The Week Ahead: Nats at 'center of the universe'

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harper-bryce-100606.jpgThis is a pretty good time to be a Washington Nationals fan. Yes, they are currently sitting in their customary position at the bottom of the NL East, but if you’re a follower of the artists formerly known as Les Expos, you’ve got to be brimming with optimism this week.

On Monday, the Nats will pick first in the First-Year Player Draft, and all indications are that they will select catcher Bryce Harper (pictured), a record-setting junior college slugger who would have just finished his junior year of high school had he not enrolled in college to become eligible for the draft a year early.

There have been some questions about Harper’s attitude, as well as thoughts that he should be moved to a different position (courtesy of his agent, you know who). But there is no denying his talent.

Then before the Harper hype even gets a chance to die down, the Nats will grab the attention of the baseball world again on Tuesday when they unveil their No. 1 pick from last year’s draft, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who will make his first big league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Strasburg never really looked like he belonged in the minors, going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 55 1/3 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A, and even the Nationals brass is having a hard time keeping their expectations in check. Here is team president Stan Kasten talking to MLB.com:

As we have been building, we have been a very low-profile team, which is a frustration when you are in a big and important market as we are in D.C. Strasburg has certainly changed that dynamic. We are now the center of the universe in terms of attention in the world of baseball. We will be the center of attention on Monday night with the first pick of the Draft. We’ll be the center of attention again Tuesday. And we hope, soon thereafter, we’ll become a team that is worthy of constant attention as we become more competitive.

Center of the universe? Sure why not? Let the man enjoy the moment. And maybe, just maybe, his team will feature the most dynamic battery in baseball in years to come. Now, Washington probably won’t be able to afford any other decent players after paying for their two wunderkind, but let’s not worry about that right now.

Instead, let the Nationals be the center of the universe. We can always let things get back to normal next week.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Cardinals at Dodgers, June 7-9:
The last time these two teams met, Matt Holliday was dropping fly balls in the playoffs to help L.A. reach the NLCS. The Cardinals enter the week on a three-game winning streak, and the Dodgers have been on the rise as well.

Blue Jays at Rays, June 8-10: The Blue Jays made it through a difficult week with a 3-3 record and sit only four games back in the AL East entering the week. It’s another rough week ahead, but it’s getting harder to doubt this Toronto club.

Phillies at Red Sox, June 11-13: The second-place Phillies vs. the third-place Red Sox? What happened here? Not to worry, both teams will remain in the thick of their division races all season long.

Braves at Twins, June 11-13: A couple of quiet, unheralded division leaders lock horns in Minnesota. Should be some good baseball, folks.

Angels at Dodgers; A’s at Giants, June 11-13: It’s time for some California dreamin’ as the L.A. and Bay Area rivals meet up. None of these teams are great, but they’re all competent. Yes, even the A’s.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Padres at Phillies (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.: Cubs at Brewers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Red Sox (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Cubs (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Phillies at Red Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: White Sox at Cubs (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Magic Johnson to take over the Lakers, but will still be part of Dodgers ownership

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Earvin 'Magic' Johnson attends game one of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on October 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This is more significant for basketball fans than baseball fans, but Magic Johnson is taking over basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Dan Feldman over at PBT has the full story on that.

For our purposes, you probably know that Johnson is part of the Dodgers ownership group. Anthony McCullough of the L.A. Times got comment from the Dodgers, saying that despite his new full-time job, his status with the Dodgers will be unchanged:

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m not entirely certain what Magic does with the Lakers, so the first clause in Kasten’s comment may be doing most of the heavy lifting here.

Matt Wieters is close to signing with the Washington Nationals

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 02: Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles connects on a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on October 2, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Jon Heyman reports that the Nationals are closing in on a deal with catcher Matt Wieters. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that it’s a two-year deal. UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal reports that the deal is for two years, at $21 million. There is an opt-out for him after year one. He will get $10 million in 2017 and, if he returns in 2018, he’ll get $11 million.

Wieters was not expected to go this long without signing, but his market, which many thought would be robust, never materialized. The Nats had been rumored to be interested for months, but they were apparently waiting to swoop in late and get what one presumes will be a bargain.

Wieters, 30, finished last season hitting .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI in 464 plate appearances. The Nationals currently have Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton, so who falls where in the catcher fight in Washington is unclear, but one presumes that Wieters getting a two-year deal puts him at the top of the depth chart.