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Murphy, Nats feel it's a good match for lineup and infield


Murphy, Nats feel it's a good match for lineup and infield

The Nationals entered this offseason looking for a left-handed bat and an upgrade at second base, with a preference for defensive versatility if they could swing it. They pursued Ben Zobrist and other trade options, but ultimately they found what they were looking for, and they didn't have to look far.

Daniel Murphy comes to Washington having played the entirety of his MLB career just up I-95 in New York City and just across the NL East division as a member of the Mets. Now he's a National, and both the player himself and the team like how he fits into their lineup and infield as their biggest offseason addition so far.

"I've seen plenty of Daniel Murphy in my career as a general manager, believe me," GM Mike Rizzo said. "He's a player that plays the game the right way. We love his attitude, his grit and when the bright lights of not only New York City, but the major playoffs come, he shines the brightest."

Murphy was asked several times about why he chose the Nationals. Each time he pointed to what was already in place: the pitching staff, the lineup and the coaching staff. They are ready to contend right now and that was important to him.

"I think with what Mr. Rizzo and Mr. [Ted] Lerner have already done, they've laid the foundation of a really, really good and competitive team here. I've got to experience that competitiveness being in New York. It's always a tough place to come in here and play. The rotation itself is deep and is talented. Then when you start talking about position players, you've got the best player in the National League and possibly on Earth hitting third for you every night. That's nice. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor, it's a good group and hopefully I can just add to the foundation already laid here," he said.

There is plenty of familiarity in Washington for Murphy. He played against the Nats often over the years and is close with Matt den Dekker, who left New York for the Nats last season.

"I've been able to speak with Matt den Dekker because he was with the Metropolitans when I was there. We were both there. He spoke very highly of the clubhouse, the unity that this group has. Then, from the opposite side, looking from the other dugout, it didn't need to go much further than seeing [Max] Scherzer, [Stephen] Strasburg, Gio [Gonzalez]. That's kind of the first thing that you thought about when you were coming to town. To be on this side of it is really exciting, not facing those three guys. Then the depth with Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, as well. It will be much more pleasant to be on this side of it rather than the other side of it," Murphy explained.

Murphy had a good vantage point of the 2015 Nationals and their struggles, as the Mets swept the Nats both at the trade deadline and in September to take control of the NL East. As far as what they were missing and what they need to bounce back in 2016, he thinks it comes down to health and all the injuries they suffered to their lineup and rotation.

Injuries also play into why Murphy was brought in. He's durable, having played an average of 142 games in each of the last six seasons, and he plays multiple positions. If Ryan Zimmerman goes down with an injury, for instance, Murphy can step in at first.

"I hope in spring training I can be able to get work at each spot," Murphy said of the Nats infield. "I'll be diligent to take groundballs at third, first and second. I think the biggest thing is that it will give Dusty [Baker] some flexibility, more than anything. The one I'm most comfortable with will be wherever they plug me in that day. That's the one. That's my favorite position."

[RELATED: Nats' Rizzo on if Papelbon or Storen will be traded]

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Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference


Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

Michael A. Taylor went on an unusual hunt this offseason. He traded the serenity of fishing in Colorado or Florida, among his favorite pastimes, for the noise of the Dominican Winter League.

Taylor joined Gigantes del Cibao, a rare move for a player entering his age-28 season who has played the last four years in the major leagues. The visit to the Dominican Republic did not go well. Taylor hit .143, struck out nine times and walked once in 29 plate appearances. A small sample size, but also an indicator more work is necessary.

Everyone involved with trying to unmask Taylor’s clear talent knew change was necessary. Taylor is quiet, supremely athletic and has delivered eye-popping glimpses of what he can do on the baseball field. Whether that is running down a fly ball in the gap or driving an opposite field postseason home run in a chilled Wrigley Field, he has performed at a level which displays a high ceiling. Taylor has also regularly entered disturbing droughts where he looks overmatched and uncorrectable. Fixing him at the plate, to any degree, gives the Nationals options. They could deploy him or find a future trade partner.

Initially, he was reluctant to go to the Winter League. He previously planned to work with hitting coach Kevin Long in Florida. All parties knew that would happen. The idea to fly south took further development and convincing. Eventually, Taylor agreed. Among the driving forces for the visit -- from the team’s perspective -- was Taylor’s truncated playing time in the second half of the 2018 season.

“Because of the lack of at-bats he had toward the end of the season, it’s always important to see live pitching,” President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo said in December. “We thought it was important to get him one-on-one work with Kevin and really break down his swing and kind of give Michael a fresh start going into spring training.”

Reworking Taylor’s swing began when his appearances on the field all but stopped. Juan Soto’s emergence paired with Adam Eaton’s healthy return to jettison Taylor to the bench. The timing was difficult. Taylor hit poorly in April and May when Eaton was out and an opportunity was available. His .626 OPS and 65 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances showed what happens when things are dismal for him at the plate. His .864 OPS -- despite 15 more strikeouts in just 68 plate appearances -- in June was yet another pop of what could be. Taylor stole 10 bases in 10 tries during the month, meaning he stole a base 39 percent of the time he reached safely.

Then his playing time shriveled: 48 plate appearances, 43 plate appearances, 16 plate appearances in the final three months. His OPS declined each month, too. Taylor quietly walked around the Nationals clubhouse as the season dissolved.

Long started working with him once he was off the field. They tried to shorten everything Taylor did at the plate. The priority is contact. If Rizzo is to be believed, and Taylor’s past performances have shown this to be true to an extent, Taylor is a modest dose of consistency from being a versatile weapon in the major leagues.

“I believe, seeing him as much as I have, you’re talking about a dynamic player,” Rizzo said. “With adjustments, he could be a special type of big-league player. Gold Glove-caliber defender. He’s got a plus-plus arm that’s accurate. He throws a lot of guys out. He’s a terrific base runner, he’s a great base stealer, he’s got big power. If he figures out the contact portion of it a little bit better, you’re talking about a guy who could have five tools. He’s had flashes of it in the past and he just needs to be more consistent in his approach at the plate.”

Where he fits now is unclear. Taylor, presumably, is the fourth outfielder to be deployed as a base stealing and defensive replacement late in games. Perhaps he splits time with Victor Robles in center field. If Bryce Harper returns, Taylor’s future becomes even more clouded.

What he does have is another chance and big backer in manager Davey Martinez. The Nationals made an around-the-calendar investment in Taylor in pursuit of unlocking what they believe still has a chance to exist.

What Taylor doesn’t have is much more time. He’s entering his age-28 season, fifth full year in the major leagues and closing in on the end of low-cost team control. A warm winter trip doesn’t change those facts.


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Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend


Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

At least one Harper is on its way to Philly. 

But despite the hopes of Phillies fans, it's not the baseball player - at least yet.

For the second time in less than two weeks, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast is set to get hit with a major winter storm - which thanks to someone with a great sense of humor or baseball knowledge or just pure coincidence - is named Winter Storm Harper.

While this storm is no way related to Bryce Harper' s free agency (officially, at least), it does have some impeccable timing. And, it is set to hit a few of the places he's reportedly considering - including Philadelphia and DC (though it may just miss Chicago according to forecasts).

On Twitter, fans - and even Harper himself - took note: