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Firing the manager might create more problems for the Nationals than it fixes

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Firing the manager might create more problems for the Nationals than it fixes

Trouble comes when there is no good solution, when being backed into a self-constructed corner only allows a way to run into another wall.

The Nationals have imposed such a conundrum on themselves. Fire manager Davey Martinez and they further solidify their foundation as a problematic workplace. Maintain and continue to receive scorn until a far away and low-probability turnaround occurs, if it ever does. There’s no perfect choice.

For everything the organization has done right since arriving in the District, finding a long-term manager has been example No. 1 of how they get things wrong. Lack of investment, lack of trust, lack of emphasis. All those thoughts have gone into the hiring -- and firing -- of multiple managers. If Martinez is dismissed before his contract ends, the Nationals will be on to full-time manager number six of the last 11 years. Only Davey Johnson lasted more than two years in that span.

And, Martinez’s situation could become the biggest botch in this arduous journey. Not because of him, but more so because of who he replaced and what was said then. The Lerner family was dissatisfied with Dusty Baker’s performance. Back-to-back division titles, never playing sub-.500 baseball, winning 96 games on average, not advancing out of the first round in consecutive seasons. Not enough. On to the next.

They tasked Martinez with hopping over the mountaintop. If he replicated Baker, that meant he lost since he was hired for progress, not repeats. So anything short of Baker’s two-year run would leave him easily vilified. The current level of losing would have been enough to stir any fan base, let alone one following a $190 million payroll, watching Bryce Harper play in Philadelphia and wondering why the organization can’t get this one spot right.

Baseball industry people wonder the same. Questions about why things work this way in Washington preceded Baker’s departure. Had he returned, the narrative could have been reset. Even the fulfillment of a second two-year deal would have made him the longest-tenured manager in Nationals history.

Instead, he was out -- against Mike Rizzo’s preference. Which meant Baker leaving only served to amplify prior thoughts.

Sitting on the visitor’s bench in 2017 was a man who carried an insider’s view of what happens to managers in Washington. Jim Riggleman rested his hands on the knob of a bat when talking about why he left as Nationals manager in the middle of a season, and why he would do it again. He also thought what seemed to be a simple move would alter the negative perceptions associated with working as the Nationals’ manager.

“I think that’s there right now,” Riggleman told me then. “The day Dusty signs his next contract, that all goes away. That’s looming. If something totally unexpected happened and [Dusty] wasn’t here, then that talk would continue through next year. The day that he signs his contract, I think it’s going be, ‘OK, we all knew this was going to happen. It’s all good. Let’s go to work.’”

Baker, of course, did not sign a next contract.

Which brings us back to now. If Martinez can’t make it halfway through his three-year deal, what does that do for perception? Does the organization care? Does the PR situation of grand underachievement usurp the complications of tossing aside managers with little regard?

Neither move is clean. Changing managers -- again -- can be seen as a deck-chair shuffle and prompt more industry grumbling. Not making a change will carry its own torment. It could be temporary, vanquished by a soon-to-be healthy team and possible rebound, or drag from loss to loss.

For now, behind door No. 1 is the same thing as door No. 2: more pain and no assured fix.

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Astros cancel practice as staff member was potentially exposed to COVID-19

Astros cancel practice as staff member was potentially exposed to COVID-19

The Houston Astros have cancelled their Saturday workout as a precautionary measure due to a member of the team's staff having potentially been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced.

The person who tested positive is not a part of the Houston Astros organization.

"As part of MLB's testing and reporting plan, we were alerted that a staff member was potentially exposed to a COVID-positive individual outside the organization," Astros general manager James Click said in a statement. "Out of an abundance of caution, we have cancelled today's workout. We are working closely with MLB and our team physicians to follow the established testing and clearing protocols so that we can safely bring our players and staff back to the field as soon as possible."

This is the second time in less than a week that Houston has had to cancel a practice session. They were among the several teams who did not hold a workout on Monday after a lag in the previous testing left teams without results. The Nationals were also part of that group.

RELATED: INITIAL TEST RESULTS FROM MLB SHARED

MLB has been under fire as the league tries to improve its testing protocols. Besides the initial delay in results, there was a report that players flying in from the Dominican Republic were not tested. Six of those players are in the Nationals organization. 

On Friday, the league announced that between the two phases of testing, 28 teams have recorded at least one positive COVID-19 test, whether it be a player or staff member. 3,748 samples were collected during intake screening and 66 tests turned back positive—a rate of 1.8 percent.

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J.T. Realmuto, Phillies not close on deal. Could he end up in DC?

J.T. Realmuto, Phillies not close on deal. Could he end up in DC?

If one thing is for certain about the economic future of Major League Baseball, it’s that nothing is for certain. The league and its teams are in uncharted territory attempting to weather the fallout of a global pandemic that still has the potential to force the cancellation of the 2020 season.

One of the biggest question marks surrounds the outlook of the 2020-21 free agent class. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto is set to be one of the most highly sought-after players available, but he’s hoping that he doesn’t even make it there. The two-time All-Star has had talks with Philadelphia about working out an extension, though there’s been little traction the last few months.

“We were in the really preliminary stages [of negotiations] early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then,” Realmuto said in a Zoom press conference Thursday per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “There's no frustration…I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered a similar sentiment when he was asked about Realmuto’s future during a press conference 10 days prior.

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

If Realmuto does end up available in free agency, the Nationals would be a fit for his services. The team will lose half of its catching tandem next offseason when Kurt Suzuki’s contract expires, leaving Yan Gomes and a slew of unproven and unheralded catching prospects like Raudy Read, Tres Barrera and Jakson Reetz behind.

RELATED: GIANTS' BUSTER POSEY OPTS OUT OF 2020 TO TAKE CARE OF NEWLY ADOPTED TWINS

Even though Gomes is owed $6 million in 2021 for the final year of his deal, his presence likely wouldn’t preclude Washington from going after Realmuto. In fact, the interest is already there. The Nationals attempted to trade for Realmuto during the 2018 season when he was still on the Marlins but backed off after Miami demanded a hefty package that included Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom in return.

Realmuto was instead shipped off to the Phillies in the same offseason former Nationals star Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million commitment to play in Philadelphia. If the Nationals want to return the favor and pry the Phillies’ star to their corner of the NL East, then they’re going to have to convince Realmuto to leave a franchise that he enjoys playing for behind—just like the Phillies did with Harper.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” Realmuto said on the Zoom call. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

Among those who want to keep Harper in Philadelphia the most is Harper himself. The star outfielder yelled, “Sign him” into an empty Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday after Realmuto hit a home run during an intrasquad game.

The biggest factor that would determine the Nationals’ level interest will likely be the money. Realmuto is expected to negotiate with the goal of resetting the catcher market. Given that the record for the highest annual salary for a catcher is $23 million set by Joe Mauer in 2010, the price tag won’t be cheap.

Washington will also have future contract obligations for its own stars to consider. Max Scherzer is a free agent after the 2021 season and Trea Turner will be so as well the following year. And even though they’re still young, Juan Soto and Victor Robles loom as potential extension candidates with only room to further raise their value.

Of course, this is all depending on the state of the league’s finances. Even though the season still has yet to begin, free agency is only four months away. Teams are bracing for significant losses this year even if the season goes on as planned. If Realmuto does hope to land a record contract, then he will be counting on teams deciding they’re able to afford a player of his caliber without most of their 2020 revenue in the bank.

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“It definitely concerns me,” Realmuto said of his outlook on free agency. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10.

“I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Realmuto could end up signing a one-year deal and waiting until more teams have recovered financially before pushing for a long-term contract. However, he would then face the uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring. Following an ugly and public back-and-forth affair between MLB and the players union over the financial structure of a 2020 season, a lockout remains a very real possibility.

There are many different ways these next few months could go for Realmuto. If he struggles during the short sample of 60 games that the 2020 season is set to provide, it likely won’t impact his value too much. But even if he goes roaring into next winter, it’s still not clear whether teams will be willing or able to pay him what he’s looking for.

That includes the Nationals, who have a lot of factors to consider but probably wouldn’t mind stealing one of Harper’s favorite teammates away from their division rival.

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