Na­tion­als linked to 3 play­ers at win­ter meet­ings

Selig, Schuer­holz elected to base­ball Hall of Fame

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS BY BEN WALKER

OXON HILL, MD. | Gen­eral man­agers be­gan fil­ter­ing into the glass-heavy Gay­lord Na­tional Re­sort and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Sun­day af­ter­noon. They were able to use the day to set­tle into their suites and move one step closer to launch­ing base­ball’s an­nual busi­ness bazaar, the win­ter meet­ings.

Base­ball’s de­ci­sion-mak­ers will be as­sem­bled at Na­tional Har­bor for the next three days. Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred is in town. Team ex­ec­u­tives, play­ers look­ing for jobs and profit-seek­ing agents will cross paths to col­lab­o­rate on moves that could de­ter­mine next sea­son’s pen­nant win­ners.

In the run-up to the meet­ings, no team in base­ball has been con­nected to more dras­tic ma­neu­vers than the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als. They are linked to three prom­i­nent names — An­drew McCutchen, Chris Sale and Mark Me­lan­con — two months af­ter an­other first-round elim­i­na­tion in the play­offs. Each would have mas­sive in­flu­ence on the frame­work of the team. They would also come at a steep cost.

Me­lan­con sta­bi­lized the Wash­ing­ton bullpen af­ter be­ing ac­quired July 30 for re­liever Felipe Rivero and mi­nor league pitcher Tay­lor Hearn. Jonathan Papel­bon had turned the closer’s spot into a stom­ach-churn­ing spec­ta­cle when­ever he en­tered the game. Me­lan­con curbed the tu­mult with his dif­fi­cult-to-hit cut fast­ball. In 30 ap­pear­ances, Me­lan­con’s ERA was 1.82. He al­lowed just a .224 on-base per­cent­age. Me­lan­con worked qui­etly with elite ef­fec­tive­ness.

His easy-go­ing de­meanor was a fit in the Na­tion­als’ club­house, where he took over for the bom­bas­tic Papel­bon. Each were em­braced for their per­sonal traits. Those traits were just dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent, as were their re­sults on the mound.

The suc­cess with Wash­ing­ton was not a blip for Me­lan­con. From 2013-16, his ERA was 1.80, his WHIP 0.91, his strike­out-to-walk ra­tio al­most 6-1.

Those num­bers — and the Na­tion­als’ lim­ited in­ter­nal op­tions to fill the closer’s role — make Me­lan­con a pre­mium off­sea­son tar­get for Wash­ing­ton. Be­ing a free agent makes him the same

OXON HILL, MD. | For­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig, who over­saw base­ball’s great growth along with some of its dark­est mo­ments, and long­time gen­eral man­ager John Schuer­holz were elected to the base­ball Hall of Fame on Sun­day.

Schuer­holz was picked by all 16 vot­ers on a veter­ans com­mit­tee at the win­ter meet­ings in sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton. Selig was listed 15 times.

It took 12 votes for elec­tion. For­mer player and man­ager Lou Piniella was third with seven.

Selig be­came the fifth of 10

for mul­ti­ple other teams. And, pay­ing a hefty price, such as $15 mil­lion an­nu­ally, for his po­si­tion, would be a de­par­ture for Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo.

Since Rizzo took over in 2009, here is the list of names that have at least 10 saves for the Na­tion­als: Mike MacDou­gal (20), Matt Capps (26), Drew Storen (43, 29, 11), Tyler Clip­pard (32), Rafael So­ri­ano (43, 32), Papel­bon (19), Me­lan­con (17). Al­most an­nu­ally, the closer is some­one new and in­ex­pen­sive. Clip­pard topped out at $5.87 mil­lion when he played for the Na­tion­als. Storen at $5.7 mil­lion. The only com­pa­ra­ble ex­pen­di­ture to Me­lan­con came when Rizzo signed So­ri­ano for two years at $14 mil­lion an­nu­ally, with a chunk of the money de­ferred. Me­lan­con, 31, is likely seek­ing a four-year con­tract, not two.

Closer op­tions on the ros­ter are lim­ited. Shawn Kel­ley could be a choice, if what drove him off the mound in his fi­nal ap­pear­ance does not be­come a prob­lem, which the Na­tion­als have said it is not. Kel­ley had no feel­ing in mul­ti­ple fin­gers af­ter throw­ing a pitch in Game 5 of the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries, forc­ing him to leave the game. He has had ul­nar col­lat­eral lig­a­ment re­place­ment surgery (Tommy John surgery) twice. Out­side of Kel­ley, there are min­i­mal in­ter­nal op­tions. com­mis­sion­ers to reach the Hall. He will be en­shrined July 30 in Coop­er­stown, New York — on his 83rd birth­day.

Un­der Selig, the play­offs ex­panded from four teams to eight to 10 with wild cards and the leagues were split into three di­vi­sions. Video re­play was added to re­view um­pire calls, rev­enue shar­ing was put in place and 20 new sta­di­ums opened across the ma­jors.

Selig also made the de­ci­sion to can­cel the 1994 World Se­ries dur­ing a play­ers’ strike, and was in charge when il­le­gal steroids left a cloud of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs that still lingers.

Land­ing McCutchen could realign the Na­tion­als’ lineup and po­si­tion­ing. The 30-year-old McCutchen would likely play cen­ter field, where he won a Gold Glove in 2012. That could move Trea Turner to short­stop and Danny Espinosa to a util­ity role. McCutchen could also be placed in the mid­dle of the lineup to split Wash­ing­ton’s two prime left-handed bats, Daniel Mur­phy and Bryce Harper. McCutchen’s pres­ence would fill the hole cre­ated by Wilson Ramos’ de­par­ture. Ramos was a first-time All-Star last sea­son fol­low­ing his best year at the plate.

How­ever, McCutchen is com­ing off the worst sea­son of his stel­lar ca­reer. He hit just .256 last sea­son for the Pi­rates, the only or­ga­ni­za­tion he has played for since be­ing se­lected 11th over­all by Pittsburgh in 2005. For three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, his OPS de­clined. He dipped all the way to .766 last sea­son. He struck out a ca­reer­high 143 times. His slug­ging per­cent­age dropped to .430. He also com­piled a neg­a­tive de­fen­sive WAR of -2.6.

Prior, McCutchen was one of the game’s best play­ers. From his first full sea­son in 2010 un­til 2015, McCutchen hit .299, av­er­aged 30 home runs and put to­gether an .890 OPS. He stole 22 bases each sea­son, a part of his game that is al­most gone now. McCutchen stole six bases last sea­son and was thrown out

“Talk about all the great mo­ments. Those were tough mo­ments,” Selig said on a con­fer­ence call.

Schuer­holz was gen­eral man­ager of the At­lanta Braves when they won a record 14 straight di­vi­sion ti­tles. He was the first GM to run teams that took World Se­ries crowns in both leagues, win­ning with Kansas City in 1985 and At­lanta in 1995.

The 76-year-old Schuer­holz later be­came pres­i­dent of the Braves and is now a vice chair­man with the team, help­ing pre­pare for its move to SunTrust Park next sea­son. In 26 years as a GM, his teams won 16 di­vi­sion ti­tles, six pen­nants and a pair of World Se­ries cham­pi­onships.

seven times. His evap­o­rat­ing speed was also pointed at as a pos­si­ble rea­son for his de­fen­sive de­cline.

He is un­der con­tract for two sea­sons, cost­ing $14.2 mil­lion and $14.5 mil­lion, re­spec­tively, be­fore be­com­ing a free agent. The Pi­rates would ex­pect mul­ti­ple high-end prospects in re­turn. They are re­port­edly eye­ing 19-year-old out­fielder Vic­tor Robles as a start­ing point for the trade.

Bring­ing Sale to Wash­ing­ton is the big­gest chal­lenge in the group. Pittsburgh is turn­ing over its ros­ter, mak­ing McCutchen avail­able. Me­lan­con is a mat­ter of con­tract terms in a place he felt wel­comed and had suc­cess. Sale, on the other hand, has three rea­son­ably priced years re­main­ing on his con­tract. He is a five-time All-Star who has been a top-five fin­isher in Amer­i­can League Cy Young Award vot­ing in each of the last four sea­sons. Be­ing left-handed is the topper for a Wash­ing­ton ro­ta­tion that could use a more re­li­able left-handed op­tion than Gio Gon­za­lez. He would be part of a ro­ta­tion fea­tur­ing two-time Cy Young Award win­ner Max Scherzer, Stephen Stras­burg and Tan­ner Roark. That would ar­guably be the best group in the league when healthy. Which is why the cost would be so high, even when draw­ing from a deep Na­tion­als farm sys­tem.

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