James Wagner of the Washington Post chronicles what it’s like when you combine a team that wins a boatload of games and some veterans with senses of humor:
The Nationals carry the best record in baseball on the field, but they’re also a vibrant and jovial group of players off it. They smile and laugh in the dugout, the bullpen and behind the scenes — enlivened by winning. But few of the players have ever been in a pennant race, and the light-hearted tone set by veterans is as important now as ever.
The article describes most of the stuff you’ve heard about from happy clubhouses before: pranks, jokes, icy-hot in jockstraps, etc. Still, it’s all new in Washington.
How you can tell when the Nationals have really arrived, however? When they do this stuff all year, win 100 games and then have bad luck in the playoffs, after which some bitter tabloid columnist writes the “maybe the Nats should have been more serious” column like you’d see in New York or Boston.
The Atlanta Braves selected high school pitcher Carter Stewart with the number eight overall pick in the 2018 draft. Then, after the draft, they gave Stewart a below-slot signing bonus offer, claiming that they found problems with his wrist in his post-draft physical. Stewart ended up rejecting the offer and the MLBPA filed a grievance against the Braves on Stewart’s behalf.
The grievance sought to make Stewart a free agent it was considered a long shot at the time of its filing and, in fact, the grievance was rejected. Stewart, unable to attain free agency, enrolled at Eastern Florida State College, a two-year school that would’ve made him eligible for the 2019 draft.
Now, Ken Rosenthal reports, Stewart has pulled a crazy Ivan and is heading to Japan, having signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. The terms of the deal aren’t known, but Rosenthal says Stewart was looking for a $7 million guarantee.
It’s a fascinating turn of events for Stewart who, this time last year, was considered perhaps the best amateur pitcher in baseball. Being lowballed and having his health questioned by the Braves may have been a wakeup call to Stewart, however, about his chances of finding a quick path the bigs in the U.S. If the shine did come off of his prospect status in the past year here, there’s every reason to believe that $7 million and a path to the bigs in Japan is a much better deal than several million less and a path to the bigs in America.
He’ll be worth watching over the next few years, that’s for sure. Both for his own sake and to see if, in this era of Major League Baseball’s capping of amateur bonuses and teams’ habit of manipulating service time, going overseas becomes more attractive to American high schoolers and college players.