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Mike Trout ends up in situation Bryce Harper would have wanted

Mike Trout ends up in situation Bryce Harper would have wanted

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- That didn’t take long.

Bryce Harper’s standing as the owner of the largest total contract in North American sports history lasted three weeks. Anaheim is working toward a stunning, 12-year, roughly $430 million extension with Mike Trout, according to multiple reports. The deal is trend-setting and telling. It also changes narratives for Harper.

Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, grappled for months during the most highly anticipated free agent winter in baseball history in order to get 13 years, $330 million from the Philadelphia Phillies. They landed on a record total to surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. They did so over a 13-year period. Among Harper’s first public comments was a plan to recruit Trout, a South Jersey native, to join him for a decade-plus in Philadelphia when Trout became a free agent following the 2020 season. That idea was emphatically squashed Tuesday.

Which positions Trout as the rarest of entities, and in a place Harper would have been happy to be: He owns a record-setting contract in both total and average annual value to stay with one team.

The numbers Trout received were among the projections for Harper. Years worth of chatter about his pending free agency eventually moved into a discussion about the $400 million contract range. Harper never approached the figure. His first employer made a no-chance-of-acceptance offer of 10 years, $300 million, with $100 million deferred over the course of decades (according to Harper). He finally surpassed Stanton’s total, but had to leave Washington to do so. Harper mentioned in his opening press conference his desire to remain with a single team. “It just didn’t happen,” he said.

It will for Trout, the game’s best on-field talent if an under-branded off-field one.

MLB Network was on the central flat screen inside the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday morning with the volume turned up after the news broke. Players paused for a glance as they walked in and out. Former Trout teammate Howie Kendrick, who spent four years in Anaheim, went into a soliloquy about how deserving Trout is when asked for his thoughts on the deal.

“I know what Mike’s doing now and what Mike can continue to do from playing with him,” Kendrick said. “He shows up every day to win. Whether that’s defensively, offensively, on the basepaths. He’s the model baseball player. That’s what it’s about. He shows up to compete every day. I feel like sometimes we get away from that. Whether clubs do or players -- but mostly, I feel like some teams are not competing. And that [deal] tells me [the Angels] want to compete for the long haul.

“I know if they didn’t pay him, there was a lot of other teams that would love to have him. That speaks volumes about the player. Being around this game, being around Mike, he has so many intangibles. The competitiveness he has ... Just goes about his business every day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not sign for fans. It’s like, man, you ever get tired? 'No, man. I do this because I want to.’ He always takes time for kids. The guy’s just been a phenomenal guy to be around. I even tried to learn things from him. I’ve been around. He goes about his business the right way. That’s what you want to see in young guys.”

Trout staying on the West Coast flushes any pursuit of a super team -- for now. Bending aspects of the collective bargaining agreement to assemble talent is much more difficult in MLB than the NBA. No one is signing consecutive 1-year deals to hop on the World Series favorite.

However, an investment in Trout is also one in attraction. It’s a big market with successful teams in the past. Games are in California. The best player in baseball will be there throughout. Any takers?

“The way I see it, he’s such a great player, why wouldn’t people want to go play with him?” Kendrick said. “With him being the type of competitor he is, I would want to play with him, I don’t know if they’re going to try to form a mega-team or not. But, obviously they’re very committed to Mike, Mike’s committed to being there, so, hey, kudos to Mike.”

Harper talked about staying in Washington at the end of last season. He put the onus ownership by wondering in interviews if “I’m in those plans” when the Lerner family assessed the future. Turns out, he was not. And after three weeks in Philadelphia, his reign as the highest-paid player closed before a month could pass. The next time he sees Trout, two baseball stars on long-term deals will meet, one in the position the other would have drawn up, if he could.

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Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

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Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

The Washington Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins, 3-2, Friday night to drop back to 9-9. Here are five observations from the game...

1. For all the offseason efforts at improvement, winning the National League East could come down to its one member which is trying to lose.

The four spenders each play Miami 19 times. By the end, going 11-8 against the in-the-tank Marlins may become a lamentable part of some team’s 2019 legacy. They either brought in a marquee pitcher, a generational outfielder or a former MVP third baseman. But they didn’t do enough against the Marlins, costing themselves the single, taut playoff spot that emerges from the division. It’s a viable storyline to project.

The Nationals took their first negative step toward that fate Friday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins.

The situational hitting was poor -- Washington left 10 runners on base. The starting pitching was so-so -- Anibal Sanchez took the loss. The bullpen made one dire mistake -- Matt Grace’s first pitch hit left-hander Curtis Granderson with the bases loaded, forcing in the decisive run. The luck wasn’t great -- Caleb Smith, a quality left-hander marooned in Miami as the staff’s best pitcher, was on turn. Anticipate him representing Miami at the All-Star Game this season.

Brian Dozier homered. Mark that in the positive column. Joe Ross pitched two innings of quality relief. Put him next to Dozier.

Otherwise, the loss was sigh-worthy for a team trying to lurch forward, ending its up-and-down run of the first three weeks.

2. Another day, another hit for Anthony Rendon.

His sixth-inning double extended his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest in Major League Baseball this season. It’s also an extension of a personal best for Rendon.

Rendon’s 15 extra-base hits in 17 games is a Nationals/Expos record.

Who is he chasing for the organization’s hit streak record? Hall-of-Famer Heinie Manush, who hit safely in 33 consecutive games back in 1933.

Manush played for the Senators from 1930-1935. He hit .336 when he set the Washington record for consecutive game with a hit. He led the league in triples (17) and hits (221) that season.

Manush won a batting title in 1925 when he hit .378 for Detroit. Rendon is currently hitting .377 in the opening weeks of the season.

3. Sanchez was ok. Not great, not terrible. Just ok.

He lasted 5 ⅓ innings, allowed five hits, three earned runs, walked four and struck out six. His ERA is 4.91.

Regression for Sanchez this season was expected. His 2.83 ERA in Atlanta last season came strongly against the current of his previous pitching. Sanchez had a 5.67 ERA over the three prior seasons.

However, this has been a leap back, a full two runs in arrears of last season’s ERA. More troubling than the ERA is Sanchez’s path through lineups. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate down.

As the season moves along, a comparison point for Sanchez will be the results of left-hander Wade Miley in Houston. The Nationals made a multi-year offer to Miley which was better than the offer he eventually settled on with the Astros, according to a source. Miley ended up signing for just one year in Houston because the free agent market went south, and Washington quickly pivoted to Sanchez. Keeping track of the two via ERA-plus (which accounts for park factors) during the season will be a fun exercise. Coming into Friday, Miley was by far the better pitcher in that department, 129 to 95. Another bloated outing from Sanchez only increased that gap.

4. The Nationals hoped to play a different brand of offense this season. They wanted to deploy more athleticism, using speed and contact to produce runs.

They took the idea to the extreme Friday. Adam Eaton and Victor Robles both bunted for hits. Eaton scored Washington’s first run after reaching base via his drag bunt up the first base line.

Robles stole second and ended up on third following his bunt in the same direction in the third inning.

Creative work at the plate for both.

5. Another bullpen twist hit Friday. Austen Williams was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a sprained right AC joint. Austin Adams was called up to replace him.

Williams had a disastrous outing Wednesday in the Nationals’ 9-6 win over the Giants. He allowed four earned runs -- on two home runs -- after the Nationals entered the ninth inning with a 9-2 lead. Williams’ inability to get an out in the ninth eventually forced closer Sean Doolittle into a game he never should have entered.

Doolittle’s entrance also complicated the current series in Miami. He pitched back-to-back games to close the series against San Francisco. His Friday availability was in question because of that, though the Nationals didn’t end up needing him.

The right-handed Adams, 27, joins the team from Triple-A Fresno. He struck out 12, allowed a hit and didn’t give up an earned run in his six innings with the Grizzlies.

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

WASHINGTON --  Progressively, the lines of desperation and declined price will have to intersect.

At least it would seem. Craig Kimbrel’s demands reportedly are receding during his extended unemployment. The needs of contenders in the National League East’s rock fight continue to increase day by day. The sides should be on a path to merge. Right?

Take this week. 

Atlanta announced closer Arodys Vizcaino underwent right shoulder surgery. He’s out for the season. This the day after his would-be replacement, A.J. Minter, gave up three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged he heard the chants from Braves fans Tuesday night demanding he sign Kimbrel.

Philadelphia placed reliever David Robertson on the 10-day injured list because of a flexor strain (initially labeled elbow soreness). It used Hector Neris to close Wednesday afternoon. He entered with two runners on base. Neris struck out the first batter, gave up a soft single, hit Wilson Ramos to load the bases, then struck Keon Broxton to end the game. That’s an interesting path to the end.

The Mets are living similar to the Nationals. They have a closer -- Edwin Diaz -- who can be relied on. It’s getting to him which has been such a challenge. Seth Lugo (5.06 ERA), Jeurys Familia (6.48) and Robert Gsellman (3.48) are often dispatched to drag New York to the ninth inning.

All five members of the National League East are in the bottom half of bullpen ERA entering play Friday. Philadelphia is 15th, Atlanta is 22nd, Miami is 24th, New York is 27th and Washington remains last by a wide margin -- almost a run-and-a-half worse than 29th-ranked Baltimore.

The Nationals’ bullpen toiling around with the have nots is endangering the team’s season as a whole, the $190 million payroll investment, the demands of the Lerner family to be better than first-round playoff exits. But, few paths are available to fix it without relinquishing a commodity -- whether human or financial.

Multiple reports claim Kimbrel’s asking price has come down in both years and cash. It may never reach a point of intersection with the Nationals if team ownership remains steadfast against surpassing the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive year. Passing the $206 million roster mark would result in a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent from there on. 

Kimbrel would also cost the Nationals a compensation draft pick and international draft money because he declined a qualifying off from Boston. In all, four layers of cost exist around Kimbrel: salary, luxury tax, a draft pick and international money.

Financial stances can change when circumstances do. Though, the Nationals’ leverage with Kimbrel has evaporated. Owning the league’s worst bullpen is not a promising negotiation point for a team preferring to restrict this final portion of spending. Imagine their pitch: “We’re desperate for your services, but don’t want to spend much.” 

Whichever lagging bullpen signs Kimbrel still needs to subsist until he is ready. In Washington’s case, it continues to hunt for solutions ahead of a six-game road trip which starts Friday in Miami. Trevor Rosenthal’s lost early season, a better way to match up with left-handed hitters, help in the middle and a way to use closer Sean Doolittle less -- he’s on pace for 86 appearances -- are all on the docket. 

“Things haven’t gone the way we envisioned them coming out of camp,” Doolittle said this week. “Part of being a reliever -- you don’t get to this level without having taken some lumps; without having taken some punches. So guys, they might be in the jungle a little bit right now, but they know how to get through this. We’re working on it. Guys are talking to each other about things they can do, whether it’s pitch selection or mechanics or straight up execution to try to get things smoothed out. 

“We’re in it as a group. As a reliever, you can’t have an ego. You have to be ready for whatever the team needs, whatever the group needs and be ready to pick your teammate up.”

Doolittle’s words could have come from the leader of any NL East bullpen. Four contenders with the same problem populate the division. One big name looms. Day by day, the tussle for a fix and leverage goes on. 

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