Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just Another Brick In The Wall

With the recent signings, our roster moves closer to completion. For the 25-man roster, the team is at around $57.1 million. Reportedly the limit is $60 million. When you factor in the other players on the 40-man, and the room necessary to call players up as injuries happen, we're essentially done shopping.

The roster is in quite a squeeze actually. There doesn't appear to be any room for Jon Rauch, Jason Bergmann, Travis Hughes, Brandon Watson, Tyrell Godwin, or Brendan Harris. Jim Bowden has just given out too many guaranteed contracts. Injuries and ineffectiveness will probably create another hole or two, but as of now, there's no room at the inn. (Rauch looks like he's out of options -- as such he'd need to make the 25-man roster, or the team would lose him to waivers.)

Livan Hernandez -- $8 MM
John Patterson -- $.5MM
Brian Lawrence -- $3.2 MM (Salary actually higher, but SD is paying the rest)
Ryan Drese -- $1.75 MM
Ramon Ortiz -- $2.5 MM
TOTAL: $15.95 MM

Chad Cordero -- $.35MM
Luis Ayala -- $.75 MM?? (Arbitration Eligible)
Gary Majewski -- $.35 MM
Joey Eischen -- $1.3 MM
Tony Armas -- $2.1 MM
Mike Stanton -- $1 MM
TOTAL: $5.85 MM

Brian Schneider -- $3 MM (Arbitration Eligible, Made $2 MM)
Backup -- $.35 MM (Long list of minor leaguers)
TOTAL: $3.35 MM

Nick Johnson -- $3 MM (Arbitration Eligible, Made $1.45 MM)
Jose Vidro -- $7 MM
Cristian Guzman -- $4.2 MM
Ryan Zimmerman -- $.350 MM
TOTAL: $14.55 MM

Jose Guillen -- $4 MM
Alfonso Soriano -- $9.5 MM (Arbitration Eligible, made $7.5MM)
Ryan Church -- $.350 MM
TOTAL: $13.85 MM

Damian Jackson -- $.7 MM
Marlon Anderson -- $.9 MM
Marlon Byrd -- $.5 MM (Arbitration Eligible)
Robert Fick -- $.85 MM
Jamey Carroll -- $.6 MM (Reported Contract Offer)
TOTAL: $3.55 MM

Once, Twice, Three Times A Hurler

Jim Bowden doesn't need no stinkin' holiday. While we were busy gorging ourselves on mashed potatoes and purchasing giant jugs of liquor for the weekend, Bowden was getting things done. The Washington Nationals finally have a pitching staff.

He signed Ramon Ortiz to a one-year $2.5 million deal, re-signed Tony Armas (I refuse to call him Junior) to a 1-year $2.1 million deal, and earlier Mike Stanton balked into a 1-year $1 million contract.

All-in-all, some decent signings by Bowden. Nothing to get tooo excited about, and nothing to get too upset over.

  • Ramon Ortiz earned the nickname Little Pedro while with the Angels. Unfortunately, it was more for his physical resemblence than a monster changeup -- although he had great potential while with the Angels. Unfortunately, after 9/11, the US cracked down on documentation, and Ortiz aged three years one winter. He went from promising youngster to middle-of-the-pack veteran practically overnight.

    Ortiz had a pretty bad year last year. He had an ERA that was 17% worse than league average (when adjusted for park), and he allowed opposing batters to unload. They hit .302/ .353/ .529 with 41 doubles and 34 homers against him. Keep in mind that some of that is a result of the outfield defense behind him. Griffey is all-world bad now; Dunn is below average; and Pena has a really spotty record. (Kearns, on the other hand, is excellent, but he spent a big chunk of the year in the minors or on the bench)

    Last year, Ortiz was neutral, but he's been a pretty extreme flyball pitcher throughout his career. He's always been homer-prone, but last year he suffered greatly, yielding 1.79 HR/9. His career average is right around 1.4, so he gave up an extra home run every other start, or so. As he moves from GABP to RFK, he'll find the spacious power alleys accomodating. (against LHB, RFK literally allows 33% fewer home runs; against righties, it allows around 40% fewer)

    He's not a strikeout artist, but he has K'd a respectable 5.8 batters per nine, and he has had decent control, walking under 3/9 in three of his last four seasons. He's a durable pitcher, having appeared in 30 games in each of the last five seasons, with four of those as a full-time starter. He's not going to give you nine innings, but if those balls aren't flying over the wall, he'll keep you in the game for six. And that's all you really can ask out of your fourth and fifth starters.

    For one year, it's a good gamble. There really isn't any downside. He doesn't cost a lot of money. He's not really taking any development time from anyone. And he could have some upside in this park. If it works out, great! If not, releasing him won't cripple the franchise.

  • Tony Armas is the great (well, not-so-great) known. When I first started seriously looking at the Expos' roster, I was disappointed by Armas' results. I had heard a lot about him, but he's one of those players who has never been able to live up to their potential. In Armas' case, most likely because his arm breaks every other week or so.

    Last year was another disappointment. Too many walks, too many homers, not enough strikeouts. His starts were the toughest to watch (and I swear I saw about 15 of them in person). He pitches very slowly, and would frequently walk off the mound to talk to the infielders, especially Vinny Castilla. Then he'd pitch another ball or a fouled-off-strike.

    But he still has that potential. It seemed like he was just missing a little something on his pitches. Perhaps an off-season with a little bit of rest will help him. (The Ladson article linked above notes that he's pitching a little bit in the Winter Leagues, and that his shoulder surgery went really well, according to his doctor) If it wouldn't present a problem for his arm, I would think that he could make an excellent reliever. If he wasn't worried so much about pacing himself (not that he ever made it more than five innings anyway), he could probably get enough juice behind that fastball to get it past hitters. Still, the batters in spring training will let us know how his arm is doing.

  • Mike Stanton is the signing I'm least comfortable with. It's not that he's a bad pitcher -- or that he's an especially good one. It's that he's going to be fifth on the pitching depth chart. With an inept offense and some starters who don't work deep into games, I suppose having a vet reliever is more important. But I have a hunch that he's closer to Antonio Osuna than he is to Gary Majewski.

    Stanton, despite a reputation as one, is not a lefty specialist. He's always been more in the Mike Remlinger class: a lefty who has good success getting righties out. Frank doesn't mind leaving a lefty out there to face a righty or two, so Stanton will face his share. For the fourth or fifth reliever on the depth chart, you could do worse. But you could also do it for far less than $1 million. Still, we're running out of places to blow cash. Not a great deal. Not a bad deal.

  • Here's St. Barry's Take.

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Merry Christmas

    I'm off to the wilds of home for a few days, but I'll be back next week. In the meantime, Jim Bowden is sure to be busy not signing any free agents, and the DC Council will be sure to not pass any ballpark legislation, and MLB will spend the holiday not ruthlessly using their monopoly. Well, maybe the last one's a stretch.

    And for those of you who don't celebrate Christmas, Ryan Church would want you to know that you're doomed. I don't know about that, but purgatory is nice this time of year! :)

    Have a good holiday!

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Mr. Livan Goes To Washington Edition

    Livan Hernandez is doing what any good American citizen has a problem that needs fixing: talking to his Congressman. In Livan's case, he's representing a group of Cuban defectors who want to play on behalf of the Cuban team in the World Baseball Classic, since the Treasury Dept has barred the Cuban National Team from playing.

    Congressman Diaz-Balart, with whom Livan is meeting, supposedly lobbied to prevent Cuba from participating, and Livan and the group is hoping that he'd sign off and lobby on their behalf to get them recognized by MLB and any international sanctioning bodies.

    The article notes a few potential players, but leaves off two players I had expected to see: Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco. Strange that they weren't listed.

  • Worried for former third-base coach Dave Huppert? Fear not! He's a BlueClaw now, managing in the Phillies system. It's a short get-to-know you piece. Your Dave Huppert Fun Fact O' The Day: He caught the first 31 innings of the legendary 33-inning Pawtucket/Rochester minor league game in 1981.

  • Wondering what former Met broadcaster/ NBC Tennis broadcaster Ted Robinson has to say about the state of the Nats? Me neither.

  • I missed this the other day, but the Wall Street Journal ran a short article recapping the stadium/ownership mess for a larger audience. So now the entire nation can be bored, too!

  • Distinguished Senators weighs in with his take on the pitchers the Nats are interested in. He doesn't hate noted steroid-user Ryan Franklin (at least as much as he hats Soriano!)
    I like this Franklin. He's an extreme flyballer, and he knows his limitations and isn't afraid to exceed them by cheating. I'm looking at this guy to play for my favorite sports team, not marry my sister, so to hell with the morality of it. I want fighting spirit, and a guy willing to sacrifice the health of his testicles can play for me anytime.

  • Federal Baseball notes that DCRTV says that all the Nats games could be on Z-104 next season. While not perfect, it's better than hand-crank-operated signal of WFED.

  • Give Me Your Tired Arms, You're Poor

    Do you remember that time in High School when you asked the popular girl to the Prom and she laughed in your face? You slinked off with embarrasment, then asked the pretty girl, and she said no, too? You've already rented your powder blue tux, so you just start asking random girls, and even they're turning you down, some preferring to go with the California dude?

    Even if that doesn't ring true to you, send some sympathies Jim Bowden's way because it's like May 1972 all over again for him. Barry's article lays out the gruesome details.

    While us ignorant fans believed it when the PA guy told us that we're the best fans in baseball, free agents and their agents disagree. Instead of being that shining beacon of franchisehood, we're KC on the Potomac. (Scratch that... even KC is signing guys!)

    So not only can't we get the good guys, we can't even get the second and third tier schmucks like Tomko. Instead we're left pondering Ramon Ortiz, Ryan Franklin, Josh Fog(g), and Joe "Whiplash" Mays. I think I'd rather coax Jose Rijo out of retirement.

    Ramon Ortiz was one of the bargain-basement players I looked at last month. Here's what I said about him.
    Ortiz earned the moniker Little Pedro because of his nationality, and because of his varied repertoire. He had an excellent future ahead of him until he aged two or three years over one winter. Two out of his last three seasons have been mediocre, but his career ERA+ is still 96. Durability isn't a problem with him either, having pitched in 30+ games in four of the last five seasons -- the one year he didn't, he pitched mostly out of the pen. Ortiz is a flyball pitcher, who was completely mismatched for his home park. He gave up a ton of home runs. His stuff was still good enough to strikeout a fair number of batters, but that homer rate is hard to overlook. With RFK yielding roughly 50% fewer home runs than Cinci's park could he be a diamond in the rough? The numbers he put up last season should scare some people away. A cheap one-year deal isn't out of the question. If it's not a lot of money, say $1-$2 million, why not take a crack at him?

    Ryan Franklin is interesting. He's a pretty extreme flyballer, but he strikes no one out. As a result, he relies even more on his defense than the average player. Notice how his exploded after Mike Cameron, who was the best defensive CFer in the game, left the team. He has no margin for error -- but then either do the Nats as a whole.

    Josh Fogg has only had one losing season in his career (pretty impressive considering he's been a Pirate!). But that also tells you how useless W/L record is for evalutaing a pitcher, because he's never been that close to even being an average pitcher. (Take a look at his ERAs). Fogg is a lot like Franklin. (Just without the steroid thing!). He gives up flyballs, doesn't strike anyone out, and relies on his defense. I suspect a few teams will be really interested in him, so his price will be more than he's worth. Still, as a 4/5 at a bargain-price, I wouldn't mind.

    Joe Mays is... well... not good. He's the Nicole Richie of baseball -- famous for merely being famous, despite not having any real talents or abilities. He had two good seasons eons ago, and a string of Bill-Walton-approved Horrrrible seasons since. Your Joe Mays Fun Fact O' The Day: The average right-handed batter (in 319 ABs) hit .319/ .404/ .555 against him. He turns average batters into MVPs!

    Tony Armas is looking more and more attractive! Who knows... maybe after an offseason of rest, and time since his surgery, he'll be able to actually get a fastball past a hitter?

  • Barry also notes that Alex Escobar, who was non-tendered, has agreed to a minor league deal with the team.

  • Gag Me With A Spork

    If you needed any more evidence that Mayor Barry's gambit, in partnership with the Ledecky group, wasn't going to work, you got it today, when MLB sent an email to all the groups telling them to get the hell out of the way and let the thugs do what the thugs do best: extort the city:
    No bidding groups have any standing at this point, and therefore no group should be in direct or indirect communications with the City or Commission in regard to any stadium issues. Similarly, no bidding groups should be in communication with the press about these issues.

    Early on in the process (and I'm talking May) I had thought that the reason they hadn't named an owner because they wanted to ram Smulyan down our gullets. Now I've come around to the position that they haven't named anyone because they don't want deals being made. If it's one of the local groups, it'd be far too easy for the Council members to say, "Hey Mr. Lerner, since you're so civic-minded, and an upstanding member of this community, don't you think that you should chip in an extra $200 million for this stadium, so that we'll have more money for schools, because children are our future. You don't hate children, do you?"

    Were the city to do that, it would put the bidding groups in an unfair position, but it would also likely cause them to see if MLB would let them pay less. The $450 million figure includes a fully paid stadium. Why would the groups pay that much if they've gotta throw more money to DC?

    But the real reason MLB has reminded these groups of the gag order is for negotiating position. The groups that have offered to pay overruns are Franklin Haney's and Jonathon Ledecky's. They might be nice people or wonderful owners, but they're in about the same position as Brendan Harris, which is to say they've got no chance. Their efforts to sway the council were last-gasp efforts that does nobody any good. It doesn't really improve their chances because it ticks MLB off, it emboldens the stadium opponents, and here's the rub, it hurts the schools! I do think it's reasonable to say that they're making children dumber! (But I suppose that that depends on your definition of reasonable!)

    Interestingly, the article adds more grist for the mill to the theory that Mayor Barry was taking credit for things he might not have been responsible for. Apparently his gang of eight wasn't quite, well... gang-like:
    Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), one of the members whom Barry counted among the eight, said yesterday she never met with Ledecky nor did she tell Barry what her plans were for the vote.

    "Marion Barry never talked to me about any plan to help any potential owner," Schwartz said. "My only contact with Marion about this issue was his calling me several times to ask me how I was going to vote and my not answering that specific question."

    Like I said yesterday, Barry was in a no-lose position there. He can appear as a friend to baseball *wink, wink*, but also come across as a champion when his false offer was shot down, and the lease pulled off the table.

    Regardless, for expediency's sake, getting these outside-chance groups out of the way, and making promises they can't really deliver (because they'll never be selected), is in the best interest of everyone. It's not fair to include these groups as parties to the negotiations, and just bogs down the process. The effects for the pro-stadium side are obvious, but even those opposed to the stadium are never going to get the kind of serious concessions they should be getting out of MLB until they get these yahoos out of the way.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    I've Got Wood For Jose

    The Vidro to the Cubs for Kerry Wood rumor has a life of its own. One intrepid blogger listened to 980-AM today and says that Paul White of USA Today, who is usually pretty reliable, reported that the Cubs are interested in the deal. I didn't hear the report. Is that an accurate assessment of what went on?

    For what it's worth's own beloved Rocket Bill blasts that one out of the sky. And has the anonymous source to back it up!
    According to a baseball source, there is no truth to the story in the Washington Examiner that the Nationals are talking to the Cubs about a trade that would bring Kerry Wood to the Nationals in exchange for second baseman Jose Vidro and outfielder Ryan Church.

    Poynter-type question here.... what's the rationale for hiding behind an anonymous quote here? Why can't Bowden or Boone or Siegle or even a farkin' usher say that? It's not tampering if you deny interest in a player, right?


    Incidentally, if the Cubs would do this, I'd personally drive to Chicago to escort Mr. Wood. It's not that I particularly like him; it's that I don't want to pay a hobbling second baseman eleventy billion dollars in 2008.

    Your Kerry Wood Fun Fact O' The Day: Two of his top-10 most similar pitchers by age have served in Congress. Him coming to DC is a natural fit, eh?

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Read The Whole Thing Edition

    My Nats Blogging Brethren have been hard at work recently, all for you, our beloved reader! (If you believe that we're doing it for the readers instead of for our own inflated sense of self-importance, well.... wanna buy a baseball team?)

    Let's start with everyone's favorite sitcom, ALF! Soriano re-stated his desire to play second, and said that he's going to head back to the American League at the end of the year. Apparently he feels he knows the pitchers and hitters better -- perhaps accounting for his superior defense?

    I'll stand by what I wrote when the story first broke. Soriano is in no position to be dictating anything. If he wants big piles of cash to roll around naked in, he'll have to STFU and play next year.

    Beltway Boys looks at the whole deal, and now that he's come to the dark side, blames Bowden, among others. The John Hanson of Nats bloggers, Distinguished Senators puts pen and battery acid to paper as well. I don't think he likes Soriano much!

  • There are more articles on the stadium today: A look at the arbitration process and what it could hold; a report on all the events, including that the Post's Sunday non-story about cost overruns strengthened the opponents; and Boswell writes a rare non-Friday column, blaming MLB and the Council for the fiasco. Nothing new, but it's nice to read Boz when he's not hunting-and-pecking on the keyboard with his NATS #1! Foam Finger.

  • Federal Baseball is on a roll with two excellent posts worth your time.

    He recaps yesterday's arbitration news. Jamey Carroll was offered a contract. Junior Spivey was non-tendered, making him a free agent. The Washington Times reports that the Nats have offered Carroll a one-year $600,000 deal. I assume he takes it.

    The Federal Baseball post also looks at the non-tenders from around the league. There weren't as many as usual, but he looks at the top names to see who could be a good fit as we fill out the roster.

  • Federal Baseball's other good post rips 472-time Emmy Winner Jim Williams for a completely assinine and stupid rumor that the Nationals were on the verge of trading Vidro and Church for Kerry Wood. He explains why there's no there there, and adds it to the growing list of Williams innacuracies.

  • Nationals Farm Authority says goodbye to two other Nats, who slipped through the cracks last week: Matt Cepicky and Doc Brooks.

  • Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Mayor Barry, The Cock Who Crowed

    The Washington Post has an excellent story on the backroom stadium dealings over the past week. It's full of lots of good info and juicy stories -- all of which have been missing from the picture we've seen.

    It's all under the headline "Barry Moved To Block Stadium" and starts with some heated political blather from the former Mayor. I thought this was going to be a story about the cock who took credit for making the sun rise each day, but it gets better:
    Thursday, he summoned Brown, David A. Catania (I-At Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) to a meeting in his fourth-floor office at the John A. Wilson Building. Williams and his advisers joined them, Barry said, and Williams's aides confirmed.

    Barry said yesterday that he had intended for D.C. entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, who is one of eight bidders trying to buy the Washington Nationals, to present a plan Ledecky had agreed to with Barry. If baseball sold Ledecky the Nationals, Barry said, Ledecky had agreed to cover cost overruns on the stadium and give African Americans a 40 percent equity stake in the team.

    But Barry said he was told by Ledecky's adviser, Frank Smith Jr., a former D.C. Council member, that baseball officials had gotten wind of the plan and told Ledecky to make no such offer. According to several council members in the room, Stephen M. Green, the mayor's top adviser on baseball issues, acknowledged he had tipped off baseball officials.

    Furious, Barry accused Green of sabotaging the deal, and the meeting broke up without further discussion, several people at the meeting said.

    "I went off," Barry said. "This was too delicate a thing to call MLB."

    Essentially, Barry was prepared to tell baseball Ledecky or the highway. Reading the tea leaves, and assuming that Barry knows how MLB operates (a big assumption, I know!) he essentially gave MLB the choice of the highway or the highway. There's no way the city would let Barry dictate their choice at this point; Barry had to have known that, which is why his strategy is disingenuous, at best.

    The story notes that Brown, Gray, and Mendelson never actually agreed to the arrangement, but that the idea of someone else picking up the cost overruns is what's so attractive about the idea.

    It's pretty clear that MLB has overplayed its hand. There was talk that just a simple IOU letter from the Feds to cover the cost of Metro improvements would be enough to sneak the lease through, but the anti-stadium crowd is getting more vocal.

    The Council is set to meet right after the New Year, and it's highly unlikely that things will be ready to go by then. The bonds were technically supposed to be in place by the end of the year, but as we've discussed before, there aren't any penalties until two years after the deadline -- and even then, the penalties amount to zippo.


    One more thought...

    The team isn't going to leave (at least based on these developments). While we think of MLB itself owning the team, it's important to remember that it has 29 other shareholders. The Royals and Blue Jays, for example, have opened their wallets this season in an attempt to create some excitement around their franchises. It's awfully convenient that it's happening in a year where they're set to make $15 million or so thanks to the sale of the team, huh? Selig works by consensus, and $15 million is a lot for David Glass to concede.

    Love Me Tender

    Tonight at midnight is the non-tender deadline, and the Nationals have some tough decisions about some of our favorite players.

    First the background... Players who have more than three, but less than six years of service time are arbitration-eligible. When a player goes to arbitration, he and the team each submit salary requests for the upcoming season. The adjudicator looks at the salary, compares the player to others with similar levels of service time, and decides which of the salaries is more fair. This isn't Solomon though. It's one or the other, so both parties have an incentive to come up with reasonable requests -- and typically most players split the difference with the club before the hearing comes anyway.

    If the team wants the player back, they must tender him a contract offer by the end of the day. The player can either accept the offer, or fight to the death through the arbitration process. What happens in most cases, though, is that the it gives the two parties a few extra weeks to negotiate. The arbitration hearings aren't until February.

    The danger of this to the club is that arbitration means a substantial raise in 99% of the cases. Most of the non-tenders are simply salary dumps.

    When a team doesn't tender the player a contract, he becomes a free agent. He's free to re-sign with the club, but the other 29 clubs can take a crack at him, too.

    So what does it matter to us? We've got arbitration-eligibles coming out our wazzoos: Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, Brian Schneider, Luis Ayala, Jamey Carroll, Junior Spivey, and TJ Tucker are definites.

    Two players might qualify as Super-2 arbitration eligibles. For players with between 2 and 3 years of service time, the top 17% (in terms of service time) also qualify for arbitration. John Patterson and Marlon Byrd both stand a good chance of being eligible under this wrinkle in the rules.

    TJ Tucker was also eligible, but he has already agreed to a minor-league contract with the team. Alex Escobar (remember him!) also should qualify, but he'd be a likely candidate for a minor league deal as well.

    Soriano, Johnson, Schneider, Ayala and Patterson and Byrd (if eligible) are no-brainers to be offered arbitration. It's Carroll and Spivey that complicate things.

    It's a virtual certainty that Spivey will be non-tendered. He made $2.125 million last year, and would stand to make at least that much via arbitration. Given the presence of 14 or so second baseman on the roster, there's simply no room for him at that salary. I wouldn't object to bringing him back on a minor league deal. He smacks the hell out of left-handed pitching, and would be useful for when the inevitible injury occurs.

    Jamey Carroll is a heckuva guy. Good hustler, versatile, chaste -- everything you'd want your son to be. But he's not an especially good player. And he'd be set to make $700K or so through arbitration. Is Jamey Carroll worth that much? Not to this team. He seems to enjoy playing here, so I'd hope he'd accept a lesser deal to stick around. But tonight, I'd expect his name to pop up on the non-tender list. Besides, our all-second base lineup needs a catcher!

    Baseball Primer is keeping track of the non-tenders as they come in. There could be some interesting names popping up tonight, and some bargains. It's too bad that Bowden squandered all the money and roster spots on Marbert Fickerson.

    There's That Funny Number Again

    Tacked on to the bottom of Barry Bloom's piece about the Nationals lease charade, is a strange little number that keeps popping up: $30 million dollars of profit:
    Until then, the team will continue to play at aging RFK Stadium where it sold about 2.7 million tickets this past season and reportedly made a profit of about $30 million. Emphasis added, of course.

    That's roughly the same figure that AJ Burnett's agent cited a few weeks back when blowing off the Nationals for the big dollars in Canadia:
    "With this club, we had to be more thorough more than anything, because we knew there was a possibility that A.J. might say he wants to play for the Nationals -- because of Karen, the fact that they drew 2.7 million people last year and made $32 million," said Braunecker. "That is a club that is going to have a lot of financial resources going forward."

    Yet the figure that they've leaked to the press is $10 million. Supposedly that figure is the after-tax profit, but why cite the $30 million figure if that's not how much the team is really making? Is the $20 million ga(a)p between the two figures just a paper loss? Isn't it more politically expedient to cite a mere $10 million figure when you're asking a city to pay over half a billion dollars for your stadium? Just askin'....

    I've written before about how MLB's numbers are always funny. (And politically charged!) Mid season, they released some revenue projections that didn't pass the smell test when you crunched some numbers regarding the media contracts, and the large increase of tickets from Montreal to DC.

    Obviously I'm just speculating here. I haven't seen the balance sheets -- and even if I could see them, there are ways of shuffling around things to obfuscate the truth.

    Just know that you need to take everything MLB says in terms of profits and loss with a grain of salt. There's no incentive for them to be completely honest, and, in DC's case, there's probably a big disincentive.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Limbo Everybody! Edition

    The Post and Times take their cracks at yesterday's developments. Of note, the Post describes the process they'd undertake if the agreement would go to arbitration.

    MLB's thug-in-chief, Robert "Li'l Bobby" DuPuy showed all the finesse of a fat boy in a tutu, releasing a threatening letter, which does no one any good at all. Being the alpha male with the Council looking for reasons NOT to vote for you isn't a good strategy. It might play well when dealing with the Teamsters legitimate business people, but it's not what anyone needed. Business of Baseball has the full idiotic letter.

    MLB's house organ also wrote about the issue, noting DuPuy's ugly rhetoric. (Of note, they repeat the $30 million profit figure in the last line. That's the same total AJ Burnett's agent said, and is $20 million higher than the figured leaked to the Post.)

    T(h)om Loverro blames the mayor. He's probably right.

  • On-the-field, Tony Armas, as we assumed he would, rejected arbitration. When the Nationals strangely offered it to him, I was working under the assumption that they had a handshake deal to do this, giving the two parties additional time to negotiate a contract. They now have until Jan 8 to sign him, otherwise he can't re-sign with the club until May 1.

    Of all the players in baseball, only Tony Graffanino of the Red Sox, and Travis Lee of the Devil Rays accepted arbitration.

  • Rocket Bill also reports that reliever TJ Tucker, who was arbitration eligible as a player with less than six years of service time, has agreed to a minor league deal. Tucker was quite valuable as the long reliever in 2004 had Tommy John surgery, and will be out until at least June. I'll have more on the rest of tender decisions later today.

  • Dave Sheinin and Barry Svrluga tag-team with an article that details how the turmoil at the Wilson Building is affecting the operations of the franchise. Of particular interest are the details on the season ticket figure -- usually a pretty firmly held state secret:
    The Nationals had a season ticket base of roughly 22,500 last season, and their goal is to retain 85 percent of that for 2006, which would mean about 19,125 season tickets sold. Team officials said yesterday that, despite the fact the team raised most ticket prices by between $1 and $5 per seat per game, the Nationals have about 17,500 commitments for season tickets next year. Partial season ticket plans of either 41 or 20 games won't go on sale until after Jan. 1. Tavares said that the team has retained 77 percent of its season ticket revenue from 2005.

  • And now for something completely different....
    Baseball Crank looks at how old recent Met signee Julio Franco is. My favorite? Franco in 2006 will be the same age Sandy Koufax was . . . in 1983

    And the Humbug Journal answers the question we've all asked ourselves at one point or another... Which National, currently on the 40-man roster, would have the most points in Scrabble for their full name? Buck Sez you won't get the answer.

  • Monday, December 19, 2005

    Rain Delay

    They haven't even turned over the first spade of dirt, and already the new stadium has been hit with a rain delay. The lease has been pulled off tomorrow's schedule, and won't come up for a vote for several weeks.

    Reading between the lines, it's clear that they don't have the votes to approve it. Rather than letting it go down in flames, they're tweaking it, trying to see if they can twist some arms, and get that final vote or two.

    There was talk that several council members were waiting for confirmation that the Feds would pay a portion of the necessary Metro improvements (because they're going to need an upgraded stadium because of DoT's relocation). It's quite possible that they're waiting for more info on that.

    Nakamura's article notes a few other sops to the Council items that could be added to the bill:
    Changes could include increasing the number of free tickets for D.C. youth, which is currently 8,000 each season. Also, the lease says that a $20 million payment from baseball to the city for stadium construction should be used for fixtures, but the city wants to be able to use the money for any aspect of the construction. A group of developers has sent a letter to Williams offering to pay for $12 million worth of repairs to roads around a new baseball stadium along the Anacostia River

    Children are our future, so more tickets for them is a good thing. The $20 million figure is just another way of DC saying we don't want to spend all that money on that stinking VIP parking garage; we want to be able to spread it around. And the developers are the same ones that were awarded the Anacostia development rights last week. Left unsaid is that they'll presumably be asking for $40 million worth of giveaways for the upfront payment.

    Just when you think the end is near, you get another twist. It's like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie. (And yes, I'm aware that many would consider that to be a redundancy)

    The always informative JDLand blog helpfully provides Mayor Tony's latest Pro-Stadium talking points, which were sent out over the weekend. If you haven't yet had your fill of propaganda, here ya go! (PDF)

    The Storm Before The Calm

    Tomorrow's the day. Yea or Nay, the votes will be counted, and the stadium will get built, or we'll be thrown into limbo. Keep in mind that if it does get defeated, that there'll be a lot of banchee screams, and teeth gnashing, but that it doesn't mean the death of the franchise.

    Mayor Williams held a rally. Our good friends from Metroblogging DC were there, and report that several hundred people showed up to support the stadium, drowning out the handful of opponents.

    DCist, meanwhile, goes straight to the horse's mouth (or ass, if you prefer). They got Mayor Williams' spokesman to give his spin on why the stadium is a good deal. He raises several excellent points, especially with the problems of using Seattle and Milwaukee as examples of cost overruns, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable if they'd drop the facade of a $300 million stadium. That's just as disingenuous as the $700 million figure the other side trotted out.

    DCist also got David Catania, member of the Council, to write about why the stadium is a bad deal. He, too, raises some interesting points, but also gets caught up in stretching his rhetoric, as noted by the commenters.

    Yea or nay, I have no idea what's going to happen. If I had to bet, I'd say it passes by one. But then I wouldn't be stunned to see it lose either.

    Either way, we'll find out tomorrow around lunchtime.

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Brunell Still Stinks Edition

    The WaPo had their big Expos-é on the Sunday before Tuesdays' big vote. Their stunning conclusion? MLB got a pretty sweet deal. Apparently the sun is set to rise in the east as well.

    It's an interesting enough story, but I don't know that there's anything new here for anyone who's been paying attention to these issues. It looks into trends in past stadiums, which they haven't done before, but otherwise it's a pretty ho-hum attempt at making a big splash two days before the actual news is created.

    Over the weekend, the Washington Times looked at the opposition to the park, and attempted to read the tea leaves. The story quotes some stadium opponent from a group called "Friends of the Earth." Two thoughts sprung up. First, what the hell would a group called friends of the earth have to do with the stadium? Secondly, couldn't they come up with a better name than that? I know I'd be disinclined to listen to anything someone from a group with that name would say. Now that I think about it, I wonder if that was the intention of our friends from the Moonie Times? That right-wing conspiracy is tricky, especially with Karl Rove manipulating all those strings.

  • O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done.
    Rick Short is turning Japanese; I really think so.
    It's just a matter of when, and how much that Bowden can get for him. Rick gave the Nationals a great moment or two. I'm glad he got the chance.

  • Nationals Farm Authority has started work on the Big Board -- a blatant ripoff homage to the one at USS Mariner. The board is an orginizational depth chart, and gives an at-a-glance view of our crappy prospects. It's something I'd have loved to have done, but it's hard work. Thank God for the division of labor.

  • Speaking of the Mariners, they are on the verge of signing Jarrod Washburn to a 4-year deal. USS Mariner has been ripping Washburn pretty much since the end of the season. Their latest screed is an interesting look at why his ERA doesn't represent the quality of his pitching. They certainly make a persuasive case.

  • With Washburn out of the picture, it's pretty much Kevin Millwood and Jeff Weaver left as the "aces" *cough, cough*. The Nationals had had an offer in to Millwood, but I haven't heard anything in connection with Weaver. Millwood would be an excellent addition, but given how little money we have to work with ~$6-7 million next season, I can't see us slotting him in the budget. Same goes for Weaver.

    Where have you gone Tomo Ohka? The Nationals turn their lonely eyes to you. Woe, woe, whoa.

  • Minor League Guru John Sickles has a Rate the GM feature, starring the loveable Cap'n Leather pants, Jim Bowden. Some of the evaluations are good; some are boiled down to "Duuuh outfielders! Bowden is teh suck!"

    My short version: Good at bringing in crap from the scrapheap and sorting through to find useable players. Loves to have one central star to build the team around, but gets caught up in flash, and doesn't account for how that fits into building a team. He gets and deserves a lot of crap, but he's not the doddering idiot that he's made out to be -- most of the time!

  • Friday, December 16, 2005

    That's What They Get For Stealing Our Team

    First they took our team. Now they're taking our ex-third basemen. Tony Batista, fresh from being released by a team in Japan, despite giving a typically Bastistian performance, has been signed by the Minnesota Twins. He's presumably the front-runner for their third base job, and the most prominent of the Twins Bloggers definitely isn't happy. Check out Gleeman's deconstruction of Mr. Batista.

    Frank Robinson, More On, The Post, and The Times all get their crack at Mr. Robinson, adding a new spin with info presumably gleaned from a conference call while Mssrs Ladson, Svrluga, and Zuckerman stood in their apartments, on the phone while in their pajamas.

    There are a few other details that I didn't get yesterday, either because they weren't in the original article, or because I'm a half-literate manchild.

    Jack Voigt, whom people remember fondly only because he's not Ron Darling, got the axe too. Apparently Voigt's job was simply to chart pitches -- something the previous night's starting pitcher typically does on a normal team. He'll be replaced by a DVD player, essentially.

    Although Eddie Rodriguez will return, one of the articles says it's likely that he won't be back as bench coach, but possibly as a third base coach. (Where he can subvert the sign-giving process and call hit-and-runs to his heart's content.)

    Frank Robinson's contract is a one-year deal for $650,000. From my memory of past seasons the cat and mouse game with management over whether to return and for what salary is an annual tradition.

    Our criticisms of Tom McCraw apparently had some validity to them. He screwed up Cristian Guzman, by overhauling his swing -- and Guzman didn't start having good ABs until Barry Larkin took him aside and worked with him. But the players didn't really like him either:
    "He taught us to have a plan and I understand that, but sometimes, it's more than a plan because if you are missing pitches right down the middle, then there's something wrong with the mechanics of your swing," the player said.

    Barry indicates that Mitchell Page is the presumed front-runner for McCraw's job -- something we had assumed, but it's nice to see confirmation of.

    Bowden is, apparently, going to let Frank have input on the coaching decision, but it seems like that will consist of Frank being able to look at some names from a list that Bowden has prepared (Taubensee, Morris, Sabo, etc). In discussing that, Frank had an unintionally ironic quote:
    "The main thing is to get people in here that are good baseball people, that are good teachers and that will be able to get along with players."
    Tomo Ohka, Zach Day, and a host of others would agree Frank.


    Tom Boswell also writes today, but not about the Nats -- other than the final two paragraphs presumably tacked on to the end of the piece when his editors said "Ummm... Tom. You realize we have a baseball team in DC now, right?" This one looks like it was written with a new book in mind, because who wouldn't want to pay $27.95 for a bound collection of the same columns we've groaned at for the last year and a half? I actually have a few of his earlier books, and they're quite good. But that was when Boswell was more inquisitive about baseball, instead of his current position where he knows he knows all, and is trying to enlighten the great unwashed of DC.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Senior Moments To Return

    Frank Robinson's officially coming back, as the team has signed him for another year. Eddie Rodriguez inexplicably will join him, as will the much-deserving Randy St. Claire.

    Tommy "8 handicap" McCraw, Dave Huppert, Don Buford, and Bob Natal get the axe.

    I'm happy for Frank. I may not think much of him as a manager, but I respect what he's done and what he's had to put up with in his long career in baseball. I just wish he knew how to adapt his in-game strategies to the talent he has on the roster, instead of blindly assuming that all players can steal and that bunting and hit-and-runs are optimal strategies. Still, he's earned at least one more year with the club. Lord knows he's put up with enough crap over the last few years.

    Mitchell Page, who had previously served as the Cardinals hitting coach, was the roving hitting instructor last season. Now that his life seems to be in order, I'd love for them to give him a chance. I don't think that hitting coaches have nearly the effect that a good pitching coach, but the team was suffering with what was clearly a bad hitting coach last season.

    Who'll fill their shoes? Damned if I know. Frank Howard would be the sentimental choice, of course, but he's already under contract in the Yankees system. But, knowing the proclivities of our red-haired step-GM, Buck says it's Barry Larkin at first, Hal Morris at third, and Eddie Taubensee in the pen. Or, perhaps if they turn over the right rock, they can find a spot for Chris Sabo.

    Cleaning Up My Mess

    Federal Baseball writes the epilogue to my too-long Soriano rant. Click on over, and see what the Federalist has to say. He wraps it up really well and makes a vital point -- that no matter what happens this year, Soriano is highly likely to improve the team's offense. He says what I should've!

    The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year

    I've talked about my love of Diamond Mind Baseball before. It's a baseball simulation program that takes great pains to be statistically accurate. One of the things I like about it is that it rates players using play-by-play analysis and tries to put their performances into a neutral context. This would, for example, allow you to port a high-priced second baseman to, say, an extreme pitcher's park.

    I got my 2005 season last night. I'm not saying that this is definitive, so don't take it for anything more than it is, but I moved the Texas Rangers to RFK stadium just to see how it would impact our new second baseman left fielder. Because seasons can vary, depending other factors, I ran ten simulations and averaged the results. I kept Soriano in the Texas lineup and used the same lineups Texas used on each day last year, so he has the same amount of playing time as last season.

    In the simulation, he hit:
    .249/ .297/ .472 with 30 home runs and 40 doubles.

    To compare, in real life, he hit:
    .268/ .309/ .512 with 36 home runs and 43 doubles.

    Soriano had a few monster seasons in the sim, and one putrid one: .206/ .260/ .342.

    RFK, as we expected was a pretty extreme pitcher's park. For right-handed batters, its factors were: singles - 80; doubles - 118; triples - 104; homers - 73. In a neutral park each of those factors would be 100. So, at RFK, right-handed batters hit 20% fewer singles than in a neutral park and 17% fewer home runs. (I believe that's called the Jose Guillen effect!)

    The homer numbers seem about in line, but the singles factor has to be an anomaly. One-year park factors aren't very reliable, and that factor is so out of line with what other parks feature, that it doesn't make sense. I'd imagine that that would normalize slightly next season.

    One more note... They evaluate defense using play-by-play data and accounting for handedness of opposing batters, strikeout tendencies of a team's pitchers, etc, so that they can put each defender into a neutral context. They then assign one of five categories for defense: poor/ fair/ average/ very good/ excellent. Jose Vidro was rated poor at second base. Alf Soriano earned a fair.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Prepare To Eat Crow, or Contracts DO Matter, Part 4

    Taking everything I've written about our fair-haired hero Alf Soriano, (Part 1, 2, 3) it's time to put it all into context.

    One point I want to make is how to evaluate the success of the trade. There's a good chance that Brad Wilkerson is going to out-homer Soriano next year. Does that mean that Wilkerson will have had a better season? Not necessarily. Because the run environment is so much lower at RFK, Soriano can put up lesser raw numbers and still be just as valuable as Wilkerson.

    The trade, of course, wasn't just Soriano for Wilkerson. There were two other players involved. While it would have been nice had Bowden not given them up, losing them really isn't a problem.

    Terrmel Sledge is a fun player, but he's not young. Sledge will turn 29 next year, despite having only 435 major league at bats. He's capable of starting, and will probably put up some decent numbers for a cheap price, but he was, at best, fourth on the outfield depth chart here. Combine that with the injury he's coming off -- a hamstring that literally ripped off the bone, and which is similar to the one that derailed Ken Griffey, Jr. over the last few years -- and his future was less than certain.

    As far as the pitching prospect given up, Nationals Farm Authority projected him as a fifth starter, at best. I understand that we all want a deep minor league system. But what does it matter to have depth if all it's producing is the 11th pitcher on a staff?

    Over the last year, the Nats were involved in waiver transactions with Ryan Drese, Claudio Vargas, Travis Hughes, and Sunny Kim. All those players were freely available. If you can grab those players, who are all about the same caliber that Galaragga projects to, why worry about losing him now when acquiring another player?

    To me, at least, the trade comes down to Brad Wilkerson for Alfonso Soriano. I've laid out the case why I believe, that despite the OBP difference, that the Nationals won't really be losing anything offensively.

    But there's one important difference: their contracts.

    Brad Wilkerson will be a free agent at the end of next year. The Nationals would have controlled him for two more arbitration years. He, essentially, had a two-year, $14 million contract (estimating $5 million and $9 million).

    Soriano, on the other hand, is a free agent at the end of the year, and will probably file at a figure closer to $11 million, and the team will probably file at closer to $9 million. Either would be for one year.

    With the Nationals struggling to get pitching help, that $4 million difference in this year's salary could be useful.

    In that light, I view it similarly to the Preston Wilson trade. It's addressing a need the team really didn't have, and burning up some resources in the process. Sure, Soriano is going to be an improvement over last year's Brad Wilkerson. But so would this year's Brad Wilkerson. It boils down to whether the upgrade from Soriano to (a healthy) Wilkerson (an upgrade which some doubt) is worth the downgrade from one of the good starting pitchers left, like Jarrod Washburn to Brett Tomko.

    I think I'd probably rather have the pitcher.

    We'll have to see what other moves Bowden has in mind. If he does trade Jose Vidro, which would have the double bonus of freeing up second for Soriano and more money for a pitcher, then it's an excellent move.

    I'm inclined to lean against the trade, but I'm open minded. Soriano, if nothing else, is a vastly more exciting player to watch. And he's also more marketable because of his perceived value. Off-the-field it's a definite winner. On the field? We'll see.

    Filling In The Cracks

    $53.4 million for 24 spots. Assuming a budget of $60 million, that means about $6.5 million left. Some of that would need to be kept in reserve for injuries and other players on the 40-man. Unless we're really backloading a contract, or unless the budget's a few million higher, the 'aces' aren't coming here.

    Allegedly the team has offers out to five pitchers: Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn, Brett Tomko, Shawn Estes, and Pedro Astacio. I can't see how we can compete financially for Millwood or Washburn. The other three are in our price range, but don't represent much of an improvement over what we have already.

    Livan Hernandez -- $8 MM
    John Patterson -- $1.5 MM?? (Aribitration Eligible as a Super-2)
    Brian Lawrence -- $3.2 MM (Salary actually higher, but SD is paying the rest)
    Ryan Drese -- $1.75 MM
    TOTAL: $14.45 MM + TBD pitcher

    Chad Cordero -- $350K
    Luis Ayala -- $1MM?? (Arbitration Eligible)
    Gary Majewski -- $350K
    Jon Rauch -- $350K
    Joey Eischen -- $1.3 MM
    Tony Armas -- $1 MM (? Deal not finalized)
    TOTAL: $4.35 MM

    CATCHERS (2)
    Brian Schneider -- $3 MM (Arbitration Eligible, Made $2 MM)
    Backup -- $500K (Long list of minor leaguers)
    TOTAL: $3.5 MM

    Nick Johnson -- $2.5 MM (Arbitration Eligible, Made $1.45 MM)
    Jose Vidro -- $7 MM
    Cristian Guzman -- $4.2 MM
    Ryan Zimmerman -- $350K
    TOTAL: $14.05 MM

    Jose Guillen -- $4 MM
    Alfonso Soriano -- $9.5 MM (Arbitration Eligible, made $7.5MM)
    Ryan Church -- $350K
    TOTAL: $13.85 MM

    BACKUPS (5)
    Damian Jackson -- $700 K
    Marlon Anderson -- $900 K
    Marlon Byrd -- $400 K
    Robert Fick -- $850 K
    Minor Leaguer (Watson? Harris?) -- $350 K
    TOTAL: $3.2 MM

    We're Doomed

    The Post and Times each have their cracks at yesterday's hearing. It doesn't look good for passage.

    From the Times:
    Mr. Brown said he likely would vote against the lease agreement unless something changes before Tuesday.

    "We asked the private developers if they would contribute, and they all said no," Mr. Brown said. "So that leaves us with one other option, and that's the District of Columbia. I have an obligation to the residents of the District of Columbia to vote no. I don't know what would change my mind."

    A vote against the lease by Mr. Brown could give victory to ballpark opponents on the council.

    If the lease is rejected next Tuesday, who knows what would happen? Friend to bloggers, T(h)om Loverro writes that the council feels emboldened because of that uncertainty. He suggests that MLB is going to need to play tough now, but that their position is weakened because of the attractiveness of the DC market. He's right.

    The Council finds itself in a position of strength because MLB has overplayed its hand. It's clear that MLB is going to have to give the city some sort of real concession to ram the lease through -- and I'm not talking about the $20 million upfront for $50 million worth of assets kind of concession either!

    Would the council consider RFK? I can't see that even being the compromise solution at this point, because of the environmental costs, and the marginal cost savings compared to the southeast site.

    One interesting note from the Post's account:
    [T]he city earned $37.5 million in tax revenue during the Nationals' first season -- from a gross receipts tax on businesses, a utilities tax on businesses and federal buildings, and a stadium concessions tax.

    There was a time that the city's revenues were considered disappointing. Nearly $40 million can't be a disappointment, and you'd think that the pro-stadium side would be emphasizing this.

    We're not quite back to square one, but we're definitely in uncharted waters. The bonds are supposed to be in place by the end of the year, but there aren't any real penalties for that for at least two years -- and even then, it's not clear that there's any recourse for MLB other than to move the team, which is highly unlikely anyway.

    Wake me up when it's over.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Conference Call Edition

    Barry and Bill have the same articles today. I guess I missed the conference call. Seriously. You copy and paste those badboys into word, run the mostly useless autosummary, and have identical documents. Of course there are only so many ways to say that the Nats signed some crappy catchers....

    Fick signed for $850,000. He's not a bad pickup, as he's versatile, and, as the articles note, content with playing the bench. Eischen ended up costing $1.3 million. I'm not Eischen's biggest fan, but considering the wacky pitching market, that's not a horrible deal.

    As far as the crappy catchers, Nationals Farm Authority did a more thorough rundown than the one I had.

  • With Positiongate, the Nationals haven't yet addressed Soriano directly. The trade only became official today, after Wilkerson's physical. And the team wasn't technically allowed contact with Soriano. Whatever. Interestingly, Barry gets a player to say that he thinks the Soriano/Vidro logjam is going to be a big mess.

  • This subtly subversive paragraph by Barry says it all:
    The trade for Soriano did not address what Bowden considers the club's top need -- starting pitching. Asked to assess the team's chances of signing one of the remaining front-line pitchers, he said: "I'm not confident at all. We're trying, but it's a very, very difficult market," which means that Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn are long shots. A team source said the club continues to pursue Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes.

    When pitching is your top priority and your choices are Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes (a player we passed on last year), it's safe to say you're not quite sure what the definition of priority is.

    That paragraph actually represents one of the things I enjoy about Barry's stories. He clearly has an opinion, but it's skillfully presented buried in the facts he uses, and the words he uses to describe those facts. He buries things like this in his stories pretty regularly. You just have to know to look for them.

  • Frank Robinson has been extended a contract offer for next season. St. Claire appears to have survived the chopping block, which wasn't unexpected. But so has Eddie Rodriguez, apparently. He of the L/R/L obsession will spend another season of sleepless nights working out all the permutations for handedness in the Nationals roster. The only question remaining is: Soriano/Johnson/Guillen or Guillen/Johnson/Soriano?

  • In monopolistic scumbag news, MLB has said that they will no longer accept a stadium at RFK -- this on the heels of their announcement two weeks ago that an RFK site would be ok. Tomorrow, expect MLB to demand the blood of a virgin.

  • Meanwhile the DC Council had a hearing that dragged on for several centuries. The Council is deadlocked 5-5 with three undecideds. Two of the three will have to be swayed to the yes side.

    Just A Nats Fan, a masochist if there ever was one, watched the pathetic spectacle. If you're a masochist, she did a yeo-chick's work and has an exhaustive summary.

    What I found most interesting, and this should tell you how much I care about these dog and pony shows, is this picture Miss Chatter pulled off the ol' tube. It shows the esteemed former mayor wearing a Nats cap to show his support for baseball in DC. First, give it up. We know you oppose it. Second, it's a COUNTERFEIT HAT! Not only is it unlicensed trademark infringement, it's the kind typically seen at the impromptu street corner sales tables that don't pay taxes -- the taxes that would go to fund the stadium. Instead that's money that's coming from libraries and schools (or so he'd have us believe...and not that that's the first time he's evaded paying taxes!)

    Get yourself a real hat, Mr. Barry. Oh, and April 14 is fast approaching. You might want to get your papers ready for the H&R Block guy.

  • Fick Yeah!

    Robert Fick and Joey Eischen were signed today (contract details will come later).

    Fick is a left-handed batter who will come off the bench. He can play first, third, the outfield, and 'catch'. He's a brutal defensive catcher, and is pretty worthless in the outfield. Offensively, he's a good bench player. You could certainly do worse than Fick, but it does beg the question of how many bench players a team needs? Fick's signing probably ends any chance that Brendan Harris had of making the team, and probably completely closes the door on Carroll.

    We know (and some love) Eischen. He's a useful middle reliever, made more useful because of the arm he throws with. If we can prevent him from doing his Flipper imperonation off the mound and breaking things, he'll be useful.

    Rather than signing one of the mediocrities left as a backup catcher, Bowden did one better: he signed a bunch: Wiki Gonzalez, noted woman assaulter Mike DiFelice, Alberto Castillo and Brandon Harper.

    They were all signed to minor league deals, and will have the opportunity to sort themselves into some sort of hierarchy in Spring Training. The rest could be stashed in New Orleans, giving some depth to the position for once. If the one in the majors stinks, there'll be a few in the minors to call up.

    Depending on the salaries of the first two, it's not a bad haul by Bowden.

    Prepare To Eat Crow, or Why The Sun Is An Infielder's Worst Enemy, Part 3

    To hear some statheads (and even some traditional analysts) tell it, Alfonso Soriano is Hitler with a glove. Among the stathead community, especially, it's a competition to create new superlatives to describe his defensive play in a number-cruncher version of the "Your Momma's So Fat" jokes.

    Soriano is a below average defensive second baseman. I'm not going to pretend he's not. But it's not like he's a left-handed thrower, or that he's completely immobile. But the perception, probably fueled by the typical "demonize at all costs" internet debating technique, is that he's better as a DH.

    Soriano was a shortstop in the Yankees farm system. He ran into two problems, though. One was Derek Jeter's ring-covered fingers in the majors. The other was D'Angelo Jimenez playing next to him. The Yankees, who were higher on Soriano, figured that he'd have an easier path to the majors if he moved to second. He was never regarded as a particularly good defensive player, and there was frequent talk of switching positions. In fact, if Chuck Knoblauch didn't develop the throwing yips, Soriano would've started out as a left fielder.

    Defensive statistics are sort of the last great unknown for statistical analysts. There are lots of problems with trying to assess players and isolate them from the team -- you'd need to make adjustments for opportunities, such as groundballs, strikeout rate, line drives, etc. There's a lot of noise in the statistics, and the most commonly accepted ones are crude. With most, it's like trying to paint a landscape with a wall brush. It works if you're Bob Ross, but most of us aren't Bob Ross.

    The two defensive stats I trust (mostly because the explanations I've seen of them make sense, and because people who's opinions I respect vouch for them) are Baseball Prospectus' Rate2 stat, and MGL's Ultimate Zone Rating.

    Both stats paint him as slightly below average fielder, but much closer to average than the butcher perception he has. In fact, he compares favorably with the pre-leg injury Jose Vidro, who was regarded as a decent fielder.

    Last year's defensive stats were the worst of his career, but how much stock can you put into one year of evidence that's out of line with the rest of his career? Maybe he was injured? Maybe just disinterested? Maybe it's just random noise in the data?

    Just throwing this one out there.... but his defensive reputation seems to have taken a nose-dive once he went to Texas. I wonder if some of that perception is a result of the infield in Texas, which, by all accounts, is lightning fast, thanks to the sun-baked earth. As a result, more groundballs (intensified by a Texas staff that yields more groundballs than most) would shoot through the infield just beyond Soriano's grasp. Throw in that Soriano has a very athletic body, and that he looks like he should be doing better than he is, and it might be a case of your eyes deceiving you into believing that he's worse than he really is. The defensive stats sort of point to that last 'fact', at least.

    But as it stands, it's an academic debate anyway. Soriano is set to be a 7 next year, at least until Vidro breaks. Will he make a good outfielder? I don't know. He has excellent speed, and a nice long stride. But speed doesn't really make someone a great outfielder. Lou Brock, the all-time base stealer until Rickey!, was a horrible outfielder. He's had limited experience in the outfield, playing there in Spring Training before the Yankees liability insurance necessitated moving Knoblauch from second. I'm optimistic that he can be an average outfielder. If he does show an ability to read fly balls, his speed and RFK's spacious gaps will create quite a few outs.

    Next time, I'll wrap it all up, and look at the trade itself.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Fouled-Off-Bunts: What's A Couple Hundred Million Between Friends Edition

    The DC CFO released his long-awaited report on the cost updates of the new stadium. It's not the overly dramatic $714 million figure that was thrown about last week, but a much more palatable (in a Fear Factor sense) $667 million figure. Phew! Is that all. The Post notes that it's $67 million above the $589 million budget which is really a $535 million budget that's artificially loaded with gimmicks.

    Of note, he projects that building at RFK would cost $606 million, a savings of just $61 million. It's kind of fun when you can say 'just' when talking about millions of dollars, huh? Talk to a budget analyst for DoD then. That's a rounding error!

    The Mayor issued a press release clinging to the hope of the $535 million figure, noting that only $535 million in bonds will be issued. Perhaps the rest will be delivered by the Underpants Gnomes? Ladies of DC, hold on to your underpants!

    The CFO's letter to Herr Cropp is available on his website, and might be worth a quick skim if you're really bored, or in need of a sleep-inducer.

    With amazingly convenient timing, the Mayor trotted out a few development groups who are more than willing to get their greedy paws civic-minded brains into the process of developing the area around the stadium. They went with several groups in the hope to more rapidly expand the revitalization in the area. The Post helpfully reuses their wonderful graphic showing the ballpark area and the current businesses there. If you're not familiar with the area, not that there's anything wrong with that, it's a good first look. Isn't it amazing, though, that of all the days to discuss development in the SE, that it happens on a day that increased stadium costs are released? The Mayor just keeps stumbling into these fortuitous circumstances!

  • Dave Sheinin writes about the two-headed GM in Boston. The two-headed GM, you recall, was instrumental in the Baltimore Orioles successful 2005 campaign. The Nats implications are that Bowden stays for a few more weeks, obviously, and that Theo Epstein, despite rumors that he'd be brought back, isn't there yet. I'm agnostic on Theo, but I'd be open to giving the guy a shot.

  • I'm sure his best blogging friend will get to this, but Dayn Perry is giving out his off-season grades. Yeah, excited now, aren't you? C-, Mr. Bowden. Be sure to have your mom sign it, and have it back to Dayn by Thursday. (Doesn't that picture of Dayn look like something from a minor league hockey team in New Jersey?)

  • Friend of Capitol Punishment, Bill Ladson is back with another mailbag full of inspid questions from men who sit when they pee. I'd rip the hell out of it, as per my usual, but I'm lazy. What does that man have against strikeouts and Brad Wilkerson? Whatever he does have, he doesn't hold it for Terrmel Sledge: [O]f the three the Nationals traded, I hated to see Terrmel Sledge go, because I believe he is going to be a star in the Major Leagues. He can hit all types of pitching and doesn't strike out much.

    Come to the light, Bill!

  • With the Nationals left to pick at the sun-bleached bones of the pitching free-agent market, there's still one name floating out there that could probably be had for cheaply. Hint: He's an Aruban Knight. Nope. Eugene Kingsale's an outfielder, silly! What's Sidney Ponson up to these days? (I can hear you thinking "about 285 pounds!") OOPS! Nevermind.

  • Finally... Banks of the Anacostia notes an article in the Chicago Daily Herald advocating a Cubs trade for Jose Vidro. He floats the idea of Corey Patterson and Jerry Hairston (because he knows we'd need another second baseman to compensate for the devastating loss of another second baseman). Banks doesn't like the idea, but, as I note in his comments, I'd take the money and run, no matter what we'd get. Especially when that money entails $23 million over the next three seasons.

  • Prepare To Eat Crow, or It Does Mean A Thing Because He Does Have That Swing, Part 2

    Yesterday I wrote about how narrowly focusing on Alf Soriano's poor on-base percentage is a mistake because he does many other things well. I concluded by pointing out the problem with relying on his road stats, as well as that his home park isn't all that advantageous to right-handed hitters.

    We know that RFK is even less advantageous to hitters. I'll have the final numbers this week, but it probably reduces homers by at least 20%. That would be a substantial drop for Soriano. I'm not going to be stupid enough to say he's going to hit 35 home runs. But you can probably pencil him in for 25-30. Even 25 would have led the team last year.

    The reason I'm comfortable doing that is his swing. He has the perfect power-hitting style for RFK. Soriano uses a huge bat. He has amazingly strong wrists that allow him to whip that over-sized bat through the zone, creating his tremendous power.

    He is a pretty extreme flyball hitter, hitting more than twice as many flyballs as ground balls. When he likes a pitch, he'll turn, whip the bat through the zone and uppercut it, pulling it to left field. Despite the spacious gaps, it's a strategy that could work at RFK.

    If you haven't really seen Soriano hit, here are three examples of his swing from this year. Look at the huge bat, notice how quickly he gets the bat head out in front of the zone, and see how far the ball carries. Each of these homers would likely be out at RFK.
  • Homer to left versus the Angels.
  • Homer to left versus the Devil Rays with the incomparable DeWayne Staats at the mic.
  • Homer Just to the left of center against the Yankees.

  • Thanks to the hitting charts at, we can see even more easily that his hitting style is a good fit for the park. To do so, it's easiest to compare him to another right-handed batter who's swing isn't made for the park. Conveniently, the Nationals had one such player.

    Take a look at Jose Guillen's hitting chart. Then click on the box next to flyballs. It shows you every place one of his flies was caught. He hits very few balls for power to left field. (If you turn doubles on, you see that he was able to drive some balls.) From left-center (which is mis-marked as 380 here -- it's actually 390) to the line, he has only three balls that are driven. Take a look at centerfield and right-center though. There's a much higher number of balls being driven deep to those areas. Jose Guillen's power is to center and to the opposite field -- two places that are fairly unforgiving at RFK. As the opposing batters showed us, especially as the season slid into the crapper, you need to hammer balls down the line, and make the bullpen pitchers run for cover.

    Compare that to Alf's hitting chart. He has quite a few balls hit towards left field. He also has a large number of balls hit to shallow right field, which most likely represent popups when he mistimes a pitch he's trying to crush. If you click the tabs for doubles and homers, you'll see the effect even more dramatically. He has a few homers to right, but the majority are straight to left. He's a pull hitter, and pull hitters can have success at RFK.

    Because of his hitting style, there will be a lot of cans of corn to the outfield, but that's simply because he hits so many flyballs. Is a grounder to the shortstop preferable to a fly to center? It can be a frustrating style to watch sometimes, but an out is an out, more or less.

    So while RFK is likely to cut down on his homers, he won't have as large a problem as Guillen or Vinny Castilla (another right-handed batter who drove balls to center).

    Later, I'll have a look at defense, and a look at the trade itself.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: I Have To Go Back To Work Already? Edition

    Over the weekend, the Post and the Times did their quickies on the stadium lease. Here's the Mayor's spin, including the somewhat-unbelievable assertion that the stadium will help to generate $50-$75 million in revenues per year, and over $2 billion in new development. The original draft included a line about how the stadium would be heated using a cold fusion reactor.

    If you're so inclined, the full lease can be found at the Business of Baseball website. Warning: WILL cause drowsiness or impotence.

    Meanwhile, in the Sunday Post, David Nakamura breaks out the hatchet and reveals the startling news that the stadium could actually cost more than $535 million. It's a good primer for people whose eyes glaze over when reading about this stuff.

  • Looks like Bowden's Beantown fantasies have evaporated. They're going with two GMs next year (emulating the wildly successful Baltimore model). Interestingly, Boston is looking at bringing in Theo Epstein as an advisor. Epstein has had his name thrown about here in DC, but Gordon Edes mentions that we could get the short end of the stick with Larry Luchino instead.

  • The Nationals are reportedly interested in Robert Fick and Brett Tomko. Fick can play catcher, but he's probably not capable of serving as a full-time backup. He has some sock, but he's a thoroughly mediocre player. Tomko gives innings, and is durable, but the quality of his pitching rarely reaches league-average heights.

    Meanwhile, other possibilities disappear. Matt Morris is close to signing with the Giants. Kenny Rogers is a Tiger. It's down to Weaver, Millwood, and Washburn for proven starters. The team probably doesn't have the money for Millwood, but has expressed interest in Washburn. Strangely, Weaver's name hasn't come up at all.

    The Dodgers signed Sandy Alomar Jr for their backup catcher's job. There's not much left. John Flaherty is looking like the best of a bad lot. Todd Greene is a possibility. He's a low average slugger with little defensive value.

  • Nats Blog has two excellent posts, both worth your time.

    The first breaks out the abacus, and breaks apart the stadium deal, and what it's going to mean in revenue for the city. Using fairly conservative estimates, increased baseball revenues alone will account for about $200 million of the stadium's cost. And that's not counting development, or some categories of revenue.

    The second is a little more abstract, but deals with.... well, I can't really explain it. My little pea-brain can't summarize it better than DM wrote it. Read it, and if you don't like it or find it interesting, I'll come do your dishes.

  • Prepare To Eat Crow, or There's More Than One Way To Score A Run, Part 1

    Now that the Alfonso Soriano trade has had a few days to sink in, we can look at the transaction with a clearer eye, free from some of the emotion.

    As I've said before, Soriano is dramatically overrated by the average person. As a second baseman with power and speed, he has a ton of value in fantasy baseball, which is where the typical fan learns about the players. But as the statheads point out, there's more to a player than those home runs and stolen bases, and Soriano's on-base percentage is a huge drag on his overall value. They're certainly right about that.

    But it leads them to making silly pronouncements about his value. One comment on a blog said he's a "barely average player." He's talking about a second baseman who had an park-adjusted OPS 10% above league average. Even the Dr. Frankensteins of the number-crunching world at Baseball Prospectus gave him an EQA (don't ask!) of .285, in a league with an average of .270.

    As soon as a player becomes overrated by conventional analysts, the statheads pile on, ignoring numbers that don't support their case. To listen to them, Garret Anderson and Juan Gonzalez have more in common with Karim Garcia than they do with the other All-Stars who have similar value to them.

    OBP is life, or so the cliche goes. But Thomas Jefferson listed a few things other than life. They're important, too.
    1. Soriano hits for a tremendous amount of power. He cranked out 81 extra-base hits last year. This is not to criticize him, but Jose Guillen had just 58.

    2. Soriano has tremendous speed. He stole 30 bases last year and was caught just twice! The stats say that a player needs to have about a 67% success rate for a steal to have any value to a team. (Some say higher, but assume incorrectly that all SB are created equal.) 94% is higher than that, right? For his career, he's stealing at an 80% clip. His speed helps the team score runs. It might not be a lot of runs, but a steal in the right situation can have a lot of leverage in a close game. And we played plenty of those!

    3. Because he's fast, he doesn't ground into many double plays, something that killed this team. He's played five full seasons and has hit into just 35. Vinny Castilla had almost half that alone last year.

    4. He's durable. He's played in 156+ games in four of his five seasons, dropping down to 145 in 2004. On a team that breaks on a weekly basis, having someone who doesn't seem to suffer from nagging injuries is invaluable.

    5. He hits for a decent average. He's not Tony Gwynn, but he's a career .280 hitter. That won't win the batting title, but he's not a low-average slugger like Wilkerson. (Yes, I know that Wilk makes up for it with his walks). But he's batted as high as .300 in a season, and has been at .280 or higher in three of his five full seasons.

    He's not a perfect player, but he's far from an average player.

    One of the other stathead criticisms shouted from the rooftops is "Park factor! Arlington is a hitter's paradise," they state. They then point to his home/road splits, making two mistakes in the process. First, they cite on year's worth of stats (completely ignoring their belief in needing large sample sizes). But more importantly, and this is what ticks me off about most of the hacks who run around citing numbers without knowing what they mean, they don't critically think about the context of the numbers.

    Yes, Soriano hit a dreadful .224/ .265/ .374 (average/ on-base/ slugging) on the road. But, and I hit on this the other night, he has a DISTINCT park DISadvantage on the road.

    With the unbalanced schedule, he plays around 30 of his 81 games a year on the road against his AL West foes. Seattle and Oakland are two of the biggest pitchers parks in the league. Anaheim's is essentially neutral. Right there, the numbers are tilted against him. Further, Oakland and Anaheim have had several seasons of excellent pitching, which would further depress his stats. Care to know what he hit in those parks? (All numbers are for his career, which will give a larger sample size.)
    In Oakland: .239/ .296/ .420
    In Seattle: .224/ .285/ .408
    In Anaheim: .191/ .233/ .282

    Isn't it possible that the reason his road batting stats stink so much is because he's facing excellent pitching staffs in tough hitter's environments? Taking his raw road stats and saying that that's the kind of performance you're going to get from him is as big a mistake as just looking only at his home stats.

    Since he got to Texas, he's hit .234/ .278/ .409 in road games, against tough competition and mostly in conditions that favor pitchers. If you're going to properly evaluate his stats, don't you need to adjust that baseline upwards because of the tough environment?

    Ah, but RFK will kill him, you say. Certainly his home batting performance will come down a bit (and we've already established that his raw road numbers aren't a neutral evaluation). But, despite its reputation, Ameriquest Field is not the hitters' haven it appears to be -- if you're a right-handed batter. I don't have the full breakdown of this season yet, but I have three previous seasons, and it's only averaging about a 5% increase in home runs for righties. It does allow more singles, a few more doubles, and a lot more triples. But it's most definitely not Texas' answer to Coors Field for right-handed batters.

    If you look at the dimensions of the field, it actually compares favorably with RFK on the left side. It's 390 to the power alley in left-center field, the same unmarked distance it is at RFK. Yep. Different conditions (altitude, winds, etc) mean that the same dimensions don't necessarily play the same way, but it's not the cheap home run park that people assume.

    Later, I'll show you why I'm not worried about Soriano falling off a cliff next year like the statheads are arguing. The difference is his swing. It's perfect for RFK. Jose Guillen he ain't. 'Scouting?' Gasp!

    --Part 2--

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Two-Hour Delay Edition

    The lease is done! The DCSEC signed off on it this morning, and it's on its way to the DC Council. They are supposed to vote on it for the 12/20 hearing. It will need seven votes to pass, but only has five committed votes. There are three undecideds. If they can be flipped, we'll have a park, and eventually an owner.

    The Washington Times looked at the issues confronting the council this morning.

  • ALL ALF, ALL THE TIME!!1!1!11
    --I didn't link this one yesterday when I did my roundup, but Banks of the Anacostia has an interesting take for it. He's gung-ho for the trade. What I like about his analysis, though, are the steps he walks you through to get there. He's more optimistic than I am, but at least he's looking at the evidence as opposed to trampling all over it like Boz' column from today.

    While you're there, check out his where-to-ship-Vidro list. I really wouldn't require anything of value in return for him. Just dumping his contract would be enough for me!

    --Here's an AP story that's banal, but I'm including just for its headline: " Soriano accepts trade to Nationals". Soriano doesn't have a choice! It's not like the Javier Vazquez situation. Soriano will go where he's told. Curt Flood lost for you, man!

    --Want a generic feature on the trade? Me neither. So pass it on to someone you hate.

  • --Wondering what the Transaction Guy's take on it was? Me neither. Here ya go anyway.

    --Interested in the Primate consensus is? Only slightly more? Enjoy!

  • Hate paying Ticketmasters usurious scammy fees? Good news! Unfortunately, they're not fee-free, and (oh, look at that!), MLB owns most of the company. How conveeeeeeenient. So we now get to pay MLB money to have the right to buy MLB tickets?

  • Movie Pick O' The Week: Walk The Line. Growing up I loathed country music. And I still don't really like the twangy hickified country, but this is from the era when rock/jazz/country/blues were all in one big mixing pot, waiting to break out. Good luck watching this movie without tapping your toe. The acting is tremendous, even if the story isn't especially exciting (just your basic music star has hard times, does drugs, finds love, perseveres story.) Reese Witherspoon is tremendous, giving a performance where, for the first time, you don't think "Hey, that's Reese Witherspoon!" every time you see her on screen.