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Reds claim Kevin Gausman off waivers from the Braves

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We still only have one trade deadline, with waiver trades that we used to have in August all gone, but August waivers still exist for their own sake. That means a team can place any player it wants on waivers and other teams can claim him. If the player is claimed and the team which placed the guy on waivers does not want to lose him, they can still pull him back. All that can’t happen now is that the first team and the claiming team cannot make a trade for the guy. It’s either let him go with no strings or keep him.

That just happened to Braves pitcher Kevin Gausman, who was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. He is now a member of the Reds, and the Reds have to take on the remainder of his $9.35 million salary for 2019, which amounts to close to $3 million. Gausman is arbitration eligible this offseason and the Reds can keep either keep him or non-tender him, making him a free agent.

It might be the latter unless he shows the Reds something in the season’s final two months. Gausman is 3-7 with a 6.19 ERA and has 85 strikeouts against 27 walks in 80 innings of work over 16 starts. Indeed, the Reds just saw the 2019 Gausman up close and personal on Friday when he gave up five runs on eight hits in four and two-thirds innings to Cincinnati batters in his last start as a Brave.

He’s just been crazy hittable this year compared to last year and especially compared to his performance after being traded to Atlanta last year. In the ten starts after Baltimore traded him he pitched the best baseball of his career whereas the 16 starts this year is pretty much his worst stretch ever. Maybe Reds scouts saw something they could tweak on Friday? Who knows.

The fact of the matter is that the real Gausman is someplace in between last season’s good run and this season’s bad one. He’s a more or less league average starter. That could be valuable enough for the Reds to keep in 2020. It probably depends on how he does for the rest of 2019.

Nationals succeeded by spending money

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Throughout the playoffs, the Nationals have been cast as plucky underdogs fighting and scrapping their way into the World Series. It’s somewhat true: the Nats overcame a dreadful start to the regular season after losing their star outfielder in Bryce Harper, and were heavy underdogs in the NLDS against the Dodgers, who won 13 more games. But the Nationals are not David in a David vs. Goliath story. They’re closer to Goliath because they have flexed their payroll muscle to fill the roster with talented players.

The Nationals didn’t come close to matching the 13-year, $330 million contract the Phillies wound up agreeing to with Harper, instead offering a 10-year, $300 million deal of which about $100 million was deferred. Losing Harper has somewhat defined their 2019. But they did sign starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract, and they’re paying Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg $38.33 million and $37.4 million, respectively. As we saw in the NLCS, it was the starting rotation that carried them into the World Series.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, will not win the award again this year most likely, but he once again ranked among the game’s best pitchers. During the regular season, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts across 172 1/3 innings. Strasburg led the league in wins with 18 and innings with 209 while authoring a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts. Corbin continued to impress with a 3.25 ERA and 328 strikeouts in 202 innings. As a unit, the Nationals’ 3.53 ERA from starting pitchers ranked second-best in baseball behind the Dodgers. Sounds about right for a rotation collectively earning about $100 million.

We — the royal we — have been quick to point out when an uncommon strategy works, like the Cubs’ and Astros’ rebuilding strategies before they came in vogue or the Rays’ use of the “opener.” It’s only fair to point out that a time-tested strategy, spending money on good baseball players, also works. The Nationals’ current payroll of about $204.5 million is third-highest in baseball, according to USA TODAY.

In September, the Nationals’ NL East rival Phillies were reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal to have curtailed efforts to compete for a Wild Card because of a lack of certainty. The front office didn’t want to invest significant resources into grabbing a lowly Wild Card only to have to match up with the behemoth Dodgers in the NLDS. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did. The Nationals also swept the slumping Phillies in a five-game series September 23-26.

The Phillies aren’t alone. We’ve seen in the last few offseasons that teams have become loath to invest in free agents, particularly ones 30 and older. Even Scherzer took notice. Asked about the Nationals’ collective age, Scherzer said via The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd, “It just seems everybody wants younger and younger players. And everybody wants to forget about all the old guys. We see it in free agency, we’re not dumb. And the fact (is) we’re the oldest team and we won the National League.”

Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Josh Donaldson will highlight the upcoming free agent class. They could be joined by Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and J.D. Martinez if they exercise the opt-out clauses in their contracts. In the cases of Cole and Rendon, at least two-thirds of the league should be actively pursuing them but if the past few years are any indication, the actual interest will be muted and they won’t end up signing until after the new year. Front offices have continued to blindly recite the phrase “aging curve” while pointing at the Rays in an effort to scale back payroll. The Nationals, meanwhile, are putting the “money” back in Moneyball and they might win a championship because of it.