A's relocation should bring out emotions for D.C. baseball fans

GettyImages-1183477609

Major League Baseball, for all its warts, can stake claim to something no other major North American professional sports league can claim: Very few franchise relocations in recent times.

For five decades, in fact, there was only one MLB relocation: the Expos’ move to Washington prior to the 2005 season to become the Nationals. In spite of all of the sport’s other issues, this was a particular point of pride for baseball when comparing itself to the NFL, NBA and NHL.

And then came this week’s news of MLB owners unanimously approving the Athletics’ plan to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas, and all of a sudden an issue that has barely been on baseball’s mind for a half-century is now the predominant story in the sport.

Baseball, of course, experienced plenty of franchise relocations prior to this long run of stability. The 1950s saw the Dodgers and Giants head west, the Braves move from Boston to Milwaukee, the St. Louis Browns become the Baltimore Orioles and the A’s transfer from Philadelphia to Kansas City. The 1960s then saw the original Senators become the Minnesota Twins, while the Braves (Milwaukee to Atlanta) and A’s (Kansas City to Oakland) relocated again. And the early 1970s saw the Seattle Pilots become the Milwaukee Brewers after only one season and the expansion Senators bolt for Texas to be rebranded as the Rangers.

But that’s ancient history at this point. Modern baseball has been defined by the stability of its franchises, and the addition of expansion teams to grow the league to an even 30 organizations. So the Oakland-to-Vegas announcement feels like a really big deal because in this sport it is a really big deal.

Continue reading

Nationals face several decisions on tender deadline day (updated)

Garcia and Call white jerseys

Baseball’s second significant roster deadline of the week comes this evening, when teams are required to tender contracts to all players on the 40-man roster who aren’t already signed for the upcoming season.

Tendering a contract doesn’t mean actually agreeing to a 2024 salary. That process can still take place over the next two months, with any cases that aren’t settled ultimately heading to arbitration. This first step merely involves a team indicating its intention to sign a player for another season.

And the vast majority of these cases are cut-and-dried. Almost everyone involved in this process will have his contract tendered by the end of the day. Anyone who doesn’t get tendered … well, that’s the real newsworthy event.

Dozens of players across the sport get “non-tendered” every year on this date. Most are arbitration-eligible and due to earn more money via standard raises than the club is willing to pay after disappointing performances, making them free agents who can then sign anywhere they like.

The Nationals used this to their advantage last winter. They not only non-tendered Luke Voit, Erick Fedde and Tommy Romero, they wound up signing two players who were non-tendered by other clubs: Jemier Candelario and Dominic Smith.

Continue reading

Offseason lineup needs look familiar for Nationals

Joey Meneses blue jersey

At this point 12 months ago, the Nationals had three holes to fill in their 2023 starting lineup. They needed a left fielder. They needed a third baseman. And, after choosing not to tender a contract to Luke Voit, they needed a first baseman (or designated hitter).

Mike Rizzo promptly filled all three of those holes in the form of Corey Dickerson, Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith, who combined made less than $10 million. One of them worked out wonderfully and was flipped at the trade deadline for a pitching prospect who could make his major league debut next season. The other two didn’t work out at all, with Dickerson injured and unproductive and out of a job by early August, and Smith offering smooth defensive work but not nearly enough offense at a traditionally offense-first position.

So as they progress into the heart of this offseason, the Nationals find themselves yet again with three lineup holes to fill. They need a left fielder. They need a third baseman. And, after choosing to designate Smith for assignment this week, they need a first baseman (or DH).

There are, to be fair, some potential in-house options at each position. Stone Garrett could be the starting left fielder, but how confident is the team in his ability to be 100 percent recovered from a gruesome broken leg by Opening Day? Carter Kieboom or Ildemaro Vargas or Jake Alu could be the third baseman, but none provides the kind of assured offense you’d think the Nats prefer at that position. And they could make Joey Meneses their regular first baseman and hope his defense is good enough, but even then, would still need to find another DH.

So, it feels like Rizzo is probably going to be looking once again to fill all three of those holes from outside the organization.

Continue reading

Nats will again be in the market for a first baseman

Dominic Smith blue jersey

We knew there would be news Tuesday, what with the Nationals facing a late-afternoon deadline to add players to the 40-man roster and protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 draft. We didn’t know there would be quite this much news, though.

While the promotions of pitchers DJ Herz, Mitchell Parker, Cole Henry and Zach Brzykcy to the 40-man roster were newsworthy, the bigger story wound up being one of the corresponding moves made to clear spots for those prospects: Dominic Smith was designated for assignment.

This isn’t to suggest Smith was always a lock to return in 2024 after a very disappointing 2023 at the plate. But here’s what Mike Rizzo had to say when asked during the season’s final week about the roles both Smith and Jeimer Candelario played after they were signed the previous winter:

“Dom’s shown that his leadership in the infield, I think he’s made our young infielders much, much better and much more confident defensively,” Rizzo said. “And he’s starting to show some power late in the season. Those are always the type of people that you want to acquire, and guys that when you’re at this point in the rebuild, I thought was important for us to acquire.”

Smith was never supposed to be part of the long-term plan around here. But with no obvious replacement at first base waiting in the wings and based on the way both Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez talked about him at season’s end, it felt like he would be back for another year.

Continue reading

Smith, Abbott, Machado cut; four pitchers added to 40-man roster

Dominic Smith gray

The Nationals chose to protect four prospects, all pitchers, from being lost in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. To do so, they cut ties with three players who ended the season on their major league roster, most notably first baseman Dominic Smith.

Smith and right-hander Cory Abbott were both designated for assignment today, with reliever Andrés Machado granted his unconditional release as well to pursue opportunities in Japan. The team then used those three open slots, plus one that already was open, to add left-handers DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker, plus right-handers Cole Henry and Zach Brzykcy, to their 40-man roster. That ensures none of those four prospects can be lost in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

The decision to drop Smith came as the biggest surprise of the day, considering the manner in which club officials spoke up the first baseman’s defensive value and clubhouse leadership this season in spite of his offensive struggles. Signed for $2 million last winter after the Mets chose not to tender him a contract, Smith hit .254/.326/.366 with 12 homers, 46 RBIs and a .692 OPS in 153 games for the Nats. Six of his 12 homers came in September alone, leaving the 28-year-old with some hope he had solved the power woes he endured for the majority of the season.

Even with those woes at the plate, Smith was lauded for his glove work at first base, where he produced five Defensive Runs Saved and was a calming influence for young infielders CJ Abrams, Luis García and Carter Kieboom.

Smith was eligible for arbitration and was projected to make roughly $4 million through that process. Now, the Nationals will be in the market for a new first baseman for the second straight offseason, likely prioritizing power from that corner position to help bolster a lineup that hit a National League-worst 151 homers this year. They could also move Joey Meneses full-time to first base and seek a new designated hitter.

Continue reading

Roster moves coming on Rule 5 draft deadline day

Alex Call blue jersey

There are two significant roster-related deadline days across baseball this week. On Friday, all teams must tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, with the possibility looming that some could be non-tendered. But before we get to that, today all teams must decide which of their prospects they want to add to their 40-man rosters in order to protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 draft.

This is a day that usually didn’t garner much attention from the Nationals’ perspective when they were consistent contenders and basically sat out the Rule 5 draft for a decade. But it became important again last year, both because they owned (and used) the No. 1 pick in the draft and because they had a high number of prospects they wanted to protect, forcing them to part ways with several big leaguers.

A refresher course, for those who don’t remember how this works: The Rule 5 draft gives teams the opportunity to select unprotected minor leaguers away from other clubs for $100,000, with one critical caveat: Any player selected must remain on the major league roster the entire season (90 days on the active roster) or else be offered back to the original club.

The Nats, who hadn’t selected a Rule 5 player since 2010, finally got back in the game last year by taking Thaddeus Ward with the first overall pick. The right-hander missed several months with a shoulder injury but met the required standard by staying on the active roster enough to remain with the organization, which can now option him to Triple-A if it wants.

The Nationals did not, however, have anyone selected away from them in last year’s Rule 5 draft, evidence perhaps of some smart decisions they made to protect certain players and perhaps of the lack of big-league-ready talent further down the organizational depth chart.

Continue reading

What type of pitcher might the Nats pursue this winter?

Blake Snell Padres jersey

The Nationals, like pretty much every other team in the major leagues, could use some pitching help entering next season. They would love to add an experienced starter to a rotation that, while improved from a year ago, still was lacking in many ways.

Saying you’re interested in adding a veteran starter, however, is very different from actually adding a veteran starter. And the term “veteran starter” can mean a whole lot of different things.

Are we talking about a top-of-the-rotation guy, someone who could lead this staff for years to come? Are we talking about a middle-of-the-rotation guy, a solid-but-unspectacular pitcher who takes the ball every fifth day and usually gives you a chance to win? Are we talking about a back-of-the-rotation guy, a stopgap solution who may not even make it through the entire season?

We don’t know specifically yet what the Nationals have in mind. But if we look back at Mike Rizzo’s track record, we can probably get an idea about the type of pitcher he usually pursues. And the type of pitcher he usually ignores.

Since becoming general manager in 2009, Rizzo has signed nine starting pitchers as major league free agents: Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang in 2010, Edwin Jackson in 2012, Dan Haren in 2013, Max Scherzer in 2015, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in 2019, Jon Lester in 2021 and Trevor Williams in 2023.

Continue reading

Looking for a theme in Nats coaching staff changes

davey martinez staring

It’s not uncommon for a veteran manager to make changes to his coaching staff. It is somewhat uncommon, though, for a veteran manager to make changes to his coaching staff after he was just given his own contract extension near the end of a season most consider to have been more successful than the previous one.

When word got out last month the Nationals weren’t bringing back four of the eight coaches from Davey Martinez’s staff for next season, it raised at least a few eyebrows. But it also felt appropriate to withhold judgment until those positions were filled, at which point everyone could better understand what was intended all along.

Well, now we know what the full 2024 staff will look like. Out is longtime bench coach Tim Bogar, replaced by former White Sox bench coach (and interim manager) Miguel Cairo. Out is third base coach Gary DiSarcina, replaced from within by run prevention coordinator Ricky Gutierrez. Out is first base coach Eric Young Jr., replaced from within by fan favorite and briefly special assistant to the general manager Gerardo Parra. And out is longtime assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler, replaced by former White Sox assistant hitting coach and big league third baseman Chris Johnson.

Two in-house replacements. Two outside additions. Two with prior big league coaching experience. Two with no prior big league coaching experience. Two former infielders replaced by two former infielders. One former outfielder replaced by a former outfielder.

And what conclusions, if any, can we draw from all this? Martinez hasn’t publicly spoken about the changes yet. Mike Rizzo declined to comment Wednesday about the coaching moves because they hadn’t been officially announced yet, but in referencing the overhaul of his scouting and player development departments he told reporters at the GM meetings in Arizona: “I think change is good. I think that we needed a refresh to a lot of parts of our baseball operations department, and we did. We’ve never been afraid to make moves … We brought in a lot of good people, and I think there’s going to be a different look, and I think it’s going to be really effective.”

Continue reading

Nats finalize staff with assistant hitting coach, De La Rosa dropped from 40-man

davey and rizzo sitting

The Nationals announced their 2024 coaching staff today, officially making four changes while ostensibly eliminating one position that had been created this year.

Davey Martinez will have a new bench coach (Miguel Cairo), third base coach (Ricky Gutierrez), first base coach (Gerardo Parra) and assistant hitting coach (Chris Johnson) by his side next season. They join four holdovers who return to their same positions: pitching coach Jim Hickey, hitting coach Darnell Coles, bullpen coach Ricky Bones and catching and strategy coach Henry Blanco.

In the end, the Nationals chose to replace Tim Bogar, Gary DiSarcina, Eric Young Jr. and Pat Roessler with two in-house promotions and two outside hires.

The hiring of Cairo, Gutierrez and Parra had previously been reported. Cairo, 49, becomes Martinez’s right-hand man in the dugout, the former longtime utilityman joining the Nats after spending 2021-22 as the White Sox’s bench coach (and interim manager when Tony La Russa took medical leave) and 2023 as the Mets’ minor league infield coordinator.

Gutierrez spent this season in the dugout as well as the Nats’ newly created run prevention coordinator. The 53-year-old former big league infielder was responsible for working with CJ Abrams and Luis García in the field, and he’ll continue to coach the team’s infielders while also replacing DiSarcina as third base coach. He has never coached third base in the majors but has done so in the minors as manager of the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in 2020-21.

Continue reading

Friday morning Nats Q&A

Mike Rizzo

The offseason is officially underway, and though the Nationals (or any other club) have yet to acquire any new players, they have been busy. They've made several significant moves with their front office. They've replaced three members of the coaching staff. They've made some required 40-man roster moves, with some more to come next week.

This has the potential to be a fascinating winter for the Nats, depending on how they decide to approach things. Are they content with the status quo until the top prospects are big-league ready? Are they pondering some bigger moves that would be made not only with 2024 in mind but beyond? Will the Stephen Strasburg retirement saga ever be resolved?

I can't promise I have the answer to every one of those questions (or any others), but I can promise I'll do my best to answer them with as much insight as I have at my disposal. So go ahead and submit your questions in the comments section below, then check back for my responses ...

How much might Nats' payroll increase in 2024?

Lane Thomas

After a sustained run as one of baseball’s highest-spending clubs, the Nationals have morphed into one of the sport’s lower-spending clubs over the last 12 months. Given the state of the franchise’s rebuild, that’s not unexpected. Teams focused on identifying young pieces for the future don’t boast high payrolls.

But the question remains on the minds of so many right now: When will the Nats decide it’s time to spend big again, and what will that look like?

Reading tea leaves from club officials, it doesn’t sound like a splurge is coming this winter. They’re still focused on identifying those long-term parts to the puzzle. Once they have a better sense what they already have, they may be more inclined to spend money to acquire what they don’t have.

But even if they don’t go big yet, there’s reason to believe payroll will increase in 2024. Not by a lot, but some.

First, some background: From 2013-21, the Nationals ranked in the top 10 in the majors in end-of-season payroll every year, with a club record $205 million payroll (fourth-highest in baseball) during the 2019 World Series run.

Continue reading

Organizational depth chart reveals strengths, problem areas

Keibert Ruiz catching

We don’t know yet how the Nationals are going to approach this offseason. Is there a chance they spend big on a free agent? Are they going to stick with their approach from last winter and sign several stopgap players to one-year contracts? What positions are they targeting most?

We’ll learn in the coming weeks and months how exactly this is going to play out, but as the true offseason gets underway this week, it’s helpful to look at what the Nats currently have as a guide for what they might now want to add.

And that doesn’t just mean what they have at the big league level. Now more than ever, the presence of top prospects in Double-A or Triple-A who could be close to arriving in D.C. can and should affect how Mike Rizzo and Co. approach the Hot Stove League. If they think they’ve got a long-term answer at third base waiting to make his major league debut, they probably aren’t going to sign a free agent for more than one year. If they don’t think they’ve got an in-house answer at first base, they might well decide it is appropriate to make a long-term commitment to someone from the outside.

So let’s take an opportunity this morning to look at the Nationals’ organizational depth chart, position by position. The top players listed are currently on the 40-man roster. Players who follow with an asterisk next to their names are not on the 40-man roster (though some could be added next week when the team needs to protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 Draft).

CATCHER
Keibert Ruiz
Riley Adams
Drew Millas
Israel Pineda
Brady Lindsly*
Onix Vega*

Continue reading

Source: Nats hiring Miguel Cairo as bench coach

GettyImages-1243584760

After filling two vacant spots on their coaching staff with in-house promotions, the Nationals are now filling a prime vacancy with a notable outside name.

Miguel Cairo will be Davey Martinez’s new bench coach, a source familiar with the decision confirmed, reuniting the former Tampa Bay teammates and giving Martinez another experienced voice in the dugout.

Cairo, 49, spent this season as the Mets minor league infield instructor, but he spent the previous two seasons as the White Sox bench coach, ultimately taking over as interim manager for several months while Tony La Russa dealt with a medical issue.

A veteran of 17 big league seasons with nine different organizations from 1996-2012, Cairo was a well-regarded utility infielder who played all around the diamond. He was still a young player when he and Martinez (then nearing the end of his career) were teammates with the then-Devil Rays from 1998-2000 and forged a friendship.

Martinez has spoken highly of Cairo in the past and lobbied for him to get the White Sox’s full-time managerial job after La Russa retired. Chicago instead hired Pedro Grifol for the position, leaving Cairo to find employment with the Mets instead.

Continue reading

Top prospect list includes familiar names in new order

Dylan Crews Fredericksburg

Organizational prospect rankings are by nature ever-changing. Top prospects reach the big leagues and watch their careers take off. New draft picks join the list and leapfrog other established players. Some once-touted prospects lose their steam and disappear off the radar.

But it’s notable how much the Nationals’ prospect rankings have changed in the last two years, growing from one of the least-touted groups in baseball to one that is now turning a whole lot of heads.

And it’s not necessarily all the same names everyone assumed would top the list not that long ago.

Baseball America unveiled its 2024 Top 10 ranking Monday, and while most of the names include on the list come as no surprise, the order they are listed does include a few surprises.

Headlining the group is the newest member of the organization: Dylan Crews. As one would expect, the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s draft immediately takes over as the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals organization. (He should be a top-10 prospect in the sport once that list is unveiled later this winter.)

Continue reading

Cronin DFA as Strasburg rejoins 40-man roster; Nats move night games to 6:45 p.m.

Stephen Strasburg last start

The Nationals set their 40-man roster for the offseason as required by Major League Baseball this afternoon, activating five players who had been on the 60-day injured list (including Stephen Strasburg) and designating minor league reliever Matt Cronin for assignment to clear the spot needed to get the organization down to the correct number.

With 41 players under club control but only 40 slots available now through Opening Day, the Nats decided to drop Cronin, a 26-year-old lefty who looked like he would be a part of the team’s long-term plans entering this season but fell from grace following a rough season that ended in injury.

Cronin, a fourth-round pick in 2019, posted a 2.42 ERA and 1.096 WHIP in 48 games with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester in 2022. But he struggled to a 5.02 ERA and 1.884 WHIP this season in Rochester and had surgery in August for a herniated disc in his back.

Meanwhile, the emergence of Robert Garcia, Jose A. Ferrer and Joe La Sorsa this year left the Nationals with several left-handed options for next year’s bullpen, further making Cronin expendable.

If Cronin goes unclaimed, he could be outrighted to the minors and remain in the organization, albeit no longer a member of the 40-man roster.

Continue reading

What to watch for as the offseason officially begins

Stephen Strasburg blue jersey

The World Series ended five days ago. That means, for all intents and purposes, the offseason begins today.

While there have been a few newsworthy developments up to this point, today marks the more official start of the Hot Stove League. Free agents may begin to sign contracts. Teams must set their 40-man rosters. Decisions of real consequence will start being made.

What might this offseason have in store for the Nationals? Here’s a primer to get you in the right frame of mind for what comes next …

* SETTING THE 40-MAN ROSTER
The first order of business is setting the organization’s 40-man roster, which for the last seven months has included more than 40 players. That’s because anyone on the 60-day injured list didn’t count against the total.

But there is no IL during the offseason. Healthy or not, everyone must be included on the 40-man roster or else be placed on waivers, made available to other teams or just flat-out released altogether.

Continue reading

World Series foes showed Nats the path back to October

GettyImages-613204096

For as much angst as the recently completed World Series generated – How dare the venerable Fall Classic feature a 90-win team against an 84-win team, neither of which won its division! – it really should have been embraced to the fullest extent around here.

Not because Nationals fans should’ve felt an emotional pull toward the Rangers, who spent the first 11 of their 63 years of existence as the Washington Senators. Not because it afforded Max Scherzer the opportunity to win his second ring. And not because the Diamondbacks made sure neither the reviled Dodgers nor the reviled Phillies (who took care of the reviled Braves) would reach the World Series again.

No, this series should’ve been wholly embraced by any baseball fan in the D.C. area because it offered something that’s been in short supply around here for several years now: Hope. Real hope.

Surely you heard it mentioned once or 17 times in the last two weeks, but just in case you forgot: Both the Rangers and Diamondbacks lost 100-plus games two seasons ago. Then Texas went 68-94 while Arizona went 74-88 last season. And here they were squaring off in the final week of October for the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The Nationals, as you already know, lost 107 games last season. And they finished this season 71-91. Huh, how do you like that?

Continue reading

Nats promote Longosz to head player development

Mike Rizzo

The Nationals decided to promote from within when selecting a new farm director. The club today named Eddie Longosz as vice president and assistant general manager of player development and administration, giving a longtime front office member the opportunity to now oversee the entire minor league operation.

Longosz, 37, has worked for the Nationals since 2010 and spent the last eight seasons as director of scouting operations. In that role, he assisted general manager Mike Rizzo on all aspects of the club’s amateur, professional and international scouting operations.

This promotion moves Longosz into a new area, one the organization has been trying to improve for some time. When longtime farm director Doug Harris was forced to leave baseball in 2020 while fighting an ongoing battle with cancer, his longtime assistant Mark Scialabba formally took over a role he essentially had already held for several years. Two years later, the team made veteran scout De Jon Watson director of player development, tasked with overhauling a farm system that was undergoing massive change following the trades of Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and others for prospects.

The Nats parted ways with Watson shortly after this season ended, though, making him one of a number of experienced baseball operations staffers who either were let go, resigned or retired. Now they turn to Longosz to take over a critical job for a franchise counting on several top prospects to make their major league debuts in the next few years.

“Eddie Longosz has been integral to our organization’s success over the past 14 years,” Rizzo said in the team’s statement announcing the promotion. “He is a tireless worker with extensive knowledge of our minor league players, coaches and system as a whole. He developed strong relationships with many of our current players during the draft process and has earned not only their trust, but the trust of those around them.

Continue reading

Can erratic reliever Thompson find consistency at last?

Mason Thompson white jersey

PLAYER REVIEW: MASON THOMPSON

Age on Opening Day 2024: 26

How acquired: Traded with Jordy Barley from Padres for Daniel Hudson, July 2021

MLB service time: 2 years, 42 days

2023 salary: $724,400

Continue reading

Nats decline 2024 option, but retain rights, on Robles

Victor Robles run white

The Nationals have declined their 2024 club option on Victor Robles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the outfielder’s time with the organization.

In choosing not to pick up their $3.3 million option for Robles, the Nats still retain control of the player, who has accrued only five years and 33 days of big league service time. That makes him eligible for arbitration once again this winter before he can finally become a free agent.

The Nationals and Robles could negotiate and agree to terms on a 2024 salary, one that most likely would be worth more than the $2.325 million he made this year but less than the $3.3 million option they agreed last offseason. If they can’t come to terms by January, they could file competing figures for arbitration and await the ruling of a three-judge panel.

Or, the Nats still could decide to cut ties with Robles and not tender him a contract before the league-wide Nov. 17 deadline, making him a free agent now.

It’s not entirely clear which direction the team will go after another disappointing season from Robles, though this time for different reasons from the past.

Continue reading