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Nationals land marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin

Nationals land marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin

Mike Rizzo made an argument last weekend about the importance of starting pitching. He also mentioned a nice visit with free agent left-hander Patrick Corbin.

Turns out those things came together to produce the offseason’s largest free agent deal to date.

NBC Sports Washington has confirmed that the Nationals agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal with Corbin on Tuesday. The agreement is pending a physical. 

Corbin brings multiple qualities the Nationals desired. First, he is an experienced left-handed arm, something the rotation was lacking. Second, Corbin can slot into the the No. 3 spot in the rotation. 

Corbin, 29, has a 3.91 career ERA and is coming off the best year of his six in the major leagues. He struck out 246 in 200 innings last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks en route to a 3.15 ERA and, a couple months later, enormous pay day in his new home.

Saturday, Rizzo said he met with Corbin a few days prior. They, along with principal owner Mark Lerner, went out to dinner and discussed the possibility of Corbin signing with the Nationals to bolster an already stout top of the rotation which features Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. 

“He’s one of the elite starting pitchers on the free agent market,” Rizzo said. “We have interest in him. We had a nice discussion with him. I had a personal discussion with him. He wanted to come down and see what we had down here and visit the city and the clubhouse. I thought that was a positive reaction by him. I’m not going to read too much into it. He’s a guy that obviously we’re interested in and would fit nicely on this team.”

Asked about a timeline, Rizzo now sounds prescient. 

“I think he’s not afraid to do something early,” Rizzo said. “If he gets the deal he feels comfortable with, I think he will act. There’s been no timetable given by his representatives or by him. But we had a nice dinner and he spent the next day here. It was a really good meeting with his agent, myself, his wife and Mark Lerner were all there.”

Reports out of New York said the Yankees capped their offer at five years. The Nationals’ willingness to add an extra year is in line with their decision to give Scherzer a seven-year contract when several other teams balked at the length when he was a free agent in 2014.

The signing also ties the Nationals to gargantuan payments for starting pitching. Scherzer’s deal was $210 million, Strasburg’s $175 million and Corbin’s now $140 million. Three years remain on Scherzer’s deal. Strasburg’s contract runs until 2023 if he does not exercise any of the four opt outs which kick in following the 2019 season. It’s unlikely he will because the final year of his deal calls for a $45 million base salary.

That means the Nationals will have roughly $230 million tied up in three starting pitchers, who will be 30 or older by the midpoint of 2019, over the next three seasons.

Washington will also endure another cost because of the acquisition. It will forfeit the organization’s second- and fifth-highest picks in the 2019 MLB draft, as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money. The money is moot. The compensatory picks which move to Arizona are not.

Signing Corbin does give the Nationals a new weapon against reigning National League champion Los Angeles. The Dodgers were almost 100 points worse in OPS against left-handed pitching during the postseason. Rejuvenated Red Sox lefty David Price powered through them during the World Series: 13 ⅔ innings, 1.98 ERA. 

Corbin dominated L.A. in the regular season before Price took his turn. Four starts, 23 ⅓ innings, 10 hits, 31 strikeouts, a .125 batting average against and an 0.77 ERA. That was the best Corbin pitched against any team he saw more than once during the 2018 season.

That will come up if the Nationals are able to vault themselves back into the playoffs after a middling 2018 which ended with them trailing the upstart Atlanta Braves in the National League East and narrowly ahead of the forward-moving Philadelphia Phillies.

A continued uptick from Corbin could help them get there. He has cut two earned runs from his ERA in the last two years after a return from Tommy John surgery in 2014. His strikeouts per nine took a significant jump in 2018 as his slider usage continued to rise and a “curveball” (it’s really just a slower slider) entered his repertoire. He’s also made 65 starts the last two years combined. Durability, high strikeout rate, and much-improved peripherals — particularly in hits allowed — made him the offseason’s top free agent pitcher.

Bringing him to Washington almost a week before the Winter Meetings was another step in Rizzo’s aggressive offseason. He signed catcher Kurt Suzuki and traded for catcher Yan Gomes to fix the Nationals’ biggest positional issue. Rizzo took a chance on Trevor Rosenthal after the reliever’s personal showcase showed he was again throwing in the upper 90s following Tommy John surgery. Reliever Kyle Barraclough was acquired for international slot money.

Only minor moves remain. Inviting a seasoned starting pitcher to spring training, finding a left-handed bench bat, as well as finding another left-hander for the bullpen are among the few topics to address. 

This also signals the Nationals are likely out on Bryce Harper. They aggressively filled their gaps with initially moderate spending before pulling Corbin into the fold long-term. The top of their rotation is again arguably the best in baseball. The question is if it will be enough to deliver what has eluded the organization so often: playoff success. 
 

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Sean Doolittle talks everything from sliders to tweets on the latest episode of The Racing Presidents podcast

Sean Doolittle talks everything from sliders to tweets on the latest episode of The Racing Presidents podcast

Curious thing when Sean Doolittle hops on Twitter: multiple replies from his wife, Eireann Dolan, begin to show up. She, in theory, is working on coursework for a Master’s degree while stationed in the other room. But, she finds time to enter a depth-filled discussion or mock a photo choice of her husband on his derriere which randomly accompanied a story involving him.

“Maybe that’s in the syllabus,” Doolittle said.

Their case of two-room tweeting comes up at the end of our 1-on-1 sit down with the Nationals’ All-Star closer in the latest edition of The Racing Presidents podcast. We talked with Doolittle early in spring training when Bryce Harper remained unsigned and a lagging free agency period was fresh. He used his platform during the winter months to express irritation with the process baseball was going through.

He also uses his Twitter account often and judiciously. Doolittle addresses a range of topics, some with political ramifications, some specific to his sport, others to rebut what he deems a silly media take, as he did Wednesday with Colin Cowherd. Social media can be a dangerous place for famous people with opinions. How does he approach it?

“I would say do your homework before you press tweet on anything you do,” Doolittle said. “And then once you’ve done your homework, do it again. Double-check your work. I try to -- whenever I weigh-in on something -- I’ve done a bunch of research online, I’ve read a bunch of articles. I’ve really tried to consider both points of view. And, obviously, you’ve got to be careful about the way you phrase things so nothing can be taken out of context. I think that’s why some of the topics I’ve weighed-in on there’s been a thread of multiple tweets because I don’t want the 280-character limit to be the reason that something I said could be taken out of context. I want to be able to have that nuance and people understand really what I’m trying to say.”

There’s more on that, where Doolittle is with trying to master a slider and what he thinks can be better with baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.

The guys also had a lot of other baseball happenings to talk about. Most notable is the Anthony Rendon negotiations. NBC Sports Washington reported Wednesday that Rendon turned down a late February extension offer from the Nationals. Rendon said discussions have essentially come to a “halt” between himself and the Nationals. However, that doesn’t mean they are over.

Also on this episode: how Mike Trout’s enormous contract extension relates to Bryce Harper’s situation, Gio Gonzalez joining the Yankees and joy around the fact we’re eight days from Opening Day.

Listen, subscribe, rate, and stay tuned for a 1-on-1 conversations with Ryan Zimmerman to close the week.

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Anthony Rendon extension talks come to a 'halt' after he turns down recent offer

Anthony Rendon extension talks come to a 'halt' after he turns down recent offer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon has noticed. Nolan Arenado, eight years, $260 million to stay in Colorado. Tuesday’s stunning news of Mike Trout’s gargantuan 12-year, $426 million deal. Both extensions.

Back at his locker Tuesday, the news about Trout’s deal spilled out from a flat screen TV in the middle of the Nationals’ vacant clubhouse. Rendon was tossing possessions into a cardboard box to send back to Washington a little more than a week before Opening Day. He pondered Trout’s deal.

“430?” Rendon said. “What do you do with all that money?”

That was an open-ended question, not an indication of Rendon’s negotiation philosophy when talking about a contract extension with the Nationals. Those discussions began more than a year ago. A new deal was offered in late February when Arenado, expected to provide the framework for a future Rendon deal in the District or elsewhere, re-upped with the Rockies. Rendon declined.

“We’ve had some talks in the past,” Rendon told NBC Sports Washington. “I think it’s kind of come to a halt lately. They had an offer out there [around the time of the Arenado deal]. It wasn’t to where we thought we should be. They said we’re going to continue to talk.”

Players appear to be reacting to two chilled winters of free agency, culminating with this offseason’s slog which delayed the conclusion of Bryce Harper’s pursuit of a new deal. The idea of signing an extension -- from upper- to middle-tier players -- is being re-embraced. Rendon has long considered the concept. He is also appreciative of the Nationals’ attempts to retain him.

However, it’s a unique situation considering the client. Recall Rendon made an early spring training statement by pointing out agent Scott Boras works for him, not the other way around. In addition, he’s focused on market value. Both ideas seem basic logic to him, and not specific to baseball. It’s an employee-employer relationship. This employee is paying an agent to work his contract into a place level with comparable employees at other organizations. 

Multiple dynamics are at work. Rendon enters the final year of his contract relaxed about the idea he could remain in Washington or go elsewhere if negotiations don’t pan out. He’s continually touted as one of the game’s better players, despite his efforts to swat back recognition. Nationals managing principal owner Marker Lerner has a distinctly positive view of him.

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington earlier in spring training. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Rendon’s reticent public personality makes this a trickier process than most. Here’s what he is the last three seasons on average: 128 OPS-plus, 41 doubles, 23 home runs, premier defense at third base. Here’s what he is not: attached to the game as the end-all, be-all of his life.

“I feel like with those individuals -- with Arenado, when you have a talent like that who’s just as good as those other three guys that signed those big deals -- and Colorado understood that, so maybe they didn’t want to lose him,” Rendon said. “Whether that being Nolan saying he wanted to sign an extension because he didn’t want to test free agency or maybe it was Colorado saying that we don’t want to lose this awesome player that we have. So, I think the Angels maybe thought the same way because that guy is pretty good, too. 

“But I think as long as -- I think if your identity is not in the game, if you’re who you are as a person, you’re not using this to base who you are as a person. … Unless your identity is in the game, I feel like you shouldn’t be looking for that. If [an extension] happens, it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.”

Rendon revisited that last line at the close of the conversation: “If it happens…” Then drifted off.

The Nationals tried. Again. It hasn’t happened yet.

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