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ESPN MLB analyst Tim Kurkjian says the Astros' scandal has 'gotten bigger' than he thought it ever would

ESPN MLB analyst Tim Kurkjian says the Astros' scandal has 'gotten bigger' than he thought it ever would

Major League Baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian has covered the sport for over 40 years. The ongoing aftermath of the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal is unlike any story he has ever covered.

Kurkjian joined the Nationals Talk podcast to discuss the scandal and admitted he still has yet to fully wrap his head around the entire situation.

"It has gotten bigger than I thought it was going to be," Kurkjian said. "I knew it was going to be the major story of spring training and I knew everybody was going to flock to the Astros instead of the World Champions. But the way so many players have now come out and spoke about this, I'm really surprised that many players are this angry about this."

Several members of the Nationals organization have given their thoughts on the situation. General manager Mike Rizzo wants someone in the Astros organization to say the word "cheaters." Closer Sean Doolittle thinks about the pitchers that lost their jobs because of poor outings against the Astros. Howie Kendrick said he has no sympathy for them. Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki all shared their thoughts on it, too. The list goes on and on.

Across the sport, several star players have come out and spoken against the Astros, too. We saw the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger and Yankees' Gary Sanchez hold nothing back when they addressed the scandal during the first week of spring training.  Kurkjian says he's never seen anything like it before.

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"I've been covering baseball for 40 years. I've never seen player go against player quite like this situation," Kurkjian said. "Maybe this is the social media age, maybe this is the Twitter age, and people have the ability to do that easily today, but I've never seen anything quite like this. Sadly, I don't think this is going to end any time soon."

The Astros haven't been the only ones facing a lot of heat. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been scrutinized heavily for his handling of the situation, including calling the Commissioner's Trophy a "piece of metal" and his failure to strip the 2017 World Series title from the Astros.

Kurkjian mentioned he doesn't think he's ever seen a commissioner take the heat as much as Manfred has, but also stated he's worried about the future of the game following the scandal.

"I'm a little worried for the game," Kurkjian said. "How do we get past this? How do we move on from this? It's a huge story, I'm well aware of that, and I'm here to cover it because it needs to be covered. But for the sake of the game, eventually, we need to move on from this and talk about the game on the field."

The aftermath of the scandal is just getting started. Prior to spring training, Kurkjian believed the story would dominate the spring and that it would leak into the beginning of the regular season. But based on the events that have happened throughout the first few weeks of this spring, he envisions it being a "much bigger story throughout the season."

While there's already plenty of information out there about the Astros, there are still multiple sides of the story that have yet to be told.

"We still haven't heard from Carlos Beltran, who has a story to tell. From Alex Cora, who really hasn't spoken about this," Kurkjian said. "We still don't even know the punishment of the Red Sox yet. There are still many more layers to this story."

Both Beltran and Cora were fired from their respective managerial duties due to their role with the Astros in 2017.

"Eventually, we'll get to the game, because that's what most of us want to talk about," Kurkjian said. "But this is an enormous story that might even get bigger from here. With each player that speaks out, especially if he's a star player, we need to address that."

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Revisiting five trades that shaped the Nationals

Revisiting five trades that shaped the Nationals

Asked a few weeks back if the end of spring training caused the end of trade discussions, Mike Rizzo said that was the case.

The Nationals, like every other team, were trying to figure out what’s next instead of hunting for trade solutions in early spring. Nothing about business was usual.

Though this stall does provide time for reflection. We’ll do some of that today, in the coming days via Nationals Talk Supreme Court on the podcast, and until baseball resumes.

For now, let’s look back on five trades which shaped the Nationals. Most good, one still up for debate and one you might recall with Jonathan Papelbon.

Dec. 19, 2014
In:
Trea Turner and Joe Ross
Out: Steven Souza
Also involved: Wil Myers to San Diego
Overview: It’s hard to now fathom the Nationals without Turner. He’s been in the major leagues for five years -- three of them full seasons outside of injured list time from being hit by pitches. He’s a quality defensive shortstop, multi-faceted top-of-the-order bat, and growing among the faces of the franchise. Turner can’t become a free agent until 2023, right around the time prospect Luis Garcia should be ready to come to the major leagues.

Historically, Turner will be labeled the “player to be named later” in this trade, making him one of the best PTBNLs in baseball history (David Ortiz may be No. 1 there).

Ross’ future will determine what level of swindle this ultimately is. Turner is a 14.1 bWAR player to this point despite losing almost a full season because he was hit by pitches in separate years. Souza has been a 5.9 bWAR player since 2015. Myers has 8.5 bWAR since arriving in San Diego (where he also had injury problems). So, Turner’s performance is on par with what Souza and Myers have combined to do.

Which leaves Ross. The Nationals are wondering if he is heading toward a post-Tommy John breakthrough. The fifth starter spot was going to him or Austin Voth when spring training stopped. Anything he adds makes the trade all the more lucrative.

Dec. 23, 2011
In:
Gio Gonzalez, Robert Gilliam
Out: Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone
Overview: Gonzalez was a needed arm in the Nationals’ rotation and became one of the young franchises important pieces -- until the end.

He racked up 21.6 bWAR before being traded to Milwaukee after his starts became laborious and ineffective. Gonzalez was one of the more affable players in the Nationals’ clubhouse while in Washington. He’s addicted to Jordan brand anything, once brought a giant boom box to his locker and surprisingly befriended Jonathan Papelbon when the enigmatic closer worked in Washington.

Gonzalez was also one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball while part of the Nationals’ push toward relevancy.

Norris is out of Major League Baseball. Cole is a non-roster invitee with the Blue Jays. Milone is a non-roster invitee with the Orioles and has not pitched well since 2014. Peacock has bounced between the bullpen and starting since the trade, amassing just 4.6 WAR after joining Houston following another trade in 2012.

July 16, 2017
In:
Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler
Out: Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse
Overview: You may have heard: The Nationals had a bad bullpen in 2017. And the next year. And last year.

To fix this, Rizzo brought in three veteran relievers. Doolittle, who is now one of the team’s main voices and its closer, can be a free agent at the end of the year. Madson and Kintzler both pitched well when first arriving.

Treinen dominated for a year in Oakland before falling flat last season. Luzardo’s future will ultimately decide how this trade is viewed. He’s still just 22 years old and appears ready to be a lethal threat in Oakland’s rotation for years to come. He’s precisely the kind of prospect the Nationals’ current farm system lacks. But, as Rizzo would argue, you have to give to get. And the Nationals were desperate at the time to fix the bullpen. Treinen was not pitching well, either.

Rizzo sent a chunk of the future for a patch since Madson and Kintzler were gone the following season. Doolittle may not be far behind them.

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Dec. 8, 2016
In:
Adam Eaton
Out: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, Dane Dunning
Overview: How much does winning the World Series change the perception of this trade?

Hard-liners could argue acquiring Eaton -- even under the assumption Bryce Harper was leaving -- can never be worth trading three starting pitcher prospects. His 2017 knee injury doesn’t help his defense, but there’s also no way for an organization to predict an acute injury like that.

The assessment revolves around Giolito, who became an all-star last season, and Eaton’s 2019 World Series performance. His .993 OPS produced an argument for his series MVP consideration. Giolito was also one of baseball’s worst pitchers in 2018, when he led the American League in earned runs allowed and walks.

So, Giolito still has work to do to prove he’s an elite pitcher. López has fluctuated between solid and putrid. Dunning is coming off Tommy John surgery (but was pitching well prior).

Eaton has never performed as expected outside of the World Series. Is that enough to declare this a Washington win? It may be.

July 28, 2015
In:
Jonathan Papelbon
Out: Nick Pivetta
Overview: We can’t talk about recent trades and not mention this one.

Papelbon’s arrival was a jolt. He instantly became a clubhouse influence -- in both directions. His pitching in 2015 was so-so, but, again, the Nationals needed bullpen help. Which made Papelbon the new closer and lead participant in one of the strangest acts in franchise history.

Papelbon choked Bryce Harper on the dugout steps when the two got into a late-game fight. Manager Matt Williams claimed not to see the fight and sent Papelbon back to the mound to pitch the ninth inning. The fight also coincided with the “Jersey off their backs” giveaway and yoga in the outfield. While reporters typed away their stories covering the in-fighting, a yoga instructor was talking about peace and breathing over the stadium’s PA system with dozens of people stretching across mats in the outfield.

As if that mix wasn’t odd enough, Papelbon returned the next season. He held one press conference in spring training to discuss the situation, saying he would answer anything asked at the time, but wouldn’t talk about it again. He was released Aug. 13, 2016. He hasn’t pitched since.

Pivetta has been a subpar pitcher since arriving in Philadelphia.

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Nationals’ Strengths No. 9: Ryan Zimmerman’s legacy

Nationals’ Strengths No. 9: Ryan Zimmerman’s legacy

With the return of baseball in question amid the coronavirus outbreak, we’re ranking the Nationals’ 10 biggest strengths that we’re looking forward to watching once play finally does resume. Up next are the career achievements that have made Ryan Zimmerman immortal in D.C.

In order to put into words what Ryan Zimmerman means to the D.C. fan base and Nationals organization, you have to start at the beginning.

Washington drafted the University of Virginia product fourth overall in 2005, making him the first draft pick the Nationals made after moving from Montreal. The club was mired in a state of utter dysfunction, having changed locations on an abbreviated timeline while hiring employees on the fly. As then-GM Jim Bowden told Washingtonian magazine, the team needed a symbol of a brighter future.

“We had our first draft in June,” Bowden said. “The whole idea there was we wanted to get the face of the franchise. We had the fourth pick, and we thought, ‘How can we get a local kid? Who can be that guy to represent what we wanted Washington to be represented by baseball-wise and in the community?’ And Ryan Zimmerman fit all of that.”

The young infielder made his major-league debut that following September before entering the 2006 season as the Nationals’ Opening Day third baseman. Washington would finish with a losing record not only that season, but the five seasons after that as well. The club placed last in the NL East four times in six years. Only the small-market Orioles, Royals and Pirates had fewer wins over that span.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman blossomed into one of the few players who made games worth attending. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, earned Gold Glove honors in 2009 and received his second starting Silver Slugger the following season.

The star third baseman earned the nickname “Mr. Walk-Off” with a myriad clutch hits, including a game-winning home run in the team’s first game at Nationals Park in 2008. While it may be fair to say his talent was wasted on a club toiling in the NL East basement, his production wasn’t lost on the fan base.

Zimmerman signed a six-year, $100 million extension in 2012, cementing his place in the team’s future. Jayson Werth had joined the team just a year prior on a monster seven-year deal. Stephen Strasburg was set to pitch his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery and Bryce Harper was on the cusp of the majors. Despite all the losing, Zimmerman had faith that the organization was on the right path toward turning things around.

“They’ve given me everything,” Zimmerman said at a press conference attended by 16 of his teammates to announce the deal, as quoted by the Washington Post. “They’ve given me a chance to play at this level, a chance to do everything I’ve done. It felt right to kind of give them something back and give them the rest of my career to produce and, ultimately, win a World Series.”

Give something back he did. Zimmerman climbed the franchise leaderboards in nearly every offensive statistic. He’s the Nationals’ all-time leader (2005-present) in hits (1,784), home runs (270), doubles (401), runs batted in (1,015), runs scored (936), walks (630) and games played (1,689). Although not enough to earn a place in Cooperstown, Zimmerman is a lock for the team’s ring of honor.

A little over a month after he inked that contract, the Nationals kicked off a 2012 season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since moving to D.C. The return of postseason baseball to the District meant just as much to the fans as it did to Zimmerman. No one knew better than them what the organization had endured to get there.

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But over the next few years, the narrative shifted from the Nationals being unable to win to the Nationals being unable to win in the playoffs. 2012. 2014. 2016. 2017. They took the NL East crown each of those years but each of those years failed to get past the National League Division Series.

And as the Nationals established themselves as contenders, Zimmerman’s health began to fail him.

In 2014, a fractured thumb and hamstring strain limited him to 61 games. A degenerative shoulder inhibited his ability to throw across the diamond, forcing the Nationals to move Zimmerman over to first base. He missed seven weeks in 2015 with plantar fasciitis and made two separate trips to the disabled list the year after that. Zimmerman bounced back with an All-Star campaign in 2017 but played just 137 games between the last two seasons thanks to recurring plantar fasciitis and oblique injuries.

When Zimmerman returned from his second IL stint last season on Sept. 1, the Nationals were hunting for a playoff spot after crawling their way back from a 19-31 start. He didn’t start every day, but the first baseman’s value as a veteran leader in the clubhouse was undeniable.

“He’s a captain, he’s a leader, he’s on the leadership council,” GM Mike Rizzo told NBC Sports Washington in January. “He’s been that way for a long time. He’s a leader by example more so than a boisterous, pound-the-table-type of guy. But I do know one thing: When Zimmerman talks, people listen. He doesn’t say a whole lot of stuff but when he talks you better listen.”

But starting the postseason on the bench didn’t stop Zimmerman from delivering clutch October moments. Entering the Wild Card Game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning with the Nationals down 3-1, Zimmerman delivered a broken-bat single that put the tying run on base. He hit a double off the bench in Game 2 of the NLDS and started every game after that.

Zimmerman hit .255 in the playoffs with a pair of homers. One padded the Nationals’ lead in a close NLDS Game 4 against the Dodgers. The other came off Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of the World Series, giving Zimmerman the honor of hitting the first Fall Classic blast in Nationals history.

When the Nationals won it all in Game 7 as Michael Brantley struck out swinging, there was Zimmerman at first base—his arms raised to the sky, his face showing a mixed expression of joy and disbelief. The Nationals, and Ryan Zimmerman, were World Series champions. It wouldn’t have been right if one happened without the other.

This season was supposed to be a victory lap for the first baseman. When play does finally resume, it’ll be a chance for him to raise a World Series banner in front of a fan base that he’s always wanted to play in front of. These days, Nationals fans may be more interested in attending games to see players like Juan Soto or Max Scherzer. But those who’ve been around since the beginning understand what Zimmerman has done for the District both on the field and off of it.

It’s not clear how many years he has left before he calls it career, but one thing is certain: Regardless of whether or not baseball returns in 2020, Zimmerman has nothing left to prove in D.C.

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