Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Report: Livo signs with Astros

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Livan Hernandez tips his cap to the crowd following his last start in Washington.
Whatever slim chance there was of Livan Hernandez returning to the Nationals for another season appears to have vanished. The veteran right-hander has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Astros, according to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal.

Hernandez has started and won more games than any other pitcher in the Nationals' brief history, posting a combined 4.32 ERA over two stints (2005-06, 2009-11). He started the Nats' first-ever game at Philadelphia in 2005, the home opener at RFK Stadium one week later and the season openers in both 2006 and 2011 and remained a fan favorite through it all.

But an influx of young pitching has left the Nationals with six strong candidates for five spots in this year's Opening Day rotation, and despite affection for the 36-year-old hurler, the club had no reason to engage in serious contract talks this winter.

Though he agreed to a minor-league deal, Hernandez should have a shot at cracking the Astros' Opening Day rotation. Coming off a 106-loss season, Houston is seeking a No. 5 starter this spring. Candidates include left-handers J.A. Happ and Zach Duke (who just signed a minor-league contract this week).

Ramos leads Aragua to winter league title

Associated Press photo
Wilson Ramos went 9-for-20 in the Venezuelan Winter League championship series.
Wilson Ramos wanted desperately to get back to playing baseball in Venezuela earlier this offseason, even though the haunting memories of his November abduction were still fresh in his mind.

Nearly three months later, it doesn't appear Ramos' on-field performance has suffered at all.

The Nationals catcher just completed a strong run through the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs and on Sunday helped lead Aragua to the league championship and a berth in the prestigious Caribbean Series.

Ramos' third-inning sacrifice fly brought home one of Aragua's three runs; he then guided his club's pitching staff through nine strong innings to produce a 3-1 victory over La Guaira in Game 6 of the

Questions, questions and more questions

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Danny Espinosa has to prove he can overcome his second-half tailspin.
Nobody reports to spring training without some question, no matter how minor, hanging over his head. Even the sport's best players have some facet of their game that needs to be tweaked, or some off-the-field issue that needs to be resolved.

And that certainly applies to the Nationals, who less than three weeks from the start of camp are beginning to figure out how they're going to address their biggest question marks.

With that in mind, let's run through every player on the Nats' current 40-man roster (minus injured first baseman Chris Marrero and reliever Cole Kimball) and look at the primary question associated with each of them entering spring training...


SEAN BURNETT: Which version will show up this year: The guy who was awful during the first half of 2011 (5.67 ERA, seven blown saves, five losses) or the guy who bounced back to post a 1.16 ERA and zero

Monday, January 30, 2012

Looking at lineups

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Ian Desmond is likely to get first crack at leading off.
Since we're now inside of three weeks to the start of spring training -- and since it doesn't appear there are any major roster shakeups still in store between now and then -- it's time to start considering the Nationals' potential starting lineup.

Jim Riggleman, John McLaren and Davey Johnson tried out no shortage of combinations last season. Together, those three managers submitted 121 different lineups (excluding pitchers). And no single lineup was used more than six times. (The most common: Rick Ankiel, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Laynce Nix, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Pitcher).

Is there reason to believe Johnson will stick with one lineup a bit more often this season? As much as you'd like to think so, the odds don't look too strong.

The problem is that there remain a couple of major question marks when it comes to the Nationals' potential lineup: 1) Can Desmond

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday morning tidbits

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Bryce Harper tops the Nationals' highly ranked farm system.
A couple of items to clean out of the notebook on this Sunday morning, some tasty morsels for you to munch on with brunch...

-- Do the Nationals have the best farm system in baseball? Or, to be more precise, did they have the best farm system in baseball as of one month ago? Yes, according to the industry leader in such matters.

Baseball America's annual Prospect Handbook came out last week. And lo and behold, look which organization took the top ranking: Your Washington Nationals.

There is, however, a caveat. The book went to print prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade. You know, the one that sent four of the Nats' top 13 prospects to the A's: Brad Peacock (No. 3), A.J. Cole (No. 4), Derek Norris (No. 9) and Tommy Milone (No. 13).

Had Baseball America waited until after the trade went down, it seems clear the Nationals would have ceded the top ranking to the Royals (who

Friday, January 27, 2012

Too much pitching?

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Ryan Mattheus pitched well last year but will have a tough time making this year's team.
It's a tired cliche among baseball folks: "You can never have enough pitching." Yes, it's true. No team has ever been hurt by having too many good pitchers on its staff.

But sometimes too much pitching can lead to some potential problems, and the Nationals could find themselves in such a scenario come late-March.

Yesterday's signing of Brad Lidge added yet another accomplished arm to a pitching staff that already looked both strong and deep, and it perhaps caused some people to pause and wonder if the Nationals are going to have enough spots on the Opening Day roster to accommodate everyone deserving of a job.

Let's run through all the pitchers on the 40-man roster, broken down into starters and relievers...

1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Gio Gonzalez (L)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lidge: Nats "can make a playoff run"

Brad Lidge spent the last four seasons watching his Phillies beat up the Nationals. All of a sudden, the veteran reliever is on the other side of the equation, and he believes his new employer could be on the verge of supplanting his former club atop the NL East.

"I'm definitely excited for the new opportunity and playing for the Nationals," Lidge told CSNphilly.com's Jim Salisbury today after agreeing to a one-year, $1 million contract. "They have outstanding potential. I really think we can make a playoff run."

Though the 35-year-old has made his mark in the big leagues as a premier closer, he'll take on a much different role in Washington. General manager Mike Rizzo said Lidge will be used as a set-up man, helping bridge the gap between the Nationals' starting rotation and late relievers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.

"Drew Storen's our closer; Tyler Clippard's our setup guy," Rizzo said this afternoon during an interview at Nationals Park. "But Brad Lidge will

Lidge agrees to 1-year deal with Nats

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Brad Lidge has 223 career saves and a 3.44 ERA in 10 seasons.
Updated at 11:49 a.m.

In search of a veteran reliever who could help soften the burden on late-inning stars Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, the Nationals are turning to a one-time nemesis from a division rival.

The Nationals have come to terms on a one-year contract with former Phillies closer Brad Lidge, the club announced this morning. The deal will pay the 35-year-old a $1 million base salary, with incentives, according to CSNphilly's Jim Salisbury.

Lidge has extensive experience closing in both Houston and Philadelphia, but in Washington he'll be used as a setup man, probably pitching the seventh inning in front of Clippard and Storen.

Though injuries and inconsistent performances cost him the closing job with the Phillies, Lidge did put up strong numbers last season when

What's left to do before spring training?

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Mike Rizzo again suggested Jayson Werth could wind up in center field this year.
There are 24 days remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla., for the start of spring training, which is still plenty of time for the Nationals to add or subtract from their roster.

Listening to Mike Rizzo speak yesterday after the Gio Gonzalez introductory news conference, though, it sure sounded like the Nationals general manager doesn't plan on making many more moves of consequence between now and Feb. 19.

"We feel good about where we're at," Rizzo said. "You're never satisfied. We need more arms, to improve the bullpen, improve the bench, all those factors. But with that said, we're comfortable going into [spring training] with what we've got."

Those few potential additions over the next 3 1/2 weeks would be more of the roster-tweaking variety than the roster-overhaul variety. Rizzo would like to supplement his bench with another potent bat, preferably

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gio: D.C. is "where we want to be"

Updated at 7:20 p.m.

Gio Gonzalez has had more than a month to contemplate his trade from the Athletics to the Nationals, and he's had nearly two weeks to contemplate the five-year extension he was given from general manager Mike Rizzo before ever throwing a pitch for his new club.

Gonzalez knows there will be plenty of attention, and perhaps some pressure on him now. And he doesn't shy away from it.

"I know that Mike took a shot with me," the left-hander said today upon finally being introduced at Nationals Park. "And I don't want to let him down."

It was that competitive nature, coupled with a 31-21 record and 3.17 ERA over the last two seasons in Oakland, that convinced the Nationals not only to acquire Gonzalez in exchange for prospects Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole and Derek Norris but then to give him a $42

Rizzo on the Fielder negotiations

Associated Press photo
Mike Rizzo helps Gio Gonzalez put on a Nationals jersey for the first time.
The Nationals did make a run at signing Prince Fielder over the last month, but pulled out of negotiations once it was clear the free agent first baseman would get a contract far beyond what they were willing to offer.

"I had parameters set in my mind what the threshold was for the player," general manager Mike Rizzo said today following a news conference to introduce left-hander Gio Gonzalez. "And once it exceeded that threshold, we felt like if the market didn't come back to us, we were out of it."

Rizzo declined to reveal what those parameters were, or whether he ever actually made a formal offer. However high the Nationals were willing to go, it proved no match for the nine-year, $214 million package Fielder wound up accepting yesterday from the Tigers.

"Prince is a terrific player and got paid like the superstar that he is," Rizzo said. "Congratulations to the Detroit Tigers. They just got a lot

Sticking to their plan

US Presswire file photo
Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo preside over a Nationals club on the verge of contention.
And so the strangest free-agent sweepstakes baseball has seen in a long time has ended. Prince Fielder is headed to Detroit, and here in Washington the debate rages on. Did the Nationals make the right move or the wrong move in failing to match the Tigers' nine-year, $214 million offer?

If you'd been paying attention all along, you knew the Nationals were never going to come close to offering a package that large to Fielder. Their interest in the 27-year-old slugger was minimal to begin with, and perhaps picked up only when it started to look like no team would meet agent Scott Boras' asking price.

Of course, that didn't prevent the masses from buying into the idea the Nationals were hot-and-heavy over Fielder, so much so that plenty of prominent baseball writers declared Washington the favorites to sign the big first baseman only minutes before news finally broke he had signed with a Tigers club that had never been mentioned seriously as a

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reports: Fielder to Detroit for 9 years

US Presswire photo
Prince Fielder stunned everyone and will sign with the Tigers.
The Prince Fielder saga appears to have reached its conclusion. In a location no one predicted.

Fielder has agreed to a nine-year contract worth more than $200 million with the Detroit Tigers, according to reports by Yahoo! Sports's Tim Brown and CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman.

Never seriously mentioned as a destination for Fielder, Detroit somehow emerged the victor in an unprecedented free-agent sweepstakes that lasted nearly four months and (depending on who you believe) had the Nationals as heavy favorites to land the 27-year-old first baseman.

In the end, the Nationals stayed true to their mantra from the start of the offseason: They were interested in Fielder only if his asking price came way down, specifically the number of years he was seeking. Everyone expected agent Scott Boras to be able to command a deal of

Gonzalez press conference tomorrow

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Gio Gonzalez was acquired from the Athletics on Dec. 23.
Breaking news: The Nationals will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow to introduce ... Gio Gonzalez.

Yeah, the same Gio Gonzalez who was acquired in a trade with the Athletics more than one month ago. (So by that logic, if the Nationals were to sign Prince Fielder this week, expect his introductory press conference to be held sometime in June.)

Actually, there were some extenuating circumstances that prevented Gonzalez from holding this press conference until now. His trade came two days before Christmas, and the Nationals front office was closed during the holidays. Then his contract status remained up in the air, until the club inked him to a five-year, $42 million extension on Jan. 15.

So we'll finally get a chance to meet the young left-hander and ask him and general manager Mike Rizzo about the state of the Nationals rotati... ah, who are we kidding? The percentage of Gio-related

What can Nats expect from LaRoche?

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Adam LaRoche appeared in only 43 games last season due to a shoulder injury.
As Prince Fielder's never-ending search for a new club threatens to enter its fourth month -- did you know he officially became a free agent on Nov. 3? -- the man who was supposed to be the Nationals' first baseman in 2011 and for now is supposed to be their first baseman in 2012 has been lost in the shuffle.

Adam LaRoche is the forgotten man in this saga, signed for another season at $8 million but left twisting in the wind as the Fielder saga continues to drag on.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson have said all the right things about LaRoche, repeatedly praising the veteran and insisting he remains their starting first baseman for the upcoming season. All of that, of course, could be thrown out the window if the Nats somehow emerge as Fielder's new employer. (Please note nothing has happened to suggest that's on the verge of becoming reality. Fielder simply remains unsigned, and the Nationals are one of several teams linked to the slugger.)

Let's assume for this discussion, though, that Fielder doesn't end up in a curly W cap. What can the Nationals reasonably expect to get from

Monday, January 23, 2012

The importance of 200 innings

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Livan Hernandez owns two of the four 200-inning seasons by Nats pitchers.
Baseball loves to make a big deal out of round numbers. Think about all the key career milestones: 3,000 hits, 500 homers, 300 wins. A team that wins 100 games gets a whole lot more credit than one that "only" wins 99, and a team that loses 100 games gets a whole lot more blame than one that "only loses 99. Players aspire to compile 200 hits in a season, or 20 wins or 100 RBI.

And then there is this standard pitching benchmark: 200 innings in a season. Why 200 innings? There's no particular reason, other than that nice, round number seems to signify a pitcher was effective enough to take the mound every fifth day over the course of a year.

Is that the best manner to determine a quality season? No, ERA, WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio, even wins tell you more about a pitcher than the mere number of innings he threw. And yet, there is something to be said for reaching the magical 200-inning plateau. Because more often than not, the teams that have the most 200-inning pitchers end up winning the most games.

Don't buy that logic? Well, take a look at the clubs that have boasted the most 200-inning starters over the last seven seasons: the White Sox (19), Diamondbacks (14), Giants (13), Angels (13), Braves (11),

Friday, January 20, 2012

Morse agrees to 2-year extension

US Presswire photo
Michael Morse was rewarded for his breakthrough season.
Updated at 8:21 p.m.

The Nationals have agreed to a two-year, $10.5 million extension with outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse, the club announced this afternoon.

The two sides actually reached the agreement prior to Tuesday's arbitration filing deadline. The contract, however, was contingent upon Morse passing a physical, so he and the club still needed to submit their competing arbitration offers ($5 million for Morse, $3.5 million for the Nationals).

Morse passed the physical today, making the deal complete and negating the need for the arbitration hearing.

The two-year contract doesn't prevent Morse from becoming a free agent following the 2013 season, but it does buy out his two remaining arbitration years at an affordable rate.

This extension, though, could factor into the Nationals' potential pursuit of first baseman Prince Fielder. Though Morse is slated to open this

The Nats' (updated) all-time stat leaders

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Ryan Zimmerman, to no one's surprise, leads several statistical categories.
With each passing year, the Nationals begin to establish more and more of their own identity. When they first arrived in town in 2005, they were still the relocated Montreal Expos. Now that seven full seasons have elapsed, though, the franchise's history has become less about its previous home in Canada and more about its current home in Washington.

And one of the benefits of that longevity is the ability to compile statistical leaderboards in an array of categories. I first compiled such lists during the final month of the 2010 season, and I've been meaning to update those lists this winter but had yet to get around to it.

So with some help from the fabulous Play Index on baseball-reference.com, I present the new and updated all-time Nationals stat leaders. WARNING: Reading these lists will elicit a wide range of emotions, from smiles to frowns to laughter to tears to sheer dumbfoundedness (and yes, I know that's not a real word, but trust me, it will apply to a few of these names)...

  1. Ryan Zimmerman     2005-11       845
  2. Cristian Guzman    2005-10       550

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The high-stakes Prince Fielder poker game

US Presswire photo
Prince Fielder still hasn't signed with anyone yet.
Prince Fielder officially became a free agent 2 1/2 months ago, yet the burly slugger has yet to sign with anyone. And, truth be told, we really have no clearer idea today where he's going to wind up than we did way back in early November.

Sure, there has been tons of speculation thrown around the web, especially in the last couple of weeks. But the conflicting reports are headache-inducing.

The Nationals have no interest in Fielder! No, wait, the Nationals are the front-runners to sign him! Except the Rangers are aggressively pursuing him! But then they spent $117 million on Yu Darvish, so they have no money left! Except they're still interested in Fielder if they can work out a "creative" deal! And there's still the Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles in the mix ... or not!

Got all that? Yeah, probably not.

Here's the truth to the Fielder saga: There's really no way to know which teams are seriously in the hunt still, or what kind of contract the

Quiet winter is good winter for Strasburg

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Stephen Strasburg threw his first bullpen session of 2012 yesterday.
There have been all sorts of recurring storylines and oft-mentioned Nationals players this offseason. We've talked plenty about Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos. We've talked a fair share about Jayson Werth and Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond and John Lannan. And, yes, we've talked about Prince Fielder (probably more than your humble beat writer would have liked).

You know who we've barely talked about all winter? Stephen Strasburg.

Seriously, how often has his name come up since his dominant start in Miami on the season's final day? Not nearly as much as you'd guess for one of the sport's most-notable young stars.

But that's actually a good thing. Maybe even a great thing. Because the last player you or the Nationals want to hear about this offseason is Strasburg. In this case, a quiet winter is the best thing that could

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Darvish gets 6 years, $60 million from Texas

US Presswire file photo
Yu Darvish could cost the Rangers as much as $121.7 million in the end.
The Rangers and Yu Darvish had a 30-day window to work out a contract. They wound up using 29 days and more than 23 hours to get a deal done.

Darvish agreed to a six-year, $60 million contract with Texas shortly before today's 5 p.m. EST deadline, ending that saga and perhaps paving the way for Prince Fielder to finally sign with some club after a long winter of speculation.

But first, the details of Darvish's deal. He receives the largest package ever handed to a Japanese player, topping the six-year, $52 million contract Daisuke Matsuzaka signed with the Red Sox in 2007. That's on top of the record $51.7 million posting fee that will go to Darvish's former club, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

So that makes the total cost to acquire Darvish $111.7 million ... except, there could still be more. The deal includes up to $10 million in

Nats returning to Sunday Night Baseball

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The Nats haven't played on Sunday night since the 2008 opener at Nationals Park.
It looks like the programming folks at ESPN are taking notice of the Nationals at long last. The network announced this morning the Nats will make at least two appearances on Sunday Night Baseball this season, their first in four years.

ESPN will nationally televise the May 6 home game against the Phillies, as well as the May 27 game at the Braves. First pitch for both games will be after 8 p.m. EDT, so prepare for some late nights at the ballpark.

The Nationals could make even more appearances on Sunday Night Baseball later in the season. ESPN and MLB don't announce those schedule changes until three weeks in advance of each game.

These two already-scheduled Sunday night games are nearly as many as the Nationals have played over the past seven seasons. They've

One month to go

US Presswire photo
Davey Johnson's roster has only a few question marks at this stage of the offseason.
If this long, cold winter has got you down -- er, actually, there's been very little cold to speak of in D.C. this winter -- here are some words that should perk you up: Pitchers and catchers report in one month.

Yep, we've just about reached the homestretch of the Hot Stove League. Nationals pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Viera on Feb. 19, one month from tomorrow, and not a moment too soon for a franchise that ended 2011 on a high note and can't wait to pick up where it left off on Sept. 28.

So this seems like a good time to step back and take a broad view of the Nationals, who to date have made only a handful of offseason moves but already appear to have most of their roster set. Perhaps this team has been less active this offseason when compared to previous ones. But never before did the Nats have this many pieces already in place.

They did enter the offseason with a handful of goals: 1) Add another front-line starter, 2) Add a center fielder, 3) Improve their bench.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Morse, Lannan file arbitration figures

Unable to come to terms on one-year contracts in advance of today's deadline, the Nationals and left fielder Michael Morse and left-hander John Lannan submitted formal arbitration figures to Major League Baseball.

Morse, coming off a breakthrough season in which he led the club with a .303 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI and ranked fourth in the National League with a .550 slugging percentage, is asking for a $5 million salary this year. The Nationals countered with an offer of $3.5 million.

That's a fairly sizable gap, perhaps suggesting the two sides will need to go to an arbitration hearing next month to determine which of the two figures is chosen. Morse made $1.05 million last season, the first time he was arbitration-eligible.

The difference between Lannan ($5.7 million) and the Nationals ($5 million) is not nearly as great, perhaps suggesting a deal can be worked out before a hearing is held in Florida. The lefty went 10-13 with a career-best 3.70 ERA in 33 starts last season, also his first of arbitration

Clippard signs 1-year deal

The Nationals came to terms with another of their arbitration-eligible players this afternoon, inking reliever Tyler Clippard to a one-year contract.

Clippard, who is in his first season of arbitration eligibility, will earn $1.65 million in 2012.

The 26-year-old right-hander has become one of the National League's most-effective relievers over the last two seasons, posting a combined 2.46 ERA and 216 strikeouts in only 179 1/3 innings. He earned his first All-Star selection last summer, finishing the season with a 1.83 ERA over 72 appearances.

By coming to terms today, the Nationals and Clippard avoid an exchange of salary figures that would have been required tomorrow. With Clippard, Jordan Zimmermann, Tom Gorzelanny, Gio Gonzalez and Jesus Flores now all signed, the only remaining unsigned arbitration-

Zimmermann, Gorzelanny sign 1-year deals

The Nationals crossed two more arbitration-eligible players off their unsigned list this morning, inking pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny to one-year contracts.

Financial terms weren't immediately known, but Zimmermann, in his first year of arbitration eligibility as a "Super 2" player, was expected to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million to $3 million. Gorzelanny, in his second year of arbitration eligibility, figures to receive somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million. (UPDATE AT 1:05 P.M. -- Zimmermann will make $2.3 million this year, Gorzelanny will make $2.7 million.)

Both deals were reached one day before the deadline for clubs and arbitration-eligible players to submit salary figures to Major League Baseball in advance of hearings that will be held next month.

With Zimmermann, Gorzelanny, Gio Gonzalez and Jesus Flores all signed, the Nationals have three remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players: left fielder Michael Morse, left-hander John Lannan and right-hander Tyler Clippard.

Lock up Morse, or wait it out?

US Presswire photo
Michael Morse's breakthrough 2011 will earn him a considerable raise in 2012.
When it comes to arbitration-eligible players (ie. those with at least three years of big-league service time but less than six) clubs always face a dilemma around this time of winter. Do they come to terms with these players on one-year contracts? Do they take their cases to the independent arbitration panel? Or do they attempt to lock up some of these players to long-term extensions now?

In some cases, the answer is simple. It made all the sense in the world for the Nationals to hammer out a five-year, $42 million extension with Gio Gonzalez over the weekend. Yes, they're taking some risk in guaranteeing that money to a 26-year-old pitcher with only two strong big-league seasons on his resume. But if Gonzalez stays healthy and productive, the Nats will probably save money in the long run while also ensuring one of the better, young hurlers in the sport remains in their uniform through at least 2016.

Other cases are less clear-cut. Take, for example, Michael Morse. What should the Nationals do with him?

On one hand, Morse is coming off a breakthrough season in which he led the club with a .305 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI and ranked fourth in the NL with a .550 slugging percentage, all while earning a

Monday, January 16, 2012

Flores signs, avoids arbitration

US Presswire photo
Jesus Flores returned to the majors after missing two years with a shoulder injury.
The Nationals came to terms on a one-year, $815,000 contract with Jesus Flores today, avoiding arbitration with their backup catcher.

Flores receives a modest raise from his $750,000 salary from 2011, appropriate for a player who appeared in only 30 big-league games last season. The 27-year-old hit just .209 with one homer and two RBI over 91 plate appearances, but the numbers were less important than the fact he returned to action after missing two seasons with a major shoulder injury.

Though he lost his starting job behind the plate to Wilson Ramos, Flores re-established himself as a major leaguer, and the Nationals appear committed to him as their No. 2 catcher after watching him excel this winter in his native Venezuela. In 56 games for Navegantes del Magallanes, Flores hit .330 with eight homers, 39 RBI and a .514

Locking up the future

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez is now signed through 2016, with team options for 2017 and 2018.
There's been some debate this winter over the Nationals' planned timeline for success. Are they trying to win right now, or are they still focused on the future?

In some respects, the answer is: both. The Nats have every reason to believe they can win in 2012 if all the pieces fall into place, and they're certainly doing anything to attempt not to win right now. But neither are they doing anything that might hinder their chances to win down the road in a desperate attempt to enjoy immediate success.

Yesterday's signing of Gio Gonzalez to a long-term extension was a perfect example of that strategy.

The Gonzalez deal -- five years for a guaranteed $42 million, plus a pair of one-year club options that could make the entire package worth $65 million -- ensures the left-hander is locked up through at least 2016 and perhaps through 2018. It prevents him from ever needing to go to

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday news and discussion

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My vacation's almost over -- I'm flying home tomorrow -- but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Monday, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Also, I managed to figure out how to disable the "threaded" comments function that Google's Blogger program instituted on the site earlier in the week. It appears everything is back to the way it originally was, including the type size and spacing on comments, as well as the correct time stamps.

Thanks for your patience the last few days.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Also, you may have noticed a change to the commenting format. Google's Blogger platform (which I use to maintain this site) instituted an unannounced change yesterday to all of its blogs worldwide, allowing for "threaded" comments (in which you can directly respond to one comment instead of just posting something new at the very end of each post). Google claims it had been receiving overwhelming requests to make this change, though personally I prefer the old format (and I get the sense most of you do, too).

I'm still trying to figure out if it's possible to disable the threading function and revert the comments to the old format, but that may not happen until I return from vacation next week. I'm also trying to figure out why timestamps on comments are suddenly three hours off; as best as I can tell, all blog functions are still set to Eastern Standard Time.

Thanks for your patience and understanding through all this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My 2012 Hall of Fame ballot

US Presswire file photo
Barry Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame in his second year on the ballot.
There's no such thing as an "easy" Hall of Fame ballot, not for anyone who respects the significance of this task and gives it the attention and scrutiny it deserves. But for someone who agonized over his first ballot one year ago and already is agonizing over the 2013 ballot that will include for the first time Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio, this year's evaluation felt much less daunting in comparison.

Truth be told, there were only a handful of difficult choices this time around: A few first-timers who were borderline candidates and a couple of near-misses from last year who deserved a second look.

In the end, I drew the same conclusions from a year ago. The guys I voted for in 2011 who remained on the ballot got my vote again. The guys who came up short last time came up short again. And none of the new guys under consideration reached the high standard of excellence it takes to merit a check mark next to his name.

Simple? No, it's never simple to hold an official ballot in your hand and make your selections. But it certainly was easier the second time around, though I suspect much of that had to do with the lack of

Monday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

I will, however, have a special post up this afternoon, revealing my Hall of Fame ballot after the results are officially announced at 3 p.m. EST. So please check back later today for that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday news and discussion

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I'm out of town on vacation until Jan. 16, but that doesn't mean this site has to go silent. Please use this thread to discuss any news of the day or other topics you wish to bring up with each other.

I trust you'll all behave yourselves in my absence. Right? Right???

Friday, January 6, 2012

Vacation time

Baby Brian is so excited to see his grandparents, he can't hold his food down.
Today marks a milestone event in the Zuckerman household: We're taking baby Brian (now four months old) on his first airplane trip. Five-hour, non-stop flight to Phoenix to visit his grandparents, great-grandmother and other assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. Wish us luck. We have no idea what we're getting ourselves into.

We'll be out west all next week, flying home on Monday, Jan. 16. So you won't be hearing from me for the next 10 days ... sort of. I've set up the blog to auto-post a new thread each morning so everyone can continue the conversation and discuss whatever happens to be taking place on that day.

If anything big breaks, Chase Hughes and the CSN gang will have you covered and will attempt to post news here. Also be sure to check the CSNwashington.com Nationals Talk blog for various items and updates throughout the day. And you will find one posting from me here on Monday: Revealing my Hall of Fame ballot shortly after the results are announced at 3 p.m. EST. Set your alarm clocks now.

I don't say this enough, but a heartfelt thank you to everyone who regularly reads this site, posts comments and sends me emails. You guys are the best, and this place wouldn't amount to anything without your participation. Talk to you in 10 days!

How does Werth rate in center field?

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Jayson Werth performed well during his September stint in center field.
As each day of the offseason passes without the Nationals acquiring a center fielder, it looks more and more obvious that the guy who is likely to see the most action out there in 2012 is the guy who last year signed a $126 million contract to play right field.

Yes, the Nationals appear to be setting the stage for Jayson Werth to slide over to center field, a move that will be made more out of necessity than anything: Bryce Harper will almost certainly play right field when he's promoted, and Michael Morse is set to open the year in left field, leaving Werth with nowhere to go but center.

That said, the Nationals wouldn't do this if they didn't have some level of confidence in Werth's ability to roam the biggest part of the outfield.

"We know Jayson can handle the center field position," GM Mike Rizzo told XM Radio last week. "It's not a perfect world for us. He's a good defender out there and is ready, willing and able to take on the

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Zinicola suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

Nationals right-hander Zechry Zinicola has been suspended 50 games following a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, MLB announced this afternoon.

Zinicola's suspension is not for performance enhancing drugs but rather for a drug of abuse.

The 26-year-old right-hander is coming off a strong season in which he posted a combined 2.01 ERA, five saves and a 44-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse.

A sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft out of Arizona State, Zinicola was initially touted as a fast-track prospect who could reach the majors in

Time for Nats to market winning baseball

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The Nationals have highly recognizable players who should bring fans to the park.
You don't have to be an avid sports fan to know that the state of athletics in Washington right now absolutely stinks.

The Redskins just wrapped up another lousy season -- did you know they've averaged a pathetic 6.8 wins over the last 20 years?! -- and don't appear on the verge of a major turnaround anytime soon. The Capitals had high hopes a couple of months ago but have already fired their coach and until a recent four-game winning streak ranked 11th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. And the Wizards ... well, the lockout could never have ended and their win total would remain the same.

Ah, but there is one glimmer of hope amid this vast wasteland of sporting ineptitude. Yes, your Washington Nationals stand poised to take this town by storm in 2012 with a legitimate shot at success that heretofore was not within the realm of reason.

The question is: Does anyone outside of the Nationals' loyal fan base

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reliever Cortes signs minor-league deal

The Nationals have signed right-hander Dan Cortes to a minor-league contract, according to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein.

(No, not the hunky '90s actor who played Elaine's "mimbo" boyfriend on Seinfeld. That's Dan Cortese.)

Cortes, 24, is a hard-throwing reliever who saw limited big-league action each of the last two seasons with the Mariners, going a combined 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in 14 appearances.

A seventh-round pick of the White Sox in 2005, the 6-foot-6 hurler came up through Chicago's system as a starter but battled command issues throughout his career (he has walked 4.4 batters per nine innings in the minors). He was traded with Tyler Lumsden to the Royals in 2006 for a familiar name: Mike MacDougal (the reliever who wound up saving

Not many jobs up for grabs

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Roger Bernadina could compete for the one open spot in the Nationals' lineup.
There are all sorts of ways to measure progress for a franchise trying to overcome years of losing records and catapult itself into contention, but here's one simple method: Look at how many roster spots will be up for grabs heading into spring training.

For the first time since they arrived in town seven years ago, the Nationals don't figure to have many spring roster battles at all.

Consider how much already is set in stone. Only one of the eight everyday positions is undecided at this point: the outfield spot that won't be occupied by either Jayson Werth or Michael Morse. (First base doesn't apply in this case, because there's no chance of an open competition there. Either Adam LaRoche retains his job or the Nationals go out and sign Prince Fielder, who obviously wouldn't have to battle for his lineup spot.)

There are two rotation slots up for grabs among three contenders: Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler. The loser perhaps

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking at future payrolls

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Jayson Werth's salary increases from $13 million in 2012 to $21 million by 2015.
One of the major ramifications of the Nationals signing an elite free agent to a mammoth contract (ie. Prince Fielder) is the effect it may or may not have on the club's ability to retain its current core players long-term.

But how much exactly would the Nats need to pay to retain those players? Perhaps more than you realize.

The Nationals, as currently constructed, are both in a highly advantageous position and a potentially dangerous position.

The good news: Nearly everyone of consequence on the roster is under team control for the next three, four or even five years. (The biggest exceptions are Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and John Lannan, who all can become free agents after the 2013 season.)

The bad news: All of those core, young players are going to be eligible

Monday, January 2, 2012

Addressing the Fielder rumors

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The market for free agent Prince Fielder hasn't developed as everyone expected.
Could the Nationals sign Prince Fielder? Sure. They've got the resources to do that.

Having the ability to lock up the biggest name remaining on the free-agent market, however, doesn't always lead to actually acquiring said player. Nor does it always make such a blockbuster move the right one.

For months now, every prominent national baseball writer out there has speculated Fielder will land in Washington. The rationale: The Nationals have plenty of money, are trying to push themselves into contender-status and have a history of signing players represented by Scott Boras to very large deals.

To date, though, this has amounted to little more than speculation and rumor. The only sources cited to this point have been "executives from other clubs" and "MLB officials" who say "word is spreading in the

New Year's resolutions

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Ryan Zimmerman vows to be more careful running the bases in 2012.
And so, at long last, 2012 has arrived. I can no longer refer to how the Nationals performed "this year." Anything that happened in 2011 now took place "last year."

Hope everyone out there had an enjoyable and safe New Year's. And I presume plenty of you have already declared your personal resolutions for 2012.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that several members of the Nationals organization made their own New Year's resolutions. You may, however, be surprised to learn I managed to get my hands on them all and now present them for your amusement...


STEPHEN STRASBURG: Keep the ball down in the zone, the pitch counts low and save enough bullets for September (or perhaps October).

BRYCE HARPER: Make the decision Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson will