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Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

The only easy part is at the top. Jacob deGrom was the clear winner of the 2019 National League Cy Young Award. The rest was a tussle.

Good news about voting for this award: It’s more statistics-oriented than MVP (an individual’s definition of “value” can have a big influence there), and is not a nonsense award based on almost nothing, the way Manager of the Year is. 

However, those circumstances don’t make it easy to vote for -- this year in particular. On my ballot, the gap between second and fifth is minute; to the point I would be comfortable with a shuffle in almost any order. But, you have to pick and slot guys in, so here is the ballot:

  1. Jacob deGrom
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
  4. Jack Flaherty
  5. Stephen Strasburg

Locally, the first thing that will pop is Strasburg’s position relative to Scherzer. So, to reiterate: The gap between second and fifth on my ballot is very slim. I’d prefer extrapolating this with decimal points for a better illustration than two versus five.

In Strasburg’s favor this year: his workload. He led the league in innings pitched and pitches thrown. He also finished second in Baseball-Reference’s measurement of WAR. Where he falls behind is in peripheral categories. Scherzer was better in FIP, WHIP, OBP-against, strikeouts per nine, strikeout-to-walk ratio, adjusted ERA-plus and fWAR (by a wide margin). When Scherzer pitched, he was the more effective pitcher. His strikeouts per nine (12.69) was the highest rate among qualifiers since Randy Johnson (13.41) in 2001. It’s the gap in innings that brings Strasburg into the conversation.

Overall, Scherzer’s position across multiple categories -- leading a handful when deGrom is extracted -- put him second, narrowly, on my ballot.

Ryu’s command was striking. His league-leading 1.18 walks per nine was the best since Bartolo Colon’s 1.11 in 2015. He, like Scherzer, trailed the others on my ballot in innings pitched (183). And, his ERA argument took a hit when FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is introduced to the conversation. He’s fourth there. Though, Ryu comes back in ERA-plus, where he is first. He’s eighth overall in bWAR and fifth in fWAR, undermining his case to a degree and put him behind Scherzer on my ballot.

Flaherty’s post-All-Star break run launched him onto ballots: 0.91 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .142 batting average against, 124 strikeouts, 23 walks. Dominant. Beforehand? A 4.64 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. In the end, half his starts were so good, he’s competitive for a top-five spot.

Each time I went through, I found arguments for moving all four players to different positions, which, in the end, is mostly moot. The winner is deGrom. Again.

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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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