For The Win, part of USA Today, as part of their preseason rankings released their rotation rankings and had the Nationals second overall.
Per For The Win:
The offseason trade of prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez cost the Nats some depth, and a prolonged injury to dominant but brittle Stephen Strasburg could send Washington plummeting down this list. The Nats will work to manage Strasburg’s workload between starts this season in an effort to keep him healthy all year. Ace Max Scherzer comes with far fewer question marks: The 32-year-old righty has made at least 30 starts in each of the last eight seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. Tanner Roark enjoyed a breakout season at age 29 in 2016, Joe Ross is only 23 and maintains big-time talent, and Gio Gonzalez appears at the very least a safe bet to stay healthy and gobble up league-average innings.
Despite not trading for Chris Sale in the off-season, the Nationals still were near the top of the rankings proving just how solid a Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark top of the rotation is.
Although they did note that it wasn't really that close between the second-place Nationals and the top-ranked Boston Red Sox, who landed the aforementioned Sale, but the Nats were two spots ahead of the New York Mets.
The NL East looked a lot like the win projections that came out earlier this week, the Nats atop the divison followed closely by New York and then everyone else lags behind.
Locally, the Orioles were ranked 24th in the rankings. Despite not making any moves to the rotation, they avoided being even closer to the bottom thanks to the hope that the oft-injured Dylan Bundy may finally be healthy.
The calendar has once again put Scott Boras into the spirit.
Coming holidays have nothing to do with his joy. He’s giddy, revved, his premium salesman self again because the regular season is over, which means free agency has begun.
Annually, Boras has a large grip on the market and the Nationals’ future. This year, he’s in a white-knuckle place. Boras represents both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents starter Gerrit Cole. Those three are the top free agents -- by a wide swath -- this offseason, putting Boras in a place of leverage he may always talk from but likely has this time.
The Nationals have long felt Boras’ influence, on both good and bad fronts. He convinced Nationals founding principal owner Ted Lerner that Max Scherzer was worth $210 million and, more importantly, a seven-year commitment when other teams did not believe that to be the case. The contract has been a coup despite its hefty numbers. But, Boras also provided underwhelming veterans to the Washington roster. Matt Wieters and Jeremy Hellickson are among those who come to mind.
This time around, he has curious clients. They’re different. Neither is Bryce Harper in flamboyance or age. Both have established relationships with the Nationals. The vetting process is unnecessary and even an exchange of numbers is probably well in the past. Two huge, but somewhat reticent, stars coming from the same team after winning the World Series will be new for everyone.
Rendon has used his own leverage on Boras. Back in spring training, when Rendon told NBC Sports Washington negotiations with the Nationals “hit a wall,” he also made clear how he perceived the agent-player relationship when it came to him and Boras.
“What everyone has the misconception of is they think that we work for Scott,” Rendon said. “Like, no. That’s not the way it works. Like, I’m telling him how it’s going and you can ask him. We’ve gotten (into) some jibber-jabbers before, too. Like, I’m paying him. Nah, [debates] don’t fly with me.”
Move to Media Day at the World Series. Rendon was asked if he thought Boras would be busy this offseason. He quickly answered, “yeah,” then added this poke.
“He’s about to be even richer, too, probably,” Rendon said. “Must be nice.”
Strasburg undermined one of Boras’ prime tenets in 2016 when he signed an extension early. Washington had to trade back-end opt-outs as the cost of keeping Strasburg from the open market. Negotiations then worked from spring training into the first month of the season. Strasburg wanted nothing to do with them until both sides were very close to an agreement.
“I pretty much told Scott to kind of leave me alone as much as possible,” Strasburg said then. "To be honest, it’s hard to block something like that out. It’s your future and your kid’s kids future, too. I think one thing that kept me centered, kept me focused, was why do I play this game. Bottom line was I play this game because I’m a competitor.”
The deal gave Mike Rizzo a chance to crow a tad.
“I think we had a discussion with Scott,” Rizzo said then. “He works for the players. I think this was player-driven -- the agreement. I think that Stephen wanted to be here and he expressed that to Scott. We hammered out the best deal that we could.”
Strasburg agreed with that sentiment at the time, before the World Series, before he found a formula for good health which allowed him to lead the National League in innings pitched in 2019. It's one of the tenets which makes Washington hopeful Strasburg will return.
“I think what they believe in and what I believe in kind of coincide,” Strasburg said of the organization.
Strasburg chose to exercise his first opt-out opportunity. However, what he listed as causes for signing the extension -- level of comfort, opportunity to win, quality of life outside of baseball -- remain in place. The wrinkle is Boras will be working the open market with both of the top-tier pitchers under his guidance.
Typically, competition between agents to define the market can drag out free agency. This offseason, Boras will simultaneously be handling the clients whose markets play off each other. Strasburg’s numbers will influence Cole’s numbers. Their age -- Strasburg is a little more than two years older -- should be the defining point for gap in payment and years. Boras will argue up Strasburg in order to later obtain more money for Cole. Waiting could be beneficial to both players and laborious for fans.
Boras is again in command no matter the ultimate process. Washington’s most pressing issues are in his hands. The league’s most in-demand players are in his hands. So is the future. Juan Soto, a client of the Boras Corporation, becomes a free agent in 2025.
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All eyes in the baseball world are on the Houston Astros this week as they’re investigated for allegedly stealing signs using a high-powered camera in 2017 after The Athletic published a report Tuesday that included a former player of the team verifying the accusations.
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle weighed in on the scandal Thursday night on Twitter, posting a thread commemorating Mike Fiers and Carson Smith for speaking out before slamming teams who go around the accepted rules for stealing signs.
Doolittle and the Nationals faced Houston in the 2019 World Series; although there’s no evidence the Astros used these sign-stealing techniques against them, The Washington Post reported that pitching coach Paul Menhart ordered the pitching staff to use more complex signs in the World Series in order to combat any potential wrongdoing on Houston’s part.
The Boston Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017 for using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees, after which commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement warning teams “that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”
Major League Baseball is investigating the allegations, with no timetable given for a conclusion. For now, Doolittle has a suggestion for how to spend your time.
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