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Which Washington Nationals might show up on 2019 MLB awards ballots?

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USA TODAY Sports

Which Washington Nationals might show up on 2019 MLB awards ballots?

Despite their struggles in 2018, the Washington Nationals nearly came away with two major awards this season. Juan Soto, despite having the most impressive offensive season for a teenager in baseball history, finished a distant second behind Ronald Acuna in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Max Scherzer, despite becoming just the 17th pitcher ever to strike out 300 batters in a single season, fell to Jacob deGrom in the NL Cy Young race.  

So, who’s most likely to take home some hardware a year from now? Of course, any National could theoretically win a Gold Glove or a Silver Slugger, but let’s focus on the big ones, which player is most likely to win, and who his biggest competition will likely be. We’ll go from most likely to the biggest longshots.

1. Max Scherzer, NL Cy Young

He may have fallen short this season, but Scherzer is pretty clearly still the National with the best chance of winning a major award next season. Sure, he’s already 34, and it’s not easy to predict when a pitcher will break down, but this is an arm that has defied conventional ideas of “wearing down.”

Scherzer’s biggest competition is the reigning winner deGrom, a potentially healthy Clayton Kershaw, a potentially healthy Noah Syndergaard, and Aaron Nola. Beyond them, a potentially healthy Stephen Strasburg could also find himself in the conversation. Noticing a pattern here? With so many injury-prone aces, health will almost certainly play a major role in this race.

Scherzer has won two of the last three Cy Youngs, and he undeniably pitched at a Cy Young-level in 2018 as well. The question is who else steps up in 2019 to challenge him?

2. Victor Robles, NL Rookie of the Year

Rookie of the Year awards are tricky. At the top of ballots, you often see the most highly-touted prospects in baseball. Acuna, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Jose Fernandez, and Bryce Harper all won in the National League in recent years. But you also have surprise rookies who come out of nowhere, either because it wasn’t expected that they’d be ready so soon (like Soto) or because they weren’t seen as top talents before their respective breakouts (like Aaron Judge).

Still, Robles’ pedigree and the potential opening in the outfield with Harper in free agency means the stars could be aligning for an awards push. Robles is one of the most talented prospects in baseball, and he’s proven himself enough in the minors to show he belongs. The only thing missing has been the opportunity, which is now right in front of him.

His competition likely will come down to a trio of young shortstops: Fernando Tatis, Jr., Nick Senzel, and Brendan Rodgers. Tatis is the most talented, but is younger and coming off an injury last season. Rodgers doesn’t have that one flashy elite skill to catch the eyes of voters. Senzel, however, already looks like a .300 hitter, and on a surprisingly decent Reds offense will probably be Robles’ biggest competitor.

3. Anthony Rendon, NL Most Valuable Player

No offense to Rendon, who has led the Nats in Wins Above Replacement in each of the past two seasons, but this is probably the choice that gives me the least confidence. He’s really, really good, but is he MVP-worthy?

The nice part about playing the National League is that there’s no Mike Trout or Mookie Betts to dominate MVP voting year in and year out. The downside is that means there are as many as a dozen hitters in any given season to compete with, plus pitchers like Kershaw and Scherzer who are strong enough to take votes away as well. Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, and Buster Posey are all stalwarts who will grab the attention of voters, not to mention the inevitable youngster who will pop up unexpectedly.

Rendon is well-rounded, underrated, and a truly valuable star worth keeping in Washington for many years to come, but his talents aren’t flashy enough to draw the attention of voters, there’s no strong narrative surrounding him winning, and while he plays on a good team, he’s not generally looked at as the most important piece on the roster. This one probably isn’t happening.

4. Dave Martinez, NL Manager of the Year

Those fans who weren’t exactly thrilled with Martinez’s performance in the dugout during Year 1 are probably going to laugh at the prospect of him winning Manager of the Year, but allow me to make the case.

Manager of the Year is never about the actual best manager in baseball. Frankly, there are far too many unknowns for writers to ever really identify who the best manager is. And managers of elite teams rarely get the credit they deserve. The guys who win are typically skippers of teams expected to be bad entering the season but end up making a surprise run to the playoffs. Think the Braves and A’s in 2018.

If the Nats bounce back and return to the playoffs in 2019, national writers will notice. Plus, if Harper leaves this offseason, the narrative will be there for Martinez to receive a ton of credit. It may not be accurate, but with this particular award, perception matters more than reality.

The Nats making the postseason again is a very realistic scenario, and if it happens, Martinez should at least get national consideration for the award.

5. Bryce Harper, NL Most Valuable Player (as a National)

Ahhhh, the fun one. Or, maybe, the tricky one.

Obviously, if Harper was guaranteed to return to the Nationals, he’d be much higher on this list, probably the top choice. Based on his pedigree and name brand, he’d at least be the clear favorite from the Nats roster to win MVP. And if the choice was simply that he’d win with any franchise, then he’d be higher as well, but knowing (or rather, not knowing) what we know right now? That makes this a tough one to place.

While I’d probably guess that he’s not coming back to Washington (it’s hard to imagine the team going too much higher than their already-rejected $300 million offer), it’s still definitely a possibility. And, if he does, we’ve already seen what an MVP season from Harper looks like. Strange as it is to believe, he’s only just now entering the age at which most MLB players hit their primes. The best may be yet to come for Bryce, so it comes down to whether or not you think he’s coming back.

If yes? This is the new number one. If not? Well, that’s why he’s a longshot.

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What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A few years back, Trea Turner went out for a slice of pizza. He was part of a small group hitting a spot in the DMV when the mayhem began. Other diners noticed the beard and well-coiffed hair, the wide shoulders and distinctive laugh. They had stumbled into a pizza shop occupied by Bryce Harper.

Turner was in the background. His wiry frame and boyish face allowed him to snap the moment and add to social media because he went unrecognized.

“I still go under the radar quite a bit, so I don’t have to deal with that,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Sometimes I’m not jealous. Going out in public places and not being able to have a normal meal, normal slice of pizza is not always fun. If you get recognized you’re doing something right, though, in my mind. It’s kind of a plus and minus.

“Everyone deals with it different. Some people don’t want to be in the spotlight. Some people do. I think it just depends who you are. Just be yourself. Be happy and be yourself. if somebody does recognize me, try to enjoy that and say hello and do everything you can to kind of share in that experience, if they don’t, I get a chance to be by myself.”

Recognition of Turner was expected two seasons ago. Early 2017 projections for National League MVP candidates included him as an option, if a distant one. A late-June, 96-mph fastball hit his wrist, fracturing it. Turner’s season stalled.

He’s settled in now, coming off a season where he played all 162 games. His 4.1 WAR in 2018 was a significant return on his $3.725 million salary. Turner is 25 years old, arbitration eligible for the next three years, and part of what has become a dynamic swindle by Mike Rizzo. Turner arrived as the player to be named later in a three-team deal which cost the Nationals outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Souza has produced 5.8 WAR since; Turner 10.6. That doesn’t include Joe Ross, also acquired in the trade, in the equation.

Turner is searching for further uptick in his value this season. Nationals manager Davey Martinez wants Turner to reach 70, 80, even 90 steal attempts. Running that often has become an outlier. Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield led MLB with 55 stolen base attempts last season.

If Turner has a stock line, it’s that, “You can’t steal first base.” So, he starts there when asked about such an ambitious attempts total. He adds his hitting approach needs to remain quality and patient. The latter can often be a fight for him. Turner grapples with each hitter’s constant struggle: when to be patient, when are you too patient and into a bad count because of it, when to just let it loose. Turner hit a career-high 19 homers last season. But, his on-base percentage was .344.

Once he reaches first, whether to go is can be a matter of situation or flow.

“I think the score dictates a lot of things,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Last year, we were behind quite a bit in games, so it’s hard to steal bases -- you don’t want to give them an extra out. I think the season dictates that. If we play good baseball, there will be a lot of opportunities for everyone across the board. We’ll see, is my answer. I would like to attempt 80 or 90.

“For me, it’s very fluid,” Turner continued. “Just like hitting would be or fielding would be. Sometimes you go through funks where sometimes, ‘Oh, I don’t feel good stealing base.’ Sometimes you feel like you can steal off anybody. For me, it’s very fluid, it’s just like the other facets of the game. I think when you get older you learn when to push it or pull back based on the score of the game or what your coach would like you to do.”

Referencing the coach made Turner smile. This manager wants him to go. Often.

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Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Bryce Harper is going to sign with a team any minute now, right?

The momentum for him finally inking a deal somewhere is real with Manny Machado agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres Tuesday. But when it comes to matching that or beating it for Harper, according to a report from MLB.com, the Nationals have no interest in playing.

Before the end of the 2018 season, the Nats presented Harper and his agent Scott Boras a 10-year, $300 million offer to which they declined. That deal appears to be no longer on the table. From MLB.com:

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club.

This week at Spring Training, the Nationals said they were operating with the team they have now. In the offseason, they made a number of other big moves - including signing marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin - that leave their roster in good shape even if Harper doesn't come back.

According to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, Harper is believed to have turned down multiple offers over $300 million in recent weeks with the Phillies, San Francisco Giants and the Nats still in the mix.

But according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale, the Padres are out of the Harper sweepstake completely. 

Whether or not Harper gets a long-term deal like Machado's with Philly remains to be seen. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told MLB.com he doesn't want to spend all the team's money in one place. 

"We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason," he said. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

If Harper does ink a deal with the Phillies close to the offer Rizzo and the Nats presented him with, don't expect the 26-year-old to receive a warm welcome when the Nats host the Phillies April 2-3.

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