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Kyler Murray chooses football

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Before he was the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner as the quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners, Kyler Murray was selected by the Athletics in the 2018 draft.

For a time it appeared as if he’d choose baseball but his outstanding season for the Sooners seemed to change his mind on the matter. Last month he declared for the NFL draft, with the knowledge that doing so did not yet foreclose him from playing baseball. Meanwhile there were reports that the Athletics were considering giving Murray a major league deal in order to entice him to give up football and make baseball his full time gig.

All that seems to be over now, as Murray himself tweeted this a few moments ago:

An interesting question presents itself here: did the A’s lose Murray because of baseball’s cap on draft pick bonuses? And did baseball’s current state of labor relations play into the decision as well?

There’s a more or less hard cap on draftee bonuses now, prescribed by the league, and it’s painful for any team which seeks to exceed them. Those slots had the A’s giving Murray a $4.66 million signing bonus. There was a time when the A’s could’ve paid Murray any amount they wanted. That is, if they wanted him badly enough. As it was, their very act of trying to negotiate with Murray again in recent weeks required them to get special sign-off from the league and became a news story in and of itself. If the gambit were to be successful, the A’s would’ve had to keep Murray on their 40-man roster for his entire minor league career and potentially lose him to free agency earlier. Which is to say that (a) the A’s were mostly barred from paying Murray enough to lure him away from football; (b) if they wanted to exceed that bar it required a lot of doing; and (c) if they wanted to do that, there were factors pushing back against them doing so.

Meanwhile, the state of labor relations is such that the old calculus that used to apply to a two-sport star may not apply anymore. In the past, a guy like Murray would think “I could get paid more in the short term and have a short, possibly injury-filled football career or I could get paid more in the long run and have a longer, more healthy baseball career.” Well, when even two of the top free agents to ever hit the market are unemployed on February 11, that calculus is not the same as it used to be. Maybe Murray never gets paid to play baseball? His signing bonus was capped, prospects’ service time is routinely manipulated and free agency is far less appealing than it used to be. Maybe that makes the NFL that much more appealing.

At this point I suppose it’s theoretically possible that Murray could attend this month’s NFL combine and go through the draft, only to be disappointed in where he is selected. If that happens, I suppose it’s also possible for the A’s leave the door open for him to come back to baseball. This sort of unequivocal statement from Murray, however, makes that seem like an unlikely scenario. He’s going for an NFL career and, at the very least, is making it publicly clear that baseball is not on his mind. Perhaps that’s partially aimed at allying the fears of NFL teams regarding his commitment, but I’d wager it’s more about his actual desires.

The question for baseball is: did he jump for the NFL, or was he pushed?

 

 

Washington Nationals roster and schedule for 2020

Nationals roster and schedule
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The 2020 season is now a 60-game dash, starting on July 23 and ending, hopefully, with a full-size postseason in October. Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be giving quick capsule previews of each team, reminding you of where things stood back in Spring Training and where they stand now as we embark on what is sure to be the strangest season in baseball history. First up: The Washington Nationals roster and schedule:

NATIONALS ROSTER (projected)

When the season opens on July 23-24, teams can sport rosters of up to 30 players, with a minimum of 25. Two weeks later, rosters must be reduced to 28 and then, two weeks after that, they must be reduced to 26. Teams will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders.

In light of that, there is a great degree of latitude for which specific players will break summer camp. For now, though, here are who we expect to be on the Nationals roster to begin the season:

Catchers:

Yan Gomes
Kurt Suzuki

Infielders:

Eric Thames
Starlin Castro
Carter Kieboom
Trea Turner
Howie Kendrick
Asdrúbal Cabrera

Outfielders:

Juan Soto
Victor Robles
Adam Eaton
Michael Taylor
Andrew Stevenson

Starters:

Max Scherzer
Steven Strasburg
Patrick Corbin
Aníbal Sánchez
Austin Voth
Erick Fedde

Relievers:

Sean Doolittle
Daniel Hudson
Will Harris
Tanner Rainey
Wander Suero
Hunter Strickland
Roenis Elías


BREAKDOWN:

The Nationals shocked the world last year, recovering from an abysmal start to the season to win an NL Wild Card before cutting through the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Astros to win the first championship in franchise history. While the roster is largely unchanged, there is one gaping void: the loss of third baseman Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Angels. Rendon, a perennial MVP candidate, led the majors with 126 doubles and the NL with 44 doubles while smacking 34 homers with a 1.010 OPS last season. He’ll be replaced by the young Carter Kieboom and the veteran Kendrick and Cabrera. Those are some large shoes to fill.

With Rendon out of the picture, Juan Soto becomes the crux of the Nationals’ offense. Last year, he tied Rendon with 34 homers while knocking in 110 runs. He also, impressively, drew 108 walks, by far the highest on the team. The Nationals will likely have to utilize their speed even more. Last year, Soto stole 12 bases while Adam Eaton swiped 15, Victor Robles 28, and Trea Turner 35.

As was the case in 2019, the pitching will be how the Nationals punch their ticket to the postseason. Max Scherzer finished third in Cy Young balloting, his seventh consecutive top-five finish. The club retained Stephen Strasburg and brings back Patrick Corbin as well. There really isn’t a better 1-2-3 in the game. The rotation will be rounded out by Aníbal Sánchez and one of Austin Voth or Erick Fedde, though both are likely to see starts during the season.

The back of the bullpen is led by closer Sean Doolittle, who posted an uncharacteristically high — for him — 4.05 ERA last year. He still saved 29 games and averaged better than a strikeout per inning, so they’re in good hands. Daniel Hudson and Will Harris will work the seventh and eighth innings leading up to Doolittle.

As mentioned in the Braves preview, it’s tough to make any definitive statements about a 60-game season. Variance is going to have much more of an effect than it would in a 162-game season. Additionally, the NL East is highly competitive. It would be wrong to say with any degree of confidence that the Nationals will win the NL East. For example, the updated PECOTA standings from Baseball Prospectus only project a five-game difference between first and last place in the NL East. What we can say is that the Nationals will give everyone a run for their money in 2020.

NATIONALS SCHEDULE:

Every team will play 60 games. Teams will be playing 40 games against their own division rivals and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographic division from the other league. Six of the 20 interleague games will be “rivalry” games.

  • July 23, 25-26: vs. Yankees
  • July 27-28: vs. Blue Jays
  • July 29-30: @ Blue Jays
  • July 31-August 2: @ Marlins
  • August 4-5: vs. Mets
  • August 7-9: vs. Orioles
  • August 10-13: @ Mets
  • August 14-16: @ Orioles
  • August 17-19: @ Braves
  • August 21-24: vs. Marlins
  • August 25-27: vs. Phillies
  • August 28-30: @ Red Sox
  • August 31-September 3: @ Phillies
  • September 4-6: @ Braves
  • September 7-8: vs. Rays
  • September 10-13: vs. Braves
  • September 15-16: @ Rays
  • September 18-20: @ Marlins
  • September 21-23: vs. Phillies
  • September 24-27: vs. Mets

The entire Nationals schedule can be seen here.