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Hall of Famer, former Nationals and Orioles manager Frank Robinson dead at 83

Hall of Famer, former Nationals and Orioles manager Frank Robinson dead at 83

Few knew what would happen when baseball returned to the District in 2005. The Montreal Expos were lifted out of Quebec and brought down to the nation’s capital, providing celebration and wonder. Frank Robinson was in charge.

Robinson already had extensive managerial experience. He became the first black manager in Major League Baseball as the player-manager for Cleveland in the 1975 season. Montreal was his fourth managerial home. Nothing prior was the same as Opening Day in Washington. Everything before prepared him for it.

Robinson died this week. He was 83. 

“We are deeply saddened by this loss of our friend, colleague and legend, who worked in our game for more than 60 years.  On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Frank’s wife Barbara, daughter Nichelle, their entire family and the countless fans who admired this great figure of our National Pastime," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Robinson leaves as one of the game’s legends. Robinson was a two-time MVP, All-Star MVP, World Series MVP, Triple Crown winner while playing for the Baltimore Orioles, where he would later also manage, and member of the Hall of Fame. He even threw-in a Manager of the Year recognition in 1989 and added the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Robinson went on to work for Major League Baseball as the honorary president of the American League after his days on the field concluded. Few can match his legacy.

His roots suggested fame was ahead. Robinson played high school basketball in Oakland with one of history’s all-time winners, Bill Russell, after being born in Beaumont, Texas. But baseball was his calling.

Robinson remains the lone player to be named MVP in both leagues. He hit 586 home runs during a 21-year career with five teams. The journey began in 1956 when Robinson was a 20-year-old rookie. His 38 homers and league-leading 122 runs scored were enough to earn him the National League Rookie of the Year Award and an All-Star Game appearance.

He slugged with remarkable consistency from there. Robinson walked as often as he struck out on his way to almost 600 home runs, the kind of elite hitting that translates from his playing career, which closed in 1976 at age 40, to the modern era with an emphasis of reaching base in multiple ways.

Working for the Orioles in 1966 following a lopsided trade from Cincinnati -- a historical fleecing despite Baltimore sending out three players to acquire Robinson -- delivered his nadar at the plate. Only nine players in MLB history have won the Triple Crown. Robinson became the eighth after a dominant summer in Memorial Stadium delivered a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs. Robinson also led the league OPS, OPS-plus, runs and total bases. He was named MVP. The Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

In 1970, Robinson hit back-to-back grand slams in the Orioles’ 12-2 win over the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium. Baltimore again won the World Series that year, and reached the final postseason series four times in his six seasons with the Orioles. The era is an unrivaled span in the organization’s history.

Robinson’s hitting approach mirrored the one he took off the field. He crowded the plate, often being brushed back in the era which demanded such an approach. He would get up, reset, then attempt to pulverize the next pitch. 

He dealt with racial unrest throughout his playing career with the same direct and unimpeached approach. Bethel Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1956, the year Robinson debuted as a player a six-hour drive north. His appointment of player-manager for Cleveland caused President Gerald Ford to reach out in a letter and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to express regret. From the New York Times, Oct. 3, 1974 following an almost two-hour news conference to announce Robinson’s position: 

President Ford described Robinson's selection as “welcome news for baseball fans across the nation” and a “tribute to you personally, to your athletic skills and to your unsurpassed leadership.” Attending the news conference were Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, and Lee MacPhail, the president of the American League.

“We got something done,” Kuhn commented, “that we should have done before.”

Wearing a black and white plaid suit with a vest, Robinson attempted to reduce his sociological burden.

“The only reason I'm the first black manager is that I was born black,” he said calmly. “That's the color I am. I'm not a superman, I'm not a miracle worker. Your ballplayers determine how good a team you have. I might influence the ballplayers to some extent, but if we have a good team, they deserve the credit. If a ball club fails, I think the manager should be held responsible. I want to be judged by the play on the field.”

Asked if he foresaw any additional pressure on him to succeed as a black manager, he replied:

“I don't see any pressure. I don't see any goals I have to achieve as the first black manager. The pressure from within is not there.”

Robinson spoke those words to start his first managerial job. His final one ended in the District at the end of the 2006 season. An inspirational first half of the 2005 season engaged a longing baseball crowd. The team receded following the All-Star break, leaving Robinson to wish he was more adamant in his push for reinforcements before the trade deadline that season. The potent first half allowed the team to finish an unexpected 81-81. But, the following year brought a dip to 71-91, closing Robinson’s time in Washington as well as his managerial career. 

By then, Robinson was 70 years old, having entered Major League Baseball 50 years prior on April 17, 1956, as a 20-year-old hitting seventh and playing left field at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. Vinegar Bend Mizell won the game, Joe Nuxhall lost, and Frank Robinson began one of baseball’s great journeys with a telling double in his first at-bat.

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Nationals could be a landing spot for Kyle Seager if Mariners make him available

Nationals could be a landing spot for Kyle Seager if Mariners make him available

It was a difficult Wednesday evening for Nationals fans, who were forced to swallow a tough dose of reality when reports surfaced that Anthony Rendon was signing with the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s thrust the team into a thin third base market headlined by Josh Donaldson but doesn’t boast many viable options beyond him. Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado were both mentioned in trade rumors during the Winter Meetings, but the Nationals would be hard-pressed to acquire either of them with the significant prospect capital that would be requested in return.

But another option emerged Thursday night when The Athletic reported that the “possibility is increasing” of the Seattle Mariners trading Kyle Seager. The 32-year-old veteran has hit just .236 since 2017 but has at least 20 home runs each of the past eight seasons. Originally thought to be untradeable, Seager has reportedly drawn the interest of “multiple teams.”

The Mariners signed Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract after a 2014 season in which he posted a .788 OPS and won a Gold Glove. The wrinkle in Seager’s trade value, however, is a $15 million team option for 2022 that converts to a player option if traded. That would guarantee him $52 million over the next three seasons, giving pause to teams who might be wary about his ability to perform at the plate.

But with Donaldson expected to garner a four-year deal despite entering his age-34 season, Arenado signed for $234 million over the next eight years and the Chicago Cubs likely seeking top prospects in return for Bryant, Seager may be the most affordable option for a team like the Nationals.

Washington’s farm system ranks among the lower third of the league, boasting just two consensus top-100 prospects in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia. The Nationals likely wouldn’t be able to compete with clubs that have deeper farm systems for Bryant, while Arenado is signed to a similar deal that Rendon just received. As for Donaldson, Washington is certainly in the running but is far from the only team interested and could very well lose out.

Seager presents All-Star upside and while he’d be due salaries north of $18 million each of the next two years with the 2022 player option, that would be at worst about the same average annual value Donaldson is likely to demand at two years older. In addition, Seager’s $19.5 million salary next season is just above Rendon’s 2019 total of $18.8 million, making the increase in payroll at the position would be marginal.

It’d by no means replace the production the Nationals lost when Rendon signed with the Angels, but trading for Seager would certainly be a more attractive option than signing the remaining third basemen left in free agency beyond Donaldson: Asdrubal Cabrera, Brock Holt, Todd Frazier, Pablo Sandoval and Maikel Franco, just to name a few.

Seattle doesn’t appear likely to make a trade anytime soon, but Seager’s trade availability will be worth watching as the offseason progresses.


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Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have 'probably the deepest rotation in baseball'

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have 'probably the deepest rotation in baseball'

By signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha this week, the Mets have built out quite the collection of starting pitchers. 

Porcello and Wacha will join Jacob de Grom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz in New York's starting rotation, a group general manager Brodie Van Wagenen thinks quite highly of. 

"There was a lot talked about our lack of starting pitching depth over the last couple of weeks," Van Wagenen said on SNYtv Thursday. "I think that story has changed, and I think that we're probably the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball."

Considering the Mets share a division with the Nationals, who still boast a starting rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, this is a pretty bold statement by Van Wagenen. 

Obviously he's the general manager and he has to say positive things about the club he's putting together. But to say those exact words on the heels of a rival winning a World Series because of their rotation? 

The Mets will host the Nationals in the first series of the season starting on March 26, so we may not have to wait long for these two rotations to face off.