Stick a fork in 'em – the 2009 Nationals

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It could have been done before the end of April, but I didn’t have the
idea for the segment back then. So let’s officially declare the
Nationals dead for 2009 and look ahead to 2010.

The 2010 depth chart

Catcher: Jesus Flores (Arb.), Wil Nieves (Arb.), Josh Bard (Arb.), Luke Montz

Flores, who hit .311/.382/.522 in 90 at-bats before going down with
a shoulder injury last month, is the long-term answer behind the plate.
If the Nationals don’t want to pay to keep Nieves around, Montz could
come up and serve as an adequate backup.

First base: Adam Dunn

Nick Johnson is a free agent at season’s end, as is forgotten man
Dmitri Young, so the Nationals will probably stick Dunn at first base
next year. As much of a disappointment as the team’s outfielders aside
from Dunn have been, the team still has alternatives there and Dunn’s
glove is less of a problem in the infield.

Second base: Anderson Hernandez, Alberto Gonzalez, Willie Harris

Ronnie Belliard is a free agent and is very unlikely to be brought
back. Hernandez has a capable glove, but he hits like the backup
shortstop he was always destined to become, and the Nationals like
Harris better in the outfield than at second base. Maybe prospect Danny
Espinosa will be a possibility by 2011, but the Nats will need to look
outside of the organization for an upgrade.

Third base: Ryan Zimmerman, Kory Casto

Zimmerman, who signed a five-year deal back in April, is the only Nationals under control beyond 2010.

Shortstop: Cristian Guzman, Anderson Hernandez, Alberto Gonzalez

Guzman will make $8 million next year in the final season of a deal
done in the second half of last season. Since he is injury-prone, the
Nationals need to find a better backup for him, but that would be taken
care of if they turned Hernandez into a utilityman.

Left field: Lastings Milledge, Willie Harris, Leonard Davis
Center field: Elijah Dukes, Justin Maxwell, Rogearvin Bernadina
Right field: Josh Willingham (Arb.)

Or you could go with Willingham in left, Milledge in center and
Dukes in right, though I think that’d be a weaker alignment. I don’t
see this as the Nationals’ starting outfield next year: Milledge could
be traded for another disappointment and Willingham is a candidate to
go in a deadline deal next month. Still, it’s a group with some upside
and one that wouldn’t cost more than $5 million in 2010.

Rotation: John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Scott
Olsen (Arb.), Collin Balester, Shairon Martis, Matt Chico, Ross
Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Marco Estrada

Olsen is due to be non-tendered unless he can come back and turn in a
strong second half. Even if that happens, the Nats may just go ahead
and trade him. They will, however, want to add one veteran to a
rotation only certain to include Lannan and Zimmermann. Strasburg may
well prove deserving of opening next year in the majors, but the
Nationals have to get him signed first. I still feel better about
Balester than most of the other youngsters likely to contend for jobs.

Bullpen: Joel Hanrahan, Drew Storen, Garrett Mock, Jason Bergmann,
Zech Zinicola, Tyler Clippard, Mike MacDougal (Arb.), Saul Rivera
(Arb.), Jesus Colome (Arb.), Logan Kensing

Well, obviously that’s not going to get the job done. The Nationals
will likely make the bullpen a priority this winter, even if they do
think Storen, the 10th overall pick in last week’s draft, is ready to
step in and take on a significant role. Storen may well be the closer
of the future, but the Nats will want a stopgap in the ninth and a
quality lefty. They may make efforts to re-sign Joe Beimel, Ron Villone
and Julian Tavarez, depending on how they perform over the rest of the
season.

OK, best guess time.

Washington’s 2010 roster

Lineup
SS Cristian Guzman
CF Free agent
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
RF Elijah Dukes
LF Josh Willingham
C Jesus Flores
2B Free agent

Bench: C Luke Montz, INF Anderson Hernandez, OF Willie Harris, INF Free Agent, OF Free Agent

Rotation
John Lannan
Free agent
Jordan Zimmermann
Collin Balester
Shairon Martis

Bullpen
Free agent
Free agent
Joel Hanrahan
Ron Villone
Jason Bergmann
Zech Zinicola
Free agent

Maybe second base or one of the bullpen openings could be filled
through a Lastings Milledge trade. Most of the other free agent spots
here won’t be taken by expensive players, but with less than $30
million currently committed and only Willingham, who might not even be
around, due more than $2 million in arbitration, there will hopefully
be around $20 million to spend. Andruw Jones would be an intriguing
target for the outfield, and Virginia native Billy Wagner would be a
nice get for the closer’s role.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.