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Washington Nationals

NL East Preview: A Nationals Division to Lose

The Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. What does that mean?  It means they have the best pitcher in the NL East, the second-best young hitter, the deepest rotation and the most potent front five in any line-up. They are extremely well managed and maybe more important than anything, feel like it’s their time to dominate. They have no discernible weaknesses. The Washington Nationals are going to win this division. Besides the Detroit Tigers winning the AL Central, this might be the easiest call of the entire MLB preseason.
Can any team even challenge them? What would have to go right for any other squad to penetrate the seemingly predestined playoff spot for the Nats?… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Rafael Soriano to the Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals get: RP Rafael Soriano

Rafael Soriano gets: 2 years, $28 million (with a third year vesting option for $14 million)

What difference a month can make–just a month ago, the hot stove was chugging hot enough to warm even the coldest Steinbrenner brother heart. The week of December 13th, Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Kevin Youkilis, Anibal Sanchez and Ryan Dempster were signed, and R.A. Dickey, Shin Soo Choo and James Shields were traded.

Fast forward to the week of January 13th–the transaction front couldn’t be more stagnant. Still, three prominent free agents were orbiting the periphery: starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, center fielder Michael Bourn and reliever Rafael Soriano. Today, the Washington Nationals made sure that Lohse and Bourn would be the lone two at the top.

Soriano signed a massive two year pact, with a third year option that will vest with 120 games pitched over the first two seasons (he’s averaged 67 over his career and 63 over his last five seasons), bringing together a potential three year, $42 million dollar deal. Any way you cut it, this is a solid contract for any pitcher, let alone a reliever.

MLB Winter Meeting Wrap-Up – New Signings, Fact or Fiction?

The MLB winter meetings have adjourned, and even though OF Josh Hamilton and SP Zack Greinke–the two best free agents on the market–still remain unsigned, several key players made themselves some solid scratch joining new teams. 
Of course, we had our usual mixed bags of bone-head deals and virtuoso acquisitions. Some new contracts screamed “Fiction!”, while other ones roared “Fact”. That being said, let’s take a look at the best and worst signings–MAMBINO certified–of the MLB Winter Meetings.
Seattle Mariners get:  OF Jason Bay
Jason Bay gets: 1 year, $1 million (plus $2 million in incentives), another chance at relevancy
It’s no secret; Jason Bay could very well be finished as an everyday baseball player. After a monster year and a half in Boston where he hit 47 home runs with 46 additional extra-base hits and a 7th place MVP finish in 2009, Bay signed a 4-year, $66 million dollar contract with the pre-Mayan Disaster Mets. In the next three seasons, the Canadian outfielder had only 26 jakks and 47 extra-base hits, missing almost 200 games due to various injuries. The Mets, hurting for offensive talent in the worst way, thought they’d gain more by simply buying Bay out of his last contract year, and allowing younger, albeit more inexperienced and lower ceiling players to get reps instead. Essentially, the Mets paid Bay to go away, which is what I’ll say while I’m eating hay on this fine day.
After being hit with injury after injury, including a post-concussion symptoms and oblique issues, the now former Met reminded people more of MAMBINO whipping boy Endy Chavez than Jason Bay. However, he’s only 34 years old, has a keen batting eye and knows that this will be his last major league contract if he doesn’t produce. For the risk that the offense-strapped Mariners took, which is extremely low, this could end up paying huge dividends. From a sheer risk/reward ratio, this was a fantastic signing for Seattle.
Anaheim Angels get: SP Joe Blanton
Joe Blanton gets: 2 years, $15 million, laughter of Phillies and Dodgers fans everywhere
Let’s be straight here; Joe Blanton isn’t terrible. He’s just wildly, incredibly, steadfastly mediocre. He’s thrown at least 175 innings every year of his career but one, but has averaged 200 innings on the whole. Blanton won’t wow you in any fashion: he’s strikes out a solid but unspectacular 6 per 9 innings and generally limits his walks to 2 per 9 innings. As was pointed out to me my ardent Halos fan and my Silver Screen and Roll colleague Ben, Blanton’s advance metrics point to the fact that his ERA wasn’t nearly as bad as his Dodgers’ mark of 4.99–he simply was unlucky. However, when you look at his numbers the pas

MAMBINO’s MLB Playoff Preview, Part 2: Yankees/Orioles and Nationals/Cardinals

National League Division Series: St. Louis Cardinals over the Washington Nationals in 4 Games

KOBEsh: Let’s get this out of the way: St. Louis’ controversial win over the Atlanta Braves has zero bearing on this game. The Cardinals, having faced elimination five times in the past 12 months, didn’t go into this game thinking that they could possibly lose, even though most people (even here on MAMBINO) picked Atlanta to come of this game tonight. A younger, more inexperienced team could have been rattled, thinking that they could have, or even should have, lost that game. The defending champions aren’t giving a second thought to a call that in honesty was only the second worst sports referring job in the past two weeks.

That being said, the reason the St. Louis Cardinals will go on to defeat a team with almost 10 more regular season wins than them isn’t just for all the reasons they’ve survived every comeback before this one. Yes, STL has a mountain more postseason familiarity than their opponents from the District who have only one regular player with any substantive playoff experience (Jayson Werth). But that can’t account for everything. What will get them three wins is patience.
Just like in their matchup with Atlanta, St. Louis has a slight offensive advantage against Washington, with Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Pete Mothereffin’ Kozma swinging hot sticks right now. The Cards have a knack for taking every advantage they can, serving up long at-bats and wearing out opposing pitchers. On the flipside, the Nats have a bunch of high strikeout hitters like Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper, whose groan-inducing whiffs will play right into the hands of patient pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia. I can’t expect that the Washington ‘s lineup will be shut down completely, but they certainly won’t be one of the league’s leading offenses for the next week or so.
The Nationals have a couple of horses in Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, both of which are ready to  go the distance in every start. To answer, the Cards are throwing Adam Wainwright (twice) and Chris Carpenter, who aren’t only just as good as the two youngsters, but are battle-tested and won’t panic or press at the sight of a Bryce Harper homer or any man in scoring position.
I want to make this clear: I’m not putting too much of a premium on experience, even though the advantages it gives STL as well as takes away from DC is just too much to overcome. The fact is that in every facet except for the bullpen, the Cardinals are just a much more superior team right now.

MAMBINO Fantasy Mondays: Who’s in First?

 Hello friends, we’re back (finally) with another edition of MAMBINO Fantasy Mondays. We give our (supposed) weekly updates and thoughts on Major League Baseball, and of course, the fantasy spin from some rugged veterans of the internet.

The NBA is winding down it’s season with the championship round, while the NHL and NFL lie dormant until the fall. If your attention hasn’t fully been on baseball the past few months, who could blame you? The NBA Finals is shaping up towards being one of the all-time greats, while the Los Angeles Kings’ surprising romp through a supremely entertaining Stanley Cup playoffs kept us all distracted since essentially opening day.

So if you’re just cracking open the sports page, you’d probably take a look at these standings and your face would be contorted into a mess reminiscent of Jack Wilson’s unfortunate mug. Some of the division leaders are as predictable as a Matt Cain quality start – the Yankees and Rangers are in first, while the Giants and Braves currently hold serve as the NL Wild Card reps and Tampa Bay Rays one part of the AL Wild Card.

But the rest of the standings? Your other divsion leaders (ordered by winning percentage) are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.

How…is this happening?The Los Angeles Dodgers, left for dead by even Chavez Ravine sycophants here on this blog before the season began, have the best winning percentage in the majors? The supposedly “rebuilding” Chicago White Sox are in first, three games ahead of the presumptive AL Central champions in the Detroit Tigers? The Washington Nationals aren’t just the best team in the ultra-competitive NL East…they’re the most exciting team in the game?

The world is not round my friends. It is a cube, whose answers are in the form of clown questions, bro. It’s MAMBINO Fantasy Monday. Let’s unravel how this has happened in the last 12 weeks of Major League Baseball.

Cincinatti Reds – 38-27, leads Pittsburgh by 4 games in the NL Central

How are they doing this?: By pretty much doing what every good AL team should do – mashing, pitching and fielding. The 2012 Reds were a preaseason pick to be built on solid starting pitching and great hitting in a weak division. However, both sources are somewhat surprising.

The pitching has been great in southern Ohio, but not because of the Reds’ two big offseason trades. Mat Latos, acquired in a blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres last winter, was supposed to be the savior ace that the Reds had lacked for the past two decades. Quite the opposite once spring training got underway – Latos has surprisingly been the team’s worst starter. His rotation mate Johnny Cueto will be an All-Star in a month with his dominant arm, while Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey continue their solid, if unspectacular play. The Cincy ‘pen, thought to be decent in the preseason, has exceeded all expectations, but not because of import Sean Marshall. Led by destroyer of all men Aroldis Chapman (1.06 ERA and 58 K’s in 34 innings), relievers Alfredo Simon and Jose Arredondo have been damn near unhittable.

The Reds’ lineup is doing things the old school way: hitting the ball really, really hard. The Reds are third in slugging, first in doubles and fifth in homers, but a tepid ninth in on-base percentage and tenth in hits. Joey Votto might damn well be the best first baseman in the Majors and replacement third baseman Todd Fraz… Read more...

MAMBINO Fantasy Monday: The Panic-Meter

On Friday, the Anaheim Angels and the Washington Nationals called up the consensus #1 and #2 prospects in the game, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout respectively. At ages 19 and 20, Harper and Trout are the two current youngest players in the major leagues. “Wayne’s World” has more experience existing than these two. Writing that bringing these two up from the minors is a “panic move” is hardly an overstatement; it might just be accurate.

It’s early in the season, but what I know is that it’s never too early for a team to freak out from underperformance. Let’s take a quick look at some early season moves made by teams across the MLB landscape, grade them 1 to 10 on the “Panic-Meter” and see what type of fantasy implications are there.
The Anaheim Angels call up OF Mike Trout
MAMBINO Panic-Meter: 7 out of 10
For the Angels, Trout’s call-up coincided with veteran Bobby Abreu’s release from the team. Now 7-15, the Halos are performing far below expectations. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams in baseball, along with the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. For Anaheim, the reason for pressing the panic button is pretty obvious: they didn’t give Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson over $300 million dollars combined to finish in last place. They did it to win a World Series.
However, it’s not like this is just a move to just shake up the team. I mean, it’s definitely that, but this is also a really simple numbers issue. Abreu had a putrid spring training, followed by hitting .208 in limited duty this year. Bobby no longer plays the same type of Gold Glove defense that he was known for and was the biggest weakness of an Angeles log-jam in the outfield with Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo and of course, Trout.
More importantly, Trout was laying waste to the Pacific Coast League, hitting .403 with literally a billion extra base hits (I exaggerate; it’s 10 in 20 games, with 6 stolen bases, to boot).

Yes, this is a panic move for the Angels because of how quickly their season was slipping away from them, even in March, but this was also just a simple numbers move for the Halos. Abreu was bad, and Trout is good. Any team, regardless of expectations, would have made this move.

Fantasy spin:Pick up Mike Trout, right now, if he hasn’t already been snatched up.  But perhaps more realistically, this is going to change the look for the other Angels in the line-up. Unless he really stinks, Trout is staying up for good, and probably hitting in the lead-off spot for the duration. I’d buy low into Peter Bourjos, who’s hitting in the 9 spot, seeing as Trout, who has some pretty impressive power, will  be hitting directly behind him.

The Washington Nationals call up OF Bryce Harper
MAMBINO Panic-Meter: 9 out of 10
For the Nationals, the reasons are a little less clear. Harper was only hitting .250 in the minors, with just 6 extra base hits in 82 plate appearances; hardly tearing it up. The logic is that the Nats probably wanted to bring up their young phenom immediately following spring training, but didn’t want to start his “arbitration clock” (which means, quite plainly, that Washington would have to pay him more money sooner if they brought him to the majors right away rather than waiting 3 weeks). At 14-7 and leading the NL East, Washington didn’t necessarily need him anyway. Right?
Wrong.  With 1B/OF Michael Morse and 3B Ryan Zimmerman on the DL, and Roger Bernadina, Xavier Nady and Rick Ankiel Read more...

Burning Qs for the 2012 MLB Season (Part 2)

The MLB season has partially gotten underway (16 teams have yet to throw a single pitch as of Friday morning), so to prep, we started our world famous internet renowned popular burning questions for 2012. We launched part 1 back on Wednesday, and here are, what we think, the most important questions from now until October.

Are the Rays the best team in the AL East?
BockerKnocker: No, of course not.

But they will give the Yankees and Red Sox fits, possibly all the way through game 162, just like last year. As everybody knows, Tampa’s rotation is one of the best in the bigs. David Price and James (dare I say “Big Game,” KOBEsh?) Shields form one of the best 1-2 punches in the game, but it is the #3 and #4 slots in the rotation that has the folks in Florida beaming. Matt Moore is probably the game’s brightest prospect right now, including The Bryce Harper Experience. Moore struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year and was credited with the Rays’ lone win against Texas in the ALDS. Then again, he struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year. To anoint this guy so quickly is problematic; not only will this be his first big league season, but he will probably be pitching on an innings limit. Following Moore will be an absolute stud in Jeremy Hellickson, who proved that he can win on the big stage last year. Hellickson posted an ERA under 3 in the vaunted American League East on the way to the Rookie of the Year award. Hellickson, however, had an awful spring, allowing an earned run per inning pitched. Veterans are usually able to shake off the effects of a horrendous spring training, but how the young buck deal with it remains to be seen.

Got to get it together, BJ

The pitching will carry the Rays all year. Even if a starter gets injured here and there, the team has some minor-league depth in Wade Davis and Alex Cobb. The problem for the Rays lies with their lineup card. The franchises in New York and Boston will produce hitting clinics all summer, featuring brand names like Cano, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Granderson. Tampa struggled to put runs on the board all year, so they did what any bat-starved team would do. They went out and signed Luke Scott, daily golden sombrero candidate and Rays retread Carlos Pena, and Jeff Keppinger. Nice. There are some familiar faces returning in Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. But even if those guys have the years everyone knows they can have, the team will need breakout seasons from B.J. Upton (seriously, B.J., we’ve been waiting forever for one from you) and Desmond Jennings.

The Toronto Blue Jays have become somewhat of a sexy sleeper pick to make the playoffs with the extended wild-card format. The always dangerous Jose Bautista leads a decent hitting squad, especially at home, but the Jays just don’t have the firepower on the mound to make a significant move in this 3-horse race. The Baltimore Orioles round out the AL East, but they don’t deserve any more than 1 sentence because they lost to a COMMUNITY COLLEGE team on Tuesday.

Are we in any danger of seeing the Orioles, Pirates, Mariners or Royals ending their years-long futility?
KOBEsh: No, don’t be silly Peter Pan. But that doesn’t mean there’s not signs of life.

There’s not a team in that sad bunch of glorified minor league teams that I would guess play for better than third-place in their divisions, and that’s partially because the Mariners play in a four-team division.

Out of the four, the O’s have the greatest opportunity to continue their tradition of absolute abject suckitude. Looking at … Read more...