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Dusty Baker talks Papelbon, Bonds and more at Winter Meetings

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Dusty Baker talks Papelbon, Bonds and more at Winter Meetings

NASHVILLE — Dusty Baker wrapped up his Winter Meetings media session a short while ago, easily the most-attended session a Nationals manager has held over the last decade. (The man is quite popular and obviously is still of interest to those in the cities he previously managed and played.)

The 66-year-old skipper officially has been on the job one month, but he doesn't consider himself anywhere close to up-to-speed on his entire roster or the organization as a whole. He has spoken to a handful of players so far but really wasn't ready to go into any kind of specifics on things like lineup construction and the needs of individual players.

That said, Baker did share some thoughts on his general philosophy of things, what he thinks the Nationals have and what he thinks they still need. And he had plenty of amusing quips along the way, as well.

Here are some of the highlights from the session:

On if this is the best team he's ever taken over...
"Yeah, easily. Yeah, cause when I took over the Giants, we were next-to-last. When I took over the Cubs, I believe we were last. And when I took over the Reds, I think we were last, also. So this is the best team I've ever inherited. And I'm hoping we can sign the players that we have now and add to it."

How big a challenge is this team?
"To me, I don't see it as nearly as big a challenge as I've had in the past. Like I've said throughout my managerial career, I've been fortunate enough to try to do more with less. And I always said I wanted to have a situation where I can do more with more. I'm looking forward to it. I think our players are looking forward to it. There are a lot of people ... at least, they've told me they're glad I'm back in baseball. And there are probably a few people, hopefully a few teams, that aren't glad I'm back."

On how he's trying to get to know these players...
"I watch some film. I don't watch a lot of film. I rely on those that are there already, which is why you keep some of the players (and coaches) instead of getting rid of everybody when you come in. You've got to have some people that are there, and you have to trust other people and not only your eyes and your ears. I've called a few guys. But I learned when I was with the Reds, I called everybody. I spent a lot of time talking to Josh Hamilton and then Josh Hamilton was gone a couple weeks later. So until you see who's going to be on your team ... heck, I'm going to be with these guys every day."

What do you like most about the roster as it stands right now?
"Probably the pitching. That's where it starts. It starts with the pitching. We just have to ... I think we've got to get some guys hopefully have better fortune with injuries than we've had the last couple of years. Some of that's luck, and some of that's hopefully we can start training them early or training them differently in order to stay healthy because, let's face it, if I can keep my frontline guys on the field more than yours, there's a good chance of our team winning. I look at their infield defense: They had everybody on the infield out of position, and that's tough to do."

What specifically have you told the front office you'd like that you don't have yet?
"You're always in need of left-handed pitching, left-handed hitting, and in need of speed. I think that's the No. 1 thing that's missing, I think, in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself. You've got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I'm not being racist. That's just how it is."

On whether he considered Barry Bonds as his hitting coach...
"No. Rick Schu is my batting coach. Plus I don't think our organization is going to pay Barry or anybody else as much as [the Marlins] are paying Barry. Plus, I had Barry for 10 years. That's enough."

Who do you see as your leadoff hitter right now?
"I'm not sure, man. You're asking me ... until I see them or until I work with them ... I mean, leadoff candidates? You don't know if Trea Turner is ready. I've asked questions. Mike Taylor, you don't know. You don't know if we might even acquire somebody. I mean, leadoff man is probably one of the toughest guys to find in the batting order. There aren't many Lou Brocks and Davey Lopes, and the all-time man. Shoot, I wouldn't mind bringing Ricky [Henderson] back, you know what I mean? A leadoff man is hard to find."

Do you think Jonathan Papelbon will be your closer, and do you see that situation being a distraction?
"No, I don't see it as a distraction. How am I going to foresee a distraction in advance? I've got to wait until I get there first. I don't even know Papelbon. I mean, right now Papelbon is my closer. I'm not one to foresee problems before they become a problem."

How have you assessed Stephen Strasburg's career from afar?
"That's a good word: "From afar". Some guys, it takes them a little while to see the ... I think potential is a very dangerous word because the more people put potential on you, no matter how well you do, then there's always they expect more. We'll see. I'm hoping that Mike Maddox and myself can help this young man get it together. Really, really get it together, and take the word potential off of him. And being around [Max] Scherzer and some of the guys that can show him. I remember when Nolan Ryan was a .500 pitcher. I remember when Curt Schilling was under a .500 pitcher. I remember when Steve Carlton lost 25 games. There have been some guys ... very few guys come in, like Fernando [Valenzuela] and Mark Fidrych and those guys. It takes a while. We'll see."

Did you reach out to Matt Williams at all?
"That's a good question. I actually reached out to Matt prior to me calling the Nationals about this job, because I didn't want Matt to think that ... Matt is one of my favorites, and I didn't want him to think that I'd done anything adversarial to get this job. Then I also asked Matt about the organization. I asked him about player personnel. Because I trust Matt's judgment. It really wasn't fair to assess last year as how Matt Williams is, because he still is the reigning ... or he was the reigning Manager of the Year, and he had bunch of injuries. I urged Matt — he had asked me — he was offered the third base job [in Arizona]. Because you still lick your wounds, and your feelings are hurt when you get fired, especially when you get fired the first time. So I had urged him to take the third base job, and I see that he did."

On the challenge of keeping veteran position players fresh all season...
"The best way to do that is to ensure you have a good bench, that you don't lose a whole lot when you do give them days off. I know how to run this race. I know what it takes as a player and a coach and a manager, and it's a long race. It starts before you even get to spring training. You've got to train for the race. That's what we're in the process of doing."

On Aroldis Chapman, whom he managed in Cincinnati...
"Oh, he's a heck of a guy. I mean, a heck of a guy. I'll go on record and say I wouldn't mind having Chapman. No, no, he is a tremendous young man with a great family, mom and dad, and what he went through to get here and what his family had to go through to get here. I was with him through the whole process. There was a couple times when I had to stop him from quitting or going back to Cuba because he was lonely for his family. So I went through a lot of stuff with Chapman. I got nothing but love for the young man."

MORE NATIONALS: Bryce Harper shows off insane hops during offseason training

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Nationals could be a landing spot for Kyle Seager if Mariners make him available

Nationals could be a landing spot for Kyle Seager if Mariners make him available

It was a difficult Wednesday evening for Nationals fans, who were forced to swallow a tough dose of reality when reports surfaced that Anthony Rendon was signing with the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s thrust the team into a thin third base market headlined by Josh Donaldson but doesn’t boast many viable options beyond him. Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado were both mentioned in trade rumors during the Winter Meetings, but the Nationals would be hard-pressed to acquire either of them with the significant prospect capital that would be requested in return.

But another option emerged Thursday night when The Athletic reported that the “possibility is increasing” of the Seattle Mariners trading Kyle Seager. The 32-year-old veteran has hit just .236 since 2017 but has at least 20 home runs each of the past eight seasons. Originally thought to be untradeable, Seager has reportedly drawn the interest of “multiple teams.”

The Mariners signed Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract after a 2014 season in which he posted a .788 OPS and won a Gold Glove. The wrinkle in Seager’s trade value, however, is a $15 million team option for 2022 that converts to a player option if traded. That would guarantee him $52 million over the next three seasons, giving pause to teams who might be wary about his ability to perform at the plate.

But with Donaldson expected to garner a four-year deal despite entering his age-34 season, Arenado signed for $234 million over the next eight years and the Chicago Cubs likely seeking top prospects in return for Bryant, Seager may be the most affordable option for a team like the Nationals.

Washington’s farm system ranks among the lower third of the league, boasting just two consensus top-100 prospects in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia. The Nationals likely wouldn’t be able to compete with clubs that have deeper farm systems for Bryant, while Arenado is signed to a similar deal that Rendon just received. As for Donaldson, Washington is certainly in the running but is far from the only team interested and could very well lose out.

Seager presents All-Star upside and while he’d be due salaries north of $18 million each of the next two years with the 2022 player option, that would be at worst about the same average annual value Donaldson is likely to demand at two years older. In addition, Seager’s $19.5 million salary next season is just above Rendon’s 2019 total of $18.8 million, making the increase in payroll at the position would be marginal.

It’d by no means replace the production the Nationals lost when Rendon signed with the Angels, but trading for Seager would certainly be a more attractive option than signing the remaining third basemen left in free agency beyond Donaldson: Asdrubal Cabrera, Brock Holt, Todd Frazier, Pablo Sandoval and Maikel Franco, just to name a few.

Seattle doesn’t appear likely to make a trade anytime soon, but Seager’s trade availability will be worth watching as the offseason progresses.

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Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have 'probably the deepest rotation in baseball'

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen claims the Mets have 'probably the deepest rotation in baseball'

By signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha this week, the Mets have built out quite the collection of starting pitchers. 

Porcello and Wacha will join Jacob de Grom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz in New York's starting rotation, a group general manager Brodie Van Wagenen thinks quite highly of. 

"There was a lot talked about our lack of starting pitching depth over the last couple of weeks," Van Wagenen said on SNYtv Thursday. "I think that story has changed, and I think that we're probably the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball."

Considering the Mets share a division with the Nationals, who still boast a starting rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, this is a pretty bold statement by Van Wagenen. 

Obviously he's the general manager and he has to say positive things about the club he's putting together. But to say those exact words on the heels of a rival winning a World Series because of their rotation? 

The Mets will host the Nationals in the first series of the season starting on March 26, so we may not have to wait long for these two rotations to face off. 

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