Arguably the weakest part of the Washington Nationals right now as we head into the 2017 season is their bullpen. Earlier in the week, the team added a veteran relief pitcher in an effort to improve upon this area.
On Tuesday, the Nationals signed reliever Joe Blanton to a one-year, $4 million contract. Even though spring training has already begun, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo felt as though his bullpen needed another arm.
Blanton has plenty of Major League experience. The 36-year-old right-hander has had stints with the Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. A starting pitcher for most of his career, he was converted to a reliever a few years ago. Blanton pitched well for the Dodgers last season. In 75 games, he went 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA.
Now that he has signed with Washington, Blanton will join a bullpen that contains plenty of uncertainties. This past offseason, the Nationals lost Mark Melancon to the San Francisco Giants in free agency. Last season, Melancon became the Nationals closer after coming over from the Pirates in a trade late in July. After Melancon left, the Nationals made an effort to try and sign closer Kenley Jansen. However, he ended up re-signing with the Dodgers.
Right now, the Nationals do not have a definite closer going into the 2017 season. The team signed Joe Nathan to a minor league deal back in January. Although Nathan has 377 career saves, he is not the same closer that he once was. He had Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career in April of 2015. Even though he has since recovered from the surgery, it is unrealistic to expect Nathan to return to top form. If he performs well in spring training, there is a good chance that he will earn a spot somewhere in the Nationals bullpen.
The most likely player to emerge as the Nationals closer is Shawn Kelley. In 2016, Kelley went 3-2 with an ERA of 2.64 ERA in 67 games. He also earned seven saves. Because of the lack of realistic options, there is a good chance that Kelley will be Washington’s closer come Opening Day.
Blanton will definitely have an important role in the bullpen. It is unlikely that he will compete to be the closer, but will probably have some kind of late-inning relief role. It will be up to Nationals manager Dusty Baker to decide how he wants to utilize Blanton.
At the very least, Blanton gives the Nationals a solid veteran option out of the bullpen. This area of the team still is not exactly strong, but it did just get a little better.
Flyers Remove Statue of Kate Smith
The Philadelphia Flyers have joined the New York Yankees in the removal of ties to singer Kate Smith, whose famous rendition of “God Bless America” was played at both Flyers and Yankees games.
Earlier this week, the Yankees decided to suspend the use of Smith’s rendition, which was played during the seventh-inning stretch, while they investigated allegations of racism against the later singer.
According to a report from the New York Daily News, there are conflicting claims about Smith’s 1939 song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” which
originated in the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals” and was considered satire but includes racist language, including the line;
“Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”
The song was recorded by Smith and Paul Robeson, who was black.
The Flyers put out the following statement on Sunday (h/t ESPN):
“The Flyers have enjoyed a long and popular relationship with ‘God Bless America,’ as performed by the late Kate Smith, a woman who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for her patriotic contributions to our nation.
“But in recent days, we learned that several of the songs Kate Smith performed in the 1930s include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes.”
Smith, who was popular during the WWII era, recorded the offensive jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among various other treats.
Smith also endorsed the “Mammy Doll” back in 1939 which was based on a racist caricature of a black woman similar to Aunt Jemima.
“The Yankees have been made aware of a recording that had been previously unknown to us and decided to immediately and carefully review this new information,” a club spokesman said. “The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”
The odds aren’t good that Smith’s songs will return to their prominent places during sporting events such as they were with the Yankees and the Flyers.
There is a lot of cleaning up to do when it comes to racism in sports, and weeding out songs attached to artists with questionable, and controversial, backgrounds such as Smith’s, is important in pushing forward towards the future.
MLB Investigating Racist Social Media Messages Sent to Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr.
Major League Baseball is investigating racial messages sent, via social media, to Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. prior to his demotion to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs back on April 6th.
According to The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney, the messages have caught the attention of both the Cubs and the MLB Players Association, leading to the launch of the investigation.
Mooney had been a solid bullpen option during the last few seasons, but had a nightmare start to the 2019 season posting a terrible 32.40 ERA in just 1.2 innings of work over four appearances.
Carlos Zambrano Attempting Comeback, Signs with Indy Team
Former MLB pitcher Carlos Zambrano is attempting a comeback and has signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer.
Zambrano last pitched in the majors back in 2012 with the Miami Marlins, but earlier in his career he finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting in the National League three times as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Zambrano started his comeback bid last fall when he took the mound for 7 starts in the Mexican League, pitching to the tune of a 5.18 ERA, and performing even worse during a short stint in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Given his recent lack of production, it is a longshot to believe that Zambrano will return to the MLB level, but stranger things have happened.
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