The Nationals have lost six straight, eight of ten and are now under .500

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Back in March the Nationals were everyone’s favorites. They had just signed Max Scherzer to a mega deal which put him alongside Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez as perhaps the best rotation in baseball. They had a core of guys with both speed and defensive bonafides in Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Ian Desmond. They had Jayson Werth. They had a healthy Bryce Harper and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman.

They also had, in terms of competition, a Braves team which decided to punt the year and rebuild, a Phillies team which looked like a disaster and Mets and Marlins teams which, while on the upswing, didn’t figure to match the firepower of the Washington Nationals. Simply put, no one in their right mind did anything but pick the Nationals to win the East and win it easily. And they still may win the NL East. There’s a month and a half of baseball to go and anything can happen.

Right now, however, they are looking terrible. They’ve lost six in a row, eight of ten and find themselves at 58-59, four and a half games back of the Mets. Who, by the way, also got swept this weekend, which means the Nats lost a prime opportunity to make up ground. Or, if you’re more of an optimist, saved the Nats from being buried even deeper than they are.

Also, if you’re optimistic, you can say that it was gonna be an ugly road trip to begin with. Yes, they’re 1-6 on the west coast swing and were just shut out for the third time in six games, but those three shutouts came at the hands of Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, who are probably the three best pitchers in the game. And, after an off-day today, they do get to play the Rockies who are no great shakes. We’ll just forget for a moment that the Nats dropped two of three to the Rockies at home last week.

No matter how you want to spin it, the numbers don’t lie and the numbers are pretty ugly. The Nats are 10-20 since the All-Star break. While four and a half games don’t seem like an insurmountable deficit, it becomes harder and harder the longer time goes on. If the Mets play at their current pace the rest of the way the Nats have to go something like 12-games over .500 for the remainder of the season to beat ’em out. And, because the wild card deficit is so big — nine and a half games — there is no margin for error here. Second place means watching the playoffs from home.

Time to get moving, Nats. You have a lot of expectations to live up to and not a lot of time left to do it.

Mariners agree to a six-year contract with prospect Evan White

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This is a rare one: the Mariners have signed first base prospect Evan White — a player who has yet to play a game above Double-A — to a six-year, $24 million contract. The deal has three club options as well that, if exercised, could make it max out at $55.5 million over nine years.

White was the M’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, going 17th overall out of the University of Kentucky. In 2019 he played at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, hitting .293/.350/.488 with 18 home runs, striking out 92 times and walking 29 times in 92 games. It’s a good line in a league that is pretty pitcher-friendly. Stuart also reportedly plays excellent defense at first base.

Clearly the Mariners consider White a part of their future, but unless White flames out early in his career, he’s leaving a lot of potential money on the table.

White turns 24 early next season, which means that, even if he begins the 2020 season in the majors, starting his major league service time clock on Opening Day, he wouldn’t reach free agency until he’s poised to begin his age-33 season, assuming the Mariners exercise those options. If the Mariners place him in Triple A for anything beyond a couple of weeks to start next season, that changes to his age-34 season. A full year of Triple-A action and even some modest service time manipulation by the M’s in 2021 would put it off even longer.

At the same time, a team is unlikely to want to pay a guy millions to toil in the minors — and the M’s are guaranteeing themselves as many as nine years of White’s services — so the threat of service time manipulation is greatly reduced. Which means that, if he hits, he plays. Of course, if he hits well and continues to do so, the Mariners will have a considerable bargain on their hands, with a potential franchise cornerstone locked up at an average of $6 million and change a year for nearly a decade.

As we’ve noted so often when discussing extensions with young players, that’s the tradeoff. After today, White could hit like Mario Mendoza, field like Dick Stuart and be drummed out of baseball before he’s 30 and, assuming he’s even moderately sensible, still have enough money to set himself up for life. If he turns into a real star he’ll make less than half of what he’s worth in his career. His alternative: wait at least four years and maybe five to reach arbitration and three more after that until he can be a free agent. Assuming arbitration and free agency exist after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2021.

So, let’s check back in a few years before passing ultimate judgment.