Monday, December 04, 2006

Cold Cast-Iron Stove

On what feels like the coldest day of the year, MLB's GM meetings are beginning in beautiful, sunny Orlando. Last night, I started hacking out an entry, a gentle to-do list for our friend, Jim Bowden, as he prepares to put "The PLAN!" into action. (Ya know, things like cutting back on the minibar since Stan's budget-conscious eagle eyes are watching, or stocking up on the free hotel soap for use at RFK bathrooms, saving the team dollars).

But after reading Barry Svrluga's latest, what's the point?

We're getting closer and closer to the truth with each of these stories. And each one kills the fanboy in me a bit more. The Nats, it seems, aren't even going to make much of a play in the secondary free-agent market. They're content to go with an all-kids, minimum-salaried roster. We'll be the Marlins. Just without all that talent.

Truth #1: Both Bowden and team president Stan Kasten understand that fans will consider that the Nationals allowed their best player, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, to take the riches offered by the Chicago Cubs -- an eight-year, $136-million deal that is the gold standard of this offseason -- and expect that that money be allocated elsewhere. But club officials say, quietly, that's not likely to happen.

Truth #2: [E]ven though spending an extra $10 million or $15 million on player payroll for 2007 -- signing, for instance, a pair of poor to middling pitchers -- might mean more wins, front office members don't believe significant value should be placed on, say, winning 75 games instead of 65 when the ultimate goal, winning a World Series, would be just as far away.

Truth #3: "We are very mindful that people who paid their money are mostly concerned with what they're going to see that night, even the ones who appreciate that there is good stuff happening beneath the surface. That's why we spend so much time on customer experience." (Kasten)

Truth #2 is a valid belief. In the grand scheme of things, there really isn't much of a difference between winning 65 and 75. I think, though, that if they're planning on going with a rotation of Patterson, Chico, Colby Lewis, Tim Redding, and Beltran Perez, that we're talking about a 60-win baseline, but that's for another day.

Truth #3 pisses me off. Customer experience certainly is important, as people who remember the long hotdog lines and surly vendors can attest. And, for a successful franchise, you do need distractions to draw in non-fans and families. But there's a point there in the middle where they need to intersect. Bread and circuses doesn't disguise the rot of the republic. Maybe his experiences are shaped by working all those years in Atlanta, one of the worst fan markets in all of sports. But for the most part, people come hoping to see a win. When the team wins, they go home happy, ready to come back another day. When the team is trailing 6-1 after 3 because Colby Lewis just didn't have his good stuff, it makes their decision to come back another time more difficult. I'm not going to pretend that I know more about running a major-league team than ol' Stan, but his continuous preaching of "Customer Experience" as the trump card over a shitcan team is wearing thin.

If ripping a hole in the bottom of the barrel is the approach the team is going to take, then they need to go hole on the hog. Blow the roster up. I love Austin Kearns, but he's not especially young, and he's arbitration eligible. Someone would love to have him. Trade him. Brian Schneider's a good luxury for a team, a left-handed defensive specialist. But on a lousy team? Trade him. Nick Johnson's my favorite Nat, but someone will give up a ransom for him, especially with his bargain-basement contract. Trade him. Chad Cordero's a good, but replaceable closer, who's about to be overpaid for what he can give in relation to a minimum-salaried guy. Trade him. Trade them all. If they're really rebuilding, let's really restock the system.

I want to see 2 or 3 Rule 5 selections this week. If you want to reload a system, why not take other team's prospects? If 2007 doesn't matter in the eyes of Kasten or Bowden, they we'll have no problem finding roster spots for them.

If 2007 doesn't matter, then make it not matter in the right way.

(And if 2007 doesn't matter, why should I renew my season tickets?)

If you completely agree with every ranting word I've typed over the last few weeks, or if you think I'm a ranting, short-sighted idiot, I'd strongly urge you to read this piece by Oleanders. Harper does an excellent job putting into words what I'm thinking, and what my worries about the team are. I sometimes take the hyperbolic position here in an attempt to be cute, but I think he nails it without all the bile.

  • UPDATE: NFA has an excellent post about one of the big downsides of not signing ANY free agents. It actually CAN harm the farm system. Wha?

  • 17 Comments:

    • (And if 2007 doesn't matter, why should I renew my season tickets?)

      Typical lack of foresight from a disgruntled "win-now" fan. Renewing your 2007 season tickets gives you first crack at '08 tickets in the beautiful new ballpark, which in turn gives you the best shot at season tix for '09, and if you're a smart fan at all, you'd see getting those '09 passes sets you up for the renewing for 2010, that allows you to...long story short, do you want to be part of the 2023 World Series Champions or don't you?

      Also 2007: We double the enjoyment of the fan - two-ply!

      By Anonymous Stan Katsen, at 12/04/2006 9:51 AM  

    • You made me so mad I spelled my own name wrong.

      By Anonymous Stan Kasten, at 12/04/2006 9:52 AM  

    • Haven't read much about the Nats lately. My frustrations over the course of the 2006 season left me feeling pretty down on baseball.

      Then today, wow. This article sucked what may be that last little bit of Nats fandom out of me. What's the point of even trying to be a fan if you are supporting a team that has no interest in even competing. I feel like right like all those fans in KC, or places like DET or ARI in the NFL or ATL in the NBA. Or here in Washington with the Caps in the NHL. Places where management doesn't even make a legit effort, where it assumes that mediocre is good enough.

      Talk about depressing.

      By Anonymous MikeMidd, at 12/04/2006 10:15 AM  

    • I agree with Truth #2 (what's the difference between 65 and 75 wins in the long run) but I also agree that Truth #3 is just condescending and really silly.

      That said, a 100+ loss 2007 won't be fun for anyone, but if we have to put up with it - they had better be doing a shitload of stuff behind the scenes to pull down some legit prospects.

      By Anonymous Rocket1124, at 12/04/2006 10:23 AM  

    • Mike: Glad you're back around. Hopefully it won't kill the fanboy completely, but it's definitely dispiriting. I think I'm going to drop my season tickets.

      Rocket: The PLAN! is golden long-term. It's the complete ignoring of the short-term that ticks me off. But your point about them needing to go hard after all prospects is correct.

      What then of not offering Ortiz arbitration or NFA's excellent point about Type-B Free Agents? Or them not signing 3 of their top-10 draft picks?

      Stan Kasten might be great about staying on message with the direction they're headed, but his actions sure muddle it up sometimes.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/04/2006 10:25 AM  

    • If the Nats didn't offer arbitration to Ortiz because they feared he might be way out of their price range for a starting pitcher, then it is frightening to think what our rotation will look like next season. This team will have a lock on at least 100 losses. By 2008, Ted Lerner and Stan Kasten may be held in the same contempt in DC as I am in Baltimore.

      By Anonymous Peter Angelos, at 12/04/2006 11:13 AM  

    • To create a winning team requires a variety of things, but it seems to me that the keys are: an intelligent GM, an organization filled with good people, luck, and money. I see no evidence that any of these are in the cards for us. "The Plan" seems to me to be just what every bad teams tells its fans to hide the fact that it is bad: "don't worry, if we're really bad now, we'll be that much better in the future." Doesn't work like that. Instead of putting in the hard work, smarts, and cash that are necessary to create a good team, "The Plan" is a way of promising the fans the world without ever having to do a damn thing about it. And I disagree; the difference between 65 and 75 wins *is* significant; I don't need to win a championship to be a nats fan, but if I'm going to give a crap about this team it'll be because I had a good time at the park instead of being bored out of my mind when the pitching puked up a 5 run first inning. And if that happens 10 fewer times a season, I and other fans will be that much less interested in the team.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/04/2006 11:51 AM  

    • Thanks, Anon. There's a good point in there. The fanboy inside me thinks that there's a HUGE difference between 65 and 75. I want to be entertained by the product on the field. Too many times last year, I was contemplating leaving after the 3rd inning.

      Other than in June, we lost a lot in 05, but at least there was a glimmer of hope. That's all a fanboy wants.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/04/2006 11:56 AM  

    • Its one thing to be a bad team, its far worse if that bad team is non-competitive. Too many times, last season, the Nationals were out of the game by the 3rd inning. Many fans losing interest. As I said before, and was excellently written by Brian over at Nationals Farms Authority--It doesn't hurt Washington to pickup some Type B Caretaker pitchers, while the youngsters developed. And, apparently, according to Brian--helps out your long term development, too. Given the minimal payroll this team will carry in 2007, its a no brainer to me to sign a few.

      But,Like some, I not willing to give up on The Washington Nationals so soon. This franchise was DESTROYED by terrible owners in Montreal and then, MLB Ownership. The Lerners and Mr. Kasten haven't even been on the job 6 months--and some are already calling for their jugular. I am willing to give them more time--we've seen no development, because its been virtually impossible given that short time frame of their leadership.

      We all want to see a competitive, interesting team-unfortunately, we may not see that in 2007.

      I love the game, there is so much to watch and enjoy, for me, throughout an entire season--even a losing one. Just my thoughts.

      By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 12/04/2006 1:00 PM  

    • We all love baseball. We all enjoy the ups and downs, but it's the point you make there about the feeling of being competitive. That's important.

      The Marlins pared back last year, but they still competed. Their kids had upside that ours lack. There was hope that they're building for something with those losses. God love him, but Kory Casto isn't Hanley Ramirez. Casto is not a championship quality LFer, and none of the pitchers, given their spotty Minor League play, are likely ready for the majors next year either.

      I'll accept losing. We did a lot of it in 05, outside of June. But I want entertaining losses. I don't want to look at my watch in the third inning, and have to decide whether it's worth staying for the rest of the game.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/04/2006 1:09 PM  

    • Chris: No doubt, the Marlins young talent is far superior than Washington. Not even close. I think we are on the same page when it comes to fielding a competitive team, just saying it differently.

      By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 12/04/2006 1:27 PM  

    • I'm definitely dropping my full-seasons. But I've said that before. Dropping my full-seasons doesn't mean that I won't go to the games - it just means that I won't pay for 20 games I don't get to... and that I'll be paying $5 a ticket to roam the emptiness that'll be the upper deck.

      The Nats are reduced to being the 80s/90s Bullets, i.e. marketing the team based on the competition. That's not so bad. The certainty of losing 100 games is liberating; low expectations means that I won't fret when the Vidro statue is put out for so many games....balls are supposed to go by him. I won't have to concentrate on the game as much when I'm at the park... then again, I didn't concentrate that much last year because watching the team was headache-inducing.

      By Anonymous A wary fan, at 12/04/2006 2:22 PM  

    • Keep on keeping on, Chris. All you're doing is coming at this from the "prove me wrong" point of view and so far they haven't.

      To be crude, the attitude of the management appears to be "We need to fix the minors to win. Until then, fuck it."

      By Blogger El Gran Color Naranja, at 12/04/2006 3:16 PM  

    • To be crude, the attitude of the management appears to be "We need to fix the minors to win. Until then, fuck it."

      If this attitute prevents another Christian Guzman signing, then the franchise is in much better shape.

      Don't think Jim Bo wouldn't love to make a splash that would put his mug in front of the cameras. If THE PLAN keeps him away from that, good.

      I'm sure they will work the bottom end of the market eventually someone will take a guaranteed Major League deal rather than an NRI. And if they work out Great if not we aren't paying them for years.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/04/2006 5:27 PM  

    • The plan to market "seats to the new stadium" in 2007 is not new, innovative marketing plan. It works for two years (2007 & 2008). See Pittsburg, Milwalkee & Colorado. Build and they will come works in the short term. Next you get an All-Star game the second year of the new stadium. After that the team must become competitive.

      By Blogger tom, at 12/04/2006 6:17 PM  

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