Anatomy of conflicting trade rumors: Adam Dunn edition

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Like I said an hour ago, trade rumors lend themselves to all kinds of mischief. Who is doing the leaking? What do they have to gain and lose by a piece of information floating out there? How near — or far — from the real decision makers are the sources whispering in the reporter’s ear? The answers to these questions can change a piece of news to a rumor to something close to utter baloney in five minutes. A great example: the Adam Dunn rumors.

The Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley continues to report that the White Sox are all over Adam Dunn, saying just yesterday that the Nats and White Sox have exchanged names and are champing at the bit to make a deal.  Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Nats’ reporter, Bill Ladson, tweeted just a few short minutes ago that there “is nothing to” the Cowley report and that GM Mike Rizzo never talked to White Sox GM Kenny Williams
about Adam Dunn.”

Oh noes! Conflicting information! What’s a poor baseball fan to think!

You gotta parse this stuff.  You can start by noting that a White Sox source would have less reason to lie about the Sox and the Nats talking about Dunn, because if the deal doesn’t happen he has dashed the hopes of a lot of excitable fans who want the team to get a bat. In contrast, you have to think that a Nats’ source would not want a rumor about a fire-sale-quality trade like giving up Adam Dunn floating around out there until the last possible minute.  It could demoralize fans and anger the subject of the trade (who’s on record saying he doesn’t want to go be a DH, by the way).

Sure, there are counterarguments to each of those things — maybe the Chisox guy wants to create the illusion of action and the Nats guy would love to leak something about Dunn to cater to prospect hounds — but that’s the way I see it.

The giveaway, though, is Ladson’s subtle but rather significant qualification. Let me highlight it:  “MIKE RIZZO never talked to KENNY WILLIAMS about Adam Dunn.” Is it not possible that, say, the assistant GMs talked? Or that Nats’ President Stan Kasten talked to Williams? Or that, rather than talked, they exchanged emails or texts or telegrams or something?

It just seems like an oddly specific way to put that. It’s as if he was actually told the Williams/Rizzo thing in those exact words by someone with a need to be technically truthful but kinda cute. Reporters generally don’t operate on that level so I’m guessing Ladson didn’t create the odd construction. Front offices do, though, and I bet they did. After all of that, I come away thinking that there’s a lot of truth to the Adam Dunn to the White Sox buzz.  Maybe a trade happens, maybe it doesn’t, but I think there’s some fire there to go with that smoke.

I try to do this with every set of rumors I read. Sometimes there’s just no room to parse: you have directly conflicting reports through which no sunlight shines.  Sometimes reports are coming so fast and so furious that there just isn’t time or oxygen to go through the exercise. But a lot of the time you can smell the freshly sliced baloney, and when you can do that, it’s pretty sweet.

The realization, that is.  I’m not a big fan of baloney, let alone its aroma.

2017 Preview: Washington Nationals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The measure of a successful season varies from team to team. Some prefer to set the bar low. Perhaps they’re in rebuilding mode, content with a few veteran additions to balance out a new influx of young talent. Others raise the bar to a modest level, hoping to secure a division lead or, barring that, a Wild Card berth.

Still others set their sights on the loftiest of goals: a World Series championship. They’ve been around the proverbial postseason block, they know how to dominate in regular season play. Only a championship title eludes them now, and failing that, anything else feels like settling.

Enter the 2017 Washington Nationals, a team that boasts former MVP Bryce Harper, future MVP Trea Turner, the one-two punch of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, the 3-4-5 punch of Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross, the 2016 NL East division title, the 2014 NL East division title, the 2012 NL East division title, and three failed attempts to reach beyond the first rung of the playoffs. Should the Nationals once again find themselves unable to make a bid for the World Series, it would be a stretch to call their 2017 season a disappointment, but it’s clear that the stakes have been raised this year.

Every hero has his Achilles heel, and the Nationals’ weakness appears to be the health (or lack thereof) of its starting rotation. Stephen Strasburg worked his way back from a worrisome flexor mass strain in his right elbow this winter, evading a second round of Tommy John surgery but giving the team some pause as he prepared to improve on his 3.60 ERA and 3.9 fWAR from 2016. Max Scherzer sustained a stress fracture in his knuckle, though he’s been cleared to start the team’s third game of the season after successfully pitching through several outings in camp.

It may be a stretch to expect Strasburg to remain healthy for an entire year, something he hasn’t done since 2014, but barring catastrophe, the Nationals’ rotation looks sturdy, if not dominant. The same can be said for the bullpen, though the club lost a big contributor when Mark Melancon reached free agency — and a shiny new deal with the league-rival San Francisco Giants.

No one approaching Melancon’s superstar status remains on Washington’s roster, though 23-year-old hurler Koda Glover has attracted some looks in spring training. With days to go before the Nationals make their regular season debut, club manager Dusty Baker has remained mum on the subject. Veteran right-hander Shawn Kelley is the supposed frontrunner for the position, though his age and declining health put a limit on his availability. The opposite is true for fellow right-hander Blake Treinen, whose stuff is too good to be wasted in a ninth-inning slot, while Glover’s inexperience in the big leagues makes him more of a question mark than a sure thing.

Also troubling is the decline of star slugger Bryce Harper, whose .243/.373/.441 batting line and 3.5 fWAR in 2016 were hardly reminiscent of the league-leading totals that netted Harper his first MVP award in 2015. Anytime a good player shows wear and tear, it’s cause for some concern, but when it happens to one of the best hitters in the league, it tends to generate panic. Thankfully, not everything went downhill for Harper last season. He generated a career-high 21 stolen bases and muscled 24 home runs, second only to Daniel Murphy’s 25 homers. (In case you forgot, that’s one home run for each year that Bryce Harper has been alive, which makes the threat of imminent decline seem almost laughable at this point in his career.)

Life would be easier if Harper returned to his 42-homer, 9.5 fWAR ways, but the Nationals aren’t exactly hurting for lack of offense these days. Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon comprise a fearsome lineup, complemented by the offseason additions of center fielder Adam Eaton and catcher Matt Wieters. The Nationals secured the return of Adam Eaton for a package of pitching prospects, including top-rated right-hander Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Despite the appeal of Eaton’s 6.0 fWAR 2016 season and the added benefit of shifting Trea Turner back to short, it’s a move that only makes sense when the stakes involve a championship run.

Short of a viable closer and Bryce Harper’s MVP-caliber production levels, the Nationals figure to be sitting pretty atop the NL East in 2017. Their top prospect gamble should pay off, at least in the short term, and assuming they maintain a healthy pitching staff, nothing appears to be blocking their path to a long and storied playoff battle… except, maybe, the defending World Series champs themselves.

Prediction: 1st in NL East.

Jeurys Familia’s domestic violence suspension to be announced today

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Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the announcement of Jeurys Familia‘s domestic violence suspension is expected some time today.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Billy Witz of the New York Times reported Monday that the suspension is “almost certain” to be lighter than the 30-game suspension Aroldis Chapman received one year ago. However much time Familia misses, the Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.