The Big Read: From Elijah Dukes to Bryce Harper: How the Nats made it to the top

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Yesterday I called the Nationals the best team in baseball. Today Joe Posnanski explains how they got there. But first he reminds us of how truly wretched they were just a few short years ago:

Their right fielder, Elijah Dukes, had been involved in so many off-field incidents, the team hired a former police officer to watch him at all times (though not too well since Dukes would talk later of smoking pot before Nationals games) … Their best player, Adam Dunn, was so bad defensively in left field and at first base that despite hitting 38 homers and posting a .398 on-base percentage, the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic still rated him worse than a replacement player (his minus-43 fielding runs is the worst fielding performance in baseball history).

The starting pitching was such an irreparable mess that, in desperation, they signed 34-year-old Livan Hernandez, who had pitched for five teams the previous four years. And one of those teams was the Washington Nationals.

When it gets this bad, what do you do? Where do you even begin? And how does it then become baseball’s best team in three years?

Joe walks us through how. And, as always, The Big Read is a good read.

The Indians have expressed an interest in Asdrubal Cabrera

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Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that the Indians have expressed interest in Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cabrera, who began his career in Cleveland, would be a utility guy. Which is not exactly the Indians’ greatest need — they need a starting pitcher above all else — but improvement is improvement. Not much improvement in Cabrera’s case as he’s hitting .250/.333/.398 with nine homers in 70 games this season, but that’s useful if he’s cool with a strictly utility role. Which he’d have to be given that the Indians are solid at second, third and short.

Cabrera would come pretty cheaply of course. Partially because he’s not major piece, partially because he sort of hilariously demanded a trade last month. In large part because he wants to play shortstop which, now that I think about it, may complicate this whole “Cabrera for a utility role” idea the Indians seem to have.

The Rangers are shopping Yu Darvish

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Rangers “have started reaching out to teams potentially interested in acquiring” Yu Darvish.

Texas is only 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card slot, but there are five teams ahead of them and they’ve really never had any traction this year. Such is not the stuff on which a team bases an all-in playoff run. Darvish, meanwhile, is in his walk year, so the Rangers have some incentive to get value for him. Passan says the Astros, Brewers, Yankees, Indians, Rockies and Dodgers could have interest in him, but really, he’d improve any contender.

Darvish is 6-8 with a 3.45 ERA and 131 strikeouts and 42 walks in 125.1 innings.