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Stephen Strasburg meeting with the Yankees should neither be surprising nor alarming

Stephen Strasburg meeting with the Yankees should neither be surprising nor alarming

Don’t be surprised. Let’s start there.

Stephen Strasburg is now part of the most common offseason outcome: big-name free agent is linked to the New York Yankees.

Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be? The baseline for such associations is born of the Yankees’ brand and memories of George Steinbrenner spending expeditiously with extreme ambition. In this case, a blend of logic and past makes Strasburg meeting with the Yankees, as reported by The Athletic, even simpler to understand. An injury-filled, starting pitching-short New York team reached the American League Championship Series last season. The Yankees’ top need is starting pitching. Strasburg is the second-best option on the market. They will talk.

Does this compromise the Nationals? No. Why? Because their strengths remain and the aforementioned insertion of the Yankees is nothing which will alter those. It heightens competition. But, that was already going to be stout. The Dodgers reportedly met with Strasburg, too. Contenders with cash will populate his visitation list.

At the Monday showing of the documentary about the Nationals winning the World Series, Mike Rizzo was asked if he met with Strasburg or Anthony Rendon. He provided a good-humored answer.

“We’ve talked to the representatives of both of ‘em,” Rizzo said. “ ....We’ve been talking to them for 10 years, so there’s no need to have a personal meeting. They know where our heart lies, and we know where their heart lies.”

The answer sounded similar to what Rizzo said about Bryce Harper last year. He judiciously pointed out the quality of player, relayed they have talked/will talk, then went on to tout the involvement of heart strings, the “tiebreakers” in his view. Washington owns them, Rizzo believes, after drafting, developing and winning with these players. Comfort is a factor. However, this is ultimately a math equation. 

Strasburg decided the remaining four years and $100 million on his contract was not sufficient. At the start of the year, it appeared the deal would hold despite his chance to opt out. Strasburg talked about the opportunity to win as paramount in his decision-making. If the Nationals stayed on their regular course -- eager spenders with annual playoff expectations -- he would stay with them. The thought held throughout the regular season. By the end, once he was the World Series MVP, it appeared Strasburg had almost unwittingly leveraged himself out of having options. A fresh contract was too lucrative not to renegotiate. His money could well double. The extended gap between what was and what could be answered any questions for him when it came time to decide -- in a very short window -- what to do.

Which puts the rest of the league in play. New York, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Philadelphia, San Diego and so on. 

Though, remember this: the Yankees have shown a recent aversion to being top bidder. They paid Jacoby Ellsbury via a seven-year, $153 million contract in 2013. A few months later, they gave Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year deal. The most recent seven-year deal? That went to Aaron Hicks for $70 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Bryce Harper a year ago: "The Harper stuff, I'm surprised you are still asking," he told reporters at the Winter Meetings. They were out and never really in.

The Harper questions came a couple weeks after the Yankees were short on years and cash for Patrick Corbin. The Nationals outbid them. So, New York’s old way of doing business is just that. Is it a clear contender for Strasburg? Sure. Are the Yankees still the free-wheeling, shadow-casters of decades prior? No. They’re a natural element in the process, like so many other teams will be.


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Victor Robles is the X-factor of the Nationals’ lineup

Victor Robles is the X-factor of the Nationals’ lineup

Ever since Anthony Rendon signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels at the Winter Meetings, the biggest storyline surrounding the Nationals has been who will be replacing him at third base.

That question was seemingly answered Tuesday, when Josh Donaldson inked a four-year deal with the Minnesota Twins and became the last of the all-star-caliber third basemen in free agency to decide which jersey he’ll be wearing in 2020.

While some combination of Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick and Carter Kieboom will do well to ensure third base doesn’t become a hole in the lineup, Rendon’s offense won’t be replicated by one single player.

That means the big question isn’t how the Nationals are going to replace Rendon at third base, but how they’ll replace him in the lineup. Juan Soto could continue his ascent from a young star into an MVP-type player, but then who protects him from the cleanup spot?

No, Washington is going to need several hitters to take a step forward if they’re going to replace that lost production. Trea Turner is a logical choice given that he’ll be playing with all 10 fingers instead of nine. Castro altered his swing and saw a significant uptick in his power numbers over the second half of last season. Perhaps Adam Eaton will have a career year as he reaches the end of his prime.

Yet no single improvement would have the potential of impacting the Nationals’ lineup than that of Victor Robles.

The center fielder had a mildly disappointing season at the plate as a rookie, posting just a .745 OPS with 140 strikeouts in 155 games. His defense earned him a spot as a Gold Glove finalist and he stole 28 bases, so his campaign wasn’t a wash by any means. But Robles’ spot in the lineup wasn’t one to be feared by opposing pitchers, and that alone makes his improvement critical to the Nationals’ offense in 2020.

“He’s got power, he got the ability to drive the ball in the gaps, he’s got speed on the basepaths,” Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long said at the team’s annual WinterFest event last weekend. “He can fine-tune some things. I think his strike zone discipline can get better and I think he can learn from what pitchers did to him last year and make those adjustments accordingly.”

Robles met with the media at WinterFest as well, speaking through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. He said being patient at the plate was the most important facet of his game that he hopes to improve this season. The numbers agree, as FanGraphs reports that he swung at 31.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last season, about 2 percent above league average.

Changeups in particular were hard for Robles to pick up. Brooks Baseball found that not only was he swinging at changeups more often than any other pitch, he was also whiffing at them 18.8 percent of the time (also his highest rate vs. a single pitch) while only managing to make weak contact even when he did get his bat on the ball.

Robles mentioned that one of his biggest takeaways from last season was recognizing how relaxed his veteran teammates were during their playoff run. It helped him feel more relaxed as well and that’s something he says he expects to continue into this season. That would be important, because a relaxed player would probably be less likely to bite on changeups and wait the extra half-second to recognize the ball is breaking.

By OPS, center field was the Nationals’ second-worst area of production last season ahead of only catcher. And with steady veterans Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes returning behind the dish, the pressure will be on Robles to take a step forward.

He doesn’t turn 23 until May, so there’s still plenty of room for Robles to grow. If he can take his 88 OPS+ (a metric that finds he was 12 percent below league average at the plate last season) and turn himself into a solid offensive contributor, it will go a long way in helping the Nationals move forward without Rendon.

“Victor is gonna get better and better,” Long said. “I think he learned a lot last year and I think his future is very bright. He held his own. If you asked him, he’s gonna tell you he can do better and I believe he can and I think we’ll see that.”

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Former Nats pitcher Chad Cordero looks back on the team's early days at RFK

Former Nats pitcher Chad Cordero looks back on the team's early days at RFK

Former Nationals closer Chad Cordero was one of the team's first stars when the franchise moved from Montreal to the nation's capital. Cordero recorded an MLB-best 47 saves and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting during the Nationals inaugural season in 2005.

But the closer also remembers the early struggles of the organization. The Nationals spent the first three years in Washington playing in RFK Stadium, the former home of the city's Redskins and the stadium that actually was home to the Senators the last time professional baseball was in D.C.

The first time Cordero played in RFK Stadium is one he'll always remember, and not because of anything that happened on the field.

"Going through those first couple years at RFK, it was hard," Cordero said in an interview with the Nationals Talk podcast. "I remember our first exhibition game against the Mets, I think it was late March and upper 20 [degrees]. We were all excited to warm up, take a nice, hot shower. You go into RFK, the showers are nothing but cold water."

Click below to listen to the full interview on the Nationals Talk podcast.


RFK Stadium was built in 1961, so it was already one of the older stadiums in the league. But that's certainly not getting your season started off on the right foot. 

The organization has made tremendous strides in the decade and a half it's been in Washington, which makes Cordero something he's really proud of.

Since their move to D.C., the Nationals have gone from an annual100-loss team to a perennial World Series contender. After years of heartbreak after heartbreak, the Nationals finally broke through in 2019, earning their first World Series title in team history.

"We had a lot to deal with back in those days, but we were all very happy to be a part of it," Cordero said. "To see it grow, to see the fan base grow, everybody be as welcoming as they have been. To see the Lerner's make that step and go out and get who they need to get to make this ballclub a good team. It makes you very proud. It makes you excited to come back and experience all of that."

Cordero was honored by the Nationals before Game 3 of the World Series, where he threw out to first pitch at the first-ever World Series game at Nationals Park. 

The organization hasn't just changed dramatically since Cordero's playing days in D.C., the area around Nationals Park has gone through a complete makeover as well.

When the stadium opened in 2008, the Navy Yard neighborhood which the ballpark is located in was largely underdeveloped and unknown to many D.C. residents. Now, it's one of the most hopping, hip areas in all of Washington, largely due to the community that has been built around the stadium. While Navy Yard has blossomed, RFK Stadium has been relatively unused and will be torn down in 2021.

"Being one of the original Nationals, we always felt like we helped build it," Cordero said. "It's a huge honor to be able to come back and everything, see how everything's grown. I couldn't have imagined a ballpark this beautiful as this one right here, especially with how much this area has turned around. The restaurants, the condos, everything. It's pretty amazing to see how far this place has come."

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