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Nationals roster review: Ryan Zimmerman

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Nationals roster review: Ryan Zimmerman

Age on Opening Day 2016: 31

How acquired: 1st round pick, 2005 draft

MLB service time: 10 years, 32 days

2015 salary+bonuses: $14 million

Contract status: Signed for $14 million in 2016, $14 million in 2017, $14 million in 2018, $18 million in 2019, $18 million club option or $2 million buyout in 2020, free agent in 2021

2015 stats: 95 G, 390 PA, 43 R, 86 H, 25 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 1 SB, 33 BB, 79 SO, .249 AVG, .308 OBP, .465 SLG, .773 OPS, 4 E, -2.2 UZR, 0.7 WAR

Quotable: "I know he wants to play a full season. And boy, if he can do that, it can be pretty impressive." — Matt Williams on Ryan Zimmerman

2015 analysis: This was supposed to be the year Ryan Zimmerman rediscovered himself. No longer worried about making throws across the diamond from third base, he would excel at first base and get more at-bats because of less wear and tear on his body. Except it didn't work out that way.

Zimmerman, like others in the Nationals' lineup, struggled through most of April. Then once he did get hot in May, he suffered yet another in a long list of nagging injuries that ultimately hindered his ability to play to full potential. This time, it was plantar fasciitis, which he tried to play through for a few weeks but wound up requiring another lengthy DL stint (seven weeks).

Unlike others who needed time to find their stroke following a long absence from the lineup, Zimmerman hit well right away. Then he really took off in late August, hitting .435 with six homers, 18 RBI and a 1.330 OPS over an 11-game stretch ... before another nagging injury knocked him out again. A strained oblique muscle didn't land Zimmerman on the DL, but it did prevent him from playing in any of the Nats' final 25 games.

And so another season went in the books with the longtime face of the franchise unable to appear in enough games to allow him to put together the numbers he has proven he can post when healthy. He finished with the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and OPS of his 11-year career.

2016 outlook: It's pretty simple at this point: If he can just stay on the field enough to play 140-plus games (something he has done only twice in the last five years), Zimmerman will be a highly productive player and a force in the middle of the Nationals' lineup. Can he actually do that? That's where things are no longer simple.

Zimmerman spoke of a renewed emphasis on conditioning this winter, recognizing that what worked for him in his 20s probably won't work for him in the 30s. He wants to report to spring training with increased flexibility, among other things, trying to avoid the kind of muscle strains that have hurt him in the past.

That said, many of Zimmerman's significant injuries have been flukes that can't be prevented with better conditioning (broken thumb, plantar fasciitis). So the Nationals can't simply assume he'll avoid the DL in 2016. What they'll need to decide is whether they're comfortable enough with Clint Robinson as Plan B at first base, or whether they need to bolster their bench with a more proven bat.

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It’s time to fix baseball’s postseason award shows

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It’s time to fix baseball’s postseason award shows

The awards have been distributed, which means it’s time for a fix.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America can do better. Major League Baseball can do better.

This week was rough for the awards. Not the part where fake calls for transparency are actually just social media mob vehicles to bag on voters. The part where Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. were not available to to talk about being two of the sport’s bright, young stars. Where the two Yankees youngsters up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award were unsure if they were being spoken to. When a Cy Young candidate couldn’t get his Wi-Fi to cooperate while on vacation. The date, the format, the pizazz needs to change. It’s a on a long list of things baseball needs to get up to speed on.

Look at the NHL Awards. Held annually in Las Vegas with a prominent sponsor, as much shine as can be is drummed up. A flood of premier stars attend. It reads well in person. It displays well on the television. It feels and looks modern. It also helps the media by assuring access that can be planned for. 

It’s the right way.

Baseball can start by moving up when the awards take place. We are members of a short-term memory society. Push the awards into the first week of November. That gives it plenty of space before the news cycle can be caught again at the general manager meetings and winter meetings that are to come. Use the close of the World Series as a catapult. Snag the time when most players are resting before offseason workouts begin in earnest.

Elongating the news cycle, the way the NFL magically has with its draft, only works if each segment is in demand. Giving the Manager of the Year Award its own night is unnecessary. Instead, fold it into the evening of awards. 

The NHL announced a three-year extension on its Las Vegas awards party in April. That after 10 years of developing the ceremony into a slick presentation. Obviously, it’s working. 

The Cup makes an appearance. Celebrities join in. The Las Vegas environment is embraced. Fashion is allowed. The muting of personality so long afflicting baseball can be countered for a day in an equivalent setup.

Major League Baseball took an incremental step, as it tends to do, Thursday when it joined with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association to announce “Revised rules on player footwear.” The press release delivered an all-caps headline followed by “Agreement Affords Additional Flexibility for Colors and Design”.

Here’s what changed: Instead of Bryce Harper’s shoes having to be a solid variation of a team color, limited variations are now allowed.

“Players may wear shoes displaying any of the following colors, in any proportion: (i) black, white, and gray; (ii) any colors displayed on the Player’s uniform (and certain variations thereof); and (iii) any additional colors designated by the Player’s Club.”

Of course, teams still have to clear the designs coming from shoe companies. 

In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Major League Baseball and its Clubs recognize the desire of Players to have more flexibility in this area and are pleased to announce the loosening of regulations that will permit more personalized and stylized footwear.  We believe that this agreement strikes the appropriate balance between the shared goal of permitting Players to express their individuality while maintaining reasonable restrictions on shoe colors and designs.”

It’s as exciting as it sounds. At least it’s something.

Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts were named the MVPs of their respective leagues Thursday. Betts just turned 26 (he’s a mere nine days older than Harper). Yelich is also 26 (about to turn 27). Did you see that photo of them on stage in their suits? No. There was no stage. There’s limited recognition for either. Betts is a World Series champion, three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and playing in one of the league’s prominent markets. He is the first American League player to win an MVP award, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and a World Series title in the same season. Mike Schmidt is the only other player to do so. Betts should be a sports superstar. He’s not.

A revamped awards show won’t cure Betts’ comparative lack of stature. It won’t make Yelich known the way good, but not star, NBA players are known. 

But any improvement will help. And it’s time to get started.
 

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The Nationals need a left-handed rotation piece; Why Patrick Corbin is their best option

The Nationals need a left-handed rotation piece; Why Patrick Corbin is their best option

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Friday is dedicated to Patrick Corbin.

Chasing the Los Angeles Dodgers has become an annual event in the National League. 

Back-to-back World Series appearances were preceded by a league championship series appearance. In all, the Dodgers have made six consecutive playoff appearances, though the magic of 1988 still looms as their last title. And if a path to challenging them directly exists, it’s through left-handed pitching.

Annually, left-handed pitching is one of the few antidotes against L.A. Its lineup has become more balanced the last two seasons — recall how left-handed heavy it was, often on purpose, during the 2016 NLDS vs. the Nationals  — though still has a tough time versus southpaws. At least comparatively. The Dodgers finished with the NL’s best offense last season. They had the No. 1 OPS (.796) against right-handed pitching. They were eighth (.733) versus left-handed pitching.

Los Angeles was almost 100 points worse in OPS against left-handed pitching during the postseason. Rejuvenated Red Sox lefty David Price powered through them during the World Series: 13 ⅔ innings, 1.98 ERA. 

Free agent left-handed starter Patrick Corbin dominated L.A. in the regular season before Price took his turn. Four starts, 23 ⅓ innings, 10 hits, 31 strikeouts, a .125 batting average against and an 0.77 ERA. That was the best Corbin pitched against any team he saw more than once during the 2018 season.

Notable is Corbin did this work within the division against an opponent who knows him intimately, amplifying the difficulty. Think Max Scherzer vs. the Braves. Always a challenge, even when Atlanta was wobbling through recent seasons before hopping to the top of the National League East last season. No one is going to be more prepared than Scherzer. Yet, he often started postgame chats after starts against Atlanta with some variation of, “They know me so well, it really was a grind…”

The Nationals have a hole at their No. 3 spot in the rotation. It was formerly occupied by a left-handed curiosity named Gio Gonzalez. He became unlikely pals with Jonathan Papelbon and once ordered a 1980s-style boombox he believed could be carried next to his ear until it arrived in a cardboard box large enough to hold a credenza. Too large for shoulder occupancy, the boombox had to reside on the floor.

Without Gonzalez’s peccadilloes or southpaw deliveries or sigh-inducing outings, the Nationals are in search of a left-handed rotation piece. Corbin is the best available.

Right behind him, when ordered by WAR, is a diminishing Dallas Keuchel. J.A. Happ (who is 36) comes next in line. Gonzalez is behind him. He won’t be back. Of the 27 free agent starting pitchers who registered 0.1 WAR or more last season, just eight are left-handed. But three of them (Corbin, Keuchel and Happ) are 1-2-3 in WAR among available starters. 

That means the pool is limited and prime for overpays. Corbin, 29, is the lone lefty still ascending. He’s cut two earned runs from his ERA in the last two years after a return from Tommy John surgery. His strikeouts per nine took a significant jump this season as his slider usage continued to rise and a “curveball” (it’s really just a slower slider) entered his repertoire. He’s also made 65 starts the last two years combined. Durability, high strikeout rate, and much-improved peripherals — particularly in hits allowed — should make him the offseason’s most expensive pitcher. If a team is trying to beat the Dodgers now, he just might be worth it. 
 

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