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MLB Rumors: Another Nationals' third base option is off the board as Maikel Franco signs with Royals

MLB Rumors: Another Nationals' third base option is off the board as Maikel Franco signs with Royals

The Nationals lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels almost a week ago to the day and have yet to find his replacement in free agency. 

They continue to be connected to Josh Donaldson and Mike Rizzo confirmed their interest at Stephen Strasburg's press conference, but one of their reported contingency plans has signed elsewhere. 

According to Jeff Passan, Maikel Franco has agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with the Royals and is expected to be their everyday third baseman. 

Last season, Franco posted a .234/.297/.409 slash line with 17 home runs and 56 RBI. The Phillies decided to non-tender their former top prospect despite their need at third base, so that should tell you plenty about how they felt about his production. 

The Nationals were reportedly interested in the ex-Phillie and Starlin Castro as potential backup plans at third if they are unable to bring in Donaldson. 

Castro remains unsigned, and after him, there's Asdrubal Cabrera, Todd Frazier and Jedd Gyorko if the Nats can't bring Donaldson's big bat to DC. 

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MLB Rumors: Third basemen the Nationals are reportedly linked to if they don't sign Josh Donaldson

MLB Rumors: Third basemen the Nationals are reportedly linked to if they don't sign Josh Donaldson

Anthony Rendon is a Los Angeles Angel, which now leaves Josh Donaldson as by far the best third baseman available on the free-agent market. 

The Nationals, Rangers and Braves are considered the teams under the most pressure to sign the former MVP, according to Ken Rosenthal and he's reportedly likely to get a four-year deal worth around $100 million. 

For a 34-year-old, that may be too steep a price for some teams despite the fact he hit 37 home runs and drove in 94 RBI last season with Atlanta. 

If the Nationals don't think there's value in signing Donaldson to that kind of deal, it appears they already have a few backup plans in mind. 

According to Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, Washington is looking at Starlin Castro and Maikel Franco. 

Castro played a full 162-game season with the Marlins in 2019, posting a .270/.300/.476 slash line with 22 home runs and 86 RBI. Traditionally a shortstop or second baseman, he's only played a total of 45 games at third base. 

Franco was one of the Phillies' top prospects when he broke into the majors in 2014. He's known for his power at the plate, strong arm at third and surprisingly good range as a fielder. Talent has never been the problem with Franco. 

His plate discipline routinely kept him from achieving his true potential. Last season, he had a .234/.297/.409 slash line with 17 homers and 56 RBI. The Phillies had a need at third base and decided to non-tender Franco, so that should tell you all you need to know. 

Of course, he could have a Carlos Santana-like renaissance after leaving Philly, but I wouldn't count on it. 

So while the price for Donaldson may be steep, there's a reason for it. There aren't many viable options at third after him. It will be up to the Nationals to decide whether the best value will be with Donaldson or the field. 

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Inconsistent seams and player behavior were behind MLB's home run uptick, not juiced baseballs

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Inconsistent seams and player behavior were behind MLB's home run uptick, not juiced baseballs

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Baseballs weren't juiced during a record-setting 2019 regular season, according to a study commissioned by Major League Baseball.

They were just flying farther.

A four-person committee of scientists concluded baseballs this year had less drag on average than in previous seasons, contributing to a power surge that resulted in a record number of home runs. Their report released Wednesday blamed the spike on inconsistencies in the seam height of the baseballs, as well as "changes in player behavior." Batters connected 6,776 times in the regular season, smashing the record of 6,105 set in 2017.

The committee says it did not find evidence that MLB intentionally altered baseballs and believes inconsistencies were due to "manufacturing variability." The balls are hand-sewn by workers at Rawlings' factory in Costa Rica.

"We have never been asked to juice or de-juice a baseball," Rawlings President and CEO Michael Zlaket said. "And we've never done anything of the sort. Never would."

The 27-page report was authored by physics professor Alan Nathan, statistics professor Jim Albert, mechanical engineering and mathematics professor Peko Hosoi and mechanical engineering professor Lloyd Smith.

The committee concluded 60% of the home run surge across 2018-19 could be attributed to an increase in carry, with 40% due to players attempting to hit more fly balls.

Scientists recommended MLB consider installing humidors at all 30 ballparks "to reduce the variability in storage conditions" and install atmospheric tracking systems in each stadium. They believe Rawlings should begin tracking dates that baseballs are manufactured and shipped, and they also suggested a study with a larger sample size to explore the possibility carry is influenced by the rubbing mud applied to bright, white baseballs before they are used in games.

MLB plans to accept those recommendations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league does not want to abandon the handmade balls from the Costa Rica factory in favor of an automated manufacturing process with synthetic materials.

"I think we understand the variability in the baseball better today than we did at any point in the history of the game," Manfred said. "The fact that we understand the variability, I don't really see as a motivator to do something drastic in terms of changing the way the game is played."

The committee confirmed suspicions by players and coaches that the "juiced" ball was carrying less during the 2019 postseason. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said during the NL Championship Series that St. Louis' analytics team believed fly balls were traveling 4 1/2 feet less on average. That backed a study published by data scientist Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus showing the balls suddenly had less drag.

The scientists could not determine why the October balls weren't flying as far. MLB has said the postseason balls were pulled from the same batch as the regular-season ones, and Nathan said there was no discernible difference in the seam height among the samples studied.

The aerodynamics of baseballs were found to be notably different within each season. Even during a given game, there could be significant disparity in ball flight caused by shifts of just .001 inches in seam height. The committee cited "ball-to-ball variation in the baseball drag that is large compared to the year-to-year change in the average drag."

Triple-A used Rawlings balls from the Costa Rica factory for the first time this season, and hitters at that level also blew past the Triple-A home run record. Zlaket said that was because the balls from Costa Rica were closer to specifications because they were of a higher quality.

Not juiced balls, but spruced balls.

"The ball we make for Major League Baseball is much more precise," Zlaket said.

MLB owns a minority stake in Rawlings, and Peter Seidler, the San Diego Padres general partner, has chief oversight of the equity firm that owns a majority share.

The study was conducted using laboratory testing of baseballs dating to 2013, as well as data pulled from MLB's Statcast tracking system. The group said it "significantly modified" its lab tests from a previous study released in 2018, which also found that drag in the baseball was decreasing but did not confirm that seam height inconsistencies were the strongest factor.

Changes to the roundness of the ball, surface roughness and the thickness of the laces were found to be "relatively consistent."

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