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Howie Kendrick will DH, leaving a question at second base

Howie Kendrick will DH, leaving a question at second base

HOUSTON -- Among the questions remaining for the Nationals is who will play second base when the World Series begins Tuesday.

Davey Martinez said Monday veteran Howie Kendrick will be the designated hitter in Games 1 and 2. He did not specify who will start at second -- Asdrúbal Cabrera or Brian Dozier.

Cabrera appeared the easy choice based on how the two played to close the regular season. He’s also a switch-hitter with familiarity against Houston’s Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole. However, the history for the two suggests considering Dozier not to be outlandish.

Cabrera is 2 for 17 career against Cole. Dozier is a mere 1 for 2 with a double. Small head-to-head sample sizes typically matter little (especially two at-bats). However, in the final round of the season, a specific matchup is just that. 

Dozier is the better defensive option. If he starts, the Nationals keep a switch-hitting choice as a pinch-hitter. Cabrera, though, carried a .969 OPS since joining the Nationals on Aug. 6 as a free agent. Countering that work is his 1 for 9 in the postseason. 

As for Kendrick, he almost didn’t make it to this point. He hit .255 in 2016 when playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It wasn’t fun. He nearly retired.

“I wasn’t too happy with myself for a little bit,” Kendrick said. “But when I went over to the Phillies (the next season), I got a different side of the game. I got to see young guys. I became a veteran guy that they came to and started asking questions. I started having more fun and I found my love for the game again. It made me really happy again. Then I came over to the Nats, I was here with Dusty [Baker] -- that was huge for me because I always wanted to play for Dusty. After that year, having so much fun, I was like I want to come back for a couple more years.”

As a result, he’s in the World Series for the first time at age 36.

Bryce is not here, Bryce comes up

The second-most prominent question when Bryce Harper became a free agent was how the Nationals would play without him. The first was centered on destination.

Washington reached the World Series the first year Harper played in Philadelphia. 

Before the season, Ryan Zimmerman wondered why the general populace couldn’t be happy for everyone. Why there had to be a villain. He argued to be happy for Harper, who earned his free agent windfall, as well as back the team going forward.

Monday, he was asked again about life without Harper.

“I think that’s part of the business,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously, Bryce was for sure the biggest name to ever leave. We’ve had impact players -- we had Jordan Zimmermann leave. Unfortunately, you kind of get numb to it. Obviously, respect them as players, but the biggest thing for us is they leave as a teammate, a friend and move on. At the end of the day, it is a business. He played for us for six years, he played great, he did a lot of things a lot of people have never done from age 19-25, so he deserves everything he got.

“I hope he has an unbelievable career and gets to do this. There’s some part of me that somehow thinks he will at some point. You move on, you play with what you got. The game waits for nobody. The game doesn’t care who’s on what team. You’ve to move on. You’ve got to play.”

Rain on an off-day? Of course

The Nationals expected to play a simulated game at Nationals Park on Sunday. Bad weather made Martinez wonder from his couch if it was going to happen.

They worked out starting Thursday. In general, the team does a lot of work in the batting cage as opposed to spending an extended time on the field. Once the storms finally cleared Sunday, they were able to play a simulated game with Aníbal Sánchez pitching.

“I joked around after we clinched, I'm going to give you guys a day off,” Martinez said. “And they all laughed, especially Anthony [Rendon]. He said, ‘Just one?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Our work is not over. We've got to come back.’ We schedule workouts the next four days and these guys were all in. They got their work in. We did a lot of stuff in the training room. They did a lot of stuff in the weight room, strength conditioning, a lot of running activities, and they hit. They hit a bunch. So we're ready to go.”

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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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