strasburg getty

No, the Strasburg shutdown in 2012 is not why the Nats missed the playoffs in 2013


The worst part of narrative-driven sports journalism is that it usually results in those who engage in it bending the facts to fit the narrative rather than identifying a narrative that springs logically from those facts. As an example I give you John Feinstein’s column on the Nats. Which came out today, but which you know he wrote a long time ago:

And now it can be said, with almost no doubt, that the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down last September didn’t cost Washington one chance to win a World Series, it cost the team and the city two chances. Because if one thing is clear about the debacle that was this summer it is that it was set up by the disaster of last fall.

The evidence of this, apart from Feinstein’s assertion that it is self-evident, is not provided. He spends a lot of time on the idea that the Rafael Soriano signing was a slight to Drew Storen which in turn caused clubhouse strife. There is some truth to that, but based on how Storen pitched this year the strife was well-earned. Still, I don’t know what that has to do with Strasburg. Maybe he feels like the lack of Strasburg in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS led to the Storen breakdown. I have no idea, but there is not much else there other than talk of mojo, hubris, karma and all of that kind of nonsense linking the Strasburg shutdown decision in 2012 to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

Which is understandable given that there were a whole host of things that happened in 2013 that led to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

The offense took a step back this year, with many hitters who helped the team win the division in 2012 having worse years in 2013. Adam LaRoche dropped over 100 points of OPS. Danny Espinosa fell off a cliff. Denard Span represented a huge downgrade on offense from Mike Morse. Steve Lombardozzi was somehow given over 400 plate appearances, showing just how thin the Nats’ bench was (or how sub-optimally it was deployed by Davey Johnson). Bryce Harper’s overall numbers were excellent, but an insane start was responsible for much of that, followed by months in which he was hurt. It was an offense that had its moments, especially late in the season, but which fought inconsistency for most of the year.

The pitching had its rough patches as well, with Dan Haren’s first half looking like a car wreck. Ross Detwiler took a step back. Feinstein’s allegedly wronged man, Drew Storen, pinched off a 4.68 ERA. Yes, I suppose him being demoted made Tyler Clippard mad that one day, but keeping him in high-leverage situations would have led to far more anger among Nats fans. Beyond that, the Nats led the National League in ERA in 2012. They were sixth in 2013. Not terrible, but enough to explain a multi-game drop in the standings.

Even if you want to get into the karma/chemistry mumbo-jumbo to explain this season you’d be better off looking at the tone set by Davey Johnson — never particularly urgent, even when the team was spiraling — than you would at a pitcher-usage decision made over a year ago. I don’t put too much stock in that, but at least it’s something which actually affected this year’s Nats club.

Look, I wasn’t a fan of the Strasburg shutdown last year. I think it would have been nice to have him around in the NLDS and I think that Mike Rizzo’s ultimate decision to shut him down was just as much a function of Rizzo being stubborn or else feeling he had painted himself into a corner as it was based on sound injury prevention techniques. But even as a pretty persistent Rizzo critic on this point, I can’t see how on Earth one can make a straight-faced claim that the fate of the 2013 Nationals was even moderately dependent upon the Strasburg decision. Even remotely, actually.

I feel like Feinstein has been waiting for a long time to say “ah-ha!” to Rizzo about the Strasburg decision. And that he does today, regardless of the baseball facts which relate to the Nationals this year. But hey, narrative-driven analysis about curses and karma are the stuff of highly-paid columns and book deals, not baseball facts.

UPDATE: The Post’s Adam Kilgore — who covers the Nationals day-in, day-out — totally dismantles Feinstein’s column. Beautiful.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.

The Diamondbacks met with Johnny Cueto’s agent

AP Photo/David Goldman
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Diamondbacks spoke with Bryce Dixon, the agent of free agent starter Johnny Cueto. However, Rosenthal notes that Cueto’s price tag is expected to exceed the Diamondbacks’ comfort level.

Cueto, 29, is one of a handful of highly touted starting pitchers in this offseason’s free agent class. He is joined by David Price and Zack Greinke, among others. Jordan Zimmermann inked a deal in the neighborhood of $110 million over five years with the Tigers on Sunday morning, which will serve as a barometer for Cueto.

Cueto finished the 2015 regular season, between the Reds and the Royals, with a 3.44 ERA and a 176/46 K/BB ratio over 212 innings. He made 13 shaky starts with the Royals, but outside of a shellacking in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, pitched well in the post-season. Cueto pitched a complete game in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets, helping put the Royals up two games to none at the time.

As a result of switching teams during the season, Cueto was not eligible to receive a $15.8 million qualifying offer. This means that Cueto, unlike Zimmermann for example, does not come attached with draft pick compensation.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski is reportedly trying to trade Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

Nick Cafardo provides this interesting nugget in his Sunday notes column at the Boston Globe

Hanley Ramirez, 1B-DH, Red Sox — There’s now talk in the front office that Dave Dombrowski is trying to move Ramirez in a deal. The Mariners, Orioles, and Angels seem to be the targets, and all three make sense.

Cafardo notes that “there are huge hurdles to cross” before a trade could happen — like how much of Hanley’s remaining salary the Red Sox would have to eat and what positions the soon-to-be 32-year-old is able to play defensively at this point in his career.

Boston’s higher-ups have asked Ramirez to learn first base and drop 20 pounds this winter. Whatever team is looking to acquire him would probably have to be comfortable with him serving primarily as a designated hitter.

Hanley is owed $68.2 million over the next three seasons and he carries a $22 million vesting option for 2019. He batted just .249/.291/.426 in 105 games this past year.

Ben Zobrist is the “Mets’ No. 1 target”

Ben Zobrist
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Ben Zobrist posted a cool .809 OPS (120 OPS+) in 126 games this summer between Oakland and Kansas City while appearing defensively at second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions.

His steady bat and defensive versatility make him a fit for just about every club in Major League Baseball, and the defending National League champions are among the teams in hot pursuit …

It’s a little odd to see the rebuilding Braves listed there given that Zobrist is 34 years old, but Rosenthal says the interest stems from a “desire for him to serve as [a] model for younger players” as the club prepares to open a new ballpark in 2017. Wasn’t that supposed to be Nick Markakis‘ job?

Zobrist and his agent Alan Nero are believed to be seeking a four-year deal.