WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Hump day had a more tangible meaning for the Washington Nationals.
New manager Dave Martinez had a trio of camels brought to spring training camp Wednesday, four-legged visual aids to help players launch a journey aimed at getting over the franchise’s playoff hump.
“I don’t know if it’s so much as embrace it, but just not worry about it because so much has been made about it,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s fair for people to write about it, but making the playoffs every year, winning divisions every year to me is already over the hump. We used to lose 90 games every year. People forget that.”
The Nationals have reached the playoffs in four of the past six seasons but have not won a postseason series since relocating to Washington before the 2005 season.
Martinez joined players for the team’s daily Circle of Trust meeting on the turf infield outside the clubhouse at 9:30 a.m. Not long into the meeting, first-base coach Tim Bogar and third-base coach Bob Henley rode camels onto the field.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Bogar, whose first foray into camel riding came on a cow named Blondie. “I thought it was something just to make sure they cleared their minds, and they had fun with it. We embraced it. I thought the guys reacted to it real well. From what I could see, everybody was having a good time with it.”
Wearing a Nationals floppy hat with a red-and-white-checkered towel flowing underneath, Henley repeatedly yelled “Hump Day!” while atop a camel named Lawrence. Bogar and Henley parked their camels on each side of the walkway that leads from the meeting area to the practice fields, and players walked between.
“It was fun,” reliever Ryan Madson said. “It’s fun. It’s nice to have a camp loose. It’s nice to have the courtesy to have a loose camp when you have a good team.”
Unlike many of his teammates, Madson has some familiarity with camels. A camel named Hoover lives near his Arizona home, and Madson frequently takes his daughters on bike rides to visit the camel.
“He got a little overweight, so he just lays down a lot now,” Madson said. “They’ve got him on a diet.”
There was some concern that the Florida camels might have smelled Hoover on Madson.
“The one was looking at me funny,” Madson said, sticking out his lower jaw for emphasis. “It was showing its tooth at me, and he had that kind of crazy look in his eye, so maybe it was his long-lost cousin.”
After the players walked the camel gauntlet, Bogar and Henley rode Blondie and Lawrence to the practice field. No one rode the third camel, named Brown. He made the trip, according to Bogar, because Blondie refuses to go anywhere without Brown.
When not motivating a professional baseball team, the camels reside at a petting zoo in nearby Jupiter.
Martinez, who is in his first season as Nationals manager, spent 10 years as Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon is well known for his spring training stunts designed to keep players loose.
The camels exited the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches well before the Nationals returned to the clubhouse after the workout. Washington played Miami in Jupiter later Wednesday.
“All I’ve got to ask you guys is, Can you still smell me?” said Bogar before boarding the bus.
Baltimore Orioles reach one-year deal with recovering Trey Mancini
The Orioles and Santander exchanged salary arbitration figures Friday, with Baltimore offering $2.1 million and Santander asking for $2,475,000. The sides can still settle on a number until an arbitrator hears the case and makes a ruling next month.
Mancini missed the entire 2020 season while recovering from stage 3 colon cancer. He signed on deadline day last January for $4.75 million and was preparing for another solid season before being diagnosed with cancer. The first baseman/outfielder was voted team MVP in 2019 after batting .291 with 35 home runs and 97 RBIs.
Mancini, 28, has been working out this offseason and expects to play a full season this year on a team in the midst of a significant rebuild. Before being sidelined, he averaged 28 homers over his three full seasons and remains one of Baltimore’s most potent offensive threats.
Santander is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and the timing works well for the budding outfielder. Although limited to 37 games in 2020 because of injuries, he hit 11 homers and 13 doubles in only 153 at-bats and drove in 32 runs. He received around $550,000 in 2020 and should receive a significant raise in 2021.
His breakout season came in 2019, when he batted .261 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs in 93 games.
Cardinals, ace Jack Flaherty still without deal, swap arbitration figures
The 25-year-old Flaherty asked for $3.9 million and the team offered $3 million. The sides can come to an agreement until an arbitrator hears their case and makes a decision next month. If left to the arbitrator, the ruling will go entirely to one side or the other — no settling in the middle.
After finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2019, Flaherty went 4-3 with a 4.91 ERA over nine starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He made one postseason start, pitching one-run ball over six innings in a 4-0 loss to San Diego in the deciding Game 3 of their first-round series.
Flaherty was set to make $604,000 last year and ended up with $223,889 in prorated pay.
This is Flaherty’s first season eligible for arbitration, and he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season.
New York Yankees roll dice on Corey Kluber
Timing is everything, in sports as well as life. If the timing is right between Corey Kluber and the New York Yankees, with whom the longtime ace was finalizing a one-year, $11 million deal late Friday, it will be good news for the pitcher in the long term — and perhaps even better for the team in the short term.
Speaking of timing, in the larger context of this winter’s free-agent market, the timing of Kluber’s free agency reveals an irony when you consider the similar status of former Cleveland teammate Trevor Bauer. Kluber is nearly five years older than Bauer, but for five full seasons (2014 to 2018), Kluber was the most dominant starting pitcher in the American League, leading the circuit in wins (83) and WAR (31.7), according to Baseball-Reference. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished third in the balloting two other times.
In each of those seasons, he was better than Bauer, with the debatable exception of Bauer’s breakout season in 2018, when both star righties ranked among the American League’s top Cy Young candidates. Yet here we are, two seasons later, and it’s Bauer, not Kluber, who is the most coveted pitcher on the market. It was Kluber, not Bauer, who had to audition for teams, throwing a reported 30 pitches before scouts and other interested parties earlier this week at a gathering at which as many as 25 teams were represented.
If anything, that should help light a fuse under Kluber. So, too, will the short duration of his new contract, which is in part a result of his own preference, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, as he hopes to set himself up for a bigger payday next year. That has to be A-OK for the Yankees, who have acquired a pitcher who has thrown just 36⅔ innings over the past two seasons. In 2020, which represents the whole of Kluber’s career with the Texas Rangers, he threw 18 pitches, or 12 fewer than he threw at his showcase earlier this week.
For Kluber, the deal is a chance to prove his outstanding career has a promising second act in the works. For the Yankees, it’s a low-risk, high-upside deal for a hurler who only recently was among the elite of the elite but whose recent string of injuries renders a multiyear splurge as just too risky.
So what kind of Klubot did the Bombers just acquire?
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