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Nationals choose multiple mid-tier arms over big splash at trade deadline

Nationals choose multiple mid-tier arms over big splash at trade deadline

WASHINGTON -- Ding, ding, ding, three in a row came. 

The Nationals acquired needed bullpen reinforcements Wednesday before the Major League Baseball trade deadline arrived, bringing in three relief pitchers and acquiring modest improvements for modest costs. The big move didn’t occur.

Right-hander Daniel Hudson arrived from Toronto for minor-leaguer Kyle Johnston. Left-hander Roenis Elias came next from the Seattle Mariners for minor-league pitchers Elvis Alvarado and Taylor Guibeau. Then a name familiar to all Nationals fans: Hunter Strickland. He, too, came from Seattle. 

Once the clock ticked past 4 p.m., the Nationals knew they at least addressed their greatest need. Washington entered play Wednesday with the league’s worst bullpen ERA, a success-stifling 5.99. Even trying-to-lose Baltimore was better at 5.90. The Nationals hunted for any possible solution during the season. They brought in veteran relievers who failed, like Dan Jennings. They eventually signed and summoned veteran relievers who have been solid, like Fernando Rodney. But, what remained clear is the group was not enough on its own.

The three new arms have moderate ceilings. Elias began his career as a starter, then went to the bullpen before becoming a closer-out-of-necessity this season when Strickland was injured. Hudson’s FIP (fielding-independent pitching) suggests his ERA is not telling the full story about his pitching. Strickland just returned from the 60-day injured list. He did not pitch in the majors from March 30 to July 28 because of a right lat strain. And there’s more than the injury to consider when assessing his arrival.

Strickland became famous in Washington for his beaning of, then brawl with, Bryce Harper. Hitting Harper three years after he hit two postseason home runs against him provided Strickland with a special level of local infamy. He will be part of the Nationals’ clubhouse now. No. 34 remains available.

This risk is similar to the one Mike Rizzo took when he brought Jonathan Papelbon to Washington. Papelbon, of course, had his own run-in with Harper by choking him atop the dugout steps. Then, surprisingly, Papelbon was back the next season. No section of the team has been more volatile -- on the field and off -- in Rizzo’s Washington tenure. And no section of the team is in need of annual help the way the bullpen is. 

Not coming to the team was any high-end option. San Francisco closer Will Smith was a supposed consideration, as was Detroit closer Shane Greene. The Tigers reportedly asked Washington for its top prospect -- Carter Kieboom -- in exchange for Greene, who ascended from decent to dominant this season and has an arbitration season remaining. Kieboom was deemed too much. But Detroit’s ask for a prominent haul did not discourage the team Washington is chasing. Atlanta was reportedly ready to deal with Detroit in order to obtain Greene and with San Francisco to acquire Mark Melancon. 

So, the contender ahead landed the bigger names while the Nationals were fighting two issues: their shallow minor-league talent pool and ownership’s directive to remain under the Competitive Balance Tax. 

Javy Guerra and Michael Blazek were both designated for assignment to make room on the roster. Davey Martinez had to deliver the news.

“You build relationships with these guys.,” Martinez said. “For me, that’s one of the toughest things about this job having to tell somebody we made a trade and we’re going to have to let you go. They understand the business. They understand why they’re here. If Rizzo feels like we can upgrade, obviously we’re going to do that.”

Rizzo felt that way Wednesday. How much better the bullpen will be remains to be seen.

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With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

The Washington Nationals 2019 World Series title run is something Gerardo Parra will never forget.

Earlier this month, Parra covered his left forearm with a tattoo to commemorate the Nationals' championship, but the fan-favorite but his own little twist on it.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington, Parra explained the meaning behind the tattoo and the motives behind the design.

"Like I said before, if we won a World Series championship, I wanted to do special a tattoo [to have] for the rest of my life," Parra said. "It's special for me. I had like one month to figure out how the tattoo I wanted to do. We did the trophy, the baby shark inside the trophy, World Series champs."

You can listen to the full interview in the Nationals Talk podcast below.

The design of the tattoo took several weeks of thought, but the actual process of inking it to Parra's skin was quite the process as well.

"It took like 11 hours to do that," Parra said. "But I'm so happy and so glad that everybody likes it, mostly because I love it and I got it for the rest of my life."

Although he was in the nation's capital for less than one full season, Parra left his mark in Washington. Following a rough start in 2019, Parra instilled a light and fun atmosphere in the Nationals' clubhouse upon his arrival. He made 'Baby Shark' his walk-up song in honor of his two-year-old daughter, and it became the Nationals' unofficial rally cry throughout the 2019 season.

Although the season is several weeks in the history books, Parra still plays the song in his home sometimes. As to why? It's just the feeling he gets when it comes on.

"I'm in my home and sometimes I put on the song because my baby wants to listen," Parra said. "My neighbor, he wants to dance to it."

Shortly after the MLB season ended, Parra was offered a deal from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. Knowing his chances of playing in the MLB next season were slim, the 32-year-old signed a few days later for $2.5 million with a $3 million option for 2021. He still hopes to return to Washington for the team's home opener where he would receive his World Series ring, and has self-nominated himself to throw out the first pitch.

So, will 'Baby Shark' follow Parra to his next destination? 

"The guys are waiting for baby shark in Japan. I'll do my best," Parra said. "I want to bring it to Japan. I want to bring it to different cultures, different countries, different cities. We'll see what happens, but I think everything is fine, everything is good energy, and try to make it work there, too."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

Astros players plan to make a team statement on sign-stealing scandal during Spring Training

The Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal has rocked MLB and left a dark shadow over the league during offseason. Up until this point, despite a fired general manager and on-field manager, the players at the root of the scandal have remained silent on the subject and avoided questions from the media.

That will all change in Spring Training as the Astros players plan to make "a strong statement as a team," according to Astros' owner Jim Crane. 

"When we get down to Spring Training, we'll all get them together and they'll come out with a strong statement as a team and apologize for what happened and we'll move forward," Crane said in a media scrum.

Over the weekend the team held their annual winter FanFest where several players had to face the music as many players met with the media for the first time. Jose Altuve, who is one of the players who allegedly benefited from the sign-stealing, dodged the question as best he could. The Astros shortstop's comments coincide with Crane's, saying “I think the time to comment about that will come. It’s a little early for me to say something about it.” 

Outside of their FanFest event, there is little that has come out of the clubhouse. Their owner acknowledged the lack of communication from the players and said the players were advised to stay out of the conversation. 

"The players have been beaten up a little bit and they've been all spread out. They've just kinda getting [sic] advice to take it easy."

Already Spring Training in West Palm Beach is going to be awkward between the two teams that made the World Series last season. The Nationals, who won the World Series whether or not the Astros used their system to gain an advantage, have their facilities next door to Houston's.

And if the Astros sign former Nationals' manager Dusty Baker to the same position in wake of A.J. Hinch's firing, there will be even more tense situations at Spring Training this year. 

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