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Baker’s wish list: lefties, speed, guys at natural positions

Dec 8, 2015, 7:14 PM EDT

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NASHVILLE — Though he acknowledges this is the best roster he’s been handed in four separate stints as a major-league manager, Dusty Baker does see aspects of the Nationals he’d like to improve.

Baker rattled off several needs Tuesday afternoon during his media session at the Winter Meetings: Left-handed pitching. Left-handed hitting. And speed, something the 66-year-old skipper feels has become overlooked around the sport.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing that’s missing in the game: Speed,” Baker said. “You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself … you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”

The political incorrectness of Baker’s answer aside, the Nationals didn’t exactly burn things up on the bases this season. They finished with only 57 steals, second-to-last in the NL and 27th in the majors (though their 71.3 percent stolen-base rate ranked in the middle of the pack at 17th).

The issue extends beyond steals, though. The Nationals successfully took an extra base on singles or doubles this season 38 percent of the time, third-worst rate in the NL.

One of the organization’s key hires once Baker was on board was the return of Davey Lopes as first base coach, a position he held under Frank Robinson in 2006. Widely regarded as one of the sport’s best baserunning instructors, Lopes will be tasked with getting the most out of a Nationals roster that team officials boasts more speed than some may think.

“You look at the roster of the everyday position players, there’s a lot of guys that can run,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of guys capable of stealing bases. And I think we’ll see a little more-aggressive baserunning style, and as guys get comfortable at their positions, such as a Trea Turner, who can really fly. [Anthony] Rendon can run. Michael Taylor can run. [Wilmer] Difo. All those guys are capable of stealing a lot of bases. Including the MVP of the league, Bryce Harper.”

One other area of improvement Baker pointed out Tuesday was his new team’s defense, which struggled at times this season — the manager believes — because of several players being used in something other than their natural positions.

“I look at their infield defense, they had everybody on the infield out of position,” Baker said. “And that’s tough to do.”

Indeed, the Nationals often fielded a lineup with Yunel Escobar (a natural shortstop) at third base and Rendon (a natural third baseman) at second base, along with Ryan Zimmerman (first base), Jayson Werth (left field) and Harper (right field) manning positions they had not held on a full-time basis in a while, if ever.

“I think it affected our defense, for sure,” Rizzo said. “And defense affects pitching. I thought it had a direct effect on the rotation and the bullpen. When you’re a pitching-defense organization and you’ve got guys playing out of position for the first time, it was difficult to overcome that.”

The club expects to rectify that situation in 2016. Rendon will play third base. They aren’t saying where Escobar will play, but he’ll be used at only one position (if he’s not traded). Zimmerman, Harper and Werth will all have a full year of experience at their new positions.

Injuries, of course, played a significant role in some of the out-of-position moves this season. What, aside from trying to avoid those in the future, can the club do to address the situation?

“I think you avoid injuries,” Rizzo said. “Because you have players playing in positions that they’re supposed to play in. And it’s not a 9-1-1 to get a guy to play a position with a week’s notice in spring training. You know, Escobar learned two positions that he never played before in a crash course in two weeks of spring training. Having him play out of position, and then Anthony Rendon, and Zim being a first-time first baseman, Harp moving across the diamond to right field … certainly when you’re a pitching-defensive organization, it affected us.”

As for Baker’s other roster requests, the Nationals last week signed Oliver Perez to a 2-year, $7 million deal, giving them two lefties in their bullpen (Felipe Rivero will return after an impressive rookie campaign). The search for a left-handed hitter is ongoing, with Ben Zobrist the club’s primary target at these meetings but reportedly having narrowed his search down to the Mets and Cubs, with the Nationals “on the periphery,” according to FoxSports.com.

  1. JayB - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:41 PM

    It was your dumb ass manager who was playing Rendon at 2nd Base Rizzo….all year it was clear that was a very pig headed and stupid move…..and you just sat there and let it happen.

  2. bababooeytoyouall - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:42 PM

    this should be rule number one: you don’t run when Harper has a chance to hit with a player on base. the team is better off with a player on first and harper at bat than sometimes a player at 2nd b/c of a steal and sometimes with no one on base because of a caught stealing.

    I can only echo the great Earl Weaver’s thoughts on team speed:

    “Team speed for Christ’s sake. You got bleeping’ bleep bleep little fleas on the bleeping’ bases getting picked off, trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you. You get some big bleep bleepers that can hit the bleeping ball out of ballpark and you can’t make any bleep bleeping mistakes.”

    • davebinmd - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM

      The game has changed since Earl Weaver’s strategy of winning every game with a 3-run homer. They’re still nice to have when you get one, but you aren’t likely to win it all that way. The stats prove that in the post-PED era, speed, defense, and the ability to manufacture runs (‘Small-Ball’) has made a comeback.

  3. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:52 PM

    Ben Zobrist to the Cubs, per MLBTR.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:54 PM

      4years, $58mil

    • stoatva - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:55 PM

      Cuz goodness knows the Cubs don’t have enough middle infielders.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 8, 2015 at 8:16 PM

        Allows them to trade Starlin Castro for pitching, I assume.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 8, 2015 at 8:18 PM

        Which, now that I check, is exactly what they’ve done.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 8, 2015 at 11:07 PM

        uoOT, but I hear from DC there’s some heavy weather in Oregon. Hope everything is well for you and yours in Eugene?

  4. reallythough111 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:56 PM

    Sugar coated title a bit huh?… I believe he requested lefties and “minorities” which he believes is the same as speed. But not in a racist way of course.

    And let’s not forget the part where he declared Chapman innocent despite not knowing or attempting to know any of the circumstances. I especially liked the finish where he implied that nobody knew “what caused the problem” as though there might be a perfectly logical explanation for choking your wife and firing off a few rounds for the hell of it.

    That’s a whole season worth of stupid in one press conference and we’re not even to Spring Training yet!

    That’s a clown manager bro…

    • donniebenth - Dec 9, 2015 at 8:15 AM

      Amen. Really disappointing comments, in so many ways.

      I want to like Dusty and I really want him to succeed. But ignorance is ignorance.

      And, by the way. Who’s the fastest player on the Nats?

      I believe it is Turner, no?

      • Susanfaulkner - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        Turner and also our 2015 MVP Bryce Harper!! Maybe he should watch a little video on the Nats when he became the manager instead of bragging about who he knows in politics. I don’t care who Baker knows I care about bringing my team to a World Series. I watch sports cause I don’t want to hear about politics.

      • davebinmd - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:21 AM

        I also thought of the irony that, for his entire tenure as manager with the Nats (since at his age it isn’t likely to be more than 3-5 years) his top base stealer, in all probability, is going to be Trea Turner.

        I remember clearly when Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder was fired by CBS in Jan. 1988 for comments along those lines. Granted, by the ’90s, researchers found that there was something to that due to the difference in ‘fast-twitch’ vs. endurance-type muscles, but that’s a hot-potato subject that Dusty would be wise to leave well-enough alone.

    • Susanfaulkner - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:07 AM

      Thanks reallythough111. What he should of said was I can’t comment on that I don’t know the situation instead of jumping to take up. I didn’t like the way he handled that at all especially when I was a victim of domestic violence for 7 years. Kind of like Stephen A.Smith taking up for Ray Rice till the video surfaced then Stephen A felt pretty dumb. Mr.Baker had rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. Hope he has better management skills then he does talking to the media.

    • mwsmith13 - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      +1

  5. therealjohnc - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:21 AM

    The idea that you need to have black or Latin players in order to have a chance at speed is as pernicious as the idea that you need to have white players in order to have smart/savvy players. They are two sides of the same rotten coin, and that trope manages to disrespect EVERYONE. That’s not “politically incorrect” – it’s stupid.

  6. JayB - Dec 9, 2015 at 8:12 AM

    It is Rizzo or Lerner’s hire? Man this team needs a leader…..Harper is going to have to run operation from team president to clubhouse……Does anyone feel good about the direction post 2012?

    • nats106 - Dec 9, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      Amen to that comment. And I’m talking from not only personnel, but the Marketing/Sales team as well. 2012 was the high water mark and the flood waters continue to recede. Although I’m obviously an idiot according to most posters on this board and don’t know anything.

  7. bisonaudit - Dec 9, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    It be bad enough if all he did was over value speed, but he thinks you can identify it based on a guys pigmentation?

    Also, what’s this natural position garbage? Is there a DNA test we can give 1st graders to determine what position they should play? Really, everyone one of these guys who doesn’t field left handed probably started out as a “natural” shortstop.

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