Nationals inquire about Kris Bryant

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The Washington Nationals, fresh off signing Stephen Strasburg to a $245 million deal, are now turning their attention to their third base hole. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that they have made inquiries to the Chicago Cubs about trading for Kris Bryant.

Emphasis on the word “inquiry” because it’d be premature for the Cubs to trade Bryant at the moment, even if they are reported to be considering the possibility.

Bryant and the Cubs are awaiting word from an arbitrator about Bryant’s years-old service time grievance. If Bryant wins, he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Cubs win they control him for two more years. The team may or may not choose to trade him in either case as they are reportedly trying to cut payroll, but the price for him will vary pretty significantly depending on whether or not the acquiring club will receive one or two years of control over the former MVP.

For Washington, this would be a means of replacing free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. Or, perhaps, the inquiries are a means of creating a tad more leverage for the Nats as they talk to Rendon’s agent about re-signing him.

Which, in the past, the Nats said they could not do if they also re-signed Strasburg, though I suspect that’s just posturing too. They may not want to spend big money to keep their World Series core together, but they can afford it. They’re going to see, I suspect, an eight-figure uptick in revenue by virtue of being the defending World Series champs. They are poised to receive a significant payout as a result of recent rulings in their own multi-year dispute with the Orioles and the MASN network. They are, of course, owned by billionaire real estate moguls. All of that taken together means that, if they choose to, they can bring back Rendon. Assuming he chooses to come back too.

But, if that doesn’t happen, they appear to be giving themselves options at the hot corner.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”