January 22, 2015
In one of the biggest bombshells of the entire winter season, earlier this week the Washington Nationals signed former Detroit Tiger pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract worth $210 million. That includes an incredible $50 million signing bonus for the man who had been the object of much speculation since becoming a free agent in October. Today Scherzer was formally introduced to the media in Washington, with grinning General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Matt Williams at his side.
After being traded to the Detroit Tigers by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, Scherzer won 82 games over five seasons, and received the American League Cy Young Award in 2013. (See MLB.com.) There's no doubt that he will make a huge impact wherever he plays, so it's mainly a question of whether he will stay healthy.
As a perpetual skeptic, I confess to having mixed feelings about the Scherzer acquisition. Is he really worth that much? Washington Post columnists Barry Svrluga and Adam Kilgore think so. The Nats' starting rotation was already one of the best in baseball already, merely lacking a superstar of Scherzer's caliber. Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Stephen Strasburg are potential superstars who could yet achieve that status, and if Gio Gonzalez gets back in the groove he showed in 2012, the same for him. Even the fifth pitcher, Tanner Roark, abounds with talent and competitive spirit. For me, keeping Jordan Zimmermann as part of the Nats' rotation should be a top priority.
This mega-deal raised immediate questions about whether the Nats could afford to keep their current star players whose contracts are nearing expiration. But the front office on South Capitol Street says they are planning to keep their core starting pitchers, as well as shortstop Ian Desmond. Owner Ted Lerner obviously has deep pockets, and at age 89 he be motivated to win a World Series while he's still alive. Hmmm... See MLB.com. If so, they really are in "World Series or bust" mode. This is shaping up to be one heck of a year for the Nationals, but the future is far less certain...
With a deep, well-balanced roster full of (mostly) young talent, the Washington Nationals have only one clear need: a top-notch second baseman. Asdrubal Cabrera (acquired in August to fill the void when Anthony Rendon replaced Ryan Zimmerman at third base) was OK, but he was clearly not the best choice for a long-term contract. But I was as surprised as anybody that rock-solid relief pitcher Tyler Clippard was traded away last week, for a fair but not stellar Yunel Escobar. (See MLB.com) Was that really the best deal they could get?? Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wondered what General Manager Mike Rizzo was thinking. Maybe this was part of a brilliant scheme by Rizzo to reshape the pitching staff, anticipating the Scherzer deal, but if he thinks Tanner Roark is going to accept a demotion from the pitching rotation to the bullpen, look at how the once-promising pitcher Ross Detwiler took that treatment last year. Human beings crave respect as much as money, and sometimes more so.
With his goofy goggles and unique delivery style, Clippard was a popular player in Washington, and kids at Nationals Park were delighted to get the bobblehead doll in his likeness last fall. Now that "Clip" is gone, there are lots of sad faces in Nats Town.
Earlier this month, the Nats signed former Marlin infielder Dan Uggla to a minor league contract, apparently taking a chance that he might regain his former slugging prowess. He's been declining for the past couple years, so that was another puzzle.
In a complicated multi-team trade last month, the Tampa Bay Rays got former Nationals rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the guy who saved Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter last September 29. (Have I mentioned that before?) In return, the Nationals got right-hand pitcher Joe Ross and a "player to be named" (Trea Turner) from the Padres. See MLB.com.
Two weeks ago, Jayson Werth had surgery to repair on his right (throwing arm) shoulder, which started ailing him last August. It was feared that it might take him until mid-April or May to fully recover, but he says he'll be ready by Opening Day. I sure hope so. See MLB.com. Werth is 35 years old, and has three years left on his contract.
Get well soon, Jayson!
As a tribute to the Seattle Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champions who hosted the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game last Sunday,* I updated the diagrams on the Sicks' Stadium, the Kingdome, and Safeco Field pages. I managed to finish the first two before the game, but as usual, it took longer than expected to make all the necessary corrections to Safeco Field. So the actual updates to both Sicks' Stadium and the Kingdome were on January 18, four days ago.
* Was that an amazing fourth-quarter comeback by the Seahawks, or what? The Packers seemed to have it all wrapped up with less than five minutes to play, and then their defense melted away.
The Sicks' Stadium diagrams include more detail in the outfield seating areas, where a wide lateral walkway was punctuated by stairs between each section. They also show the peripheral buildings, presumably housing maintenance equipment and/or offices, as well as the adjacent streets. But the most interesting enhancement is the the new "roofless" diagram, showing where the entry portals and support beams were located in the main grandstand. Also, the grandstand is about eight feet deeper than I previously estimated.
Yep, it's the same old story: less than a month after I made some minor corrections to the Kingdome diagrams, I noticed a small discrepancy on one of them (the removable seating sections near the right and left field corners), fixed that, and soon found other small " the wrinkles" and got carried away until I ironed them out all. The only significant change was that the upper deck in the basketball version does not extend as far toward the east (left field) as before. When the Seattle Supersonics played there the Kingdome was in the original (1976) configuration. But I figured while I was at it, I should offer a "hypothetical alternative" layout, with home plate moved straight back 15 feet. That would have yielded a more "normal" sized outfield, while putting fans closer to the action.
Over a year and a half after a "premature" diagram update that left several issues unresolved, I finally completed revisions to the Safeco Field diagrams. For the first time, there are multiple diagram versions that vividly show how the retractable roof operates, including a "transparent roof" version. Compared to the July 2013 version, the upper deck extends about ten feet less toward left field, while the bend near the right field corner is a few feet deeper. The small staircases on either side of the entry portals are depicted more clearly than before, with gray shading to distinguish them from the flat balconies. Other details: The small upper deck behind the bullpens in left field are a few feet shallower, as is the similar upper deck in center field. Finally, the bends in the grandstand are depicted by gray lines. Reconciling those bends in the upper deck vis-a-vis the lower deck was perhaps the biggest headache I faced in getting everything right.
My prior haste was due to a desire to account for parts of the outfield fences being moved in several feet prior to the 2013 season.) For an explanation of the changes in outfield dimensions that year, see MLB.com. Except for left-center field, it really didn't shrink much.