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Handicapping the Nats' award hopes


Handicapping the Nats' award hopes

The regular season has long since ended. The postseason is now over, as well. And the offseason is about to kick into high gear.

But sandwiched in between all of that is another season, one that Nationals fans will need to pay attention to more than any previous year: Award season.

Yes, the time has come to hand out plaques, statues and bats and gloves made out of precious metals. The fun begins tonight with the Gold Glove awards, then concludes Nov. 15 with the MVP awards.

Plenty of Nationals are going to be in the mix for all of the honors. Let's run through each award and handicap everyone's chances...

Announced: Tonight, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Previous Nats winner: Ryan Zimmerman (2009)
Who votes: NL managers and coaches
Two Nationals infielders were named finalists: Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche. Desmond faces stiff competition from three fellow shortstops: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and the Zack Cozart. Desmond has a strong case, but remember that managers and coaches tend to vote based on old-fashioned stats (errors, fielding percentage) and what they see with their own eyes. Rollins had the best fielding percentage (.978) and errors (13) of the group, with Cozart (.975, 14 errors) right behind him. Desmond committed 15 errors but spent five weeks on the DL, so his fielding percentage is a lower .970. Reyes had the most errors (18) with a .973 fielding percentage. LaRoche seems to have a better chance of winning. His .995 fielding percentage was second only to Carlos Lee's .996 among NL first basemen, and his seven errors were second only to Joey Votto (another finalist) and Lee's six. Freddie Freeman (12 errors, .991 fielding percentage) is the other finalist. What distinguishes LaRoche from the rest is his superb ability to scoop up bad throws from his fellow infielders.
Chance of Desmond winning: 25 percent
Chance of LaRoche winning: 50 percent

Announced: Nov. 8, 6 p.m. (MLB Network)
Previous Nats winners: Alfonso Soriano (2006), Ryan Zimmerman (2009, 2010)
Who votes: NL managers and coaches
There are several potential candidates off the Nationals roster, with Desmond and LaRoche in the mix as well as Ryan Zimmerman and ... Stephen Strasburg. (Yes, they give out a Silver Slugger to the best-hitting pitcher in the NL.) LaRoche has a strong case, having led first basemen with 33 homers and 100 RBI. His .510 slugging percentage was solid, too, though he trailed Joey Votto (.567), Allen Craig (.522), Garrett Jones (.516) and Corey Hart (.507) in that department. Votto's .337 batting average lapped the field, but the Reds slugger will be penalized for having played in only 111 games. Desmond has an almost air-tight case at shortstop, leading his position with 25 homers, a .292 average and .511 slugging percentage. Hanley Ramirez (24 homers, 92 RBI) and Jimmy Rollins (23 homers, 102 runs) present some worthy cases, but neither matches Desmond in overall offensive production. Zimmerman would have been a shoo-in to win his third Silver Slugger (and perhaps his first NL MVP) had he produced all season the way he did after receiving a June 24 cortisone shot in his shoulder, but managers and coaches aren't going to take that into consideration. There are plenty of worthy third baseman, from Chase Headley (31 homers, 115 RBI, .498 slugging percentage) to Aramis Ramirez (27 homers, 105 RBI, .540 slugging percentage) to David Wright (21 homers, 93 RBI, .306 average). Then there's Strasburg, who led all NL pitchers with seven RBI and five extra-base hits while finishing third with a .277 batting average behind Mike Leake (.295) and old pal Jason Marquis (.281).
Chance of LaRoche winning: 50 percent
Chance of Desmond winning: 75 percent
Chance of Zimmerman winning: 15 percent
Chance of Strasburg winning: 75 percent

Announced: Nov. 12, 6 p.m. (MLB Network)
Previous best Nats finish: Ryan Zimmerman (2nd place, 2006)
Who votes: Baseball Writers Association of America
Bryce Harper certainly is among the favorites for this prestigious award, his 98 runs and 57 extra-base hits leading all NL rookies. He ranked second in homers (22) and stolen bases (18), third in slugging (.477) and fourth in OPS (.817). Harper's chief competition: Reds third baseman/outfielder Todd Frazier (.273, 19 homers), Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario (28 homers, 71 RBI) and Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley (16-11, 3.33 ERA).
Chance of Harper winning: 50 percent

Announced: Nov. 13, 6 p.m. (MLB Network)
Previous best Nats finish: Frank Robinson (4th place, 2005)
Who votes: BBWAA
Davey Johnson has as strong a case as anyone for this award, having guided a Nationals club that had never posted a winning record to a 98-win season that led the majors. His chief competition will be Dusty Baker, who also led the Reds to 98 wins, though that team had higher expectations entering the season. Historically, the BBWAA gives the Manager of the Year to the skipper whose team most exceeded preseason expectations, which makes Johnson the front-runner.
Chance of Johnson winning: 67 percent

Announced: Nov. 14, 6 p.m. (MLB Network)
Previous best Nats finish: Chad Cordero (5th place, 2005)
Who votes: BBWAA
Gio Gonzalez is in the running for his first Cy Young Award, his case built behind the fact he won an MLB-best 21 games while posting a 2.89 ERA, leading the league in strikeouts per nine innings (9.3) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.7). But Gonzalez is going to have a tough time overtaking knuckleball sensation R.A. Dickey, who won 20 games with a 2.73 ERA, a league-best 230 strikeouts and a league-best 27 quality starts. Clayton Kershaw (13-9, 2.58 ERA, 221 strikeouts) also has a case, as does dominant Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (1.02 ERA, 42 saves, 113 strikeouts in only 61 innings).
Chance of Gonzalez winning: 25 percent

Announced: Nov. 15, 6 p.m. (MLB Network)
Previous best Nats finish: Alfonso Soriano (6th place, 2006)
Who votes: BBWAA
There's really no legitimate chance of a Nationals player winning the most prestigious of postseason awards, but both Desmond and LaRoche should find their way on plenty of ballots (voters are instructed to list their top 10 players). It'll be interesting to see who gets more votes between the two; LaRoche was a more consistent presence all season, but Desmond carried the club for a good stretch over the summer before he was sidelined with a strained oblique muscle. As for the actual winner of the award, as the season wound down, it appeared to be a showdown between batting champ Buster Posey and reigning MVP Ryan Braun.
Chance of Desmond winning: .001 percent
Chance of LaRoche winning: .001 percent

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]