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Watch this kid's reaction when he realizes Juan Soto is Santa Claus

Watch this kid's reaction when he realizes Juan Soto is Santa Claus

The winter can feel like one of the slowest seasons of the year, especially for baseball fans who long for the season to pick back up again.

But Nationals outfielder Juan Soto met with fans on Saturday at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia, and did his best to make them feel merry by getting in the holiday spirit.

Soto already helped give D.C. the greatest gift of all in a World Series title, so maybe he really is Mr. Claus.

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Ron Darling believes Nationals are vindicated for Strasburg shutdown

Ron Darling believes Nationals are vindicated for Strasburg shutdown

The Nationals rose to contention in 2012, emerging from the depths of the NL East standings to establish themselves as soon-to-be perennial contenders behind a young core highlighted by back-to-back No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

But heading into that campaign, Washington announced that Strasburg would be placed on an innings limit in what was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. It was a highly scrutinized move at the time, as the Nationals won 98 games but went into the playoffs without their young phenom.

MLB Network analyst and former major-league pitcher Ron Darling joined D.C. Sports on Thursday to talk about the Strasburg shutdown, which came in at No. 17 in NBC Sports Washington’s Big Twenty series that highlights the 20 biggest sports stories in D.C. over the first 20 years of the decade.

“I remember just thinking to myself, ‘What a shame that Washington’s not going to have him in the postseason,’” Darling said. “But more importantly, I just tried to concentrate on—there is no team in baseball that is gonna make a decision that is gonna hurt the player and hurt their ball club.

“They just felt, because he was coming off an injury, that that was the best thing to do. Remember, they decided in Spring Training that they were going to hold him to an innings limit and I really commend them. I think it was one of the most difficult things the organization ever had to do. But they were brave and stood their ground.”

Darling himself was told in 1992 that he should undergo Tommy John surgery, but instead he elected to reinvent himself as a pitcher and alter his mechanics to put less stress on his elbow. However, Darling was in the midst of his age-31 season at the time, while Strasburg was just 22 when he went under the knife.

Although he believes putting Strasburg’s health first was the right thing to do, Darling does think the Nationals could’ve handled the situation better from a public relations standpoint.

“The only mistake I thought, was going into the season in Spring Training, they gave the innings limit,” Darling said. “I always thought there was no reason really to do that because as he got closer and closer to that innings limit, of course the media and fans and his teammates started to anticipate that shutdown so I think it put a lot of pressure on the organization, on the player, on his teammates.”

Seven years after the Nationals voluntarily ended Strasburg’s season, they won the World Series behind the strength of their starting rotation—led by Strasburg. Washington won all six games he appeared in during its 2019 playoff run. The right-hander posted a 1.98 ERA and 11.6 K/9 over 36 1/3 innings in the postseason after leading the NL with 209 regular-season innings and placing fifth in Cy Young voting.

“I don’t know if winning the World Series vindicates it,” Darling said. “I think what it has done, though, and proven, is that they’ve put Stephen Strasburg not only in a place to have an amazing career, but now he’s on a trajectory to be a Hall of Fame-kind of pitcher.

“Yes, it’s going to be four or five more years of great excellence that he’s shown, but that’s where the vindication comes, is that he’s had a great career, his trajectory is going to be a Hall of Fame career and I think the ironic part about it is that since the Strasburg shutdown, his performance in the postseason is about as good as anyone to ever toe the hill. So that’s to me where the vindication is.”

Washington has been rewarded for its patience with its prized starter. After signing a seven-year, $245 million extension at the Winter Meetings in December, Strasburg ensured that he’ll be chasing a plaque in Cooperstown as a member of the Nationals.

He mentioned several times at his subsequent press conference in D.C. the trust he built with the organization, trust undoubtedly established by how the team prioritized his health over everything early in his career. It may have been an unpopular decision in 2012. But if the Nationals had the chance to go back and do it all again, they’d make the same choice every single time.

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Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

If Ryan Zimmerman did not return to the Nationals, he at least would have a future teaching how not to negotiate.

Zimmerman openly drove down his bargaining leverage for almost a year before signing a one-year deal on Friday to return to the only professional team he’s known, a source confirmed. The deal is reported at $2 million.

Throughout the season, Zimmerman openly discussed his interest in returning and understanding it would be at a low rate. As if his stance wasn’t already clear, Zimmerman explained at a screening of the Nationals’ championship video he would return or play more golf.

“So, we’ll be good to go,” Zimmerman said.

It’s baseball for now. Zimmerman rejoins the defending World Series champions to play his 16th season. He’s a 35-year-old platoon player this season. Zimmerman’s money and legacy have been established. He’s back in the fold to pursue another title. 

And he makes an already old Nationals team older. Zimmerman turns 36 years old the day after the 2020 regular season ends. Howie Kendrick will be 37 years old by midseason. Asdrúbal Cabrera is 34 years old. Eric Thames is 33 years old. Will Harris is 35, Daniel Hudson 32, Sean Doolittle 33, Max Scherzer 35, Kurt Suzuki 36. Yan Gomes will be 33 just after the All-Star break. 

Zimmerman will share first base with Thames and, occasionally, Howie Kendrick. They provide an intriguing splits-based platoon. Thames hits right-handers well -- 23 of his 25 2019 home runs came against them, as did much of his opportunity in Milwaukee -- and Zimmerman has a .917 career OPS against left-handed pitchers. Zimmerman is the much better defender.

He’s back because he -- and the Nationals -- believe Zimmerman’s production remains directly tied to his health. His September and postseason work showed Zimmerman’s bat speed remains intact. He is quietly one of the better defensive first baseman in the league. They think they can protect him. Overall, the Nationals are so comfortable with an expanse of older players because they plan to shield them with limited usage. Also, Josh Donaldson went to Minnesota, clearing the cash and providing a need for Zimmerman. 

Kendrick, Cabrera and Starlin Castro can play various infield spots. Thames and Zimmerman will reduce the other’s role, as well as pinch-hit when not starting. Davey Martinez has options. He also has the challenge of rotating players. One thing on his side: older players know they are just that. Grousing about playing time should not be an issue with the group, the majority of which played as role players last year on the way to a World Series title. 

One other thing to note about Zimmerman: he’s 30 home runs short of 300. Can he get there with another two years on the field? He has at least one more to add to his total, assuring his driver has another lonely summer.

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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