Russell Martin
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Russell Martin will manage the Blue Jays’ final game of the season

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With the Blue Jays long-since eliminated from this year’s postseason, manager John Gibbons is ready to let the team cut loose for their last game of 2018. When the team faces off against the Rays on Sunday, veteran catcher Russell Martin will take the reins as the club’s unofficial manager. Per MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, the title transfer is an informal one: Gibbons will still assume responsibility for the outcome of the game and add the win (or loss) to his own record, though Martin will be tasked with all in-game decisions.

It’s been a slow month for Martin, who was all but erased from the lineup as the Blue Jays focused on developing their cadre of young backstops this September. While the 35-year-old was originally promised a reduced role behind Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Luke Maile, he hasn’t seen a single start behind the dish since August 29 and hasn’t played at all since September 3, when he appeared at third base in lieu of Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz. He’ll finish the year with a career-worst .194/.338/.325 batting line, 10 home runs, and 0.5 fWAR through 352 plate appearances.

Whether or not Martin has given any thought to a future in managing is unclear, though he still has another year left on his contract with the team (and another $20 million to collect as well). Gibbons told reporters that the catcher would make an “ideal” manager someday, but Sunday’s game won’t serve as any kind of audition on that front. Chisholm adds that it’s just a “quirky little fun thing” the skipper has decided to do and, to that end, it promises to be a fitting end to a difficult year for Martin.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.