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.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.