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Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

The non-Bryce Harper worst-case scenario for the Washington Nationals’ outfield could look like this: Juan Soto in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, Adam Eaton in right. That’s the bottom.

How do they get there? They don’t re-sign Harper and flip Victor Robles for a major void fill, say Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto or Seattle left-hander James Paxton.

The above is not prediction, assumption or otherwise. It’s merely a path to what would be considered the least-potent outfield the Nationals could put together if Harper went elsewhere, Robles was moved and they did not pay a replacement.

If Manny Machado does not return to the Baltimore Orioles (all but guaranteed)? They will be bad. With him? They would be bad. There’s a lot of bad in Baltimore, at the moment. Attendance, bad. Front office situation, bad. On-field performance, bad. What can make it worse? Machado playing in New York, battering them for the next decade to top things off.

Back to the Nationals. The outfield is clogged. Soto, Robles, Eaton, Harper and Taylor are all in play there. Let’s look at possible alignments with and without Harper.

With him, he drops back to right field, ideally. The center field work last season was not productive. Though, his right field work, and emphatic aversion to walls, did not yield quality results either. Baseball’s advanced defensive metrics aren’t great. However, they can help confirm the eye test, which this list from Sports Info Solutions does:

Fewest defensive runs saved, 2018 season:

Bryce Harper -27
Charlie Blackmon -26
Adam Jones -26
Rhys Hoskins -25
Miguel Andujar -25

Being on a defensive list with rookie third baseman Andujar, who committed 15 errors, or the plodding Hoskins, whom the Phillies tried to hide out there all season, is damning. When it comes to defensive range, the Nationals would be better without Harper in the field considering the four other options.

Taylor’s situation is interesting. He would be a quality fourth outfielder because of superior defensive skill and the plug-and-play ability should someone be injured. The question is who would manager Davey Martinez pull off the field late to put Taylor on it? In a Soto-Robles-Harper outfield, Soto is the weakest defender. Taylor could go to center. Robles to left. That, of course, costs the Nationals Soto’s bat. The Nationals also lost a window to sell high on Taylor last offseason before Martinez buried him on the bench this regular season. Taylor received an early chance when Eaton was shut down. He failed, then excelled, then was benched. He had a strange year.

Which is why it’s fair to wonder if he ends up part of a trade package this offseason. His speed and defense could help any team, especially a contending one (which is the same argument for him to stay in Washington). Recall that Taylor was the Nationals’ best hitter in the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. He can also be weaponized in a part-time postseason role.

This all hinges on Harper, as does everything else. If the Nationals finalize the sport’s most expensive contract, they can decide which other outfield parts are expendable, and how to distribute them. This also speaks to timing. Harper’s situation needs to be resolved in order to have clarity for other parts, from the outfield on. Being held hostage by dragged-out negotiations could be a two-fold negative effect for the Nationals: They could lose Harper, and lose a window to have moved an extra outfielder to help cure an ill elsewhere. Regardless, they have options and a quality baseline to work from.

Baltimore is another matter. Cornered by the rest of the league knowing they were stuck, the Orioles sent Machado to the Dodgers for a large numbers of names. It’s the quality received back among the five minor leaguers that’s in question.

Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect at the time, is the star attraction.

Right-handed pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, third baseman Rylan Bannon and infielder Breyvic Valera also came along. Diaz, 22, is now the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB pipeline. He finished the year hitting .239 for Double-A Bowie and .285 overall in 2018. None of the other four are ranked in the organization’s top 10 prospects.

Which leaves the 115-loss Orioles with only bleakness in their future, rocks in their shoes, and Murphy’s Law as the prevailing operating procedure at the moment. They remain chained to Chris Davis’ contract for four more seasons as well as the deferred money Davis is due until 2037. Their theoretical No. 1 starter, Dylan Bundy, had a 5.45 ERA last season. They are searching for Buck Showalter’s replacement in the dugout. They are reportedly close to hiring Houston Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias to become general manager, according to USA Today.

The Orioles flipped their last malaise when 2012 produced 93 wins after 93 losses in 2011. They are not positioned to do that now. They are looking at a Machado-less slog for years to come. The Nationals won’t be victimized by such a plight if their star starts swinging elsewhere.

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What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A few years back, Trea Turner went out for a slice of pizza. He was part of a small group hitting a spot in the DMV when the mayhem began. Other diners noticed the beard and well-coiffed hair, the wide shoulders and distinctive laugh. They had stumbled into a pizza shop occupied by Bryce Harper.

Turner was in the background. His wiry frame and boyish face allowed him to snap the moment and add to social media because he went unrecognized.

“I still go under the radar quite a bit, so I don’t have to deal with that,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Sometimes I’m not jealous. Going out in public places and not being able to have a normal meal, normal slice of pizza is not always fun. If you get recognized you’re doing something right, though, in my mind. It’s kind of a plus and minus.

“Everyone deals with it different. Some people don’t want to be in the spotlight. Some people do. I think it just depends who you are. Just be yourself. Be happy and be yourself. if somebody does recognize me, try to enjoy that and say hello and do everything you can to kind of share in that experience, if they don’t, I get a chance to be by myself.”

Recognition of Turner was expected two seasons ago. Early 2017 projections for National League MVP candidates included him as an option, if a distant one. A late-June, 96-mph fastball hit his wrist, fracturing it. Turner’s season stalled.

He’s settled in now, coming off a season where he played all 162 games. His 4.1 WAR in 2018 was a significant return on his $3.725 million salary. Turner is 25 years old, arbitration eligible for the next three years, and part of what has become a dynamic swindle by Mike Rizzo. Turner arrived as the player to be named later in a three-team deal which cost the Nationals outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Souza has produced 5.8 WAR since; Turner 10.6. That doesn’t include Joe Ross, also acquired in the trade, in the equation.

Turner is searching for further uptick in his value this season. Nationals manager Davey Martinez wants Turner to reach 70, 80, even 90 steal attempts. Running that often has become an outlier. Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield led MLB with 55 stolen base attempts last season.

If Turner has a stock line, it’s that, “You can’t steal first base.” So, he starts there when asked about such an ambitious attempts total. He adds his hitting approach needs to remain quality and patient. The latter can often be a fight for him. Turner grapples with each hitter’s constant struggle: when to be patient, when are you too patient and into a bad count because of it, when to just let it loose. Turner hit a career-high 19 homers last season. But, his on-base percentage was .344.

Once he reaches first, whether to go is can be a matter of situation or flow.

“I think the score dictates a lot of things,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Last year, we were behind quite a bit in games, so it’s hard to steal bases -- you don’t want to give them an extra out. I think the season dictates that. If we play good baseball, there will be a lot of opportunities for everyone across the board. We’ll see, is my answer. I would like to attempt 80 or 90.

“For me, it’s very fluid,” Turner continued. “Just like hitting would be or fielding would be. Sometimes you go through funks where sometimes, ‘Oh, I don’t feel good stealing base.’ Sometimes you feel like you can steal off anybody. For me, it’s very fluid, it’s just like the other facets of the game. I think when you get older you learn when to push it or pull back based on the score of the game or what your coach would like you to do.”

Referencing the coach made Turner smile. This manager wants him to go. Often.

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Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Bryce Harper is going to sign with a team any minute now, right?

The momentum for him finally inking a deal somewhere is real with Manny Machado agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres Tuesday. But when it comes to matching that or beating it for Harper, according to a report from MLB.com, the Nationals have no interest in playing.

Before the end of the 2018 season, the Nats presented Harper and his agent Scott Boras a 10-year, $300 million offer to which they declined. That deal appears to be no longer on the table. From MLB.com:

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club.

This week at Spring Training, the Nationals said they were operating with the team they have now. In the offseason, they made a number of other big moves - including signing marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin - that leave their roster in good shape even if Harper doesn't come back.

According to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, Harper is believed to have turned down multiple offers over $300 million in recent weeks with the Phillies, San Francisco Giants and the Nats still in the mix.

But according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale, the Padres are out of the Harper sweepstake completely. 

Whether or not Harper gets a long-term deal like Machado's with Philly remains to be seen. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told MLB.com he doesn't want to spend all the team's money in one place. 

"We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason," he said. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

If Harper does ink a deal with the Phillies close to the offer Rizzo and the Nats presented him with, don't expect the 26-year-old to receive a warm welcome when the Nats host the Phillies April 2-3.

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