Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Watch as the Nats start laying this year’s disaster at Davey Johnson’s feet

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A call for Davey Johnson’s head, some Heyman speculation that Matt Williams could be his replacement and now Amanda Comak of the Washington Times goes full-blown with the successor speculation:

Through discussions with industry and team sources, four possible names emerged as possibilities for when the Nationals begin their managerial search in earnest: Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, Nationals third base coach Trent Jewett and Houston Astros manager Bo Porter.

Porter is the odd name there. Though he just came from Washington, it seems like a long shot in the extreme that the Astros would let him go after anointing him the steward of their rebuild so recently. Indeed, just this past March his general manager said this about him:

“People know Bo is going to be here for a long time,” Luhnow says. “He could be one of those guys who is an Astros manager for decades, not just years. The players knowing that this is the group that’s going to be here — it begins to lay the foundation for stability, which is really what we’re looking for.”

Not that they wouldn’t give him up for, I dunno, Bryce Harper or something. OK, maybe not anything that grand, but it would take Porter telling the Astros he really, really wanted the Nats job followed by the Nats giving up an awful lot to the Astros to let him out of his contract. And that really doesn’t make sense for anyone here. Teams shouldn’t be giving up real talent for a manager. Neither Porter nor the Astros would do well by being seen as abandoning a plan this quickly. Indeed, one of the biggest selling points to long-frustrated Astros fans right now is “hey, we may not have the talent yet, but boy howdy to we have a plan!” That’s actually appealing to people and Houston doesn’t want to mess with that.

But the biggest takeaway from all of this: I have this strong feeling that the next two months of the season will be filled with Nationals sources talking about new managers and a change in direction and philosophy, the likes of which there is plenty in Comak’s story. The reason: by doing so, team sources basically lay this season’s disaster at Johnson’s feet, absolving everyone who is still around for next year.

Not surprising. And not necessarily bogus. I mean, Johnson is a great manager, but he has messed up a good deal this season and isn’t blameless in what has gone on. I don’t think he can be blamed as much as the front office, but it’s not like he’s been an innocent bystander.  Still, laying the blame on Davey Johnson has happened many times in the past. The Mets, Reds, Dodgers and Orioles all felt a strong need to “change direction” following Johnson’s tenure, all either tacitly or plainly blaming Davey for what went wrong in the end.

Funny thing, though: teams have a habit of cratering even worse after Johnson leaves. And when that happens, everyone stops playing the blame-Davey game.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.