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Pool of available relievers for Nats keeps thinning

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Pool of available relievers for Nats keeps thinning

NASHVILLE — Here’s the biggest dilemma facing the Nationals at the Winter Meetings, which officially began this morning: They desperately need to acquire quality, late-inning relievers while at the same time they desperately need to deal away a couple of quality, late-inning relievers.

Does this meet the definition of irony?

Mike Rizzo and Co. are juggling a bunch of different balls in the air right now. They’re trying to gauge what interest there could be in Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon, fully recognizing the challenges involved in moving either disgruntled closer. They’re also talking to just about every available late-inning reliever, both via free agency and trade.

So far, they’ve come up short on both ends. There should be some legitimate interest in Storen, though it’s tough to say how much the Nationals can reasonably expect to receive in exchange for a reliever entering his walk year and due to earn close to $9 million in 2016 via arbitration. It’s hard to imagine there’s much of any interest, however, in Papelbon, who in addition to making $11 million in 2016 comes with all sorts of baggage, the latest being the grievance he reportedly has filed against the Nats for withholding his pay during their team-imposed 4-game suspension at season’s end.

As far as the search for new relievers goes, the challenge is only getting tougher by the hour. Darren O’Day’s 4-yeal deal with the Orioles isn’t official yet, but it’s expected to be finalized soon. Ryan Madson signed a 3-year deal with the Athletics. Joakim Soria just signed a 3-year deal with the Royals.

And on the trade front, the big shoe just dropped this morning: The Reds are sending Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers, according to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. The Nationals have long been interested in Chapman, including at the July trade deadline, but could not come up with a package of prospects to meet Cincinnati’s demands.

So where exactly does that leave the Nats at this point? It’s not a pretty picture.

The best remaining available free-agent relievers include old pal Tyler Clippard, veteran right-hander Mark Lowe and lefties Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo. No closers in that bunch (with all due respect to Clippard).

There are a few remaining trade candidates. Mark Melancon of the Pirates would be intriguing, though he’s entering his walk year. The Rays’ Brad Boxberger (who saved 41 games this season) may be available, and he has four years of control remaining. There are rumblings that the Yankees could be willing to move Andrew Miller (who is signed for three more years and $27 million). And perhaps Kenley Jansen (suddenly in position to get “Storen-ed” with today’s acquisition of Chapman) could force the Dodgers to trade him.

None of those names, of course, are sure things or easily acquired. And so the Nationals find themselves exactly where they were at season’s end: They desperately want to acquire quality, late-inning relievers while at the same time desperately wanting to trade away a couple of quality, late-inning relievers.

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If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

To put 50 games in context, just flashback to last season. It’s easy enough. Say it: 19-31. If the Nationals could, they would trademark those numbers together.

Fifty games is a flash. Almost a death knell to the eventual 2019 World Series champions. That’s a season over in late May. Think of it this way: Teams play around 30 games in a normal spring training alone.

The owners have pushed this number into the public with their non-counter-counter to the players’ suggestion of 114 games. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to use the March agreement between players and owners as a cudgel. Players are refusing to take a further pay cut on top of the one already negotiated. Manfred in turn is saying, “Fine. Then we will schedule the amount of games that are in line with what you are being paid.”

In play now is the 48-game season, according to ESPN. A smidge under 50. A full blitz that would be looked back at as a farce if it’s attempted to be played in the regular way. Playing half a season in the traditional manner is probably the minimum for any legitimacy. Even then, 2020 will be awash in caveats.

The Nationals’ 2020 recovery came against restrictive odds. The manager was supposed to be fired. Some suggested trading the best players, and to do it sooner than later. Season simulations said the Nationals were done. Or as close to it as possible.

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A 50- or 48-game season would cook anyone who has a bad two weeks. Lose a frontline starter? It’s over. Have your shortstop and leadoff hitter hit on the finger by a pitch and miss three weeks? It’s over. Half a season feels like a baseball sprint. Fifty games or less defines the league’s desperation to put some pennies back in its pocket in 2020.

There is one fun idea around a 50-game season. It was hatched at Fangraphs. The premise is one big 50-game tournament. Not the usual three-game series in this town, and four-game series in that city.
Fangraphs makes the on-point mathematical argument that 50 games determines next to nothing when comparing the best in the league to the mediocre. It’s just games for the sake of games.

Since baseball is trying to wade through extraordinary times, why not attempt something extraordinary, such as the tournament?

The model used at Fangraphs included 32 teams, all 30 major-league clubs plus two futures teams, one from each league. Let’s use that premise.

Stage the whole thing in the Texas Rangers’ new park -- Texas is already saying it will allow fans. Have a loser’s bracket. Make the final a five-game series. Pay the players what was already negotiated. Pin more money to the outcome. Run it from early July to the end of September. That way, you still play through much of the summer but duck under a possible fall coronavirus spike the owners are so wary of.

No caveats about if the season was long enough for an authentic champion. This is a complete outlier. The tournament year. Players wore microphones. Some kid from Double-A struck out Bryce Harper in a big at-bat. No leagues. Everyone in the same pot. Have some fun amid an historically troubling time.

What’s not working is the public whining from both sides. The inability to make a deal. The lack of common ground. Both groups are working toward one idea: loss mitigation. A 50-game season does little of that and carries even less validity. Just ask a team that opened last year 19-31.

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MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

The latest whack of the negotiation tether ball came Thursday night when Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, issued a statement of discontent.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone,” it began.

Clark went on to cite the league’s most recent suggestion of a “dramatically shortened” season “unless Players negotiate salary concessions.” The league suggested a 50-game season would be reasonable for the amount of money players agreed to in salary following a late-March negotiation.

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The statement went on to refer to the league’s stance as a “threat,” as opposed to the players' proposal, which in Clark’s view, was designed to move the negotiations forward. He rattled off the various items in the union’s proposal, which was framed around a 114-game season: more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals and the exploration of additional “jewel events” (All-Star Game, etc.).

Clark said a conference call with the MLBPA’s eight-person executive board, which includes Max Scherzer, and several other player leaders concluded “the league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

Clark went on to say the players are ready to compete and get back on the field.

The union’s reaction to MLB’s non-reaction is not a surprise. Players are adamant they are not taking further salary cuts. The league solidly believes salaries should -- and need to be -- negotiated if there is to be some form of 2020 season. Everyone continues to wait for a solution.

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