Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2012 Hall of Fame ballot released

US Presswire file photo
Barry Larkin appears to have a good shot at election this year.
The Hall of Fame released this year's induction ballot today, which always makes for both an interesting read and a starting point for some spirited debate.

Those who have been members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for at least 10 years -- and I'm one of them -- will receive the official ballot in the mail this week and have until Dec. 31 to submit them. Results will be announced Jan. 9.

As a voter, I'm sworn to secrecy and cannot divulge my choices until the results are made public. So I can't offer up my opinion on all these candidates today. Besides, I haven't really sat down and analyzed all the possibilities yet. (Here's a link to my post from last year revealing my full ballot.)

But I do think there are some intriguing angles to the 2012 ballot.

Espinosa makes Topps Rookie All-Star Team

Danny Espinosa's second-half slump may have killed his chances of winning National League Rookie of the Year, but it wasn't enough to keep him off one of baseball's more-prestigious honorary lists.

Espinosa was named second baseman on this year's Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team, the trading card company announced today. He was the lone member of the Nationals to make the list, which honors one rookie at each of the eight positions in the field, plus one starting pitcher and one reliever.

Though his season-ending numbers -- a .236 average, 21 homers, 66 RBI, .323 on-base percentage in 158 games -- were good enough only for a sixth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year vote, Espinosa did outrank all other rookie second basemen in the majors according to Topps. His closest competitor likely was Seattle's Dustin Ackley, who

Nats have surprised at Winter Meetings before

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The Nationals traded for Alfonso Soriano during the 2005 Winter Meetings in Dallas.
The last time they convened at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas for baseball's Winter Meetings, the Nationals did so with a clear-cut wish list. The Nationals' top priority during that week in Dec. 2005? Acquire a veteran starting pitcher.

By the end of those meetings, former general manager Jim Bowden had done nothing to address his club's rotation but instead made headlines with a surprise deal: the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano from the Rangers for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga.

The Soriano trade caught everyone by surprise. Though his name had been floated around before, no one was speculating about the possibility of that trade going down during the Winter Meetings. Instead, the focus on Bowden and the Nationals that week was on his pursuit of a reliable starting pitcher to join John Patterson and Livan Hernandez atop their 2006 rotation. Their No. 1 target at the time: A.J. Burnett.

It's always amusing to think back to weeks like that and remember how out-of-the-loop I (and my fellow beat writers) were when it came to the Soriano trade talks. Nobody had reported any hint of evidence to suggest a deal was in the works until it had already been finalized.

Last year's Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World brought a similar surprise deal, seemingly out of nowhere. Nobody predicted Jayson Werth would sign with the Nationals for seven years and $126 million, and nobody knew GM Mike Rizzo had been quietly working on that deal for several weeks.

Point is, you never really know what the Nationals might have up their sleeves this time of the year.

Rizzo has repeatedly said his two priorities this winter are acquiring a veteran starting pitcher (just as was the case back in 2005) and a starting center fielder. And there's no reason to question his sincerity in that regard.

At the same time, history suggests there could be more going on behind the scenes than we realize. Maybe Rizzo has been ironing out details of a possible trade. Maybe he's trying to convince a top international free agent to come to D.C. Or maybe he's just doing what he's claimed to be doing all along: Trying to fill those two previously revealed roster holes.

This much I know for certain: After learning our lesson the last time we gathered in Dallas, we shouldn't allow ourselves to be surprised if the Nationals do indeed pull off another Winter Meetings surprise.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Torn hamstring shelves Marrero

US Presswire photo
Chris Marrero hit .248 in his first 31 big-league games.
The chances of Chris Marrero starting at first base for the Nationals come Opening Day were already minuscule at best, what with Adam LaRoche signed for $8 million and Michael Morse available to move in from left field if needed.

But manager Davey Johnson did see Marrero as a potential right-handed bat off his bench to open 2012 after watching the 23-year-old enjoy some modest success during his September call-up.

So the revelation that Marrero tore his left hamstring two weeks ago while playing in the Dominican Republic and had surgery to repair the major injury does throw a wrench into the Nationals' plans.

There's no official timetable for Marrero's recovery, but it's not uncommon for tears like this to sideline a player up to one year. Even

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ready to ignite the Hot Stove

US Presswire photo
B.J. Upton could be available via trade, or perhaps as a free agent in a few weeks.
One week from today, the baseball world will converge on the massive Anatole Hotel in Dallas for this year's installment of the winter meetings. In theory, the Hot Stove League has been in season for nearly a month now. In reality, it's about to be ignited at last.

The Nationals have always entered the winter meetings with an idea what they needed, but they've perhaps never had objectives as clear-cut as they will this year. It's no secret what general manager Mike Rizzo wants: a veteran starter and a center fielder who ideally would hit leadoff.

There are a few other needs -- another arm or two for the bullpen, not to mention several bench pieces that could prove important -- but those are more likely to be filled later this winter after the big-ticket items have been plucked off the shelves.

So the Nationals' focus over the next 10 days or so figures to be on those two primary needs. Their paths to acquire each, though, may

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in NatsTown

On the heels of a season in which they made some significant strides, the Nationals have plenty to be thankful for this time of year.

And fortunately for all of you, I happened to get my hands on a bunch of Thanksgiving messages from all sorts of Nationals employees, from players to coaches to the front office. I can't reveal how I came upon these messages. Let's just say the CIA was very much involved in the process and leave it at that.

So without further ado, here's what everyone in NatsTown is thankful for this year...

DAVEY JOHNSON: That Jim Riggleman decided to commit career suicide at a most opportune moment.

MIKE RIZZO: That baseball didn't ratify a new CBA featuring severe limits on draft spending until after he handed out $41.5 million to Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Could new CBA delay Harper's debut?

Associated Press photo
Bud Selig and union chief Michael Weiner at yesterday's CBA press conference.
The formal announcement yesterday of baseball's new collective bargaining agreement spawned all kinds of analysis, drawing praise from some corners, disdain from others and an overall state of awe from plenty who were amazed that owners and players were able not only to ensure labor peace for five more years but agreed to a boatload of significant changes to the sport.

But perhaps one of the seemingly small details that was overlooked could prove vitally important for the Nationals by next summer and could lead to the club delaying Bryce Harper's big-league debut by several weeks.

What am I referring to? The decision to increase the percentage of players who are classified as "Super Two's" in baseball's arbitration system.

You may have some vague recollection of the Super Two rule as it related to Stephen Strasburg's debut in 2010. If you've forgotten how

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ramos goes 0-for-5 in return

Associated Press photo
Wilson Ramos made his winter ball debut tonight in Venezuela.
Updated at 10:57 p.m.

Eleven days after he was rescued from his abductors in Venezuela, Wilson Ramos was back on the diamond in his homeland Tuesday night, playing the game he loves.

Ramos' performance for the Aragua Tigres -- he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts -- was less than inspiring, but the mere fact he was in the lineup so soon after his harrowing kidnapping more than made up for his lack of production at the plate.

Playing in front of a packed house at Aragua's home ballpark, Ramos hit cleanup and served as designated hitter. He flied out to left to end the first inning, grounded out to end the third, grounded out again to open the sixth, was called out on strikes in the seventh and struck out

My NL MVP ballot

US Presswire photo
Ryan Braun's fantastic season for the Brewers earned my MVP vote.
There are few rights and privileges given to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America more important than the opportunity to vote for the sport's top awards: MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year.

And I think we all would agree the crown jewel of all the awards is the MVP.

So it was my honor to be one of two members of the Baltimore-Washington chapter of the BBWAA to be given a ballot for this year's NL MVP. It wasn't the first time I've voted for this award, but it was one of the tougher races I've had to help decide.

The competition between the top two contenders for the award -- the Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp -- was fierce. There

Why Buehrle but not Livo?

US Presswire photo
Like Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez has been known to eat a lot of innings.
Yesterday's revelation that Mike Rizzo paid a visit to Mark Buehrle's house outside St. Louis in an attempt to recruit the veteran left-hander to sign with the Nationals brought some mixed reactions from all of you.

Some are in favor of paying top dollar for Buehrle, who would seem to slide nicely into the Nationals' rotation behind Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and ahead of Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan. Others don't think Buehrle is worth the money and would rather see the Nationals go hard after Roy Oswalt.

But the comments that caught my attention most were those of you who questioned why the Nationals would be willing to offer a three- or four-year contract for Buehrle when they could instead lock up another veteran starter who would happily sign for one year and a modest salary. A guy by the name of Livan Hernandez.

Is there really that much difference between the two soft-tossing,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nats visiting Buehrle's home

US Presswire photo
Mark Buehrle has spent his entire professional career with the White Sox.
Choosing not to wait until next month's winter meetings to start wooing free agents, the Nationals are making their case in person today to perhaps their top target: left-hander Mark Buehrle.

General manager Mike Rizzo and other club executives are meeting with Buehrle at his St. Louis home today, a source with knowledge of the discussions confirmed. The veteran pitcher is the first free agent visited by Nationals officials this winter.

It's not known if Mark Lerner is among those who flew to St. Louis, but the Nationals principal owner has joined Rizzo on such recruiting trips in the past, including last winter's face-to-face meeting with Jayson Werth.

Rizzo spoke earlier this offseason about his desire to add another starter to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan (plus several

If CF doesn't lead off, who does?

US Presswire photo
Ian Desmond's OBP was .298, but it jumped to .342 after he started leading off.
With news over the weekend that the Indians are close to re-signing Grady Sizemore, the field of available center fielders is about to shrink by one. Not that the Nationals were going hard after Sizemore, but the 29-year-old did look like a possible fit for a club that is seeking a center fielder who ideally can lead off.

But the key word there is "ideally." General manager Mike Rizzo has stated his preference is kill two birds with one stone, but his 2012 center fielder doesn't have to also hit leadoff. Certainly, B.J. Upton -- whose name has been mentioned plenty as a possible Rizzo target -- doesn't fit the profile of a classic leadoff hitter.

So the question then becomes: If the center fielder doesn't bat atop the Nationals' lineup, who else might?

Scanning their projected starting lineup, there aren't a whole lot of attractive options. Danny Espinosa did lead off some last season, but the rookie second baseman was dreadful up there, and his power and

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nats re-claim Kimball, protect 4 others

Updated at 5:02 p.m.

The Nationals have re-claimed Cole Kimball from Toronto off waivers, two days after losing the right-hander in a similar roster move. They also added catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Tyler Moore, outfielder Eury Perez and catcher Jhonatan Solano to their 40-man roster, protecting all four from being taken in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The bizarre string of transactions that brought Kimball back to D.C. came after the Blue Jays picked up another pitcher, right-hander Andrew Carpenter, off waivers from the Padres. Needing to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for Carpenter, they placed Kimball on waivers in an attempt to outright him to Class AAA.

But the Nationals rushed in and re-claimed Kimball, a move that immediately puts the injured reliever back on their 40-man roster hours before all clubs needed to submit a finalized, offseason list to Major League Baseball.

Kimball had surgery in July to repair a torn rotator cuff and won't be ready to pitch again until mid-2012. Knowing that, the Nationals

Ramos: "I'm happy to be here"

Updated at 2:46 p.m.

Looking healthy and deemed healthy by team doctors, Wilson Ramos made a brief appearance at Nationals Park this afternoon, thanked fans for their support during his harrowing week and then made it clear he's ready to put this all behind him.

"I just want to say thanks Nats fans for your prayers and your support," Ramos told reporters during a photo-op with general manager Mike Rizzo inside the Nationals' clubhouse. "I'm happy to be here, happy to be with my family. See you in spring training."

Flown in from Venezuela for one day so he could be examined by team doctors, Ramos assured everyone he is back to normal following his 51 hours in captivity last week. The 24-year-old catcher was greeted with hugs and tears from team executives and teammates Ryan Zimmerman and Steve Lombardozzi (who happened to be at the ballpark working out).

Rizzo said Ramos' physical exam showed no problems, and the Nationals won't hesitate to let him go back home to play winter ball as

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Knorr named new bench coach

The Nationals stayed in-house in selecting their new bench coach, tonight naming Randy Knorr to the position as manager Davey Johnson's right-hand man.

Knorr, 43, has held a variety of coaching roles in the Nationals organization over the last seven seasons, including managerial stints at low-Class A Savannah, high-Class A Potomac, Class AA Harrisburg and, most recently, Class AAA Syracuse. He also served as the Nationals' bullpen coach for the second half of the 2006 season and for all of the 2009 season.

The former big-league catcher, who spent 19 seasons with five organizations, knows the Nationals' system well and has coached 75 percent of the players on the team's current 40-man roster.

In seeking a new bench coach to replace Pat Corrales, who at age 70 will remain with the Nationals in an advisory role, general manager Mike Rizzo said he preferred to hire someone who could some day
Read more

Thoughts on realignment, more wild-cards

Associated Press photo
Bud Selig announces his sport's pending changes today in Milwaukee.
We've known about the likelihood of the Astros' move to the American League and the addition of another wild-card team in each league for a while now. But both changes became official today at the owners meetings in Milwaukee, with commissioner Bud Selig announcing Houston's league switch in 2013 and the expanded playoff format that could take effect as soon as next season.

Why were these changes necessary? Well, since baseball expanded to 30 teams in 1998, the two leagues have featured imbalanced divisions. The NL, which has had 16 teams, has five teams in both the East and West divisions but six in the Central. The AL, which has had only 14 teams, has five teams in the East and Central but only four in the West. Is it really fair that the Rangers had to beat only three opponents to win their division while the Brewers had to beat five rivals to win theirs? No.

So the Astros, as part of their sale to businessman Jim Crane, have agreed to relocate to the AL West beginning in 2013. They'll give up more than five decades of history in the NL, but they'll now be paired

AFL season wraps up today

US Presswire file photo
Bryce Harper impressed at the plate but remains a work-in-progress in the field.
The Arizona Fall League's regular season wraps up today, and since the Scottsdale Scorpions will finish last in the three-team East Division, no members of the Nationals organization will be participating in Saturday's championship game.

Which means this afternoon's finale against the Mesa Solar Sox will be Bryce Harper's last opportunity to make an impression on the diamond until he arrives in Viera in February for big-league spring training.

Not that Harper feels any pressure to do something special in his fall finale. The 19-year-old has already more than made a name for himself over the last month and will close out his AFL season with some impressive stats.

Entering today's game, Harper is batting .322 with six homers, 26 RBI, a .392 on-base percentage and a 1.003 OPS that ranks 10th in this

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kimball claimed by Jays, Brown outrighted

US Presswire file photo
Cole Kimball looked promising until a shoulder injury ended his season.
The Nationals dropped two players off their 40-man roster today when right-hander Cole Kimball was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays and outfielder Corey Brown was outrighted to Class AAA Syracuse.

Kimball had shoulder surgery in July to repair a torn rotator cuff and spent the second half of the season on the 60-day disabled list. But there's no DL during the offseason, and all players must be added to their club's 40-man roster by Friday. The Nationals were attempting to outright Kimball (who won't be ready to pitch until mid-2012 at the earliest) to Class AAA but couldn't slip him through waivers without another team claiming him.

Though Kimball won't be 100 percent healthy for a while, the Blue Jays decided to take a chance and acquire him now, hoping he rediscovers

C.J. to N.Y. would be OK for D.C.

US Presswire photo
The Yankees are putting the full-court press on free agent C.J. Wilson.
The general managers meetings are taking place this week in Milwaukee, and while few (if any) actual deals are struck during this annual event, it does offer a first glimpse into where the Hot Stove League may be headed over the course of the winter.

And yesterday, we got a strong glimpse into where the top free agent pitcher on the market, C.J. Wilson, may be headed: the Bronx.

According to multiple reports from New York beat writers, the Yankees have invited Wilson to come visit them in the near future, possibly before the Dec. 5-8 winter meetings.

The insinuation here: After missing out on prized left-hander Cliff Lee last winter, the Yankees are trying to jump the gun and put a full-court press on Wilson right now, before any other clubs can swoop in and

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ramos returns to work out with Tigres

Associated Press photo
Wilson Ramos began working out with the Aragua Tigres today.
Wilson Ramos was back on a baseball diamond today, in uniform and working out with his Venezuelan winter league team in advance of his return to game action next week.

Ramos worked out with the Aragua Tigres, his first appearance on the field this offseason and first since he was abducted in his native country last week. The 24-year-old catcher, who was rescued by authorities during a late-night raid Friday, has said he wanted to begin playing as soon as possible and has informed Venezuelan media members he doesn't want to talk about his kidnapping anymore.

Ramos initially said he would begin playing for Aragua tomorrow, but his game debut has now been pushed back to next week.

The Nationals will allow Ramos to stay in Venezuela, though the catcher will be receiving increased security. He has been planning all

Going green at Nationals Park

Who needs to be protected?

US Presswire file photo
Derek Norris needs to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being lost.
It's that time of year again when major-league clubs must do some roster maintenance. By Friday, all teams must add any players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft to their 40-man roster, or risk losing them during the draft at next month's winter meetings.

Who's eligible for the Rule 5 draft? It's a bit complicated, but as a general rule of thumb, it's anyone not on the 40-man roster who was signed at age 18 or older in 2007 or signed at age 19 or older in 2008. The idea is to prevent organizations from stashing away prospects in the minors for four or five years without so much as giving them a shot at reaching the big leagues.

So, by Friday the Nationals must decide if there are any players who fit that description in their farm system that they want to protect. Just because someone's left unprotected, it doesn't mean they're guaranteed to be lost. It only means they're eligible to be swooped up by another organization in the Rule 5 draft (with that new team then

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ramos 4th, Espinosa 6th in ROY vote

US Presswire photo
Danny Espinosa's second-half slump cost him a shot at Rookie of the Year honors.
There was a point this summer when Danny Espinosa looked like the clear-cut favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year honors. But a second-half tailspin at the plate wound up costing the Nationals second baseman a shot at the Jackie Robinson Award and nearly left him off the final ballot altogether.

Espinosa wound up finishing sixth in voting conducted at the end of the regular season and announced today by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Teammate Wilson Ramos, who enjoyed a strong rookie campaign himself, finished fourth.

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (who led the league with 46 saves and 64 games finished) won the award, receiving all 32 possible first-place votes. His Atlanta teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman, earned runner-up honors, after hitting .282 with 21 homers, 76 RBI and leading all NL rookies in hits, doubles and total bases.

Right-hander Vance Worley, who went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA for the NL

Back to baseball

US Presswire photo
Jesus Flores is now hitting a robust .414 in the Venezuelan winter league.
Wilson Ramos let it be known yesterday he's ready to move on. Though it's been less than three days since the Nationals catcher was rescued following his abduction in Venezuela, Ramos says he wants to turn his attention back to baseball.

The 24-year-old intends to start playing for the Aragua Tigres on Wednesday, honoring his commitment to suit up for his winter ball club. His return to the diamond surely will make for an emotional scene, but he's hoping it quickly transforms into just another night at the ballpark and he can pick up where things left off before. We can only wait and see if that's going to be possible.

In the meantime, there are a few baseball-related notes to pass along this Monday morning...

Ramos' catching teammate and fellow countryman Jesus Flores continues to rake at the plate. After missing one game with what he termed "discomfort" in his right leg, Flores hasn't missed a beat. He's

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Challenges still await Ramos

Associated Press photo
Wilson Ramos answers questions alongside justice minister Tareck El Aissami.
Wilson Ramos slept comfortably in his own bed last night, just as millions of Venezuelans and Nationals fans were able to sleep comfortably knowing the 24-year-old catcher was safe, healthy and with family members following a harrowing ordeal.

But Ramos' journey back from a 51-hour abduction that gripped his homeland and left everyone associated with the Nationals on edge is not yet complete. He still faces many challenges as he attempts to regain a sense of normalcy to a life that was forever changed Wednesday night when he was whisked away in an SUV by four kidnappers.

And there's no telling how long it will take Ramos to regain that feeling, if he ever does. Though he wasn't physically injured by his captors, Ramos did say that "psychologically, I underwent very great harm."

That damage won't disappear simply because he's returned home. The scars will remain the rest of his life, and it's impossible to know how

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ramos home, details of rescue emerge

Associated Press photo
Wilson Ramos is hugged by a family member after he was rescued last night.
Venezuelan police commandos raided a house in the mountains about an hour from Wilson Ramos' home last night, exchanged gunfire with the catcher's abductors and then rescued him from a bedroom and whisked him away to be reunited with family members.

"The truth is, at the moment they came to get me I was very nervous," Ramos told reporters early this morning outside his family's house. "There were many gunshots ... thanks to God, those guys did a tremendous job. I'm super grateful to them."

Roughly 51 hours after he was abducted by four armed men outside his home near Valencia, Ramos was back at the same location, greeted by ecstatic family members, friends, media and other well-wishers who had been anxiously awaiting his return.

"Thanks to God!" Ramos' mother, Maria Campos, exclaimed on Venezuelan television. "Thanks to my country, to my neighbors and to

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ramos rescued, returning home

Photo via Kathe Vilera
Wilson Ramos, following his rescue this evening.
Updated at 11:35 p.m.

Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was rescued by Venezuelan police this evening in a mountainous area west of his hometown and is returning to his house where elated family members and friends await his arrival.

The 24-year-old was found "safe and sound," according to Venezuelan justice minister Tareck El Aissami, roughly 51 hours after he was abducted by four armed men outside his home near Valencia.

Family members spoke on the phone with Ramos, who told them he was "healthy and well," according to close family friend Marfa Mata.

"The news from Venezuela tonight is reassuring," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement released by the club. "Though details are limited and we have not yet talked directly with Wilson, we are thrilled with reports that he has been rescued and is being safely returned to his family. We greatly appreciate all the prayers and thoughts of all who have joined us in wishing for this conclusion to what has been a nightmarish 48 hours. We are eager to see Wilson and let him know just how many all over the world have been waiting for this news."

It's not yet known how authorities located Ramos or how the rescue operation was performed, but the Venezuelan government reported three men in custody, including one who is a Colombian citizen linked
Read more

Report: 2nd vehicle found

Updated at 1:51 p.m.

Venezuelan authorities have discovered a second vehicle they believe was tied to Wednesday's abduction of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, according to a report this afternoon.

The website for the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported a 2002 Toyota Terios SUV was found in a remote area of Bejuma, the same village where yesterday another SUV believed to have been used in Ramos' kidnapping was discovered.

The report also states that about 300 members of various Venezuelan brigades have been commissioned to comb the mountainous area of Carabobo, the state in which Ramos lives and the vehicles were found.

This latest discovery comes as authorities say they are making progress toward locating Ramos, who was abducted outside his home

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A long and difficult day

Associated Press photo
Fans hold a candlelight vigil for Wilson Ramos outside a ballpark in Venezuela.
They played baseball in three Venezuelan cities tonight, participants on all teams wearing green ribbons on their jerseys, fans holding candlelight vigils outside the gates, prayers being recited by everyone in attendance.

And in the Ramos home on the outskirts of Valencia, a family and a tight-knit community sat helpless, waiting through an interminable day for any bits of information that might offer some clues about the whereabouts and status of the soft-spoken, 24-year-old catcher who has suddenly become the victim of the highest-profile kidnapping case in baseball history.

"Thanks for your prayers and support," family friend Marfa Mata posted on her Twitter account this evening. "We don't know anything about him. Still waiting..."

A flurry of reports and developments earlier in the day offered some hope that resolution to the ordeal might be forthcoming. But the afternoon and evening were eerily quiet, and the one development everyone wanted to hear -- Wilson Ramos' safe return home -- had

Venezuelan police confirm Ramos alive

US Presswire file photo
Wilson Ramos was abducted from his home in Venezuela last night.
Updated at 4:14 p.m.

Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who was abducted from his home last night by four armed gunmen, is alive, the Venezuelan intelligence police confirmed this afternoon.

Ramos has not been found, however, and his captors have not contacted his family, according to multiple reports from outlets and friends in Venezuela. Police do have sketches of two of the perpetrators.

Tareck El Aissami, minister of interior and justice, told Venezuelan television stations the van believed to have been used to kidnap Ramos was discovered in the town of Bejuma, about an hour's drive west of his home outside the city of Valencia.

Kathe Vilera, spokeswoman for Ramos' Venezuelan team, confirmed the discovery of the van but said the kidnappers still had not contacted his family nearly 17 hours after the abduction took place.

"At this time the situation remains the same," Vilera posted on her Twitter account. "The kidnappers have not communicated with the

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reports: Ramos kidnapped in Venezuela

Updated at 12:04 a.m.

Wilson Ramos was kidnapped from his home in Venezuela this evening, according to multiple reports out of the Nationals catcher's home country.

According to the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, four gunmen approached Ramos at his home in the Santa Ines section of the city of Valencia and took him away. Family members have informed police but have not yet heard from the kidnappers.

The Tigres de Aragua, the Venezuelan team Ramos played for last winter, posted the news on its Twitter account this evening. Translated from Spanish, the tweet reads: "Unfortunately the news of the kidnapping of Wilson Ramos was confirmed, allegedly the same happened at his home in Valencia."

The Nationals have not yet confirmed the report, but a club official said the team is gathering information and will make a statement once it knows more.
Read more

Harper, Rendon, Peacock top '12 BA list

US Presswire photo
Anthony Rendon ranks behind only Bryce Harper among Nats prospects.
To the surprise of no one, Bryce Harper is the top prospect in the Nationals' organization, according to Baseball America's annual organizational ranking released today.

Harper was the overwhelming choice to hold down the No. 1 ranking for the second straight year, but rest of the Top 10 includes a host of new names, including four players selected in this summer's draft: Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Matt Purke.

Rendon earned the No. 2 spot behind Harper based entirely on his potential; the former Rice University third baseman has not yet played in a professional ballgame, having only worked out at the Nationals' complex in Viera, Fla., this fall after signing at the Aug. 15 deadline.

A pair of hard-throwing right-handers rank third and fourth: Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. Peacock, a 41st-round pick in the 2006 draft, burst onto the scene this season by going a combined 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA and 177 strikeouts between Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse. He then impressed during a September debut in the

Read top prospects list with grain of salt

US Presswire photo
Ross Detwiler ranked way ahead of Jordan Zimmermann following the 2007 draft.
Later today, Baseball America will reveal its annual Top 10 Prospects list for the Nationals, a rite of the offseason that gives everyone some perspective about the state of the franchise's farm system.

There's no mystery who will sit atop the Nationals' prospect list (hint: his name rhymes with Rice Tarper) but I'll be curious to see where the organization's top 2011 draft picks land. Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin all should be included somewhere in the Top 10, with Rendon potentially No. 2 behind You-Know-Who.

This would provide some confirmation to all those who touted the Nationals' draft haul as perhaps the best in baseball this year. But it should also be taken with some level of healthy skepticism, because these draft classes tend not to pan out as everyone believes they will at the time.

For evidence of that, we need only to look back at some of Baseball America's previous Top 10 lists for the Nationals. Like the 2008 list, which reveals just how much can change in a short amount of time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The ever-shifting NL East

US Presswire photo
Ozzie Guillen and Jeffrey Loria are attempting to turn the Marlins into winners.
The natural order of things in the NL East hasn't changed much in recent years. The Phillies have owned the division since 2007. The Braves have sat one notch below the last two years. The Marlins have typically finished in the middle of the pack, with the Mets landing in fourth place each of the last three seasons. And then there were the Nationals, who until this year held a death grip on last place.

That may all be in the process of changing, though, and the NL East may be preparing for a seismic shift of power.

We all know what the Nationals have done (and hope to continue to do) to thrust themselves into the conversation. But be careful not to sleep on the Marlins, who are attempting to take a similarly major step forward in 2012.

There's a pretty positive vibe around South Florida these days. A new ballpark on the old Orange Bowl site is nearly ready for business.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nats way ahead of O's in rebuilding game

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Ian Desmond and the Nats and in better shape than Adam Jones and the O's.
Ask a bunch of local baseball observers which of the region's two franchises is closer to contention, the Nationals or the Orioles, and the answer will be unanimous. Of course the Nats are in better shape than their American League counterparts up the road. There's nothing close to a debate to be had here.

Which actually is a remarkable development in itself, because it wasn't that long ago that the Orioles appeared to be the better-positioned franchise of the two.

Think back just three short years ago, when the Nationals were coming off a 102-loss season and attempting to construct a winner around a lineup that featured Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes and a rotation anchored by Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann. At the same time, the Orioles (while hardly world beaters at 68-94) looked like they were on the right track with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and a bunch of talented young pitchers who were about to arrive on the scene.

Read this paragraph I wrote on June 17, 2008, comparing the state of baseball in Washington to Baltimore:

"The moves Andy MacPhail has made since taking over have been quite dramatic and have completely reshaped the organization's

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Solis whiffs 9 batters in AFL start

File photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Sammy Solis dominated during a four-inning outing Friday night.
Mike Rizzo raved Friday afternoon about the depth of quality starting pitchers now in the Nationals' organization, insisting there are eight or nine guys who legitimately deserve to start in the big leagues in 2012.

And that doesn't even include the next wave of pitching prospects in the Nationals' farm system, a group of arms not quite ready for the majors but perhaps not too far off.

Included in that next wave is Sammy Solis, the left-hander who was the top pick in the second round of the 2010 draft and on Friday night put together a dominating performance in the Arizona Fall League.

Over four scoreless innings for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Solis struck out nine batters (most by any pitcher in the AFL this season). He did give up three hits while walking three, but the 23-year-old more than made up for it with his run of K's.

Four of Solis' strikeouts were on swings and misses by members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs lineup, and five of the last six outs he recorded

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rizzo still looking for another starter

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Chien-Ming Wang re-signed with the Nationals for one year and $4 million.
Though he believes his club already has "six or seven quality guys that we can call upon to start in the major leagues," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledges he's still looking to add another veteran to his suddenly deep rotation.

Rizzo -- in formally announcing the re-signing of right-hander Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year, $4 million contract this afternoon -- spoke glowingly about the pitching depth the Nationals have assembled while at the same time hinting at the type of free agent he'd still like to add this winter.

What type of pitcher is that?

"The type of pitcher we're looking for is a good leader," Rizzo said. "That throws a lot of innings. That has shown that he can win in the big leagues. And can really lead our staff, not by having the best stuff on the staff, but by showing how to be a professional and how to be a winner and how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times in
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How close is Harper?

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Bryce Harper is tearing up the Arizona Fall League.
This just in: Bryce Harper is really good.

OK, so that's not exactly breaking news, but what the 19-year-old phenom has been doing for the last week in Arizona is bordering on the ludicrous.

After going 3-for-3 with a homer and two walks yesterday, Harper has posted the following stat line over his last six games: .522 average (12-for-23), five homers, 17 RBI and a 1.794 OPS that is too gargantuan to believe.

Remember that sluggish start he got off to in the Arizona Fall League? Yeah, that's kind of a thing of the past now. In 17 overall games with the Scottsdale Scorpions, Harper is now batting .323 with six homers, 23 RBI, a .400 on-base percentage and a .677 slugging percentage that ranks second in the AFL behind only Padres third baseman Jedd Gyorko (.702).

Now, the competition level in the AFL ain't exactly chump change. If anything, this is as impressive a collection of talent as you'll see in

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wang returns to Nats on 1-year deal

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Chien-Ming Wang went 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts.
The Nationals have agreed to a one-year contract with right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, according to a club source, finalizing a deal that had been in the works for weeks.

The deal, which is still pending a physical, includes a guaranteed $4 million salary and is believed to also include incentives based on the number of starts Wang makes.

Wang's return to D.C. seemed a foregone conclusion since the end of the season, when both he and the club expressed a desire to work out a new deal. He technically became a free agent this week and was free to negotiate with other teams at 12:01 a.m. today, but the Nationals already had the framework of the deal in place and needed only to finalize details.

Wang, 31, is currently in Taiwan pitching for his native country's national team against a team of major-league players that includes
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Beltway Baseball Live - 11/3/11

The Hot Stove League is officially underway -- free agents were allowed to begin negotiating with all clubs at 12:01 a.m. today -- and there's no shortage of topics to discuss about the Nationals.

Chase Hughes and I delved into a bunch of topics this afternoon on our latest live edition of Beltway Baseball. We talked about Davey Johnson's return to the dugout in 2012, Bryce Harper's dominance in the Arizona Fall League and take a look at some potential free agent targets of the Nats this winter. And, as always, we answered your questions.

If you missed the show live, no worries. Here's the full episode for your viewing pleasure.

Astros claim Bixler off waivers

The Astros have claimed utilityman Brian Bixler off waivers from the Nationals.

Bixler, 29, hit .205 with two RBI in 79 games this season, proving a versatile backup who saw action at six different positions: shortstop, third base, first base and all three outfield spots.

The Nationals placed him on waivers earlier this week, clearing a spot on their 40-man roster, and Houston (which had the majors' worst record this season) put in a claim on him.

The move was announced by the Astros this afternoon.

Making sense of the free agent market

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Lefty Mark Buehrle could be an top target of the Nationals this winter.
One hundred sixty-six major-league free agents were free to begin negotiating with any club they wanted at 12:01 a.m. today, the unofficial commencement of baseball's Hot Stove League. But before you start scouring flight path websites to see where Ted Lerner's private jet has been, a word of caution: This is going to be a slow process.

Baseball's free agency period stands in stark contrast to those in the NFL and NHL, where there's a mad rush of signings the moment the clock strikes midnight. Baseball players, general managers and agents prefer to take a more calculated route toward consummating deals, letting the market establish itself over time.

In fact, there probably won't be a whole lot of players signing with new clubs for several more weeks, not until the days leading up the Dec. 5-8 winter meetings in Dallas. But the groundwork is being laid right now, as everyone tries to gauge who's in the market for what, and how much any given player is going to cost.

The Nationals' objectives this winter are clear. GM Mike Rizzo has said it since the season's final week: He's searching for a center fielder

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wang about to hit open market

Barring a last-minute deal that neither side expects to happen, Chien-Ming Wang will hit the open market later tonight.

The veteran right-hander is one of eight recently declared free agents on the Nationals roster who will be free to negotiate with other clubs when the clock strikes midnight. Wang is joined by fellow right-handers Livan Hernandez and Todd Coffey, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, infielder Alex Cora and outfielders Laynce Nix, Rick Ankiel and Jonny Gomes.

That said, Wang still is expected to re-sign with the Nationals at some point in the near future, according to a club source.

The Nats have been hoping to retain Wang, who after spending two years recovering from major shoulder surgery went 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts in August and September. The Taiwanese native

'12 payroll should increase

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John Lannan stands to earn a sizable raise through arbitration.
Mike Rizzo was asked during a conference call with reporters last week what kind of budget he's been given for next year's payroll. The Nationals general manager politely declined to divulge any numbers, saying only that he has been given parameters by ownership and knows how much money he has at his disposal to spend in 2012.

This much we can say with a fair amount of certainty: The Nationals' payroll should increase next season, perhaps by a significant amount, depending on what moves Rizzo makes this winter. And if that is the case, this will mark the fifth consecutive year the Nats' payroll has gone up since its low point of $37.3 million on Opening Day 2007.

Some of this has to do with free agents added to the roster, but a good amount also has to do with the raises that will be handed out to current players who are quickly gaining more big-league service time.

Two of the biggest increases from 2011 to 2012 will come from the raises built into the Nationals' two highest-paid players: Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Werth will earn a salary of $13 million next

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Harper, Norris in AFL Rising Stars Game

Outfielder Bryce Harper and catcher Derek Norris have been chosen to represent the Nationals in Saturday's Arizona Fall League "Rising Stars Game."

The event, something of an all-star game for the AFL, will be televised live on MLB Network at 8 p.m. EDT.

Harper has been on a tear at the plate since a sluggish start to his fall season with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Over his last seven games, he's hitting .444 (12-for-27) with four homers, 15 RBI and a .963 slugging percentage. In 15 overall games, the 19-year-old is batting .276 with a .348 on-base percentage.

Norris has also been swinging a hot bat, with 11 hits over his last 21 at-bats. Overall, the 22-year-old catcher is hitting .356 with two homers, eight RBI and a .446 on-base percentage that ranks sixth in the AFL.

Expectations raised

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Davey Johnson expects to do this plenty of times in 2012.
When Davey Johnson, asked Monday what his expectation for the Nationals will be next season, responded that he'd be "sorely disappointed" if they don't contend for the NL pennant, you might have predicted the response to sound something like a pack of laughing hyenas.

Except that's not what you heard, around D.C. or around baseball. The prevailing sentiment across the sport was something along the lines of: "Wow, these guys mean business."

That's not to say the majority of observers out there -- Nationals supporters or not -- honestly believe this franchise is going to seriously contend for a spot in the 2012 World Series. But it does appear most everyone acknowledges it won't be much longer before the Nats will be in position to do just that.

All anyone has to do is look at a roster that will include Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Jayson Werth,