Nationals

Quick Links

Nats-Phils rivalry now a two-way street

748845.png

Nats-Phils rivalry now a two-way street

Rivarlies in sports have to, absolutely must, be two-way relationships. A one-way rivalry can be just about the saddest thing to be realized, just ask Wizards fans about the LeBron James-led Cavaliers. Now that the Nationals look like a good baseball team, and the once-untouchable Phillies are vulnerable, the D.C.-Philly baseball matchup is becoming one of the best and most heated in sports.It took a series win by Washington, and an overall dominant stretch over Philadelphia, for it all to be realized. It was clear last night the Nats and their brash young star Bryce Harper finally got under the Phillies skin as Cole Hamels lost his cool and is now suspended five games. Throw in a taunting kiss from Shane Victorino - a clear reference to Harpers lore - and we have ourselves some storylines.Over at CSNPhilly.com, their Phillies writers have come to acknowledge the contentious relationship as a clear rivalry that could entertain sports fans of all walks for quite some time. Columnist Rueben Frank put the hatred within the Philly perspective and sounds pretty excited for what could be waiting for us in the future.You wanted a rivalry? You got a rivalry.Were only a month into the 2012 baseball season, but this is already getting good, he writes.
After the Nationals ill-fated Take back the Stadium ploy? After a weekend of Flyers and Eagles chants infuriated the locals at Nationals Park? After Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper Sunday night and then openly admitted to doing it? After Jordan Zimmerman hit Hamels two innings later? After Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels classless and gutless?Oh yeah, were on.
Many around baseball are looking now at the Nationals Take Back the Park campaign as the true catalyst for the rivalry, that Washingtons public efforts to turn away Phils fans shook the hornets nest. But now, if this rivalry continues it will clearly date back to Hamels beaning of Bryce Harper. According to Frank, even Hamels realizes what he did.Thats what makes it exciting in baseball, he said after pitching eight strong innings in the Phillies 9-3 win at Nationals Park in Washington. Thats what you want. To see your fans really get involved. ...You can feel the energy, and you want to play harder and I think thats what it really takes to get more people to watch our series when were playing each other. Its a long year, and when you have a series to look forward to, it kind of makes things go a little bit quicker and the excitement really takes you to another level of play.Frank and Phillies fans seem to look at Hamels pitch as a statement made by the team, on national television and against an upstart young team. The statement Hamels made when he hit Harper on national TV Sunday night was that the Phillies arent quite ready yet to relinquish N.L. East bragging rights to the upstart Nationals, Frank writes.Whether the message was received is hard to tell, but with another series between the two coming up on May 21, we should find out soon. The two teams also play six of their last nine games together. It is a rivalry that now has both teams buying in and the best could be yet to come.

Quick Links

The Yankees have so much money, they are thinking about paying Bryce Harper to not play outfield

The Yankees have so much money, they are thinking about paying Bryce Harper to not play outfield

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that the Yankees might have interest in Bryce Harper this offseason. The Harper-to-the-Yankees narrative has been ongoing for years, going back to Harper’s high school years. It’s also driven by a long and storied history of New York flexing their financial might over the rest of the baseball world.

What is surprising, however, is hearing that the Yankees might have interest in Harper as a first baseman.

Would a potential $300 million contract be worth it just to have Bryce Harper play first base? New York seems to think so. 

Harper mostly played catcher in high school, though his prodigious bat made a position switch a long-term inevitability. Outfield was the natural landing spot, as it’s considered to be the easiest position to learn and would allow Harper to focus on realizing his vast potential at the plate.

In his seven seasons in the big leagues, Harper has played more innings in right field than every other position combined, and the overwhelming majority of his other defensive innings have been in left and center. He is credited with one career game at first base, coming in 2018, though the inning count there is zero.

If he is going to head to the Bronx, however, another position switch might be a necessity. The Yankees are one of the few teams in baseball who already have two power-hitting behemoths in the outfield, in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. 

Either Judge, Stanton or Harper would be miscast in center field, especially considering Harper’s extreme defensive struggles in right last season.

Plus, it would take away at-bats for 2018 breakout Aaron Hicks and potential 2019 breakout Clint Frazier. Additionally, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are still hanging around.

There’s always the option of using one of three as the designated hitter, but the Yankees already have too many power hitters to find at-bats for, and not everyone responds well to not playing in the field.

The one position where the Yankees don’t seem to have a clear answer is first base, hence the recent speculation. Most fans haven’t quite bought in on Luke Voit’s out-of-nowhere 2018 season, and Greg Bird has never been able to put together a full, healthy season.

First base is generally considered to be even easier than the outfield. At the very least, it requires less range, which could be beneficial to Harper as he enters his prime and starts to slow down. It would fill a hole for the Yankees, both in the field and in the lineup, as the bulk of their power comes from right-handed hitters.

Obviously, this speculation is very preliminary, though the prospect of Harper taking aim at the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium is enough to excite any New York fan and haunt the nightmares of fans of the other 29 teams.

At the end of the day, the Yankees may end up interested in Harper playing first base, and in fact, they definitely should be interested in it. But it will come down to what Harper is interested in. If he really wants to wear the pinstripes, he may not have a choice. 

Much like 2018’s other mega free agent, Manny Machado, Harper will have to weigh the idea of playing in New York versus moving off his favored position. If the Yankees can pull it off, then Major League Baseball will have a new superteam to deal with.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

mike_rizzo.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

The story of his signing was simple: Mike Rizzo came to Dan Lozano, Kurt Suzuki’s agent, early and with a direct offer. He told Lozano that Suzuki was “their guy” in this offseason’s hunt for a primary catcher. Suzuki, 35, was pleased Rizzo offered a two-year deal instead of one. His former team, the Atlanta Braves, also offered him a contract at the end of the season. Suzuki declined, hopped into free agency, and decided promptly to return to Washington.

Boom. The end. 

“[Rizzo] told my agent from day one that I’m their guy,” Suzuki said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Whether I’m a guy that catches 120 games or 90 games, or whatever they want me to do, I just told them I will be ready to do whatever you want. And he said I am going to play, obviously. I just said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ So whether that’s 80, 90, 100, 120, it really doesn’t matter to me.”

The question is what the Nationals will need him to do. Room remains for another veteran catcher since Suzuki will reportedly average $5 million annually on his contract. That long-rumored Nationals target J.T. Realmuto could be that veteran catcher is doubtful. There is little reason to pay Suzuki and then trade a high-end prospect in a deal for Realmuto, since that trade would put Realmuto behind the plate for roughly 130 games. A $5 million backup is an ultra-expensive one, especially for a team shaving pennies. Which is why Suzuki is in line to be the starter throughout the season.

“I think at this point of my career, I got no ego. I’ve never had an ego,” Suzuki said. “It was just the point where [Rizzo] said I’m their guy, whether I’m a guy that’s going to catch 50 games or I’m a guy that’s going to catch 120 games. He made it clear that he is going to bring me in to help the team win. And that’s the bottom line.”

He will help. Nationals catchers were among the worst in the league offensively last season. Matt Wieters was injured much of the year. Pedro Severino showed he had no chance at the plate. Spencer Kieboom hit .333 in September. That run was only good enough to pull his average to .232 and his on-base percentage to .322. Not great.

Suzuki’s offense has improved the last two seasons. His OPS+ was above 100 each year in Atlanta, marking two of the three times that happened in his 12-year career. He was an All-Star the other season he reached triple digits. 

Suzuki is not an analytics buff. He didn’t change his offseason routine that focuses on exercise and clean eating via food supplied by his wife, Renee. So, what gives at the plate?

“Honestly, I have no idea, just being honest,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, I started my career off doing pretty well and then kind of hit a little slump. And then the last two years at age 33 and 34, kind of had like a renaissance I guess. And I really haven’t changed much. I go out there and I don’t really think about launch angle and all these analytical things. I go out there and I just try to do some damage.”

He did mention an interesting idea. Suzuki explained relaxing at the plate is crucial to him. Pitchers throw harder now. Much harder on average than when he arrived in the major leagues in 2007 as a 23-year old playing for Oakland. Which means he is going to let them do the work by supplying velocity. He just wants solid, not Herculean, contact. The plan has worked the last two seasons.

But how Suzuki is defensively will be in question. Baseball Savant provides catcher “pop” times, which measures the time from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base, and Suzuki was 93rd out of 108 (Kieboom was 36th, though he played much less).  

All of which hints another veteran catcher could be coming along, the same way the Nationals opened last season with Wieters and Miguel Montero. Suzuki is the start. A coming veteran is a backup. Kieboom and Severino are the emergency plan. Realmuto is a dream lost.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: