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How Carter Kieboom influences Nationals’ needs in Day 2 at Winter Meetings

How Carter Kieboom influences Nationals’ needs in Day 2 at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- Stephen Strasburg is back. The rotation is set, at least one through four, and a crab-bucket crawl is ready for the fifth spot. Howie Kendrick signed to play second and first, as well as pinch-hit. Ryan Zimmerman is expected to return. Anthony Rendon remains in limbo.

So, what now?

Day Two at the Winter Meetings for Washington should bring calm. Or at least lesser salvos. The Nationals entered the San Diego soiree with noise around them. Rendon and Strasburg were huge factors in the offseason. Washington is the World Series champion. It, as much as anyone in baseball, was on the marquee when everyone gathered.

Business now is more pragmatic. The Nationals are likely out on Rendon -- despite meager attempts Monday to say they are not -- which means bullpen and second base are at issue. 

Prospect Carter Kieboom is an option at second base. The Nationals began to work him there last offseason and continued to do so throughout 2019 with Triple-A Fresno. Kieboom made limited appearances at third base (10 games, nine starts, four errors) and is not ready to play that position at the major-league level. His work at shortstop in the major leagues showed he’s not ready to play there, either. There’s also no need with Trea Turner under contract.

Which means Kieboom’s future influences possible spending, which influences Rendon -- slightly -- and has a bearing on the bullpen expenditures. 

“He's close,” Davey Martinez said of Kieboom. “After we had him, he went back down to triple A, kept his head up, and played really well, hit well, did some adjustments. He's going to come to Spring Training and get a shot to play different positions. We'll see. We'll see what transpires, but he's a kid that we value very much. We know what he can do with the bat. We've got to figure out a position for him, whether it's second base or third base, but I think that he adds some value and he could help us in the future.”

This is expected and necessary posturing from Martinez. They don’t know where Kieboom should play. They think his bat will play. Can he become a productive hitter and average defender at second base? If so, that’s high value. Could he eventually take over third base? Washington has to consider the notion when tangling with whether to pay Rendon, or, more likely, Josh Donaldson via a shorter contract.

“I really feel that he learned a lot just coming up that short period of time,” Martinez said of Kieboom. “We know what kind of player we think he can be, and like I said, he's learned how to become that player. He went back down, and I've seen a lot of guys that came up and had a rough time that go back down and don't quite put it together. He went back down there and had a really good year in triple A.

“So it's just a learning process for him. ...And the biggest thing I'll tell Carter is that he's a guy that needs to use the whole field when he hits and not to take his at-bats out to the field. It's two different things. You've got to play defense, and then you've got to hit. I think that's something, as a young player, that you need to learn to be consistent up here.”

The organization’s belief in whether Kieboom can do that will factor into its decisions in San Diego. Monday’s Strasburg splash kicked things off. Tuesday is likely to be more about filling gaps than record contracts.

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Braves' Dansby Swanson admits he hates facing Stephen Strasburg

Braves' Dansby Swanson admits he hates facing Stephen Strasburg

After winning the NL Cy Young award in back-to-back seasons, the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom holds the title of undisputed best pitcher in the NL East—if not the entire major leagues.

So when asked at the Braves' annual winter FanFest, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman were quick to admit that they hated facing deGrom more than any other pitcher in baseball.

But shortstop Dansby Swanson has another nemesis: Stephen Strasburg.

Dansby Swanson is not a fan of Stephen Strasburg from r/baseball

Swanson is 6-for-27 (.222) with one home run and 15 strikeouts against Strasburg, making it understandable why he'd hate facing the Nationals starter.

Unfortunately for Swanson, Strasburg signed a seven-year deal with the Nationals in December. The Braves infielder isn't going to be able to avoid facing him anytime soon.

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Ron Darling believes Nationals are vindicated for Strasburg shutdown

Ron Darling believes Nationals are vindicated for Strasburg shutdown

The Nationals rose to contention in 2012, emerging from the depths of the NL East standings to establish themselves as soon-to-be perennial contenders behind a young core highlighted by back-to-back No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

But heading into that campaign, Washington announced that Strasburg would be placed on an innings limit in what was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. It was a highly scrutinized move at the time, as the Nationals won 98 games but went into the playoffs without their young phenom.

MLB Network analyst and former major-league pitcher Ron Darling joined D.C. Sports on Thursday to talk about the Strasburg shutdown, which came in at No. 17 in NBC Sports Washington’s Big Twenty series that highlights the 20 biggest sports stories in D.C. over the first 20 years of the decade.

“I remember just thinking to myself, ‘What a shame that Washington’s not going to have him in the postseason,’” Darling said. “But more importantly, I just tried to concentrate on—there is no team in baseball that is gonna make a decision that is gonna hurt the player and hurt their ball club.

“They just felt, because he was coming off an injury, that that was the best thing to do. Remember, they decided in Spring Training that they were going to hold him to an innings limit and I really commend them. I think it was one of the most difficult things the organization ever had to do. But they were brave and stood their ground.”

Darling himself was told in 1992 that he should undergo Tommy John surgery, but instead he elected to reinvent himself as a pitcher and alter his mechanics to put less stress on his elbow. However, Darling was in the midst of his age-31 season at the time, while Strasburg was just 22 when he went under the knife.

Although he believes putting Strasburg’s health first was the right thing to do, Darling does think the Nationals could’ve handled the situation better from a public relations standpoint.

“The only mistake I thought, was going into the season in Spring Training, they gave the innings limit,” Darling said. “I always thought there was no reason really to do that because as he got closer and closer to that innings limit, of course the media and fans and his teammates started to anticipate that shutdown so I think it put a lot of pressure on the organization, on the player, on his teammates.”

Seven years after the Nationals voluntarily ended Strasburg’s season, they won the World Series behind the strength of their starting rotation—led by Strasburg. Washington won all six games he appeared in during its 2019 playoff run. The right-hander posted a 1.98 ERA and 11.6 K/9 over 36 1/3 innings in the postseason after leading the NL with 209 regular-season innings and placing fifth in Cy Young voting.

“I don’t know if winning the World Series vindicates it,” Darling said. “I think what it has done, though, and proven, is that they’ve put Stephen Strasburg not only in a place to have an amazing career, but now he’s on a trajectory to be a Hall of Fame-kind of pitcher.

“Yes, it’s going to be four or five more years of great excellence that he’s shown, but that’s where the vindication comes, is that he’s had a great career, his trajectory is going to be a Hall of Fame career and I think the ironic part about it is that since the Strasburg shutdown, his performance in the postseason is about as good as anyone to ever toe the hill. So that’s to me where the vindication is.”

Washington has been rewarded for its patience with its prized starter. After signing a seven-year, $245 million extension at the Winter Meetings in December, Strasburg ensured that he’ll be chasing a plaque in Cooperstown as a member of the Nationals.

He mentioned several times at his subsequent press conference in D.C. the trust he built with the organization, trust undoubtedly established by how the team prioritized his health over everything early in his career. It may have been an unpopular decision in 2012. But if the Nationals had the chance to go back and do it all again, they’d make the same choice every single time.

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