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Porter's head, heart still with Nationals


Porter's head, heart still with Nationals

PHILADELPHIA -- On the day he was officially named manager of the Houston Astros, Bo Porter found himself in an unusual, yet familiar place: The third base coaching box, wearing a Nationals uniform.

That will remain the case as long as the Nationals are still playing ballgames in 2012. Once their season ends, Porter will head home to Houston and turn his full-time attention to his new job. Until then, he insists his head and his heart will be entirely in Washington.

"Right now," Porter said, "all I really want for Christmas is one thing: a World Series ring."

"My focus is on the Washington Nationals and our quest to win the World Series title," Porter added. "I don't want this to be anything that distracts from what we're doing here. We have a chance to really do something special. The guys in the clubhouse, they know that I'm committed. Davey Johnson, the rest of the coaching staff, Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family, they know that I'm committed to what we have going on here."

In a perfect world, the Astros would have waited until season's end to offer Porter their managerial job. But they had already identified him as their top choice, and perhaps worried other clubs with openings might make a run at the 40-year-old, they decided to make their formal offer on Wednesday.

Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow flew from Houston to Philadelphia and told Porter in person. His initial reaction was one of joy. It wasn't until he called his wife Stacie, a Houston native, that things turned emotional.

"When I heard her break down on the phone, it really hit me like: 'Wow,'" Porter said. "It was good. It's a good feeling. There's only 30 of these jobs. Whenever you get an opportunity to be named the manager, it's always exciting. With the cherry on top, it's in my hometown. And I'm excited about it."

Because Porter remains under contract with the Nationals through October, the Astros had to get permission from GM Mike Rizzo to make the job offer now. Rizzo didn't hesitate to give his blessing, and he had no problem agreeing to a scenario that will allow Porter to finish out the season here before he leaves the organization after two seasons as third base coach under Jim Riggleman and Davey Johnson.

"It's the fair thing to do," Rizzo said. "I would never stand in anybody's way to get the dream job of their life, in your hometown. It wouldn't be fair for me to say: 'Wait till after the season,' and then them go on their interview process and hire somebody else. That would be selfish of me, and I wouldn't do it."

Nationals execs, coaches and players expressed both excitement for Porter and disappointment they'll lose a popular member of the staff. In addition to his duties at third base, Porter was responsible for coaching the team's outfielders and played a key role in Bryce Harper's development as a rookie.

Porter also was seen as a potential successor to Johnson once the 69-year-old skipper decides to retire. This move obviously takes him out of the mix for that position, and perhaps elevates bench coach Randy Knorr to the role of leading candidate.

"Yeah, we thought of Porter, the plan was that we brought him in here and he was a manager prospect," Rizzo said. "We tried to surround Davey with as many manager prospects as possible, so he could mentor them and so hopefully we have good internal candidates if and when we need to make a decision on that."

The Nationals also will need to hire a new third base coach for 2013. The search won't begin in earnest until the offseason, but both Rizzo and Johnson hinted they would like to promote someone from within the organization.

Tony Beasley, who managed at Class AAA Syracuse this season and served as Frank Robinson's third base coach in 2006, is a likely candidate for that job.

"Whenever I took a new job, I always wanted people in the organization, because they already knew the talent, knew a lot about the makeup because they were in the organization," Johnson said. "This is a fine organization, got a lot of quality coaches and we have a lot of people that I think highly of in our system. I don't think that will be a problem."

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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]