- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg was very relaxed Monday after arriving at the Nationals' camp, after a low-key offseason. He didn't travel much, he said, because when you live in San Diego, there really isn't a whole lot of reason to go elsewhere.
He did make the long trek to Wisconsin this winter, with planes, trains and automobiles, to attend the wedding of teammate Jordan Zimmermann. But Strasburg didn't actually make it to the wedding, because he was wrecked by a bout of food poisoning that drove him to an emergency room in the middle of the night. Strasburg probably wouldn't recommend the white chicken chili near Auburndale, Wis.
He told that story with a smile, answered questions about how he will no longer work with any innings restrictions, and today he will climb on top of a bullpen mound and go back to work. He is ready to face hitters now, he said.
What he wants to work on this spring, he explained, is to develop more consistency with his two-seam fastball and his changeup, because there were days last season when those pitches were flat and he'd have to find a way to work around them. And if he can get more consistency with those pitches, he can probably take his next step of pitching deeper into games. As general manager Mike Rizzo explained, a good working model for Strasburg is Justin Verlander. "Maybe the word is 'conserve,'" Rizzo said.
Verlander will pitch early in games with good velocity -- 93-95 mph -- and get outs efficiently, before gradually ramping up in the middle and later innings. Time and again, we've seen Verlander burying hitters with his best velocity in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. That's where Strasburg wants to get to, and he'll have a chance now that he's not limited.
When Strasburg hands off the ball in the seventh or eighth inning, the ball probably will go to Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen, depending on how manager Davey Johnson arranges his bullpen daily, and Rafael Soriano will work the ninth. At the time that the Nationals worked out a deal with Soriano, Rizzo had pitching coach Steve McCatty call Clippard and Storen to give them a heads up that there would be a new closer in town. Those were shorter calls, very much to the point.
Later, Rizzo called each himself. Clippard was predictably laid back about the whole thing, saying something along the lines of, "Dude, whatever you do is fine with me." The conversation between Rizzo and Storen was more extensive, with the general manager explaining to Storen that the move had nothing to do with Storen's blown lead against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, and everything to do with making the team better overall. Their bullpen depth was probably the weakest part of an extremely strong roster, and now, with Soriano, the Washington relief corps has a chance to be outstanding.
Rizzo drafted Storen in the first round, promoted him without regard to his arbitration clock and made sure that the reliever will be well compensated this season, so he spoke from a position of credibility. Storen and Clippard were both among the players who worked out here Monday, in a camp that is already filled with high expectations for what could be possible. This may well be their time.
The Bourn move
At the time the Cleveland Indians signed Nick Swisher, they had no intention of going after Michael Bourn. In fact, agent Scott Boras tried to engage Cleveland at that time, knowing that the Indians were getting closer to signing Swisher and working to convince them to invest in Bourn rather than Swisher.
In the end, the Indians have landed both, because the market, the new free-agent compensation system and Bourn's second-half struggles at the plate hurt him. After hitting .311 in the first half, he batted .225 in the second half.
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, Bourn's best chance at the best deal probably could have come during the 2012 season. The Braves had traded for Bourn and GM Frank Wren really valued him and liked him, sources say, and they were prepared to make a major investment in him.
But Bourn went into the market and the Braves, who needed a center fielder and didn't want to be left out if Bourn's situation took a long time to play out, sunk $75.25 million into B.J. Upton. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to wonder if Bourn could've had that deal earlier.
As it stands, Bourn has landed with Cleveland, on these terms, according to Paul Hoynes: $7 million in 2013; $13.5 million in 2014; $13.5 million in 2015 and $14 million in 2016. Bourn can vest the $12 million option for 2017 by getting 550 plate appearances in 2016.
Before a Sunday night game in Atlanta last summer, I can remember walking into the Braves' clubhouse with Terry Francona to talk to players. Francona, who was then an ESPN analyst and now the Indians' manager, said he didn't really know Bourn, but after chatting with him, he walked away with the response that is universal for those who meet the center fielder: He was very impressed.
This is what the Cleveland could look like:
1B Nick Swisher
2B Jason Kipnis
RF Drew Stubbs
Swisher's ability to play first base, as well as the outfield, gives the Indians flexibility in picking and choosing as they evaluate what they see in spring training. If Stubbs looks good, they can play him in the outfield and move Swisher to first base and have a heck of an outfield. If Stubbs struggles, they can have Swisher play in right field, Reynolds at first base and Giambi as a DH against right-handers. There already is speculation about Stubbs being traded, but there probably isn't much point in that; he would be a sell-low candidate at this point, coming off two terrible seasons, and wouldn't bring a lot. On the other hand, if the fresh start invigorates him, the payoff could be huge for Cleveland.
The Indians got a whole lot better and faster, as Paul Hoynes writes.
Around the league
• The Mariners continue to work through the speed bumps in the Felix Hernandez deal; the MRI showed wear and tear on Felix's elbow, writes Geoff Baker. Larry Stone writes about the recent injury protections built into player contracts. They need to commit to more than just Felix, writes Jerry Brewer.
• Gordon Wittenmyer is dead on: The new draft compensation system might tie Matt Garza to the Cubs this season. The Cubs can get a supplemental pick if they keep him, which may have more worth than whatever they could acquire in a midseason trade -- and Kyle Lohse is the perfect comparable to Garza.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. The Twins' payroll is in the $80 million to $85 million range.
7. A breakdown of the additions and subtractions in the Baltimore infield.
• A battle looms at the top and bottom of the Houston rotation, writes Brian Smith.
• The Mets lost out on Michael Bourn, and they have an unproven outfield, as Andrew Keh writes.
• The Giants seem more popular than the 49ers, writes Ann Killion.
• Steve Dilbeck wonders who, among the Dodgers, will emerge as a leader.
• MLB has failed to settle on padded caps for pitchers, as Willie Weinbaum writes.
• The Pirates will have a new logo for 2014, writes Bob Cohn.
• Vanderbilt's baseball team goes into this year amid great expectations.
• The ESPN bus will be at the Dodgers' camp today, and I'll be at the Yankees' camp; "Baseball Tonight" airs at 3 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2 and WatchESPN.
And today will be better than yesterday.