Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Council Raps Into A Double Play

After a session that went into extra innings, the DC Council approved the stadium funding bill on a 6-4-3 vote (Vinny Castilla nods approvingly.) Six voted in favor, four against and three voted present--taking no position on the bill.

Amendments considered today eliminated the extra library funding and allows for consideration of private financing plans. It also includes one more amazing proposal.
The legislation also contains another provision proposed today by Cropp. The city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, must conduct a second cost analysis of the stadium before construction begins and if the estimate is $100 million higher than his initial estimate of $530 million, the project must be moved to another, cheaper location.

I can see that really coming back to bite them in the ass. Can you imagine what kind of pressure Gandhi's gonna be under now? I wonder if Mrs. Gandhi's gonna start wearing a new ermine coat or shiny jewels?

The stadium bill, due to the vagaries of DC law, gets one more go around. If it's approved in two weeks, the deal is done.

Saved By The Reds--For Now

Enjoy the temporary reprieve from Jim Boden's stupidity. The glean in Jimbo's eye, Paul Wilson has re-signed with the Reds.

Unfortunately, this means we'll probably end up with a different stiff. It's not that Paul Wilson is a bad player. It's just that he isn't good enough to warrant a 3-year contract. This is a team with an abundance of fourth starters. There's no need to lock one up for more than a year or two, unless he's a really solid pitcher. (see: Clement, Matt)

We've got plenty of cheap in-house alternatives. There's no sense in flushing even more money down the crapper for marginal improvements, at best.

Even More Stadium Debate

CATO held a policy forum on the DC Stadium debate yesterday. Unfortunately, I just found about it today, otherwise, I would've headed over.

They have audio and video of the event online. I'll be sure to check it out later today.

Nats Blog On RFK

Nats Blog takes a stab at figuring out whether RFK is a pitcher's park or a hitter's park. Their method isn't perfect, but their conclusion is probably accurate. And it bodes well for the still-developing pitchers on this team.

He's Getting Excited Now...

Tom Boswell writes about how DC is ripe for a sea-change in its sports climate. With the Redskins stinking up FedEx Field for the better part of a decade, he believes the Nats are ripe to take a share of the passion.

I'm not nearly as optimistic as he is on this. Certainly the Nats will have lots of support, but it doesn't necessarily need to be at the expense of the Skins. And certainly with the baseball luddites in the sports talk market who know little to nothing about baseball other than the old saws, it'll be much more difficult convincing the casual fan to get excited--especially as the long season drags on.

D-Day, Part I

The DC Council is set to vote on the stadium funding bill for the first of two votes necessary for approval.

Eric Fisher forecasts approval and recaps the wild ride to this point.

The Times weighs in with an editorial concerned with the potential of cost overruns, chiefly brought on by union-only contracts.

The Post reluctantly supports the stadium in their editorial.

The Post also has an article on Linda Cropp's latest wacky proposal. When I saw the headline, I actually thought that it was an old article. It's not. She's back with another plan--this one sure to fail because it takes away the $45 million in library funding.

We'll find out at 10 this morning.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Bennett Bomb

Apparently last week's rush on the backup catcher market have forced Jim Bowden's hand again--Gary Bennett (I can tell what you're thinking: WHO?) is our backup catcher, having been signed to one-year deal for $750K.

There really was a mini-run on catchers over the last few days, but this is pretty close to inexcusable. Bennett has floundered around the league as the last man off the bench for the last 9 years. He turns 33 next year, after having bombed out of Milwaukee last year. Even the Brewers knew to run, and they even signed a 35-year old catcher to a three-year contract to get away from him!

All you need to know about Bennett's offensive abilities is this: If you look at his career highs, he's still a (paging Bill Walton) Horrible hitter -- .265/ .314/ .354.

There are any number of waiver-wire scrubs who can put up similar numbers for LITERALLY less than half the money. No, the 300K that we'd save in that case isn't going to make a damn bit of difference, but Bowden has shown a consistent ability to piss away a few hundred here and a few hundred thousand there.

As the GM of the Washington Team, he should take a lesson from a Great Senator of the Past, Everett Dirksen. "A few million here, a few million there, and pretty soon we're talking about real money."

For the money he's pissed away, we could've had a real third baseman.

Hey, Mister Wilson!

John at Washington Baseball Blog discusses the throw-away line in Peter Gammons' column that the Nats are interested in a three-year deal with RHP/Mediocrity Paul Wilson.

Wilson's been steadily consistent, with an adjusted ERA exactly 8% worse than average each of the last four years. John looks further at the numbers:
Wilson, a righty, will be 32 next year. His ERA last year was 4.36, with 5.73 K/9, but 1.86 K/BB and a 1.39 WHIP. Last year, opponents hit .271 off of him, with a .330 OBP. His fast ball (sinker) doesn't reach 90, and his other major pitch is an average changeup. He's effective when he can keep his fastball down, and he's not otherwise. Last year, 16 of his 29 games were quality starts. His bad games and good games were grouped together. His biggest stinker came on August 13, against San Diego, where he gave up 7 runs on 8 hits in 1.1+ innings, with 2 HR.

Strangely enough, I was at that game and saw San Diego tee off on him. The game was practically over before I even found my seats. He was having back problems--stiffening, that sorta thing--and made a go of it. They put him on the DL the very next day. When he came back, he pitched well in 6 starts--with only one really bad outing, coming against a red-hot Houston lineup.

He'd be an ok choice at 4th starter, but this is a staff of 4th starters--all with some upside. I can't really see how Wilson would be an improvement on Ohka et al--especially on a three-year deal.

If Bowden wants to commit to a pitcher, go with Clement or Radke someone who, while not quite an ace, would be an acceptable number two. While Livan and his machine-like 230-inning arm, isn't quite an ace either, it'd be nice knowing that you had a strong 2/5ths anchoring the front of the rotation.

Second Thoughts On Guzman?

Buried in Baseball Prospectus' San Francisco comments is a chart of Free Agent short stops by WARP--one of their head-scratching stats that attempts to tell how many wins a player is above the kinds of stiffs that typically man Bowden's benches.

Vizquel 38 CLE 35.5 6.2 Signed SFN
Guzman 27 MIN 14.8 5.7 Signed MON
Valentin 35 CHA 17.0 5.0
Counsell 34 MIL 5.8 4.5
Renteria 29 STL 26.5 3.8
Larkin 41 CIN 23.1 3.6
Cruz 32 SFN 19.3 3.5 Signed SFN
Cabrera 30 BOS 13.7 3.3
Garciaparra 31 CHN 29.7 3.0
Clayton 35 COL 20.4 2.8
Perez 31 CHN -0.2 2.3 Signed CHN
Aurilia 33 SDN 5.8 2.2
Vizcaino 37 HOU 6.5 2.1
Gomez 33 TOR 7.3 1.4
Martinez 32 CHN 2.8 1.8
Reese 31 BOS -8.1 1.2
Gonzalez 31 SDN -3.6 0.5
Wilson 31 NYY -7.9 -0.2

Flying in the face of their stats, they conclude:
If we factor in defense via Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP3) because it's such a crucial part of their value, there's at least a glimmer of logic which emerges regarding the Vizquel and Cristian Guzman signings, as they were literally the most valuable shortstops on the market according to 2004 metrics. Of course, that's because Edgar Renteria (9.4 WARP in 2003) , Nomar Garciaparra (7.9 in '03) and Orlando Cabrera (7.0 in '03) had comparatively mediocre seasons by their high standards. On this side of the looking glass, the latter trio are still a better bet to outperform the signed duo. And yes, Enrique Wilson is on that list merely for laughs.

They're completely ignoring the age and decline of those three short stops--something they'd ordinarily be all over.

Yes, Guzman's contract is for a year too long and probably a little too much money, but you can't conveniently ignore the statistics when you don't like what they say.

Trader Jim Knows No Holiday

It wasn't quite the gravy-induced stupor that I feared, but Bowden made another trade, sending Antonio Sucre to the Pirates for JJ Davis.

Sucre, who I assume is not the 19th Century South American General/Simon Bolivar confidante, is a 21-year old who has not yet escaped A-ball. Last year, he hit .240/ .327/ .353 in his first full season at that level. He's described as raw and toolsy, but full of potential. At this point, there's probably more coal than there is diamond.

This is what Baseball America has to say about Davis:
Davis, 26, was the eighth overall pick in 1997 out of a California high school but never could crack the Pittsburgh lineup. He totaled 80 big league at-bats over the last three seasons, hitting .162/.236/.212 with one homer and seven RBIs...
[H]e has posted career totals of .262/.329/.483 with 112 homers and 391 RBIs in 668 games [in the minor leagues]. Davis has obvious tools, starting with plus power, speed and arm strength. But he's an undisciplined hacker who struggles against breaking balls, and he can look awkward in right field. Davis is having a strong winter in the Mexican Pacific League—he's hitting .270/.343/.629 with nine homers and 16 RBIs in 23 games—and will compete for a reserve role in Washington next year.

Overall it's a pretty neutral move. If he stays on the Major League roster, he'll be a decent 5th outfielder. If they're relying on him for anything more than that, the team might be in trouble. Being only 26, he still has a little room for growth--and if all the roses bloom right--no, I'm not holding my breath--he could be Guillen insurance.

Davis obviously has much more short-term potential than Sucre does. And given the pretty crappy start to Sucre's career, the few Major League ABs Davis gets this year and next, might make it a better long-term deal as well.

The Austin Kearns Pipe Dream

There were rumors early in the off season that the Expos Nationals were interested in Austin Kearns.

Buried in the bottom of Ken Rosenthal's latest was this nugget:
Say this for the Reds: They're aiming high in trade discussions. They requested A's RHP Rich Harden for OF Austin Kearns and Marlins RHP Josh Beckett for OF Adam Dunn.

Unless Tony Tavares has developed a way to trade the past rights to Vladimir Guerrero, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Did I miss anything?

Apparently not.

Wilkerson was the Expos' Team MVP. Ho Hum.

Season tickets are up to 15K--I think I mentioned that last week? It's all a blur now.

Bad pitchers are a priority with Bowden:
Though the top-shelf starters won't be in the Nationals' price range regardless of how many tickets are sold, Bowden has begun to feel out what the next tier of starters will be worth. That group includes players such as Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood of Philadelphia and Atlanta's Jaret Wright.

Bowden expects the market to develop slowly, with most signings to take place no earlier than the winter meetings, which begin Dec. 10 in Anaheim, Calif.

"We've got the kind of money to go out and get that type of pitcher," Tavares said. "If we got that, I'd feel pretty competitive."

Somewhere, Ed Wade is smiling. And Omar Minaya. And Larry Beinfest. And John Schuerholz.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm off to the land of Gleeman 10,000 lakes tonight for Thanksgiving. Wish me luck.

I hope my 3 or 4 loyal readers have a good thanksgiving and that Bowden doesn't get all hopped up on gravy and kill the franchise further. I'll see ya on Sunday!

The Gray Lady Weighs In

The Grande Dame of NY Sports Columnists adds his two bits to the Nationals, with some speculation on who the new owners could be.

Of note from the article is this little gem about the revenues:
Bowden hasn't been told if he can exceed the $41 million payroll with which the Expos opened last season, but baseball officials have estimated that the Nationals will take in at least $100 million more in revenue than the Expos did. That should give Bowden a little more to play with.

$100 million might be conservative. But they're missing the bigger question--is JimBo really the guy you want to be playing with that money?

In Case My Reporting Wasn't Enough...

The Times and the Post weigh in on yesterday's announcement.

Also catch, the Thom Loverro profile of Charlie Brotman, the hero of yesterday's press conference.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Bowden Speaks!

The Rock Star grants an interview to mlb.com. He's very candid in interviews, it seems and gives some refreshing and some not-so refreshing answers to questions.

When he talks about the importance of leadership, I don't get as squeamish as some do. I think things like leadership/chemistry are overrated by some, but I also believe that they're code words used by lots of people in those positions.

A GM is part PR. And when he signs a player he needs to explain why. Leadership and Chemistry play well with the media and the fans, and are reassuring to them. Stats guys may cringe, but it's important to remember that just because someone gives a reason for doing something, it doesn't mean that that's the actual deciding factor.

Meet The Kids

MLB has a decent overview of the top prospects in the Nats' system. It's a good introduction to the players we'll get to know--especially on the pitching side.

Baseball America's Take On Guillen

Baseball America has summaries of the players traded in the Guillen/Rivera-Izturis deal. They don't judge the trade, but they give a good thumbnail sketch of the strengths and weaknesses of the players involved.

We're Doomed!

Schill Phil Rogers has a column detailing the reasons why the Nats are going to succeed. (Special Bonus: The first official Winged Insect Headline Pun!)

His Five Reasons?

1. This is no expansion franchise.
2. This is an era of much greater opportunities for all franchises.
3. These are not your father's Orioles.
4. RFK Stadium is just a way station, not a destination.
5. There's nothing George W. Bush likes better than baseball, including the voters in Florida and Ohio.

I won't fisk all of the tripe contained in that column, because buried under all the fluff and faulty logic, I think some of his reasonings are correct. You just have to get around some of the pro-Selig, anti-intellectual reasoning to get to them.

Keep Your Hands Off Our Johnson

In what is probably a much ado about nothing story, the Daily News speculates that the Mets are hot after our Johnson: Nick.
But the Guillen trade also gives the Expos four viable outfielders, Guillen joining Brad Wilkerson, Endy Chavez and Terrmel Sledge. Bowden acknowledged Wilkerson might be moved to first base next season, and a source familiar with the team's thinking said the Mets would have interest if the slick-fielding Johnson is made available.

The key there is the last part of the last sentence: IF the slick-fielding Johnson is made available.

Hell, I'm pretty sure the Nats would be interested if Barry Bonds was available too. I can't really--or is it don't want to--envision a scenario where JimBo would trade OBP Jesus.

While I'm picking nits... Johnson is not a particularly slick fielder. He developed that reputation solely because he wasn't Jason Giambi. He's an average fielder with decent hands and range. Keith Hernandez, he ain't.

Cap Update

I broke down and went back and bought a cap. I was debating about which one to go with. I settled on the red. If I need a blue one, I've got my old Yankee hat, I guess!

I know everyone was sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear how this struggle concluded.

My Brush With Greatness

I Just got back from the unveiling ceremony at Union Station. Boy, was it ever excizzzzzting. Union Station is a horrible place to have an event like that. It’s large, cavernous halls cause the sound to just evaporate. Unless you’re seated in front of one of the speakers, it’s just nothing but muffled mumbles.

There were 200-300 people there--a decent sized crowd. It’s hard to say how many were there just for baseball, because that area’s packed with lunch-goers and travelers at that time of day anyway.

Tony Tavares spoke first and mentioned that they’re up to 13,000 season ticket deposists and how important the support from the community is. He did mention that they expect to have another presser relatively soon to unveil the uniforms--not just the logo--and for partial season ticket plans.

Mayor Tony followed him up with general words about how good it is that DC is back and how he grew up being a fan--he probably recycled the same speech from the initial ‘welcome to DC’ press conference.

He pulled the rope, which unveiled the logo from behind the stage to a decent round of applause from the audience while ‘Summon the Heroes’ blared.

DC Council members Jack Evans and Howard Brazil joined him on the stage and posed for the ever-awkward thumbs up, hands raised above our head victory photos.

Then JimBo spoke, sans leather pants. (Yes, he was wearing pants though.) I resisted the urge to surge forward and throttle him. He started to speak about how excited he was to be the team’s first GM and went into his plans for the team.

Then the angry fat man started yelling, drowning Bowden out. “What’s this gonna do for my kid’s schools? This is a travesty!” As the Union Station Rent-A-Cops approached him, he walked away, still bellowing and muttering something about a “bunch of white boys.”

So, I missed Bowden’s grand plans to trade for Griffey and bring Pete Harnisch back.

There was a small stand selling T-shirts and pennants. I wanted to pick a pennant up, but the line was three deep around the three sides of the booth. I figure I’ll go back later and try…or just wait for another day.

Oh, they unfurled the new website today too: www.nationals.com

UPDATE: The Post has a story up...including interesting details of a fight that happened before I got there!

Will Admits He's Wrong

At least he explains why he got it wrong and probably learns a valuable lesson on why single sources can be problematic.

I'm not quite the Will Basher as most others are. He does a good job of bringing us information that we can't get elsewhere. He just goes a little too far with the authoritative I-know-best bent sometimes.

I've Come Down Off The Bridge

Now that I’ve had the weekend to relax, I’m back down off that bridge. I’m not willing to jump over last week’s Jose Guillen trade.

Despite my initial reservations, I lukewarmly think it was an ok move.

My initial objections were a desire to see Juan Rivera given a chance to be the full-time player and a belief that, when all was said and done, the trade didn’t really net much of a change for the team--other than an increased payroll and an increase in surly outfielders.

Guillen now merely occupies the Carl Edward Everett Distinguished Chair for Nutjob Outfielders. While I remain concerned about the severity of an incident that would lead a playoff-contending team to axe one of their better offensive options in the heat of a pennant race, I guess I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. All too often, whether it’s Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Dick Allen, etc, players get painted with broad brushes and negative coverage surrounds them--the stories and coverage almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The payroll factor probably isn’t that big of a deal either. When it comes down to it, Guillen is only making $3.5MM. That’s not a lot of money for a player who has 30 home run potential. Additionally, it’s only for 1 year. The Nats have a team option for next year for $4MM, which is also reasonably priced.

I’m not sure what Rivera would make this year--he’d be arbitration eligible. Let’s say he was making $1.5MM. $2MM dollars of extra commitment for one year is not going to break the backs of this franchise. All it’ll do is buy you an extra Rheal Cormier. And, as the Phillies can tell you, Rheal Cormier isn’t going to win you many pennants.

As a prospect, Izturis probably wasn’t much. I think much of the hype surrounding him was because of his last name and because this is a franchise that, while traditionally a talent-producing machine--was kind of starved for prospects. A similar thing occurred in Baltimore when the fans grasped on to any young kid thinking that they were going to be the next Ripken. Izturis may prove to be useful someday, but he’s not going to be Ripken. Hell, he probably won’t even be the Florida Alex Gonzalez. With Guzman around for the next four years, Izturis didn’t have a spot to play. He was clearly expendable.

I’ve made my love for Rivera known before. I think he could’ve capably filled in RF with a decent amount of power. I wouldn’t expect 40 home runs out of him, but he’ll hit with slightly above average power and wouldn’t be a negative as a corner outfielder. And pretty importantly to this franchise, he’s still relatively young (Just turning 27) and he’s relatively cheap thanks to the arbitration process. With Rivera, there’s nothing but upside and this could really be his breakout year.

But, Guillen ain’t crappy either. While calling him a 30 home run hitter is a bit much--he only hit that number once, he’s definitely a run producer with a .500ish slugging percentage and is probably better offensively than Rivera. John at the Washington Baseball Blog crunches the heavy numbers so we don’t have to and demonstrates that Guillen is a superior offensive player--at this point in their careers. Rivera has a little ways to go to catch up, and he certainly might, but Bowden wasn’t certainty.

The team now has the cleanup hitter it lacked before. And while Guillen isn’t gonna make anyone think of Frank Howard--the original Capitol Punisher--he’s a better alternative than Vinny Castilla.

If Guillen can prove to not be a distracting influence--and given the DC Media’s non-confrontational, even hands-off, attitude with local players, that might not be a problem--he can be a net benefit and the Nats will come out ahead on this trade. But, if Guillen comes here and proves to be the jackass he seemed to be in Anaheim, then you’ll definitely hear me crying out to Free Juan Rivera once more.

Front Office Moves

The Nats tinkered around with their front office and on-field personnel last week.

The pride of Glens Falls, NY (No, wait that's Dave LaPoint)... The Pride of Fort Ann, NY, Randy St. Claire returns as pitching coach.

Dana Brown is now the director of amateur, professional and international scouting. Lee MacPhail IV is now the director of baseball administration--why is there so much nepotism in baseball? (Even Babe Ruth IV found a job!) And Tim Abraham is the trainer. Exciting stuff, huh? Update your handmade charts at home.

Tom McCraw (an excellent pinch-hitting option in Bill James Classic Baseball), Bob Natal and Eddie Rodriguez will all return in some capacity.

Capitol Punishment...covering the boring stuff, cause well... umm.. I dunno why, actually.


The Post had an inside look--though in the case of a story without photographs, I don't know if look is the right word--at the Nationals' new logo.

The press conference announcing the name change and the unveiling of the logos is today at noon at Union Station. I'll probably wander down there--there's certainly not much going on today. And I'll have some actual first-hand 'reporting' on this later today.

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your PR Flacks Yearning To Breathe Free

Ugh. In an overly-cliched, sycophantic puff piece, one of the writers for MLB.com dotes over Jim Bowden. It's filled with wonderful analysis such as:
Snap, crackle, pop. Three of the four biggest sounds out of the hot stove so far have been Bowden babies....

But then, Bowden knew all that. Bowden had Guillen in Cincinnati. Bowden really liked Guillen in Cincinnati....

And get this, Bowden started working on the trade with Angels GM Bill Stoneman even before Bowden was hired. That's how eager he was. He also knew he wanted to make Guillen one of his first moves....

Could there be more in store along those lines?

Could he be working on a deal to have Ken Griffey Jr. finish up his Hall of Fame career in the national's capital? Or might he trade for Sean Casey, so the affable first baseman can run for office while hitting .320?

You never know with Jim Bowden.

You don't even know how long he'll be the GM. But you know it will be interesting and fun.

And that's the best part of having a new team in town.

The whole article reads like something from some 1950s pulp magazine. It's really quite effective of you read it in the voice Danny DeVito used in LA Confidential when narrating stories of his gossipy rag.

Robby's Rooter

Dick Heller writes a glowing love letter/hagiography introducing Frank Robinson to Washington.

It's a nice piece giving some background on his pretty amazing career. For as much success as Robinson found in both leagues, I'm always quite amazed at how underrated he is by the public at large. He had the unfortunate luck of playing in the shadow of Willie Mays at the beginning of his career and Hank Aaron in the end.

Today's Stadium Blather

The Post and the Times weigh in with editorials on the never-ending issue of stadium construction.

The last two sentences of the Post's sum it up best:
This is no time for lowballing big numbers or papering over huge costs. The public -- baseball lovers and otherwise -- needs to know what it is getting into, and at what cost.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Free Juan Rivera--Update: Free! Juan Rivera!

The Nationals and Angels have called a press conference to announce a trade. It's probably safe to say that Jose Guillen is on his way to DC.


It's not that Guillen's a bad player. After the early damage of being brought up about 3 years before he should have--while losing valuable developmental time--he's been pretty useful the last few years. (Attitude trouble, excepting)

It's just that Juan Rivera is a not-all-that dissimilar player and he's much cheaper--and doesn't cost anything in terms of players. Oh well.

I'll have more later when we find out how much we're gonna pay.

UPDATE-- Ken Rosenthal says it's for Rivera AND a prospect.

It's too bad that JimBo is running the offices out of Florida, because I'd probably make a side trip to RFK on the way home to ram that trailer that serves as their offices with my car.

UPDATE 2--Apparently it's Macier Izturis.

With Guzman in the fold for the next 4 years, Izturis was expendable. He really wasn't much of a hitter in the minors and definitely isn't anyone to lose tooooo much sleep over. I'd assume this means Larkin's a lock to be the back-up on the team now.

Bodley Assumes The Position

Continuing his whirlwind media tour, Rock Star-turned GM Jim Bowden gives an audience to the mouthpiece of Bud Selig, Hal Bodley in USA Today.

This was my favorite anecdote:
Place a call to Jim Bowden's Viera, Fla., office, and the voice answering is that of Omar Minaya, identifying himself as general manager of the Expos, asking that you please leave a message, etc., etc.

Life has been such a blur for the new GM of the Washington Nationals — that's what they'll be named soon — Bowden hasn't had time to change the answering machine message in his makeshift command post. There are more important issues. Minaya, of course, left to become GM of the New York Mets.

Minor Notes

The Expos outrighted two players to the minor leagues: RHP Shawn Hill and SS Jason Labandeira.

This means that both players have been taken off the 40-man roster and are now assigned to the minor leagues. They both cleared waivers, where any team could have freely taken them--for just the price of a waiver claim.

Labandeira is a non-hitting infielder. After two years of college, it took him 3 years to get out of A ball, where he never slugged more than .412. He was up with the team, probably, because he was a warm body in the system when all the injuries hit last year.

Hill pitched 9 innings of ineffective baseball--giving up 16 runs. But he only gave up one home run! Actually, Hill still has a chance to make the team at some point down the road. He just needs a little more time in the minors.

Enjoy Edmonton, boys!

Uniform Movements

Sez the Post:
District and team officials were preparing for the next step: a ceremony Monday at Union Station to unveil the team's new name -- expected to be the Nationals. The event won't include the entire uniforms, but will include hats, according to three industry sources.

Officials are still tinkering with the final choices on uniforms, but the hats will almost certainly have a script "W" for Washington, and the team's colors will be red, white and blue. The home white jerseys are expected to say "Nationals" across the front, with "Washington" stripped across the road uniform. The team will also have a red jersey to be worn occasionally, two sources said.

On the same track, ESPN *shudder* revealed the results of their design-the-uniform contest. Congrats to Ball-Wonk, who got an honorable mention with a most-Freudian design.

No Lots, No Problem

The Post reports on a proposal to turn the curbs surrounding the stadium into a pseudo parking lot.

Under the proposal, the city would allow the company to charge fees for an estimated 4,000 parking spots on the blocks in the neighborhood near the stadium, which is to be built along the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, government sources familiar with the plan said.

In return, the company would give the city a percentage of the revenue to service debt payments on $100 million in bonds to be used for stadium construction. The parking firm, the name of which was not disclosed, has similar operating agreements near stadiums in other cities, the sources said.

I don't know much about the proposal, but it seems to me that the easiest solution would be to not use a private vendor but to install those European-style parking machines. There's a central machine that you deposit money in on each block. In return, you get a receipt to display on your dashboard for the appropriate amount of time. Something like that would be quick and easy.

With DC's fine and dedicated battalion of parking enforcement nazis officers, enforcement would not be a problem. Why outsource something and lose a portion of the money to be made when it's easily doable internally?

Ticket Bonanza

See what a little pent-up demand will do to a city?

The Nationals have deposits for 10,000 season tickets, which would put them on pace to surpass last year's attendance just with season tickets alone.

I'm still seriously contemplating getting tickets. I'm just worried about about the hassle of dumping the extras when I couldn't go. I'm waiting for the half-season plan, I guess.

Ho Hum, Wait Another Day

In a move that shouldn't really come as much of its surprise, baseball has decided to drag its feet.
Selig, who seeks out owner consensus wherever possible, typically does not bring measures up for a vote if unanimity is not in place.

"Bud likes to announce unanimous votes, 30-0 votes, and he just didn't have that today, not with Angelos still not done," said one baseball executive.

Our friends at Ball-Wonk, summed it up best.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I'll Take Potpourri for $400, Alex

Several interesting nuggets in this Times story...
Team owners, meanwhile, will ratify the club's transfer to the District in overwhelming numbers today. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who for years fought efforts to bring baseball back to greater Washington, is seen as the most obvious opponent to the relocation.

But depending on the status of his ongoing compensation talks with MLB executives, a "yes" vote from Angelos is not entirely out of the question. Though talks have slowed in recent weeks, mostly because of scheduling conflicts stemming from MLB's postseason and awards announcements, industry sources still point to Angelos seeking a package of benefits that would include guarantees on his annual team revenue, future resale value of the Orioles and a majority stake in a new regional sports TV network.

I don't think the owners are understanding the full implications of guaranteeing Havana Petey a profit. If he doesn't have to work to put fannies in the seats for money, there's no reason for him to work to put a competitive team on the field. He can scale back payroll further, throw up his hands whining about the competition and the tough market and walk away with several other ill-gotten millions.
A formal announcement renaming the team the Washington Nationals will occur as early as next week. That event, likely to be led by District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, probably will be accompanied by an unveiling of team uniforms. Predictably, the color scheme will employ red, white and blue.

Two primary caps are in development, according to industry sources, with each featuring a large "W" for Washington. Three uniforms also could be unveiled, including a red alternate jersey.

Ho Hum. It's the Nationals. I'm not excited about it. I'm not heart-broken about it. It is what it is, just a boring nickname.

I'm interested to see what the cap is going to look like. Although, I have a tendency towards classical things, the old-style block W is pretty boring and the '60s-era curly W is hideous. Tradition is fine--as long as it's not just for tradition's sake.
The push to find new owners for the club, currently controlled by MLB owners, also will intensify quickly with formal approval in hand. According to industry sources, MLB executives are planning to let prospective bidders begin reviewing the club's financial records the week after Thanksgiving. Formal bidding likely will begin next month, with a final selection expected in early January.

Although this will probably be too late for some of the names, hopefully, having new owners will certainly allow the team to solidify its budget and maybe go after one or two of the arms available this off-season. There are lots of interchangeable pitchers of near-similar abilities. It'd be nice to get our hands on some of them to see how they shake out.

Boring Stadium Developments

The long legislative slog creeps on...and on....and on.... zzzzz...

Wake me when it's over.

Anyone Selling? I Need Two

Tickets went on sale for some yesterday and for everyone today.

I'm contemplating getting season tickets--$15 for behind homeplate is pretty reasonable, but I don't think I can stand 81 games and 45 losses. :)

I was kind of surprised at how low the ticket prices were. They seem very reasonable to me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Meet the Nats: Center Field

When the Royals, Tigers and Mets all give up on you, you probably shouldn’t be playing center field. But, in the case of the Nationals, you give Endy Chavez two full seasons of proving you can’t hit or field.

In fairness, last year wasn’t too bad for Chavez. He had numbers that would make Cristian Guzman jealous: .277/ .318/ .371. For his career, the soon-to-be 27-year old has hit .264/ .303/ .365 in four seasons worth of playing time. He’s simply a slap hitter, a Jason Tyner on steroids. He’ll slap the ball on the ground and try and use his speed to get on base; last year 60% of his at-bats resulted in a ground ball. He rarely walks (just 30 last year) and, as a result, makes a huge number of outs for the amount of production he’s providing.

Baseball Prospectus places his EQA at .244 last year after a season of just .224 before. They also tab him as just 2-2.5 wins above replacement level each year.

Defensively, he’s an average centerfielder. His natural speed should allow him to cover lots of ground in center, but none of the defensive stats really bear that out--they all paint him as average. Again, there’s certainly value in being average, especially at a position like center field. He has nine outfield assists each of the last two years, indicating he has a decent arm in center. He’s certainly not Bernie Williams.

Of the regulars on the team, only Brad Wilkerson and Juan Rivera saw playing time in center. I’m not sure if either of those two is up to playing the position defensively on a full-time basis, but both would be huge upgrades offensively.

With Bowden’s public pronouncement of the need for a big bat in right and the flirtation with Jose Guillen, Rivera might get an extended look in center, particularly as a platoon partner with Chavez. Termel Sledge saw a few games in the field, but I think he’d be one of their last options.

Center field definitely won’t be the strength of this club. There aren’t any viable short-term solutions on the free market either--at least any that would present a large enough upgrade to be worth the price. We’ll have to see what happens and develops among the mini-glut of outfielders. Hopefully their performance will sort them out.

Meet the Nats: Left Field

Brad Wilkerson presumably starts the season as the left fielder after spending a majority of his time at first base replacing the perpetually ailing Nick Johnson. For the rest of his career, he’s split time at all three outfield spots, with the majority of his starts coming in left field. Next year will be his fifth season and also his age-28 season. Wilkerson is the team’s best player. It shouldn’t take him very long to become a fan favorite.

Offensively, he’s a machine. OK, so he’s not a great slugger, but he gets on base at a .370-.380 clip and rips out doubles. Last year, he hit an excellent .255/ .374/ .498 with 39 doubles and 32 home runs. He also set a career high with 106 walks. It’s probably pretty safe to say you can expect 35 doubles and 25-30 home runs for him next year.

He spent the majority of the season as the team’s lead-off hitter, a role he excels at. If he and Nick Johnson produce up to their abilities and bat in the first two spots in the order, there will be plenty of RBI opportunities for Vidro and Castilla. He doesn’t have blazing speed, evidenced by his career-high 13 steals and mediocre success rate, but he’s not a base-clogger either. What he lacks in blazing speed, he more than makes up with his on-base skills.

Baseball Prospectus rates him as a very good batter, with an EQA of .290 last year and .281 for his career. For his career, he rates 6 or so wins above a replacement level player per season--definitely the kind of player that’s moving the team forward.

Defensively, he’s not a star, but he’s not killing the team either, ranking above average in left. In center, he could probably battle the position to a draw. He has a strong arm, nailing eight outfield assists last year and eleven the year before.

If Nick Johnson’s inevitable breakdown forces Wilkerson to first base, Termel Sledge can slide into the position pretty comfortably. While not the hitter or fielder that Wilkerson is, Sledge serves as an excellent fourth outfielder. Last season, his first, he hit .269/ .336/ .462, which, while not exceptional, was very good for a player receiving his first extended playing time, even if he was 27.

Left field should be a strength for the Nationals. With Wilkerson manning the position and Sledge capable of competent fill-in work, it’s definitely one of the few positions where there aren’t any questions.

Meet the Nats: Third Base

Meet Vinny Castilla. The 37-year old native of Mexico signed a 2-year deal and will be one of team’s ‘feared’ ‘sluggers’. (Which one of those deserves scare quotes more?)

Castilla came up as a shortstop in the Braves’ system, but was lost to the Colorado Rockies in the Expansion Draft, where he thrived in the thin air. In a fluky occurrence, he batted .304 with 40 home runs and 113 RBI in back-to-back seasons. He followed that up with 46 home runs and 144 RBI the next year. Despite the natural advantage of Coors’ Field, he definitely earned his stripes as a fearsome slugger, routinely putting up a 900 OPS. Even when park-adjusted, that still comes out as well-above average--especially for a third baseman.

Unfortunately, those were the halcyon days of yore. Until last year’s park-aided numbers, Vinny had not slugged .500 since 1998, falling as low as .348 in 2002 with Atlanta.

He exemplifies old player’s skills--a low batting average punctuated by an increase in walks and the occasional home run. Last year, he fell two walks short of his career high, 53, while batting .271. If you break that out further, he batted a paltry .218/ .281/ .493 on the road. The slugging is certainly acceptable, but the on-base percentage is certainly Batistaesque. (How come my spell check doesn’t know that word?)

Baseball Prospectus has him all over the place the last few years. His EQA the last three years: .272, .262, .216. I’m not holding hope that that upward trend will continue! In his good years, you can expect 4-7 wins above a replacement level third baseman.

Defensively is where he excels. Despite his age, he continues to put up excellent defensive numbers at third base--really showing off his shortstop roots. He has markedly above-average range and an excellent fielding percentage. While in Atlanta, Bobby Cox raved about his defense, and really wanted the team to re-sign him. While no one will confuse him for Brooks Robinson, he’s certainly well-above average.

That being said, this is a horrendous signing by Bowden--way too much money for way too long. Vinny is an acceptable stop-gap solution. I just don’t see the value in signing him to a multi-year deal considering his age and park-related offensive stats. I think he has a chance to be a decent player for us this year--at least compared to the Joe Randas of the world that our budget confines us to. But, we shouldn’t be committing to him beyond this year, especially with as dismal as our offense was (and probably will be).

We’re going to need to fix some of these holes soon and with this move, Bowden has probably closed one of the areas with which we could have a major upgrade for at least two years. I suppose that the $3 million or so isn’t going to be a big deal when the new owners get here, but right now, it’s a killer. Ideally, Vinny will serve his time this year, then serve as Nick Johnson’s injury insurance/pinch-hitter next year. If we’re counting on more than that from him, we’re going to be in even more trouble than I fear we’re in already.

Meet the Nats: Shortstop

For better or worse, it’s Cristian Guzman. The four-year, $17 million contract is clearly too long and too expensive, especially given all the names available this winter.

Guzman turns 27 next year and has already played 6 full seasons in the majors. Originally a Yankee prospect, he went to Minnesota in the Chuck Knoblauch deal and was installed as the team’s shortstop at age 21.

For his career, he’s a .266/ .303/ .382 hitter. He’s maddeningly consistent, nailing those numbers in every year except his rookie year and his excellent 2001 season. During that year, in which he played in his only All-Star Game, he batted .302/ .337/ .477.

Those numbers probably represent the high-point of what we can expect offensively for him. If he’s at or near them, he’s definitely helping the team. Typically, we can probably expect 25-30 doubles, 5-10 home runs and a maddeningly-low on-base percentage for a player, I’m assuming will bat lead-off.

Guzman shows flashes of speed, having twice hit 14 or more triples and stealing as many as 28 bases. But we probably cannot expect those numbers, particularly as he ages and slows down. Despite the steals, he’s not a particularly effective base runner, having stolen 102 out of 154 in his career--right around the break-even mark.

Baseball Prospectus gives him a dismal .229 career EQA and rates him 3-5 wins above a replacement level shortstop per season. He’s certainly not going to win many games for you with his bat. And with the poor on-base percentage, he’ll probably stifle quite a few rallies.

Defensively, is where the problem comes in. Bowden claims he signed him because of his defensive value. But, up until this year, most of the defensive metrics have rated him at, or near, the bottom of the league. This year, however, he jumped up towards the top on most of them. Win Shares even had his as worthy of the Gold Glove.

What happened? I think it comes down to the turf. I think that this year is the first year that the Metrodome went to the field turf. They were one of the few teams holding out with the old concrete artificial turf. The turf game is dramatically different than the game on grass--with different positioning required. The field turf aims to replicate the grass game, pretty dramatically changing how the game is played.

This is all just conjecture, but I’d anticipate that Guzman’s reaction times--his read off the bat--aren’t exceptional and that balls were getting ripped through the infield before he could get a glove on them. With the slower speed of batted groundballs on the new turf, he could use his speed more effectively to make up for the lack of instincts, accounting for the increased performance. His double play partner, Luis Rivas, whom the defensive metrics also hated, also say improved numbers across the board. Unless there’s something in the water in Minnesota, it’s gotta be something else. The field seems as likely as anything, to me.

All-in-all, Guzman isn’t a bad player. He’s probably an above average fielding shortstop and a below average hitting one, netting you a pretty average player. He, like so many of the other Nats, is not going to push you towards any pennants, but he’s not going to prevent you from winning them either. He’s a good complimentary player on a team and, if he lives up to the offensive potential he showed that one season, could be a solid player. Regardless of that, his contract is inexcusable. He’s getting paid too much, for too long. We probably could have had him, or a reasonable substitute cheaper.

Aaron Gleeman probably knows him best and is much more pessimistic about him as a player. I can understand his frustration at his consistent inability to progress as a hitter. Hopefully, we won’t feel the same pains.

The Human Side

The Post has an excellent article about the Ex-Expos offices in Montreal, as they prepare to shut the doors for the final time.

Some of the employees who are being let go have been with the club since the team was founded, in 1969. For others, it's been their only job.

While we here in DC should rejoice, we should also feel bad for the Montreal fans who were screwed over. I strongly believe that baseball could work in Montreal. They, like all places, supported their team when it gave them something to cheer about. Unfortunately, with the season to season uncertainty and constant talk and running-down of the team's chances--despite some results to the contrary--it made no sense for the casual fan to invest any time or energy into the team. It was unfair to the fans. They deserved more.

But, what's done is done. I'll happily root for the Nats and scream at their GM. That's what being a fan is about--and what the fans in Montreal are sure to miss.

Frank(ly), I Don't Give A Damn

Frank Robinson will be back again to manage the Nats next year, his fourth with the club.

I'm an agnostic on this move. I'll wait and see how he does before ripping him :) Although, his rumored slow hook and tendency to nap in the dugout are a bit alarming.

Today's Stadium Blather

With the first vote on the new ballpark set to take place November 30, columnists in the Post and Times take different routes to the same take: public financing of the ballpark might not be the evil it seems.

For Tom Boswell, the money for the ballpark isn't coming from current sources of revenue for DC.
In the last two months of debate, the failure to define terms has done enormous damage to clear discussion. Before the last act arrives, Washington needs to get one thing straight: The money for this park is not coming out of some huge pot of public money that also goes to schools, hospitals and libraries.

It's simply not true. As soon as a politician or commentator tells you that the park will be built with money that should be going to better causes, hold up your hand and say: "Wait. That's just wrong. You either don't understand or you're lying."

For Tom Knott, it comes down to the lousy performance of the schools. He argues that criticism of the funding is just a sob story, because, even if the funding were going to the schools, it wouldn't necessarily improve anything.
The embarrassing performance of the city's public schools is an old wound, hardly germane to the ballpark discussion. If money were the answer, the D.C. public school system would be among the nation's leaders, judging from its per-pupil expenditure.

D.C. officials are forever pumping tax money into a system that provides only a illusionary return. It fools no one. Those with the means to do so send their children to private schools or move to stronger school districts in the suburbs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Bowden Stinks!

I was wrong, Bowden DOES stink.
The Major League Baseball franchise scheduled to move to Washington next season made the first major splash of the free agent period today, signing third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman. In doing so, the former Montreal Expos quickly filled what general manager Jim Bowden had identified two of the team's glaring holes and, in Castilla, giving the club a power-hitting threat for the middle of the lineup.

Castilla, who played last year with the Colorado Rockies, signed a two-year deal worth $6.2 million, according to a source close to the negotiations. The move is the first significant deal of the offseason for Bowden, who was hired Nov. 2 on an interim basis.

Guzman, 26, has played his entire six-year career with the Minnesota Twins. He signed a four-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.

I don't even know where to begin. Guzman would've been acceptable as a 1 or 2 year signing, but four years? I hope the last two are option years. Castilla? I don't even want to get into it. He's turning 38 and you sign him to a 2-year deal? At least Batista was young. Sometimes you get what you wish for, but you wish you had the old wish back.

I'll have more later when my veins stop throbbing.


Buried in the bottom of an article about the resolution to the lawsuit were words that lifted my spirit and just about caused me to dance a jig:
Bowden also has pulled an earlier offer the club made to its third baseman from last season, Tony Batista, who is also a free agent, a source said. Batista, who made $1.5 million in a one-year contract last season, had balked on a two-year offer worth slightly more than $3 million, the source said, so Bowden has turned his attention elsewhere -- for now.

But then the other shoe dropped.
Bowden also has his eye on power-hitting third baseman Vinny Castilla of the Colorado Rockies in the early stages of the free agent signing period, a source said.

You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both.

The article also mentions Cory Koskie and Cristian Guzman as possibilities.

With the wealth of Free Agent SS available, Guzman should be near the bottom of our priority list. The only advantage he has is his age--he'll turn 27 next year. If you signed him to a 2 or 3 year deal, you probably couldn't expect a catostrophic decline. Unfortunately, if he declines much more, he'll barely be useful. Last year, he batted .274/ .309/ .384, which is right in line with his career numbers. Those aren't horrible, but that on-base percentage is pretty craptastic. While the accounts are that he improved his defense, he's slightly above average, at best. (Not that there's not value in being average). Guzman should be the kind of player we should settle for, not seek out. With all the others available, we should invesitigate some of our other options first.

I like Cory Koskie's style of play. He's a productive left-handed bat who gets on base and plays solid defense at third. You can expect around 20 HRs, 25-30 doubles and 70 walks. That being said, he's about to turn 32 and had a down year last year. He started off slowly and picked it up over the second half, finishing with a career high in slugging, but a career low in on-base percentage. Bill James has talked about old player's skills before--and how as players age, their batting average drops, but their homers and slugging go up and how this usually portends a decline in their overall abilities. I'd be hesitant with signing Koskie, because some of those signs are there. Our friends at USS Mariner had a similar, but much more exhaustive analysis. I highly recommend it.

Here Come Da Judge

In a long-awaited, but not-unexpected ruling, a three-judge panel denied the claim of the Expos minority partners that Jeffrey Loria engineered a scheme to reduce the value of the franchise to force a move.

This clears the biggest legal hurdle to the move. Now, we just need a stadium, and we'll be all set.

If They Build It, They Won't Come

Apparently, Linda Cropp has been flooded with offers from private companies looking for creative ways to finance the ballpark and get their share of an extremely large pie.

Yesterday's meeting was with BW Realty Advisors
BW Realty Advisors is proposing to lease the stadium site from the District and finance the construction cost itself through private investors. In return for their funds, investors would receive tax breaks from interest and depreciation on the property, as well as the ability to accrue its lease debt to the city instead of paying the fee each year.

At the end of a agreed-upon lease period lasting at least 25 years, the District would receive either ownership of the stadium or $438 million, a sum estimated as the total of accrued lease payments plus interest...

"The public is not convinced that 100 percent public financing is the way to go. I happen to agree," said Richard Gross, BW Realty Advisors manager.

The Post, however, reports that that proposal was DOA.
One of the major concerns, council members said, is that the plan would require the owners of the new Washington team to pay for cost overruns. Under Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan, which would use mostly public money to build the stadium, the city would cover those expenses if necessary.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a leading proponent of the mayor's plan, said changing the terms of the deal is a "non-starter" because Major League Baseball would not go along.

I'm getting sick of reading these stories, hopefully it'll all be over soon.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Maybe They'd Support A Cricket Field?

A poster on Baseball Primer linked to this Economist article, which cheerfully states, "Washingtonians will rue the day they got a baseball team," and concludes:
All of which means that when the novelty wears off and fans balk at paying $30 to watch a losing team, the team’s owner (whoever that might be) will have little incentive to stick around. At best, Washington baseball fans will pay handsomely for the privilege of having a hometown team; more likely, their eager celebration will leave a nasty hangover that will last for decades.

Don't rain on our parade, damnit!

But the interesting part of the article is actually the beginning, when it details the shady transactions and troubled history that led an author of a Peanuts book, a hedge funds trader who's losing big money, and the man who crushed the city of Seattle to the weirest three-way action this side of [insert your own punchline.]

Up Up And Away

Gandhi was right. The stadium is going to cost more than Mayor Tony said.
In announcing a long-sought pact with baseball officials two months ago, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) put the price tag of building a ballpark at South Capitol and N streets and renovating Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, for interim use, at $440 million, most of it to be financed with public funds.

But an analysis by The Washington Post -- based on interviews with city officials, internal memos and e-mail obtained under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act -- shows that the cost could rise to $614 million if the District were to undertake all the infrastructure projects that might be needed to accommodate a team playing in Washington.

Most of the additional money is the nearly $100 million it could cost to expand Metro's Navy Yard rail station and move a major Metro maintenance garage. Officials at the transit agency said the District would be expected to cover those expenses.

Oh, and would it be so difficult for the post to centralize all their DC coverage instead of scattering some in the Metro, some in the sports and some in the main section?

Deconstructing Peter

I was gonna rip Andrew Jackson's newest column, but I see our fine friends at Distinguished Senators already beat me to the punch.

Here's his take:
I remain less than hopeful about our offseason. I'm afraid that Bowden may understand that his role (just get 25 guys to wear the uniform until the owners take over) but sees this as his chance to make a big splash and get a new job, even at the expense of his interim employers. Plus he seems far too concerned with RBIs and "run producers." I know Tony Batista drove in 110 runs last year, but that doesn't mean he's good at anything.

I'm not so bullish on Bowden. I just haven't seen those kill-the-franchise-type moves even suggested. You don't see him making a move for a 5-year deal to Varitek or 3-year deals to Omar Vizquel.

The only firm offer we've heard so far is a multi-year contract offer to Tony Batista--and from the reports, I'm guessing that that was actually Tony Taveres' offer, made before Bowden took the job.

Other than his unwillingness to give Juan Rivera a fair shot, we haven't heard anything supremely stupid, Vinny Castilla excluded. I think we'd be better off waiting a few weeks to see how things shake out instead of using past judgements to crucify the guy before he has a chance. He did pretty well--with some notable exceptions--in Cincinnati. And everything I've read indicates he understands the transitional nature of this job. And I think he probably realized that the less he shakes the boat now, the better his chances of having the full-time job are going to be.

Swan Song

The Nats lost Seung Song on waivers to the Blue Jays. Our friends to the north, at Batters Box, compiled his minor league numbers. He had a 4.00 ERA in 137 innings at AAA Edmonton. I'm not sure specifically about that park, but I know that the PCL, in general, is a hitter's league, so a 4.00 ERA would be very good.

I thought I remember hearing about him breaking his arm last season, which would explain the low IP totals, but I can't find any information on it.

Rotoworld offers a pretty negative assesment of the move, which I think I'd agree with.
Not a great start for Expos GM Jim Bowden. Most organizations could have gotten away with giving up on Song, whose velocity is down from the days in which he was viewed as a top prospect. The Expos aren't most organizations, though. Top to bottom, they have as little talent as any team in the game. Unless Bowden has some very pleasant surprises in store, he's not going to come up with better uses for the final spots on his 40-man roster. Song will probably open next season with Triple-A Syracuse. He's still a potential fourth or fifth starter.

This is a team that should be acquiring players like him, not releasing him. Even if he's a 4th starter, he's cheap and young. And he has an upside. I don't think this will come back to bite us, but you never know sometimes.

Yesterday's News Today

Over the weekend, the Times reported that there will likely be a delay on the DC Council stadium vote because of Thanksgiving-related conflicts.

Despite the delays, it's full steam ahead on the tickets sales.

The Post sent its writers out to Ogdenville, North Haverbrook, and Brockway to investigage what has happened to the development promises made in other cities when they construct new ballparks.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Ticket News!

The Nationals start taking season ticket deposits on November 18 and they expect to have a variety of ticket plans. Tickets will average $25 and go as low as $7.
"Establishing a ticketing system is an exciting and important step in bringing baseball to fans in Washington, DC," said Tony Tavares.

Important, yes. But Exciting? Huh? Must be a slow life for Tony T.

That's not even my favorite part of the press release. Did you catch the name of the baseball club? The Baseball Expos, L.P. Poor homeless Expos. Hopefully we can change that for good pretty soon.

Meet the Nats: Second Base

Introducing three-time All-Star, Jose Vidro. Vidro, until his recent knee injuries, has been a steadily consistent doubles machine for the Expos, nailing 35-50 a year. Nap Lajoie, he ain’t, but we’ll take him.

Even in an off-year, the 29-year old, hit .294/ .367/ .454, but has hit .304/ .367/ .470 for his career. With age, injuries, and the typically early decline of second basemen, we probably can’t expect a return to his huge numbers of earlier years. But when you’re excellent to begin with, when you decline, you’re still useful.

Baseball Prospectus tabbed last year at a .278 EQA. His previous four years ranged from .287-.299--excellent performance from a middle infielder.

Defensively, he’s well above average. Diamond Mind, using play-by-play analysis, rated him as very good. His range factors, yes a problematic stat, are all above average, at least until last year and the knee injury. Given the knee problems, and his age, I’d suspect we’ve seen the best of him as a defensive player. I don’t expect he’ll immediately fold into becoming the second coming of Mariano Duncan, but his defense will not longer be an asset.

Vidro should still be excellent for the next few years. His hitting, assuming last year was a fluke, should remain above average for a middle infielder. Last year, he signed a 4-year, $30MM extension that will keep him in a Nats uniform through 2008. The team’ll probably get their money’s worth for the first two years of that contract, but by 2008, they might be regretting it. Hopefully the team will be a cash cow by then and we won’t have to worry about it. (And hopefully I’ll have the patent for my perpetual motion machine too.)

Meet the Nats: First Base

Nick Johnson opens up the season as our first basemen--at least until he breaks again.

Nick is the kind of player we need to build around. He’s young, has plenty of upside, and is cheap now. And with the way arbitration works, his injuries have prevented him from accumulating the kinds of counting stats that would give him huge raises.

Last year, after starting the season with a wonky back, he hit a disappointing .251/.359/ .398. Those numbers are on back of an acceptable .284/ .422/ .472. He’ll turn 26 this year, so he’s certainly got a huge upside if he can build off his previous year, instead of last year’s injury plagued one.

Baseball Prospectus has his EQA at .263, after a career-high .310 the year before. Offensively, he’s extremely patient, willing to work the count deep, waiting for his pitch and unafraid to take a walk. He also, at least in the minors, showed a disturbing tendency to get hit by a lot of pitches--which certainly can’t help his injuries.

Offensively, at his peak, you can probably expect 25 homeruns, 30 doubles and 90+ walks, leading to a league-leading on-base percentage. He’s perfect as a number two hitter, because of those on-base skills.

As a Yankee, NJ got a reputation as a good defensive first baseman. This was presumably because his name wasn’t Jason Giambi. Nick isn’t a great defensive player, but he’s not a complete slug either. He’s completely average. And there’s certainly value in being average.

Nick should be one of the cores of this team moving forward. We’ve got a Mark Grace or Will Clark kind of player. He’s not going to be the big slugger, but when you’re getting on base and hitting line drives like those two did, you don’t need to be.

Meet the Nats: Catcher

Brian Schneider opens the season as our starting catcher. He turns 28 next season, his sixth as an Expo. While he’s not a superstar at his position, he’s a very solid player. He plays excellent defense, with a strong, accurate arm, and hits pretty well--as they say--for a catcher.

Offensively, he’s not a walking machine, nor is he a strike-out machine. He’s an average contact hitter, who seems to put the ball in play. Last year, he batted .252/ .321/ .399, which is right in line with his career averages. We probably can’t expect much more than that, but when your catcher is hitting 15 home runs and 25 doubles in a year, you’re doing ok.

My simple pea-brain can’t understand the formulas Baseball Prospectus uses, but I understand what they’re trying to do. Their Equivalent Average (EQA) stat sums up his offensive contribution to a neutral setting and then assigns value along a batting-average scale so that .300 hitters are great hitters and .200 hitters don’t deserve to be in the league. Last year, his was .247, which I would guess is around average for a catcher.

But Schneider’s strength is not his hitting, it’s clearly his defense. Baseball Prospectus has argued that he deserved the Gold Glove--and from the stats I’ve seen, it’s a pretty convincing argument. He blocks the plate well, apparently, as he went the whole season without allowing a passed ball. The team did allow 43 wild pitches, which from a quick glance, seems on the high side. But given the team’s crappy pitching

Schneider has a gun. Last year, he allowed 72 stolen base attempts, and threw out an excellent 36 of them, for a 50% success rate. (Thanks for making the math easy, Brian!) The previous year, he threw out 27 out of 51 for an umm ummm greater than 50% success rate!

Back-up catcher is a slightly bigger problem. Last year it was ‘manned’ by prospect-turned stiff, Einar Diaz. He ‘hit’ .223/ .293/ .302. Here’s RHP Livan Hernandez for comparison’s sake: .247/ .256/ .370.

They’ve already released Einar, so we’re free from him for one year. Bowden has indicated that he wants a right-handed hitting back-up catcher. I’d expect it’s going to be someone from the John Flaherty mold. With Schneider holding down the full-time job, it’s not going to make a huge difference who the back-up is. Hell, for most of September, Schneider didn’t even HAVE a back-up catcher.

We’re all set for the short-term. Catcher shouldn’t be a problem for the Nationals next year. Schneider’s league-average bat and excellent defense combine for an acceptable solution. It’s not necessarily an asset, but catcher will not be the reason we’re not winning.

Let the Signing Begin! (And More Tony Bashing!)

Today is the first time that Free Agents can sign with other teams. Teams have until December 7 to offer Arbitration to their players. If you sign a player to a contract before the other team declines arbitration, you owe that team compensation. I won't bore ya with the full rules or the complete list of players, but they're easily available if you keep scrolling.

Our resident scrub, Tony Batista is our only Free Agent who we can get compensation for. With another report that we're far apart on re-signing him, I'd suspect we'll end up going to arbitration with him. We do not get compensation for him (in this case two first-round draft picks), unless we offer him arbitration.

If we do offer him arbitration, I wouldn't be shocked to see him accept. There are a number of decent 3B available this year and I can't imagine that market for him being too strong. If you need an outmaker at 3B, you can take your pick from Vinny Castilla or Joe Randa.

That being said, I think he's in for a rude shock when there aren't going to be teams clamoring for his services--especially if they have to give up their draft pick for him. I think this is why the Nationals haven't really done much to improve their offer to him either. They know that he's kind of stuck.

If he accepts arbitration, he signs a one-year deal at the arbiter's price--if they don't agree to one on their own beforehand. Just taking an educated guess, I'd say it'd probably be in the neighborhood of $3-5MM a year. (His salary last year was $1.5MM) No, it's not ideal. And there are players I'd rather have, but if it's only for one year, I can certainly live with it.

DC's Wet Blanket

Sally Jenkins pops up again to pee in the punchbowl once again--delivering some reality to the stadium fiasco. She's right, for the most part, but I've already decided to hold my nose and swallow.
But this thing is a big cheat. Williams's statements on the costs and benefits are alternately wrong or bogus, and in either case, you have every right to feel cheated that your local politicians don't show this kind of devotion and creativity to bigger problems. You also have a right to feel that your representatives have been robbed of common sense. For example: This week, District Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp was accused of Reneging and Political Maneuvering because she tried to save the city oh, I don't know, maybe a hundred million dollars.

That's the kind of moral confusion and rot this stadium deal has plunged the city into.

She also brings up one of the arguments I've made before--that if you're going to have a stadium bill, it's silly to claim false economic pretenses as the reason for the construction:
Williams has peddled the stadium deal under a false pretense. Baseball will be a great spiritual and recreational addition but not a financial one. If you really want to define the mayor through baseball, look at his reaction when the Cato Institute published a briefing paper on the fallacy that stadiums bring big economic benefits to cities. "I can't imagine why, with all the things happening in the world, the Cato Institute would take the time to analyze the impact of baseball in Washington, D.C.," Williams said.

If you're interested in the political side of things, the City Paper has an excellent rundown on Linda Cropp and the events of the last week with the on-again, off-again bills.

MLB's Newest Small Market

The Times has an article about how MLB's continued ownership of the Expos is going to force them to be run as a small market team for the short-term and Bowden's strategy for the winter.
Bowden, who has the reputation as an aggressive trader, is unlikely to emerge from the weeklong general managers meetings without making any deals. Yet that doesn't mean he won't be active this winter.

"We plan on making five offers to [free agents] before our 8 a.m. meetings [today]," he said.

Among the players Bowden covets are Cincinnati outfielders Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns. But Bowden's goal may not always be simply acquiring players through trades and free agency. Small-market teams must think about future deals — not ones for later this winter but for next summer — and having the players to make those deals.

"Let's say we need a starting pitcher," Bowden said. "If I can sign two starting pitchers as free agents, I may use a starting pitcher and this piece to go get another piece. You always have to be thinking that way. And sometimes you want to sign too many players so you have something to trade in July, when you can get the best players. That's the time to trade. So you have to have extra pieces."

Oh, that crazy JimBo. Thanks for planning for our July fire sale already! Maybe if you did your job instead of trying to sign scrubs like Batista to multi-year deals (Please tell me that that's Taveres' move) you wouldn't have to worry about fire sales in July.

Not to nitpick, but the article has two things that annoy me... Their continued insistence that Tony Batista was a fan favorite in Montreal--as if that has some special power of appeal to people--and the incorrect assertion that two calls were reversed in Game 7 of the ALCS. It was Game 6; I was there... and royally P'd off. (But what did I know, I was a quarter mile from the field!)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Minor Notes

I dug this up on ESPN's site about Larry Broadway. He's one of the key prospects that was brought up to the 40-man roster. This was written before the beginning of last season.
The presence of Johnson means the Expos won't have to rush Broadway. He should begin the year in Double-A, with a promotion to Triple-A in the offing sometime in the second half of the year. His bat will be ready for the major leagues by 2005, though he could get a chance sooner than that if someone gets injured. The question now is defense: finding a place to stick Broadway's bat. He reminds me of Orioles outfielder/first baseman Jay Gibbons, a solid, productive hitter though not quite a star.

He didn't have a particularly great year this year, hitting .270/ .362/ .451, but given the barren nature of our minors, it's a start.

On the Rosterfront

We know our payroll:
Two sources, however, said that MLB will almost certainly allow the Expos to spend more than $50 million -- and one said perhaps as much as $55 million -- which would be at least an $8.3 million increase over the team's payroll for the 2004 season.

The article also mentions that the club is interested in Larkin. If he's willing to work for $1MM or so, and wants to be a part-time player, go for it.

MLB reports that the Expos have offered a multi-year deal to Tony Batista, but that the teams are still far apart on money. The rest of the article is depressing--from a sportswriter intelligence level--nothing but praise of Vinny Castilla, RBI, and Jose Guillen. Ugh. This area has one of the highest education levels in the country. Is it too much that our sportswriters learn a little bit about the game, instead of the hoary old things?

And every GM's nightmare, Scott Boras salivates in the Times about the prospects of a new team in DC and its increased payroll.

Crazy Cropp Conunundrum Comes to Close

Linda has seen the light! (Or Here)
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she would support Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to build a publicly financed baseball stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast, as long as the contract stipulates the possibility of adding private funding in the future.

"We probably will do that," she said. "I have said from the start that I am in favor of baseball. I'm just looking for a better deal. It's premature to say whether anything will come up that is a better deal."

Cropp's statement came after she and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) met with Fred Cooke, an attorney for BW Realty Advisors LLC. That group has proposed using as much as $350 million in private funds to build the stadium, estimated to cost as much as $530 million.

The Post also reports that a number of businesses are starting to grumble about the gross receipts tax. That's the hidden cost--no one seems to know if, or how many, businesses would move, negating any tax increases from visitors to the park from VA or MD.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

40-Man Shuffle

The Expos Nationals made several moves yesterday to shuffle the players on their roster.

They purchased the contracts of LHP Michael Hinckley, 1B Larry Broadway and RHP Darrell Rasner from Double-A Harrisburg, and the contracts of RHPs Josh Karp and Danny Rueckel from Triple-A Edmonton.

The also designated RHP Roy Corcoran for assignment.

The contract purchases place these minor leaguers on the team's 40-man roster. The 40-man roster consists of all the players on the team's 25-man major league roster, the DL, and minor leaguers who have played more than 3 season (with some exceptions).

In general, players who are not added to the 40-man after 3 years are then eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and can be selected by other teams. (See here for more information)

Essentialy, with these moves, the Expos were trying to protect the few minor league prospects they have. Hinckley is the player to watch.

Larkin a Nat?

Barry Larkin is interested in being a National. As long as we're not relying on him to be our star--and nothing more than a part-time player, I'm all for it.

In 111 games last year, the 40-year old hit .289/ .352/ .419.
Those aren't superstar numbers, but they're very acceptable for a part-time player, especially in the middle infield. Even with some decline, which is inevitable at his age, he can still be useful as long as you're not relying on him to be the guy.

He's certainly not the hall of famer he was early in his career, but the great thing about being as good as he was is that when you decline you're still useful.

If the club plans on sticking with Maicer Izturis, Larkin would be a great mentor--and would be able to take some of the stresses of playing every day off of him. Izturis hit pretty well for a shortstop in the minors, but he probably needs a little more time in AAA, especially with the way his season ended.

The MLB article talks about the relationship between Trader Jim and Larkin as being one of the factors, which is interesting given the comments on this Reds Daily post.

Hmmm....Whatever Could He Mean?

In an otherwise meaningless article about the National's plans to start selling tickets, Tony Tavares has a couple not-so revealing quotes:
"I'm not holding it up for anything," Tavares said by telephone from Washington. "If left to my own devices, this would be getting done. But it's a legal matter, and once we get it straightened out -- and we will get it straightened out -- we'll be in better position."

Anyone have any ideas what he could be talking about?

Cropp Goes The Weasel

Congrats to Tom Knott (Or at least his editors) for the best headline.

Meanwhile, the Post reports it's essentially a done deal with the mayor's plan--and that the backers want their payoffs.

And the Times has an article on GM's reactions to yesterday's Cropp-y events. *groan*

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Linda's Hissy Fit

Alright, so the council wasn't digging her stadium plan, and she didn't want Mayor Tony's plan to go through, so what does Chairwoman Linda do? Pick up her balls *ahem* and go home.

The vote has been postponed for another two weeks, where she'll try to hammer down the details of her latest proposal, which is calling for more private development.

Great News!

Bowden said the agent for the Expos' lone free agent of significance, third baseman Tony Batista, made a proposal to the team last Friday, but the sides aren't close to reaching an agreement.

"At this point, we're far apart," Bowden said.

Anyone have an address where we can send some cards and flowers to JimBo?

Rocky KOd

In his first move as GM of the Nationals, Jim Bowden released Rocky Biddle, the team's former *ahem* closer.

Displaying the kind of ignorance that I hope we can't come to expect from the baseball coverage here, the Times says:
On his first day at baseball's general managers meetings, Washington GM Jim Bowden released a player, Rocky Biddle, because of money concerns.

Bowden, however, insisted that won't be the norm for the relocated Montreal Expos, who finished 67-95 last season.

Oh, I love that lazy sportswriter syndrome. Once you get that storyline in mind, we've gotta shoehorn every story into that frame, whether it makes sense or not.

Yes, Biddle was released partially for salary concerns, but it had much more to do with his dismal performance. Last season, he had a 6.92 ERA in 78 innings. The previous year, when he served as the team's full-time closer, he had a 4.65 ERA--goot, but certainly not great. He'll turn 29 next year and has a career ERA that's 16% below the league average.

He's eligible for salary arbitration this season, which would more than likely mean a decent raise. I'm not sure if this is the exact number, but apparently he made $2MM last year. With arbitration, his salary would likely go up, and even if it stays the same, that's way too much money to be paying for below-average performance. You can get 1 or 2 ok arms for the bullpen for that price.

So, instead of focusing on the negative payroll aspects, they should focus on the smart business decision this was. Releasing him saved $2MM, which can be better used on other players. What's not to like about that?

Survey Says!

The Post commissioned a study into local resident's feelings on the stadium. (Graphic here)
More than two-thirds of District residents oppose using public funds to build a baseball stadium in the city, and an even larger majority fears that average taxpayers would end up paying for the project under Mayor Anthony A. Williams's financing plan, according to a Washington Post survey of area residents.

Throughout the city, opposition to a publicly financed baseball stadium is both broad and deep. Sixty-nine percent of District residents said city funds should not be spent on a new baseball stadium, and half of those interviewed said they are strongly opposed to public financing.

The only question I have about this, is how well do people understand the arguments for and against the stadium? Is the public really that educated about it? I hate these kinds of studies, where the public can't be expected to know the issues all that well.

If someone asks me if I'd rather spend tax money on schools or on baseball stadiums, most everyone would say schools. But, if as in the apparent case here in DC, if the majority of tax revenue is coming from different sources that many not necessarily be available without the team, would that change their answers? These are questions reasonable people on the council are having a hard time answering. How can we expect people without any sort of expertise on these issues to make informed decisions?

In a separate story, the survey also reveals that Senators is the preferred nickname.