Nationals

QB Freeman wants slumping Bucs to finish strong

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QB Freeman wants slumping Bucs to finish strong

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Tampa Bay's postseason hopes have slipped away during a four-game losing streak that's also raised questions about whether Josh Freeman is the Buccaneers' quarterback of the future.

The fourth-year pro is closing in on becoming the first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history. Still, his inconsistency has created concerns about whether there is a limit to how good the Bucs can become with Freeman running an offense that sputtered again during a mistake-filled 41-0 loss to New Orleans.

The current skid ensures Tampa Bay (6-8) will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, yet Freeman said Monday there's still plenty to play for in the final two games of the team's first season under coach Greg Schiano.

The Bucs host St. Louis on Sunday, then finish at Atlanta.

``After every game we talk about just sticking together as a team,'' said Freeman, who threw four interceptions and also lost a fumble in his worst performance of the year against the Saints.

``You hate to see it come down to a game like that, but I think this is going to be a great time for our team to come together. We had a rough one. We dropped the ball, but now how do we respond to adversity? ... It's times like these when you really forge the nucleus of your team.''

Before Sunday, the Bucs had not lost a game by more than eight points. Schiano gave players Monday off in hopes that an extra day away from the practice field will help them get refocused for the Rams.

``I think our team is disappointed in what we did,'' Schiano said, explaining the decision to give the players the day following a game off for the first time all year.

``Thirteen games, every one of them either we won or it came down to a one possession game where we could have won if we had a possession to do it. That's competitive football,'' the coach added. ``And then we go out and throw our first clunker. ... But the sky's not falling. We've got a lot of good young players. We have some experienced really good players. We threw a clunker. Now, we've got to get over it.''

Freeman, who has one season remaining on a five-year contract that will pay him $8.43 million in 2013, said the remaining two weeks are about getting better.

He vowed to clean up the mistakes he made against the Saints, miscues he attributed mostly to some ``miscommunication'' between him and his receivers.

``I've got to communicate better, I've got to make sure everybody's on the same page, make sure everybody's doing exactly what they need to do,'' Freeman said, adding that he's also committed to making sure the team's preparation and effort doesn't suffer now that Tampa Bay is out of playoff contention.

``As a quarterback that's what I do every day. Everybody has their own style of leadership, but to the best of my ability I try to convey the message of do your job, sacrifice for your brothers,'' Freeman said.

``Even late in the game, guys were still trying to do everything they could to get something going. It says a lot about the character of the guys on our team. Even when the game's out of hand and things aren't going great, guys are still giving effort,'' Freeman added. ``There's no quit in this team. As the quarterback, as the captain, as a leader, it's great to see that. It makes it that much easier to motivate guys and lead.''

Schiano reiterated that while Freeman can play better than he has the past month, he's not concerned about his young quarterback, who's completed just 54.8 percent of his passes for 3,471 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Two years ago, Freeman led the Bucs to 10 wins in his first full season as a starter, throwing for 25 TDs against six interceptions and narrowly missing the playoffs.

The 24-year-old took a step back in 2011, throwing for 16 TDs and 22 interceptions en route to a 4-12 record that included a 10-game losing streak to end the season.

``If Josh Freeman wasn't coming in and just spending all kinds of time, and I wasn't getting texts ... asking questions at 10 o'clock at night about coverages and things like that, then yeah I'd have reason to be concerned,'' Schiano said.

``But I know everybody goes through better times and lesser times. I also know that those who persevere, those who work and tend to their knitting, are going to be fine,'' the coach added. ``Josh is tending to his knitting, so we're going to be fine. Just collectively we've got to fight our way out.''

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3 trade scenarios for the Nationals to acquire Kris Bryant

3 trade scenarios for the Nationals to acquire Kris Bryant

Less than 24 hours after signing Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million deal, the Nationals have reportedly already pivoted to their other major position of need: third base.

Anthony Rendon is still a candidate to return to D.C. after Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo left the door open in a press conference Monday. But if the two-time Silver Slugger turns elsewhere, the Nationals are already exploring their options.

Bryant is a lifetime .284 hitter coming off a season in which he posted a .903 OPS and hit 31 home runs. The 2016 NL MVP is signed through the 2021 season but has filed a grievance against the Cubs for manipulating his service time. A decision isn’t expected until January, but Cubs President Theo Epstein told ESPN he’s confident the arbitrator will rule in Chicago’s favor.

The Cubs are exploring trade options in an effort to shed salary after Chicago finished with the third-highest payroll in the majors last season. Bryant, who can play both corner outfield spots as well, figures to net a strong return if the Cubs are able to trade him.

Washington doesn’t have the deepest farm system but could put together a few packages that might pique the Cubs’ interest depending on what path they’re hoping to go down. Here are three trade scenarios that could land Bryant in the District.

Cubs’ goal: Kickstart a rebuild

Nats’ offer: Carter Kieboom, Mason Denaburg, Tim Cate for Kris Bryant

When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, it looked to be the start of a dynasty that would dominate the sport for at least the next half-decade while stars like Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks were under contract.

Instead, Chicago has taken a step back each year. After losing in the National League Championship Series in 2017, the Cubs were knocked out in the Wild Card Game the following season before missing the playoffs entirely in 2019. Epstein expressed frustration with the team’s results in a radio interview last season, saying the Cubs’ “failure to play up to our ability, up to our potential” was the biggest contributor to their inconsistent play.

If the front office is looking to begin a teardown, then the Nationals would have to dig deep in their farm system to put together a viable package.

Kieboom is the 20th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline and would be the centerpiece of negotiations. Denaburg was drafted in the first round in 2017 and considered several years away, but he’d immediately have one of the highest ceilings of any pitchers in the Cubs’ depleted minor-league system. Cate is much farther along than Denaburg and pitched well at High-A Potomac last season, plus he’s left-handed.

The Cubs wouldn’t have an immediate solution at third base, but if the goal is to net as much prospect capital as possible then this would be Washington’s best offer—that is, if Luis Garcia and Jackson Rutledge are untouchable.

Cubs’ goal: Build toward the future but remain competitive

Nats’ offer: Carter Kieboom, Joe Ross, Wil Crowe for Kris Bryant

All things considered, the Nationals probably won’t be in the running for Bryant if the Cubs are seeking solely prospects. Washington’s farm system isn’t much better off than Chicago’s and there are plenty of other contending clubs who could put together a better deal.

But if the Cubs are looking to fill a need while also dumping Bryant’s contract, the Nationals have plenty of back-end starters with some value. Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are all out of options heading into 2020 and likely competing for the No. 5 spot in the Nationals’ rotation. Washington could make that decision easier by shipping one of them to the Cubs, a team that also has several question marks at the back of its rotation.

Washington could allow the Cubs to pick their favorite of Ross, Fedde and Voth then package their choice with Kieboom and a prospect like Wil Crowe or Sterling Shepherd. Crowe and Shepherd are both knocking on the door of the majors and could contribute either in the rotation or the bullpen as soon as next season.

The Cubs would then be able to slot Kieboom in at either second or third base with Javier Báez entrenched at shortstop. He’d then have David Bote, Ian Happ and possibly Ben Zobrist behind him in case he struggles to start the year.

Cubs’ goal: Cut salary but don’t lose any present value

Nats’ offer: Adam Eaton, Joe Ross, Jackson Rutledge for Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber

If the Nationals deem Kieboom untouchable, as they have in the past, then they’re going to need to get creative if they’re going to want Bryant.

One of the Cubs’ biggest weaknesses over the past few years has been at leadoff. Since Dexter Fowler departed for free agency after the 2016 season, 56 different players have batted first in the order for Chicago. Eaton would be the bonafide leadoff hitter they’ve been looking for and could slide in for Schwarber at left field.

Rutledge was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2019 draft and is considered to have potential ace upside down the line. If the Nats won’t trade Kieboom, he’s probably the guy they’d have to let go. Ross (or Voth or Fedde) slides into the No. 5 spot in the rotation for pennies compared to anyone on the open market.

Schwarber, while a better hitter than Eaton, is actually projected to make slightly less than him in 2020 at $8 million (compared to Eaton’s $9.5 million salary). But given Schwarber has two years of control, he would make more in arbitration in 2021 than Eaton’s $10.5 million team option.

All in all, the Cubs would save around $15 million in 2020 salary alone by making this deal while adding a pitching prospect who has the potential to be a top-flight starter, a leadoff man and a cheap starter who would be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

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MLB Rumors: Josh Donaldson could reportedly end up with a four-year contract

MLB Rumors: Josh Donaldson could reportedly end up with a four-year contract

As the hopes for Anthony Rendon's return to Washington fade fast following Stephen Strasburg's record seven-year $245 million contract, Josh Donaldson comes more into focus for Nationals faithful. 

The Nationals had reported interest in him as far back as mid-November, and if they want to spend big on Strasburg and less on third base rather than spend on Rendon and find a cheaper pitcher, Donaldson represented the most value. 

But every team that misses out on Rendon will probably look right to Donaldson, and that reality is reportedly driving up his price. 

According to Mark Bowman, there is a growing expectation Donaldson will end up with a four-year contract. That might be a problem given he's entering his age-34 season, but for the Nationals, there isn't a major difference between a four-year deal and a two-year deal for Donaldson. 

He's coming off a very productive season in Atlanta, where he hit 37 home runs and drove in 94 runs to go along with a .379 on-base percentage. Realistically, Washington would need at least two years of solid production at third base from him to get ample return on their investment. 

Carter Kieboom figures to be in the mix this season at third or second base, but he's much better suited as a middle-infielder. Then, the Nationals have 19-year-old Luis Garcia on the way as one of their top infield prospects. 

By the time Garcia hits the majors he'll ideally go to third base to join Kieboom and Trae Turner as Washington's infield of the future.

And as Bowman notes, the DH could be coming to the National League by after the 2021 season. If Donaldson can still slug, that's an easy move for him to make and play out the last two years of his deal. 

So while a potential four-year contract can and should cause a bit of sticker shock, the Nationals are constructed where they can take that risk to help their team in the short term should Rendon leave for greener pastures. 

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