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Around the NL East: Phillies hire MacPhail to help rebuild effort

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Around the NL East: Phillies hire MacPhail to help rebuild effort

ATLANTA BRAVES 

Remember when the Braves used to own the Nationals? Not so much anymore these days, as Atlanta had lost nine straight games vs. Washington prior to Wednesday night's 4-1 victory over its division rival.

The Braves have now lost six out of their last eight games, and are looking more and more like a 'seller' as the trade deadline approaches at the end of the month. If that's the case, it wouldn't be much of a surprise considering they've already made a number of shrewd deals in recent months to acquire young pitching prospects. Do they have another big move in them?

MIAMI MARLINS  

Miami received both good and bad news on the injury front over the past week. The good is that Jose Fernandez is finally ready to make his 2015 debut Thursday after 13 months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year is looking to reclaim his spot as one of the best young arms in the game, giving the Marlins what they hope is one of their foundational pieces for a contending team in the coming years. 

But as one bright spot enters the picture, another one will be out for a while. Giancarlo Stanton injured his hamate bone in his left hand after taking several awkward swings last Friday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and is expected to gone for four-to-six weeks. That's a crushing blow for an already disappointing Marlins club that was expected to contend in the division this year. Without Stanton, who leads the majors in home runs with 27, Miami's lineup lacks considerable thump.

NEW YORK METS 

For Mets fans, this past week was all about Steven Matz. The 24-year-old rookie left hander had a memorable big-league debut, earning a win Sunday night against the Cincinnati Reds by tossing 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball and notching six strikeouts. But it wasn't what he did on the mound that had fans buzzing; it was what he did at the plate. Matz went 3-for-4 while driving in four runs -- the most any pitcher has had in his debut in major league history.  

But the problem for the Mets is that they desperately need a Matz-ian effort almost every night, as the club is still having trouble scoring. Heading into Thursday's slate of games, New York has been shutout in its last 20 innings, all against the Cubs. The most recent scoring drought pretty much symbolizes a constant theme for a team that believes it has the pitching staff to contend for a division title. But when the offense is ranked 27th in the majors in runs (276), 29th in batting average (.232), 29th in slugging (.359) and 25th in on-base percentage (.297), all the rotation's efforts usually go to waste. 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES  

The Phillies made their biggest move of the year earlier week, announcing that Andy MacPhail will be the team president after Pat Gillick steps down at the end of the season. It's clear that by making this move mid-season, the Phils are hoping to give MacPhail time so he can get the lay of the land to see who on the roster (and in the front office) is a keeper and who isn't. Philly fans will have to be patient, as MacPhail has a history of slowly-but-surely rebuilding an organization from the ground up.

Just look at his most recent stop in Baltimore, where he provided a pretty good blueprint for success. When he inherited the Orioles roster in 2007, the team was a perennial doormat in the AL East with little talent to work with. But by the time he left in 2011, he had acquired key pieces (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis, among others) that would become the foundation for a contender from 2012 onward. That's the type of rebuild the Phillies need right now. The only question is how long the fans will go before they become restless. 

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Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Comfort carries allure for most. That includes Matt Adams.

He knew when traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in August a chance for a return to Washington existed. Adams got along with all levels of staff while operating quietly at his locker and pulverizing right-handed pitching on the field. The hole he filled in 2018 would exist again in 2019, so why couldn’t he return?

It all seems so simple, and it turned out to be. Adams’ one-year deal for $4 million, which includes a mutual option for 2020, was announced Tuesday by the Nationals after first being reported during the weekend. The left-handed bench piece Washington needed is in place for this season. It could well be back in 2020 when the team’s first base personnel could undergo a large change if Ryan Zimmerman’s option is not picked up.

“I don’t follow too much of the media stuff in the offseason,” Adams said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“But the way that everything was left when I was traded, we were on good communication, up until that point. Everything that was said leading up to that trade, if the opportunity presented itself [to return] I would be on their list. I’m kind of lost for words, because I’m excited for this opportunity. But I think the team is definitely going to be better than it was last year, with the acquisitions that [Mike Rizzo] has made so far this offseason.”

Adams is pleased he’s not hunting a job until late into February. More frequently role players are without homes for most of, if not all of, the pre-spring training portion of the offseason. Adams is settled a week before Christmas.

“For me, the way my brain and myself works, the later I sign, the more freaked out I'm going to be,” Adams said. “Because it's the unknown that's out there. Not knowing where you're going to go, how many people you're going to know on that team you're going to sign with...For me, I was lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to sign back with the Nats where I know everybody and I get along with absolutely everybody from front office to coaches and all the players. For me, it felt like the right opportunity and I was just fortunate to get the deal done when we got it done.”

Adams’ value lays in his potency against right-handed pitching. He hit 20 of his 21 home runs last season against right-handers. This is in line with his career arc that includes 83 of his 96 home runs against right-handed throwers. Adams also slugged .538 against right-handed pitchers while with the Nationals last season. 

He’s again positioned to platoon at first base and be summoned to hit late in games. Adams played much more often than anticipated last season following Zimmerman’s languishing oblique injury. 

“I think it’s just coming up with that mindset of being ready whether your name’s called or not,” Adams said. “Whether it’s on an everyday basis or, like you said, sporadic, here and there, pinch-hitting off the bench, filling in and giving Zim a blow when he needs it. But I think going into spring training in the best shape I can possibly be in, going in ready to get better, ready to work. And wherever the season takes me playing-time wise, I’m just excited to be on a winning club with a good chance to get back to the postseason.”

Bringing Adams back reduces the Nationals’ offseason list. They need a fourth starter. They are considering a full-time second baseman. Another bench option is also part of the hunt, though it’s reliant on what happens at second base (Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick could fill that spot if an every day second baseman is signed). Left-handed bench bat is spoken for.

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Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Strange thing about the Winter Meetings. They were held in Las Vegas, that vibrant, salacious desert city, and delivered the fervor of a yawn.

The Red Sox held a press conference for a pitcher they already signed. The Hall of Fame announcement led to more grumbling than celebration, with poor Harold Baines caught in the middle just trying to enjoy his moment. Scott Boras’ day in front of the Christmas tree stirred everyone until they read through what he said. Lots of words, little substance, next to no news.

One Nationals executive lamented spending 14 hours in a suite without accomplishing anything. That about sums it up.

So, where to now? The Nationals created a gap by sending out Tanner Roark on the final day of the meetings. The move was, and remains, strange. A key decision-maker for the Nationals noted acquired Triple-A reliever Tanner Rainey throws 100 mph. What he doesn’t do is make up 180 major-league innings next season. That person, or persons, remains out there somewhere.

And the replacement is going to cost more than the Nationals should pay based on what the market has already delivered. In particular, the three-year, $30 million deal Texas gave Lance Lynn is problematic for the Nationals. Lynn was bad last season. Very bad. A 4.77 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 156 ⅔ innings. That earned him $30 million. He was better in 2017 following a return from Tommy John surgery. Combine the seasons for a 4.04 ERA. That’s superior to Roark during the span (4.50) but also requires a three-year commitment to an aging and declining pitcher.

Other aging and declining pitchers are going to want similar contracts. No quality organization wants to give them.

Which, again, makes jettisoning Roark odd. Maybe the Nationals find another starter on a two-year, $15 million deal. That would be optimum. A slight savings, modest commitment, a chance for improvement over Roark’s 97 ERA-plus the last two seasons. This has to be the premise inside their room: We can do slightly better for slightly less while also acquiring a future reliever. It’s a swing to have it all in this spot.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are sifting through the second base market. Several everyday players remain. That’s the good news. The challenge here is Washington will not want to sign one for longer than two years. Carter Kieboom is creeping toward the major leagues. No reason to pay an exorbitant price for the position he’s likely to grab when starting out at the highest level.

Two interesting points on the market have already hit: Ian Kinsler’s two-year, $8 million deal with the adrift San Diego Padres, and Jonathan Schoop’s one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Minnesota Twins. Schoop has power and is an above average defender. He’s also the kind of emphatic swinger the Nationals are trying to move away from. Kinsler is going into his age-37 season. His 2.4 WAR from last year — largely based on his quality defense — is solid. His 87 OPS-plus, not so much. And two years is one too many.

But, they give a sense of where price points for second baseman exist. If Kinsler is going to receive two years, DJ LeMahieu probably wants four. If Schoop receives $7.5 million, LeMahieu can expect $10 million per season. Those numbers push him out of the Nationals’ preferred range.

Jed Lowrie turns 35 next April. He’s a top-5 defender, according to Fangraphs, and walks often.  Would his back-to-back seasons of above-.800 OPS be enough for the Nationals to give him two years and $20 million? Do they need to wait for the rotation piece in order to see what spending wiggle room remains? Roark was expected to make around $10 million following arbitration. If that cost is pushed down to $7 million, is the difference available for a second baseman?

Otherwise, the Nationals may as well stick with the proposed Wilmer Difo-Howie Kendrick platoon at second. The external options are too thin. Kieboom, a deadline trade or a waiver claim could help fix things midseason, if necessary.

So, think of the Nationals’ remaining list as filled with a must, a maybe and a look. The must is finding another starter. The maybe is a second baseman. The look is into the left-handed reliever market. Not much was done in Vegas. Certain things have to be done before West Palm Beach.

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