Sunday, December 04, 2005

Send Letters Of Thanks To The Council

George Solomon who once did something or other, and who now gets a weekly column in the WaPo when he's not busy slapping ESPN on the buttocks in the back alleys of their website, writes about the Nationals and the stadium schenanigans. Unfortunately, as sports editor emeritus, no one decided to fact check his column. Some of the problems are picking nits, and the big one isn't an error of fact, but an error of analysis. Let's start with the facts.

Here's what went wrong: The D.C. Council, which almost cost the city a baseball team a year ago, seemed to be back to its old tricks, failing for months to approve a lease for a $535 million stadium in Southeast that it had previously agreed to.

Nit #1: The DC Council had nothing to do with the stadium lease. The paramaters of the lease were contained in the Baseball Stadium Agreement, which features the signatures of Mark Tuohey, Chairman of the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission, and of Tony Williams, the Mayor.

I suppose it's possible that he's referring to the Council's prior approval of the stadium, as opposed to the lease, but if so his participle is dangling -- or something like that. Grammar was never my strong point, but I'm sure you realized that months ago.

By failing for months to close a deal, opportunistic politicians provided MLB a reason to not sell the team (for $450 million) and blocked the franchise from being competitive in free agent bidding or moving ahead in making this a viable franchise by say, getting a few more games on television or getting a decent radio signal.

Nit #2: Opportunistic politicians, with whom I have a problem with, did NOT prevent MLB from selling the team. Getting the lease done was never a condition of selling the team (as the litany of old sell-by dates attests.) It became an issue once DC and the Council realized it was a bargaining chip, especially vis a vis Smulyan and the idea of non-local ownership -- but more importanly, once MLB realized that they could strongarm DC into every last nickle, which a sympathetic local owner would be unable to do because of civic pressures.

Nit #3: The team has been competitive (in some respects) in free agent bidding. Jim Bowden, while he's only brought home Marlon Anderson, aggresively set a target price and contract for Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loaiza. Once those prices were surpassed, he moved on. By all accounts, the team is still interested in AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez, neither of whom are going to work for peanuts. If the team hasn't been competitive in free agency, that's by design and considering the contracts given to Loaiza, Eyre, and Ryan, that's a good thing.

Nit #3A: What would preclude Tony Tavares from negotiationg a better radio deal next season? Rumors on the site indicate that there is talk bubbling of something larger. I'm sure a new owner would want a little bit of a say, but if Bonneville calms a callin', Tavares damn well better answer the phone.

So instead of making reasonable attempts to grow the team, the political bickering has left fans bidding farewell to veteran pitchers Esteban Loaiza, who jumped to the Oakland Athletics for a three-year deal worth $21.375 million, and Hector Carrasco, who got $6.1 million over two years from the Los Angeles Angels, leaving general-manager-for-today Jim Bowden to ponder bringing down Ron Darling from the TV booth.

Nit #4: (Probably just an extension of #3) Oakland fans are split on the merits of the Loaiza contract, and they're much closer to competitive than we are. The few Angels blogs I've read have pretty much laughed at the Carrasco contract (especially with the draft pick loss). And these are arguments against the council? Maybe we should be writing them letters of thanks instead. Are Carrasco and Loaiza worth $10 million next season? Possibly, but that's 20% of the Nats' payroll for a third starter and a fourth reliever.

And this is the problem. I'm seeing people cite the loss of Carrasco and Loaiza and throwing up their hands. I've heard plenty of them on the radio, TV, and on the Nationals forums. Certainly not having an owner is less-than ideal, but losing Carrasco and Loaiza is 1) not a bad thing and 2) not a function of not having an owner. It's a tired and toothless refrain.

I don't have a lot of faith in Bowden long-term. But he's showing creativity when working with a difficult situation. Although I may not like the decisions he's making, he's usually trying as best he can to shuffle the cards every which way until he gets a hand that makes him happy. He's running through the combos: trading Wilkerson here; back-loading a deal to Burnett there.

Sure, things could be better. But much of the talk is defeatist, and will become self-fufilling. Even if we had a $30 million bump in payroll, we probably wouldn't be a World Series contender next year anyway, simply because the talent on the market, for the most part, isn't worth the money it's getting.

While it'd be nice to have an owner, and it'd be nice if we had a shiny new stadium, MLB's foot dragging (and they are the true enemy here, George), is probably doing us a favor. The free agent market will be better next year, and the year after. And we won't be encumbered by these ungodly contracts. (Well, other than Vidro's, that is!)


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