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Nats rotation will be stacked again

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Nats rotation will be stacked again

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The starting rotation...

RHP STEPHEN STRASBURG
Stats: 15-6, 3.16 ERA, 159.1 IP, 1.155 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
4.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Right at the top of the rotation. And straight through September (and into October, should the Nationals get that far). The Shutdown will be a huge topic of discussion all spring, but once the season gets underway, Strasburg will be free to pitch every fifth day with no restrictions (aside from running up pitch counts only Livan Hernandez is allowed to reach). One more year removed from his Tommy John surgery, the right-hander figures to be more consistent from start to start and should feel like he's still got plenty left in the tank late in the year, much as Jordan Zimmermann did this year.

LHP GIO GONZALEZ
Stats: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 1.129 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
5.4 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.25 million in 2013, $8.5 million in 2014, $11 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $12 million club option in 2017, $12 million player option in 2018 (guaranteed with 180 IP in 2017)
Where he fits in: Though he led the majors in wins in 2012, Gonzalez will almost certainly play second fiddle to Strasburg in 2013. That's the role the Nationals intended all along for the left-hander, who while brilliant at times is still prone to the occasional hiccup (as we saw in the postseason). Another year wiser and more comfortable against National League lineups, Gonzalez should continue to develop as a front-line starter and give the Nats as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball right now.

RHP JORDAN ZIMMERMANN
Stats: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 195.2 IP, 1.170 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
3.5 WAR
2012 salary: $2.3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Actually, make that as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is in baseball right now, because Zimmermann deserves to be lumped in with Strasburg and Gonzalez as front-line starters. The right-hander took another big step forward this season, throwing more innings than he ever has and showing he still had enough left in the tank to dial his fastball up to 97 mph during his surprise relief appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS. Though they still control his rights for three more years, the Nationals are going to seriously consider locking up Zimmermann to a long-term deal this winter. They've already got Strasburg and Gonzalez for at least four more years; they'd love to ensure they've got Zimmermann at least that long as well.

LHP ROSS DETWILER
Stats: 10-8, 3.40 ERA, 164.1 IP, 1.223 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
1.8 WAR
2012 salary: $485,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Perhaps the most pleasant development from the entire Nationals pitching staff this season was Detwiler's long-awaited emergence after years of teasing everyone with his potential. The left-hander proved he can get through big-league lineups three times with success, proved his arm could hold up over the long haul and proved he could thrive under pressure (witness Game 4 of the NLDS). In the process, he locked up the fourth starter's job for next year and several years to come, though his price is going to go up now that he's reached arbitration eligibility.

RHP EDWIN JACKSON
Stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 189.2 IP, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
2.7 WAR
2012 salary: $11 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: Signed to provide veteran influence, eat up innings and help fill the void when Strasburg was shut down, Jackson was brilliant times, downright ugly at others. He'd love to return in 2013, but the Nationals appear ready to look elsewhere, leaving the enigmatic right-hander to hope another club offers him the long-term deal he couldn't procure last winter.

LHP JOHN LANNAN
Stats: 4-1, 4.13 ERA, 32.2 IP, 1.439 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
0.5 WAR
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: After a bizarre season, most of it spent at Class AAA Syracuse waiting just in case the Nationals needed his services, Lannan is going to once again find himself in an uncomfortable position this winter. He's still under the Nationals' control for another year, but they don't appear committed to giving him the fifth starter's job. And because he's now out of options, he can't be stashed away in the minors again. Mike Rizzo will hope Lannan's strong performance when called upon late this season prompts some trade interest. But the more plausible scenario would have the Nationals electing not to tender the lefty a contract before the Nov. 30 deadline, making him a free agent.

RHP CHIEN-MING WANG
Stats: 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 32.1 IP, 2.010 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
-0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $4 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: The Nationals invested three years and $8 million in this reclamation project, hoping he could make it all the way back from a major shoulder injury and recapture his 19-win form from 2006-07. In the end, Wang made more rehab starts in the minor leagues (21) than starts in the big leagues (15). They won't feel the need to take another chance on him next year.

IN THE MINORS
Last December's trade for Gonzalez stripped the Nationals of some upper-level pitching depth -- Yunesky Maya (remember him?) and Zach Duke were their best Class AAA starters -- but there is another wave of power arms creeping up the organizational ladder. Unfortunately, several of them have been sidetracked by injuries, including left-handers Matt Purke (shoulder) and Sammy Solis (elbow) and 2012 first-round draft pick Lucas Giolito (elbow). The best of the healthy bunch is Alex Meyer, a tall right-hander selected in 2011 with one of the compensation picks the Nats received for losing Adam Dunn to free agency. Meyer went a combine 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. He'll probably start 2013 at Class AA Harrisburg and could theoretically be in the big leagues by September. One of the most successful starters in the system early this season was Danny Rosenbaum, though the lefty faded significantly during the second half at Harrisburg. One interesting name to keep an eye on: Ryan Perry, who appeared out of the bullpen in D.C. during the season but was sent to Class AA to convert into a starter and wound up posting a 2.84 ERA in 13 games. Another bright spot was right-hander Nate Karns, who returned from a torn labrum to go 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA at Hagerstown and Potomac and was named organizational pitcher of the year.

OFFSEASON NEED?
Though it remains the backbone of this team and its biggest strength, the Nationals rotation still needs a boost during the offseason. With Jackson likely headed elsewhere, Rizzo will look to add another veteran arm to the mix, perhaps offering a multi-year deal for the right pitcher. That yet-to-be-determined No. 5 starter will take up the back end of what should by all rights be the majors' best rotation in 2013, with an unfettered Strasburg leading the charge.

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Scherzer finishes second in Cy Young voting

Scherzer finishes second in Cy Young voting

History stalled Wednesday when New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young Award. Washington’s Max Scherzer finished second. Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola was third.

There’s no controversy or debate attached to this award. deGrom was phenomenal for the woebegone Mets. His 1.70 ERA led the league and was enough for the award. His easy victory also showed we continue to make progress toward discounting pitcher wins in totality.

For Scherzer, finishing second means he remains on the outside of one of baseball’s most elite groups. Only four pitchers in MLB history have four or more Cy Young Awards. Scherzer remains with his three. Two of which came in back-to-back seasons. He quickly congratulated deGrom. There was no champagne celebration while on a boat like two years ago.

Scherzer does hold an appreciation for how his fellow National League East pitchers operate. The three are distinct from delivery, to pitch movement, to pitch reliance. For instance, only Nola uses a curveball as his wipeout pitch. Scherzer throws a curveball 7.7 percent of the time in 2018, deGrom 7.9 percent. Nola? He used it 30.9 percent of the time.

So, we present two scouting reports on the three finalists. First, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, speaking at the All-Star Game:

“[Nola’s] a lot of two-seam, front-hip guy,” Freeman said. “deGrom is all downhill with everything and Scherzer just knows how to pitch. I feel like they’re all different. Nola’s curveball is something special. You feel like you’re going to hit it, then you don’t, every single time. Then he can front hip you with two strikes. You give up on it. Scherzer’s got that cutter. deGrom is just power, power, power.”

And, Scherzer:

“deGrom, what he does so well, is his fastball has so much life he can pitch up in the zone so well,” Scherzer told me at the All-Star Break. “Everything plays off of his fastball. And the way he can get down the mound and use that length to create that ride, that makes him literally one of the best pitchers in the game.

“Nola, he does a great job of using his two-seamer and [sinking] the ball. It’s kind of the opposite. The way he can pitch with his curveball. He can change speeds throughout the at-bat between sinking the ball, his curveball and his changeup, that’s what allows him to be such a talented pitcher.

“I think my stuff lines up closer to deGrom than Nola simply from the fact that deGrom is more of a four-seam, ride the ball, that’s what I do. Nola’s breaking ball is a curveball, whereas my main breaking ball is a slider. That’s where we’re actually very different. I can probably gain more from watching deGrom starts on how he attacks hitters.”

Scherzer has three seasons remaining on his seven-year, $210 million with the Nationals. He was astonished when he entered free agency that teams did not want to give him seven years. He had never been injured for an extended period. He worked diligently to maintain his health. Once he found a suitor in the Nationals, a decision ultimately green-lighted by ownership, he came to the National League and delivered.

Nola is one of the league’s best deals at $573,000 last season to finish third in Cy Young voting. He’s into arbitration for a raise, but will remain one of the reasons the Phillies can compete and spend this offseason.

The Mets and deGrom have a relationship so strange it seems it could only exist in Flushing. deGrom’s former agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, distributed a mid-summer statement that said the Mets should trade deGrom if they were not going to provide him an extension. Van Wagenen is now the Mets general manager. DeGrom is going to arbitration each of the next two years before becoming a free agent.

At a minimum, the three will be back in the division next season and poised to challenge for this award again.

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Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

The non-Bryce Harper worst-case scenario for the Washington Nationals’ outfield could look like this: Juan Soto in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, Adam Eaton in right. That’s the bottom.

How do they get there? They don’t re-sign Harper and flip Victor Robles for a major void fill, say Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto or Seattle left-hander James Paxton.

The above is not prediction, assumption or otherwise. It’s merely a path to what would be considered the least-potent outfield the Nationals could put together if Harper went elsewhere, Robles was moved and they did not pay a replacement.

If Manny Machado does not return to the Baltimore Orioles (all but guaranteed)? They will be bad. With him? They would be bad. There’s a lot of bad in Baltimore, at the moment. Attendance, bad. Front office situation, bad. On-field performance, bad. What can make it worse? Machado playing in New York, battering them for the next decade to top things off.

Back to the Nationals. The outfield is clogged. Soto, Robles, Eaton, Harper and Taylor are all in play there. Let’s look at possible alignments with and without Harper.

With him, he drops back to right field, ideally. The center field work last season was not productive. Though, his right field work, and emphatic aversion to walls, did not yield quality results either. Baseball’s advanced defensive metrics aren’t great. However, they can help confirm the eye test, which this list from Sports Info Solutions does:

Fewest defensive runs saved, 2018 season:

Bryce Harper -27
Charlie Blackmon -26
Adam Jones -26
Rhys Hoskins -25
Miguel Andujar -25

Being on a defensive list with rookie third baseman Andujar, who committed 15 errors, or the plodding Hoskins, whom the Phillies tried to hide out there all season, is damning. When it comes to defensive range, the Nationals would be better without Harper in the field considering the four other options.

Taylor’s situation is interesting. He would be a quality fourth outfielder because of superior defensive skill and the plug-and-play ability should someone be injured. The question is who would manager Davey Martinez pull off the field late to put Taylor on it? In a Soto-Robles-Harper outfield, Soto is the weakest defender. Taylor could go to center. Robles to left. That, of course, costs the Nationals Soto’s bat. The Nationals also lost a window to sell high on Taylor last offseason before Martinez buried him on the bench this regular season. Taylor received an early chance when Eaton was shut down. He failed, then excelled, then was benched. He had a strange year.

Which is why it’s fair to wonder if he ends up part of a trade package this offseason. His speed and defense could help any team, especially a contending one (which is the same argument for him to stay in Washington). Recall that Taylor was the Nationals’ best hitter in the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. He can also be weaponized in a part-time postseason role.

This all hinges on Harper, as does everything else. If the Nationals finalize the sport’s most expensive contract, they can decide which other outfield parts are expendable, and how to distribute them. This also speaks to timing. Harper’s situation needs to be resolved in order to have clarity for other parts, from the outfield on. Being held hostage by dragged-out negotiations could be a two-fold negative effect for the Nationals: They could lose Harper, and lose a window to have moved an extra outfielder to help cure an ill elsewhere. Regardless, they have options and a quality baseline to work from.

Baltimore is another matter. Cornered by the rest of the league knowing they were stuck, the Orioles sent Machado to the Dodgers for a large numbers of names. It’s the quality received back among the five minor leaguers that’s in question.

Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect at the time, is the star attraction.

Right-handed pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, third baseman Rylan Bannon and infielder Breyvic Valera also came along. Diaz, 22, is now the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB pipeline. He finished the year hitting .239 for Double-A Bowie and .285 overall in 2018. None of the other four are ranked in the organization’s top 10 prospects.

Which leaves the 115-loss Orioles with only bleakness in their future, rocks in their shoes, and Murphy’s Law as the prevailing operating procedure at the moment. They remain chained to Chris Davis’ contract for four more seasons as well as the deferred money Davis is due until 2037. Their theoretical No. 1 starter, Dylan Bundy, had a 5.45 ERA last season. They are searching for Buck Showalter’s replacement in the dugout. They are reportedly close to hiring Houston Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias to become general manager, according to USA Today.

The Orioles flipped their last malaise when 2012 produced 93 wins after 93 losses in 2011. They are not positioned to do that now. They are looking at a Machado-less slog for years to come. The Nationals won’t be victimized by such a plight if their star starts swinging elsewhere.

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