. A bump in the competitive balance tax threshold, plus savings at first base and catcher, provide the Nationals wiggle room for increases in spots. So, $18-25 million annually for a third baseman is in play.

Second, the Nationals’ farm system needs to be taken into account. Their 2018 first-round pick, Mason Denaburg, had shoulder problems last year. Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that Denaburg is healthy and progressing. But, the early shoulder irritation for a high school pitcher who also had problems his senior year with biceps tendinitis provides his stock pause. He’s a would-be trade chip. So is Kieboom.

But, what is Kieboom’s value? What damage did it receive during his rocky, and brief, appearance in the majors last season? Did his potent hitting in the Pacific Coast League after being sent back mitigate his big-league struggles? 

Beyond Kieboom, the farm system’s next tier is manned by Luis Garcia, 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge, Wil Crowe and Tim Cate, among others. Only Garcia is part of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects list (which is more of a guide than an industry standard).

So, when Bryant or Seager -- or anyone not named Arenado -- are mentioned, know where the Nationals are coming from. If they are positioned to take on money, they don’t want to use assets to do it (this is the Donaldson Scenario). If they can save money, find a solid player and retain the few high-end assets, then a trade could be in play (this would be the Seager Scenario, if Seattle pays some of the contract). 

The Bryant Scenario is the most appealing and challenging. He’s the best player of the group. However, acquiring him would be high-cost and short-term. Bryant has two years remaining before he can become a free agent -- with an outside shot at becoming a free agent after next season because of a grievance he filed against the Cubs for service-time manipulation. Obtaining him would likely focus on multiple pitching prospects.

There is no Arenado Scenario. Just a reminder.

Piled together, Washington is in a tough spot. What it has is not enough. What it needs will be costly.

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