Despite the big names being off the market, there's still plenty of activity to come and these teams still have work left to do.
So, the Cubs have won the winter, and are probably the best team in baseball. That’s one thing we have pretty well nailed down. It’s easy to talk about the Cubs, but you’re exhausted by talk about the Cubs by now. Surely, you can’t stand just one more minute of Cubs talk. You want to hear about your team. You want to know who’s going to sign the next big free agent. You want to know what the teams who aren’t anywhere near done are going to do between now and spring training, not how pretty the Cubs (who probably, though not certainly, are done) are sitting.
That’s an invitation to be titillated, misled, and left wanting, but okay. It’s worth doing. For all the talk about how this winter would be bonkers, we’re hurtling toward Christmas without anything quite like what happened over the same span last winter. Shelby Miller was traded again; so was Craig Kimbrel. A ton of starting and relief pitchers have gotten paid wild sums. A couple of trades (though only a couple, like Wednesday’s Todd Frazier not-quite-blockbuster) have snuck up on us and grabbed our interest. In large part, though, the market remains unresolved.
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The Nationals started slow, but the Braves should be looking over their shoulders.
The Weekend Takeaway
At the midway point of the regular season, the Nationals were 41-40, and their -19 run differential suggested that they were fortunate to have notched even that mediocre tally. A week earlier, they were a game under .500, at 37-38. And two weeks before that, they were a season-high eight games out of first place in the National League East, a division that, before Opening Day, they were widely expected to win.
Playing a month without Bryce Harper did not help. Neither did the apparent flop of Dan Haren, in whom general manager Mike Rizzo invested $13 million to complete a dominant rotation. And the prolonged slump that befell fellow newcomer Denard Span, who was supposed to be the sparkplug for a potent lineup, rippled through an offense that instead underwhelmed for weeks.
The Nationals call up a pitching prospect to fill in for the injured Ross Detwiler.
The Situation: Following a breakout 2012 season, Karns seemed destined for another full season in the minor leagues blocked by a loaded Washington rotation. With just one injury, though, things can change, and they changed to Karns’ benefit when Ross Detwiler injured his oblique, creating a need for another starter.
Background: After battling inconsistency at North Carolina State and Texas Tech, Karns’ draft stock plummeted in 2009, as he was routinely touched up throughout the spring. He was finally popped in the 12th round by the Nationals and signed for $225,000. Almost immediately after signing, Karns came up lame with a torn labrum and missed the remainder of the 2009 season and all of 2010. Back on the hill in 2011, Karns posted a solid 3.44 ERA in eight starts for the New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays. His breakout came in 2012 with good health and monster showings at both Low-A and High-A. On the season, he recorded a 2.17 ERA in 116 innings with just 70 hits allowed, 47 walks, and 148 punchouts. Karns has handled the jump to Double-A reasonably well this season, pitching to a 4.60 ERA in nine starts, allowing less than a hit per inning, and fanning 11 batters per nine.
Baseball Prospectus and the Washington Nationals invite you to join us for a great day of baseball on Sunday, July 7 at Nationals Park. Thanks to the fine folks in the Nationals front office, we are proud to be able to offer our guests the following:
An injury to Ryan Zimmerman clears room for the Nationals' top prospect for the second straight season.
The Situation: In an ironic twist, the oft-injured Anthony Rendon (Baseball Prospectus’ top Washington Nationals prospect and the 35th-rated prospect on Jason Parks’ Top 101 entering the season) has the injury of another to thank for his first taste of major-league action. Nationals All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday for a strained left hamstring, leaving Washington with a hole to fill at the hot corner. Coming off strong showings in both the Arizona Fall League and spring training, Rendon put himself on the fast track to the Nation’s capital with a red-hot start to the 2013 season, including the most recent 10-game stretch at Double-A Harrisburg, in which he posted a triple-slash line of .333/.511/.636 while clocking in with an 11:8 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Background: After dropping to Atlanta in the 27th round of the 2008 Draft, Rendon decided to forgo the start of his professional career in favor of three years with Coach Graham and the hometown Rice Owls. Without question the decision was a good one, as the Houston native immediately established himself as the top player in college baseball, eventually earning a major-league deal with the Washington Nationals worth $7.2 million over four years ($6 million of it in signing bonus).
The second installment of a five-part series on the pressing questions confronting each team in 2013.
In the week leading up to Opening Day, we're asking and answering three questions about each team in a five-part series ordered by descending Playoff Pct from the Playoff Odds Report. Today, we continue with a look at the group of six teams with the highest odds of winning at least a Wild Card. As a reminder, you can find links to our preview podcasts for each team here.
Dan looks at the Nationals' bullpen situation following the surprising signing of Rafael Soriano.
Rafael Soriano| Nationals Shallow (30 Keepers): No Medium (60 Keepers): No Deep (90 Keepers): Fringe NL-only (60 Keepers): Fringe Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes
The Nationals aren’t shy about padding an area of the roster that’s already deep, apparently. To the surprise of many, yours truly included, the Nats inked Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal last week despite the presence of high-leverage relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Interestingly, General Manager Mike Rizzo wasn’t coy about Soriano’s role: the right-hander, who spent the past two years with the Yankees, was named Washington’s closer, presumably leaving Storen and Clippard to duke it out for the seventh and eighth innings.
Scouting, drafting, developing and signing have all helped the Nationals get good, but they wouldn't be where they are without a series of smart trades.
Draft well, scout well internationally, develop players well, and when the time is absolutely right, go all in for that big free agent—the last piece of your World Series champions. Or at least the last piece of the best team in baseball that will still have to win three near-coin-flip series to lift the hardware.
You watch teams like the Astros trying to emulate this plan to get to the top, and meanwhile, you observe the Nationals following through on it with the addition of Rafael Soriano to an already loaded bullpen. It’s a move of luxury, not necessity, the final component of what is arguably baseball’s best team.