strasburg getty

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

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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.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?