Friday, March 31, 2006

NL Preview

Mets (91-71)

All at once they breathe
holding it in and hoping
Pedro's arm holds up

Braves (88-74)
Gone are the dollars
of people who bet against.
Cox just laughs, beats wife.

Phillies (87-75)

Loud sound fills the air
bouncing off the plastic seats
filled only by boos

Nationals (75-87)
"Ball Four!" cries the ump
the old man trudges slowly
waving to the pen

Marlins (64-98)
Clang! Clang! rings the bell
it's another fire sale
Ev'rything has gone.

Cardinals (93-69)

Standing on the step
genius makes his job look hard
easy with Pujols

Brewers (81-81)

The Prince wears a crown
ready to conquer the land
but first he eats brats

Astros (81-81)

Enron Field it was
now like investors, scoreboard
so full of zeroes

Reds (81-81)

Deep into the gap
the horsehide reaches orbit
Milton backs up third

Cubs (81-81)
To his left he shifts
firing the ball to first
Neifi is out, natch.

Pirates (81-81)
Three rivers roam near
and Bay spills on to the field
catching balls he sees

Dodgers (86-76)

It doesn't compute
These injury-prone players
do not play when hurt?

Giants (83-79)
Up, up in the air
like a beautiful balloon
is Barry's swelled head.

Padres (83-79)
Squatting and creaking
Italians and Mexicans
bend on broken knees

Diamondbacks (70-92)
What a tangled Webb
who practices with geezers
and young kids who stink

Rockies (68-94)
Altitude beckons
teasing and taunting weak bats
harder swings Carroll

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

Tom Davis and Jim Moran might be meddling jerks, but they're our meddling jerks!

The House Gov't Reform Committee, which Davis Chairs, will haul Comcast and MASN into a public hearing next friday.

Moran yesterday met with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who said he would not be willing to change the financial structure of MASN to appease Comcast, according to one source with knowledge of the meeting.

Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, Senator Gordon Smith, Oregon Republican, and Senator Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, have pressed the FCC to force Comcast to carry the network, according to a report Wednesday in Roll Call magazine.

It's basically a bullying session, but one that will hopefully result in a benefit to us Comcastians. It's Comfarkingtastic indeed.

  • Tom Boswell chips in another column that proves that not only is he a dishonest debater, but an ignorant observer:
    If you try to find a Nats fan with a genuine visceral dislike for the Orioles, you may have an all-day job. Every rendition of the national anthem at a major Washington sports event still gets a burst from the crowd at, "Ohhhhhh, say does that star-spangled banner . . ." That happens nowhere else in America. And the "O" is for "Orioles."

    He's serious? He can't find one Nat fan with a genuine dislike for the Orioles? Hello? I can scrounge up a couple hundred with one mouse click. And perhaps he wasn't paying attention by the end of the season when there couldn't have been more than a few hundred people left doing the godawful (not to mention disrespectful) OOOOOOO in the National Anthem. By September, these idiots were sick of getting booed and yelled at for their provincial stupidity.

    And THIS is supposed to be DC's primary observer in baseball? Put down the brie. Step out of the towncar. Grab the Purell and shake some hands, Boz!

    I'm not the only one that feels this way, apparently. Sample comments from the BPG thread: "What alternate universe is Mr. Boswell living in?"; "What a load of garbage."; "Holy crap! What is Boz smoking?"; "Boswell is a good baseball writer, but he is a complete tool." And it's early yet!

    Want to yell obscenities at him? He's chatting at 11.

  • Deadspin shows what a Godawfully boring franchise we really are. I hope that Jimbo doesn't see the picture there and get any ideas.

  • The President apparently has a scheduling conflict that will prevent him from throwing out the first pitch at our Home Opener. It's a great tradition, but I'm pretty sure that I can't be the only one glad to hear this considering the security nightmare from last year.

  • In their baseball preview section, the Times had an interesting look at RFK's park factor, and how it affects the bats. The most interesting tidbit to me was that RFK was second in foul-outs per game with 2.3. I figured it was high, but didn't think it was that high. Of course, now that Vinny Castilla is gone, look for that total to halve.

  • Federal Baseball reviews Baseball Prospectus.

  • Nats Blogs reviews "The Book", and talks about an unconventional strategy that could add 6-7 cheap wins to the Nats total, but would likely result in Frank having a stroke.

  • Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Why Does Cristian Guzman's Crotch Itch?

    Just ask Eddie Guardado.

    Not bad, Eddie.

    But you're going to have to step up your game to catch up to what AJ Burnett and Roy Halliday did. Oh to have that much money to crap away!

    Spring Training Questions Answered

    When Spring Training began, I wrote a post about the issues surrounding the team, and asked ten key questions. Now that they're loading the vans in Viera, we have answers to all them. Time for a review.

    1) Where's Soriano going to play?
    We didn't know then, but we do know now. He's penciled in left field, even if he's demonstrated no real competence at playing the position adequately defensively. He has previously expressed a desire to play center, but the thought of him misplaying even more line drives isn't a comfortable one. In his fairness, he's complained that he has problem with the slicing of shots down the line, which is slightly less of a problem in center. But center presents its own problems, because the irregular spin on the ball sometimes moves the ball in directions the fielder isn't expecting. And when you throw in how much more ground the CFer has to cover, especially at RFK, it could get ugly, especially for our pitchers who are going to need every advantage we can give them.

    At any rate, Frank has said that Soriano won't fill in at second. Damian Jackson was the first name that popped up, but Marlon Anderson has had extensive experience at second, and is probably a better hitter.

    2) How's Vidro's health?
    It seems surprisingly good. Every account I've read says that he's good to go. What I'm really concerned with though is his conditioning. Is he going to be able to hold up under the daily grind of play? And the other key thing to watch is his range. He has very little lateral range, even before this last batch of knee trouble. As you watch him this year, watch how his first step is frequently backwards at an angle, trying to cut the ball off in the gap. Sometimes it works. Many times, it doesn't.

    3) Can Jose Guillen Swing A Bat?
    The concern coming into spring was the shoulder. He got a late start as he tried taking it easily, but then came the wrist. Despite an initial diagnosis of surgery and three months of rehab, a second opinion said a week of rest would cure it. That will have to be something to watch as the season goes on. Will he need more rest because of it? Will he let Frank bench him for a game here and there?

    Guillen hasn't had many hits this spring, batting just .182, but his few hits have counted, all going for extra bases, resulting in an incredible .636 slugging average. It seems like he's ready!

    4) Is Zimmerman Really Ready?
    .347 average; .410 on-base; .693 slugging; 7 homers; 15 rbi. Yep. He's ready.

    5) Who's In Center?
    Here's what I said then: "Watson seems to be the favorite -- or at least the great speedy hope. Frank/Bowden seem concerned that the centerfielder also serve as the leadoff hitter, and Watson's speed makes them salivate. But Watson is a slap-hitter in the Endy Chavez mold. He wraps [sic] singles, but doesn't hit for any power, or walk all that much. His value is tied up solely in his ability to smack singles -- something that's easier to do against Triple-A pitching than versus Pedro Martinez. It seems like he'll be given plenty of rope to hang himself this spring."

    I guess the governor granted him clemency.

    6) Can Guzman Rebound?
    6A) If he does fail, is Royce Clayton (especially at $1 million!) the answer?
    It's pretty sad when you think that Guzman's shoulder problem is a loss. Clayton is Guzman without an upside. As of last report, Guzman's doing better, but still isn't good. I really can't see him avoiding surgery which would take him out for the season, most likely. Clayton most certainly isn't the answer, and Jim Bowden didn't do anything to address this position in the offseason. What if Clayton's batting .200 through May? There isn't anyone ready in the farm. Do they play Brendan Harris at short and completely punt the idea of defense? Bowden's going to have to do what he does best: scrap the bottom of the waiver barrel.

    7) How's Livan's knee?
    It's hard to argue with the 1.80 ERA he's put up. Even more impressively he struck out 13 batters in 20 innings. Livan's K rate has been falling the last few years, which isn't a good sign for the future. I think much of last year's decay was because of his knee and his inability to push off. If he can, and he gets a little life back on his fastball, it's going to be a good year for el caballo.

    Still, the WaPo reported that he had a slight limp as he was running to first on a 3-1 putout.

    8) Will We Be Saying "Livan and Nasty, Then Pray For Something That Rhymes With Nasty?"
    I even wrote that question before Lawrence went down.
    Ortiz:    6.08 ERA; 4.9 K/9;  3.4 BB/9;  1.5 HR/9
    Astacio: 10.50 ERA; 2.3 K/9; 3.8 BB/9; 0.8 HR/9
    Armas: 7.36 ERA; 6.5 K/9; 4.9 BB/9; 0.8 HR/9

    Small sample size caveats apply, of course. Still, that's dreck.

    If/When Ortiz and Astacio flame out, Jon Rauch is available to step in, as are Billy Traber and Steve Watkins, who were both dominant this spring.

    Traber seems like the more intersting player. A former first-round draft pick, Traber put up some decent years in the minors before having to have Tommy John surgery. 2005 was his first year back, and he pitched with mixed results. If he's healed, and he can build on the gains he made this spring, this could be Jim Bowden's finest signing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. (STATS)

    Then there's my personal favorite, Ryan Drese. He's still working his way back from his torn labrum, but should be ready in a month or so.

    Although things look shaky now, if Jim Bowden doesn't mind shaking things up, there's plenty of depth here for him to squander away.

    9) Who winds up in the pen?
    If there's a bright side to Luis Ayala's injury, it's that it freed up a roster spot in the pen. And like with the starters, Bill Bray, Jason Bergmann, and some other scrubs make a capable reserve corps in New Orleans.

    10) How Important Are The Stats?
    Very important if you're Ryan Church!

    Here's what I said: Not very. Spring Training stats are dangerously misused. Batters don't come to the plate too much in the thirty or so games they play, and they're not always facing the best pitchers or fielders. Spring training is more about scouting than stats. The team's personnel need to look and see how a hitter is doing. Is he making hard contact, hitting line drives that are being caught? Has he lucked out with a few bloop singles? Unforunately, those are things that aren't really clear from the box scores. We have, at best, an incomplete picture. At worst, a misleading one.

    I stand by that. And perhaps there was something to that with Church. While it's frustrating to hear the team rip something as stupid as 'body language' as a reason for his demotion, it's possible that that's a code for something else. This is the kind of thing that, if they had more space, I'd expect the beat writers to cover. As it is, they usually only have enough room for the basic storylines/notebook updates. Alas.

    The other advice I gave in last months' posting is especially appropriate considering the crappy quality of play: "Most importantly, don't worry about wins and losses. They never reflect how a team will actually do."

    We can only hope so. All I know is that the ledger is wiped clean. And when Brandon Watson steps into the box against Tom Glavine on Monday afternoon, we're back in first place, if only for three hours.

    Down To 25

    The Nationals made their final few moves, getting the roster down to 25. Michael Tucker was released, making Daryle Ward the 25th man. Wiki Gonzalez thankfully won the catching derby over Alberto Castillo, who will probably go to New Orleans. Joining him there will be Kevin Gryboski, and Travis Hughes.

    Catcher (3): Schneider, Wiki, LeCroy
    Infield (7): Johnson, Vidro, Clayton, Zimmerman, Anderson, Ward, Jackson
    Outfield (4): Guillen, Soriano, Watson, Byrd

    Starters (5): Livan, Patterson, Armas, Astacio, Ortiz
    Pen (6): Cordero, Majewski, Rodriguez, Eischen, Stanton Rauch

    Feeling lucky?

    AL Preview

    Back by no demand whatsoever, and using the artform most abused by dorks like me on the internet, it's my season preview. Today, the American League in haiku. Feel free to bookmark, and point out my failings come October.

    Yankees (94-68)
    Mercenaries all:
    At first Randy now Johnny
    Samson's hair is shorn.

    Red Sox (92-70)
    Old Monster looms high
    Not just Manny, but Schilling
    fighting off line drives

    Blue Jays (85-77)
    Ka-Ching goes the cash
    Full of J's, both B and A
    Snap! Goes the elbow

    Orioles (78-84)
    Smack right in the butt
    goes a vial of B-12
    making Leo rock.

    Devil Rays (67-95)
    Ding Dong! Vince is gone!
    Please pay no attention to
    Last place or curtains.

    Indians (94-68)
    Young, experienced
    We could have had a threeway
    They failed us last year

    White Sox (92-69)
    Small ball was their key
    or so the lazy scribes said
    Two hundred home runs!

    Twins (83-79)
    Inflatable Roof
    plastic grass and Hefty bag
    Why watch them? Johan!

    Tigers (70-92)
    Despite the new park
    fans will turn away in droves.
    So will Tiger wins.

    Royals (59-103)
    Owning this team is
    like walking on broken glass.
    Wal Mart takes returns?

    A's (93-69)
    Statheads love their Beane
    even if Beane makes them crap
    out in the playoffs

    Angels (88-74)
    Anaheim and now LA.
    Just call them second.

    Rangers (81-81)
    Sans Soriano
    ERA drops like a ball
    hit hard at his glove

    Mariners (72-90)
    Smash! past second base
    And now Ichiro rounds first
    stranded by Beltre.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Start The Damn Games Already Edition

    More Church fallout....

    The team didn't like his body language. Seriously. Privately, the Nationals didn't like Church's body language on the field. As one person put it, "It's as if he's not even there on the field."

    Beltway Boys wonders about the double standard:
    Alfonso Soriano says for three months that he wouldn't play the outfield, finally relents and botches a bunch of balls, and all that is said is that "as long he continues to improve, we're happy." But Ryan Church, who has done all that was asked of him, who is a proven major league hitter, was sent down to New Orleans in part because of his "body language?"

  • Church wasn't the only transaction yesterday, it's just the only one I yelled at. Nationals Farm Authority has a look at the others.

    Cliff's Notes version: Church, Jason Bergmann, Brendan Harris were optioned to the minors. Bill Bray was reassigned to the minor league camp. Royce Clayton and Daryle Ward were added to the 40-man roster.

    Ward is battling Michael Tucker's corpse for the final spot on the 25-man roster. Who should you root for? Sweet, merciful death, no doubt.

    Pravda's beat writer parrots back the party line:
    Ward, who started the spring on a Minor League contract, was a long shot to make the team. But he impressed management with his bat and was put on the 40-man roster on Tuesday. The drawback, though, is Ward is a liability at first base. Robinson has already said that Ward will not play the outfield, a position he played with the Astros.

    Tucker, who has a non-guaranteed Major League contract, is a better defensive player than Ward, but Tucker has looked overmatched at the plate for most of this spring. He has also looked slow in the outfield.

    See! That death option's looking pretty sweet now, isn't it?

  • Notes on Notes: Gleefully stolen from various notebooks:
    --No decision on backup catcher. It's Wiki or Castillo. Offense or Defense? Take your pick.
    --Travis Hughes is out of options, and will likely be exposed to waivers. With other teams on a roster crunch, his chances of clearing are good. Although it's bad to lose pitching depth, Hughes is the kind of player who can be skimmed off the waiver wire at multiple points throughout the season -- no big loss.
    --Kevin Gryboski has pitched well, but will likely start in New Orleans.
    --Ward's contract is for $700K; Clayton's for $1 million
    --Livan pitched well; his knee seems fine.
    --Bowden now thinks that Zimmerman has 30-40 homer potential, that he can walk on water, and that he would have already developed a method for cold fusion, were it not for Ryan Church's meddling.
    --Bowden sez: "To me, it has been one nightmare after another. It's like I am working for the fire department and putting out fires every day." Reminds me of this woman.

  • Also from "Robinson believes that Watson's promotion will send a message to the Minor Leaguers in the Nationals organization that they have a chance to make the ballclub."
    Like Bill Bray, Jason Bergmann, Travis Hughes, Steve Watkins, Billy Traber, Brendan Harris, and Rick Short, huh?

    Federal Baseball Diariest (cha cha cha), King, takes a look at the spring training numbers and half wonders why the team is making some of the choices it is. Guaranteed contracts have an amazing sway, no doubt. They're the reason these players are coming north, of course, but it does show you how meaningless Spring stats are for the most part.

  • Ball Wonk wonders about the defense with Watson in center and Soriano, who's admitting that he stinks, in left. El Wonko's suggestion is to mark each defense-aided hit with an E-GM on your scorecard. Good idea!

  • Nasty Nats has already polished off Barry Svrluga's new book, and he shares an especially telling quote from Jim Bowden's son.

  • Federal Baseball forced himself to listen to Jim Bowden on the radio, and provides a transcript which shows why Bowden is so good at what he does. If someone doesn't really follow him all that closely, his self promotion, hucksterism, and ability to spin the bejeesus out of even the most dire of situations results in that person thinking that Bowden knows what he's doing. Look! He SOUNDS like he knows what he's talking about. He MUST know what he's doing then. A perfect GM for Washington, that's for sure.

  • Today's must read, as per usual, is Distinguished Senators. What do Jim Bowden, visions of hell, Tygers, and William Blake have to do with one another? The literate one lets you know.

    The Post's stories are in, before I'm heading to bed. There's a profile of Jose Guillen that accentuates the positive without eliminating the negative. He's a crazy man! Two things stuck out 1) Barry confirms the 5-$50 million offer to Soriano; 2) he confirms what we suspected, that it was Guillen who tipped Frank Robinson off about Brendan Donnelly's gobs of pinetar during the Angels series.

    His notes column says that Livan is limping to first when he covers, and says that Majewski was battling a chest cold (explaining his recent suckitude).

  • Boswell's An Idiot

    Boswell has one of his big, sweeping columns that is written really purty and would make your great aunt wonder how Boz got to be so smart. But it's full of inaccuracies and distortions as Boz continues the sportswriter's tradition of distorting the facts to fit the hokey beliefs they already have.

    The column's title is his thesis: "For Many Teams, Small-Ball Efforts Are Being Richly Rewarded." That's well and good, but it's kind of fun watching him contort the facts in the manner of the best Washingtonian Party Hacks.

    Let's count the ways:
    1: "...from the mid-market teams in last year's World Series..."
    Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. Chicago is the third. (source)

    2:...these are days when dollars well spent can put you in the postseason....
    As if the World Series has been dominated by the Yankees (well, maybe there!), Mets, Red Sox, Angels, and Dodgers.

    3: Japan paved the way to its championship with four runs without a single hard-hit ball. You'd have thought that Scott Podsednik, Tadahito Iguchi, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski -- the modest top five hitters in the White Sox' order last October -- were playing for Sadaharu Oh's club.
    Podsednik won Game 2 with a home run. Jermaine Dye won the MVP primarily for his big homer. In the regular season, Konerko hit 40 home runs; Dye hit 31. As a team, they hit 200 homers. During the four games of the World Series, they hit six.

    4:...clubs like both the Nats and Orioles should, in the future, be able to pay enough to compete on this more level field.
    The Orioles have always been near the top in payroll, and never had any success. It wasn't because of steroids. Syd Thrift would be at the top of the list. They had the resources, just not the people in place.

    5: It's no accident that the rise of mid-market teams has coincided with the decrease in performance-enhancing drugs
    Drug testing has been in place for one year -- two years if you include the penalty-free year. Mid-Market teams have always had a chance. He wouldn't call 2004's Boston/St. Louis matchup a mid-market one, would he? Even if St. Louis is a much tinier market than most people realize.

    6: The tiny yards of Philadelphia and Cincinnati would have added dozens of homers for Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson...
    Not so much a quibble, but it should be pointed out that Willie Mays played a large portion of his career in the Polo Grounds, which was one of the most homer-friendly ballparks in baseball history.

    7: The sport doesn't have parity. (Who wants it? Too boring.) But the Marlins did win the '03 title with an Opening Day payroll of only $48,750,000, less than a third of the Yankees whom they beat in the Series. And the Twins and Athletics, among others, have contended often with modest payrolls.
    Nothing wrong there, but doesn't his acknowledgement of this completely valid point INvalidate his central thesis?

    8: The teams that spot the next trend most quickly and adapt their rosters to capitalize on it will get the most value for their dollars in coming years
    Hmmm.... Didn't I read this somewhere? I can't remember where though.

    9: So far, the Nationals and Orioles certainly seem to be early adapters.
    If the next trend involves signing too many second basemen, demoting your second best offensive outfielder, and signing Jeff Conine, then I smell a pennant!

    10: ...rather than getting more power hitters to replace Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro....
    Sammy Sosa in 2005: 14 homers. Rafael Palmeiro in 2005: 18 homers. Wow, what power.

    11: If the Orioles can patch together an adequately deep bullpen, which still seemed problematic in spring training, the Birds may finally end their streak of eight straight losing seasons.
    Count the qualifiers in that statement. Even Boz doesn't believe the crap he writes.

    12: It's hard to build a team on a sensible budget that can win lots of 3-2 and 4-3 games if you play in a home park where rival sluggers don't have to "get it all" to get it out of the park.
    I'm not going to deny that Camden Yards is better place for hitters than Memorial Stadium was. But this myth of Camden Yards as a homer haven just hasn't been borne out by the stats. The Orioles have run some craptastic pitchers out there over the last decade, which has distorted the perception.

    In 2005: LHB hit 6% fewer home runs than league average, RHB just 1% more.
    In 2004: LHB hit 7% more; RHB 5%

    Yes, it's more, but it's not Cinci or Philadelphia.

    13: General Manager Jim Bowden who has spent the last year retooling his personnel to suit his park
    That would have been a perfectly fine sentence without those last four words.

    14: So, the Nats have signed Jose Guillen and Nick Johnson, two such hitters, to multiyear contracts.
    Jose Guillen at RFK: .238 AVE; .323 OBP; .343 SLG; 3 Homers; 22 RBI
    He's PERFECT for the park, Boz!

    15: Finally, Alfonso Soriano, who was traded for upper-cut-swinging Brad Wilkerson, is also an all-fields, line-drive hitter.
    Soriano is an extreme flyball pitcher -- one of the most extreme in the league. His Groundball/Flyball ratio was .69 last year, and it's .78 for his career. Wilkerson's is roughly the same, .82 for his career.

    Perhaps Boz missed the 42 doubles that Wilkerson hit last year (to lead the team). He definitely missed the 39 that Wilkerson hit in 2004, since he was playing in Puerto Rico and all. Soriano cranks out doubles, to be sure, but it's not because of his line drive swing (watch the way the guy follows through with his swing, his hands are up over his head fer crissake!), but because his moonshots are crashing off the wall!

    16: It's no accident that Vinny Castilla, Preston Wilson and Wilkerson -- who all fit the mold of big-fly all-or-nothing sluggers who will never hit close to .300 in a big ballpark -- have left the organization.
    Who brought in Castilla and Wilson? I can't remember. Want to know how many Nationals hit .300 at home last year? None. You knew that. Only Nick Johnson was close, at .297. Next closest? Ryan Church at .276. (Where's he now?) Jose Guillen, who Boz assured us was perfect for the park hit .236. Brian Schneider, another player Bowden signed to a long-term deal (apparently because he was part of Bowden's new-found offensive strategy) batted .225 at home. Here's the whole farkin' list.

    17: If the Nats play with the team unity and fundamental soundness of the first half of '05, then all these theories may have some meaning.
    I'm glad to see that the Nats lost because of team unity.

    Here I was thinking it had to do with their complete inability to hit the ball with any regularity, and the fact that the team ran out of pitchers because their short-sighted GM traded them away for a crappy second baseman and a gimpy outfielder whom Boz just acknowledged was a #$# fit for the freakin' park!

    18:However, if their defense remains as unfocused as it has been in Florida and if their lineup lacks internal chemistry, as it did in '05, then all the Nats' smart talk won't count for much.
    What the feck is 'internal chemistry'? Is that some sort of new-fangled chemistry? Did Kevin Millar bring that down from Boston with him?

    As far as the 'smart talk' not counting for much, I think you know what I'm betting. It's interesting, too, that Boz isn't trusting the smell of his own crap here either -- he's written another out into his grand unified theory.

    Boz' theory could be rewritten: If the Nats take advantage of their park, they could win a lot of games, unless they don't. Gee thanks, Bernstein. Where do we send the Pulitzer?

    19:But, as Opening Day arrives, at least 20 teams are firmly convinced that their budgets will not prevent them from making the playoffs. Once you reach October, as teams like the '02 Angels, '03 Marlins and '05 White Sox showed, nobody weighs your wallet before handing you the World Series trophy.
    Just like last year when 20 teams had a reasonable shot at the playoffs. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. It sucks for Royals and Devil Rays fans that they feel they have no shot, but their beef isn't with the Yankees or the Sox, it's with the utterly incompetent management in charge.

    And how come Boz is using the Angels as an example of this? He already demonized them as one of the big spenders who's crapping all over the small market buffet! Which way is it Boz?

    Someone put him out to pasture, please!


    A poster at Baseball Primer sums up my feelings about this perfectly:
    This is the kind of analysis that you sort of wish were true, because it's so rhetorically well-crafted, taking a bunch of occurrences and weaving morals and trends out of them. Good writing makes sense of the world. Boswell is a very good writer. The topos: less is more. Makes sense to me.

    Then again I look at the American League and see that the four defending playoff teams are from Boston, New York, Chicago, and L.A. of A. -- your basic huge markets, none of them hurting for payroll. The smartest and smallest-ball of them just took on huge contracts in Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, your basic fence-busters.

    To say nothing of the deeply massaged assertion that Alfonso Soriano is somehow not essentially a home-run hitter.

    Sigh. I think that sometimes writers who perceive trends actually weaken their argument by trying to make all the evidence align with the trend they're pushing.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    What Do 50 At Bats Mean?

    The team is going to defend Ryan Church's demotion by pointing to his .200 batting average in spring training. Just for the hell of it, let's look at the 2005 season, and see what 50 AB samples get us.

    I'm using Baseball Musing's wonderful day-by-day database, which uses Retrosheet's information to extract all the wholesome goodness therein.

    I'm pulling these dates out completely randomly, so bear with me:
    9/12 - 10/02
    Brad Wilkerson: .222
    Ryan Zimmerman: .419
    Jose Guillen: .125
    Ryan Church: .200
    Brandon Watson: .083

    4/14 - 5/2
    Cristian Guzman: .310
    Brian Schneider: .222
    Ryan Church: .188

    6/12 - 6/31
    Jose Guillen: .350
    Brad Wilkerson: .236
    Vinny Castilla: .196
    Wil Cordero: .083

    The point I'm trying to make -- and I'm not sure that just throwing numbers up there makes it -- is that 50 or so ABs is pretty meaningless. Even good hitters can have bad stretches like Jose Guillen and Brian Schneider did above.

    Maybe there's something scouting-wise that we're not seeing, but no one has reported it.

    All we have to go on is that the team made a decision mostly based on the performance of one batter over another in 50 spring at bats. This, despite, over 2,000 professional At Bats by each player which indicate a clear superiority.

    Fifty at bats, in the scheme of things, is pretty meaningless. Is the team really basing its decisions on that?

    A Tale Of Two Outfielders

    Let's play a little game with two outfielders. Just for the sake of argument, we'll use some completely random initials like RC and BW.
    RC BW
    Batting Average .343 .318
    On-Base % .428 .360
    Slugging Average .620 .378
    Home Runs 17 3
    BB/Game .52 .26
    R/Game .76 .63

    RC BW
    Batting Average .294 .297
    On-Base % .397 .344
    Slugging Average .518 .357
    Home Runs 42 2
    BB/Game .56 .27
    R/Game .65 .62

    National League
    RC BW
    Batting Average .266 .175
    On-Base % .335 .250
    Slugging Average .423 .325
    Home Runs 10 1
    BB/Game .24 .04
    R/Game .36 .32

    Source: RC Career Stats; BW Career Stats

    Let's say that we also know that RC is a pretty good defensive centerfielder, and that in the minors Baseball America had voted him as the organization's top defensive outfielder. Let's say that anonymous sources were talking to the media about BW, saying that he's probably not capable of playing center in the majors defensively.

    Let's say that certain people, say JB for the sake of argument, recently raved about RC's swing, and how quick his hands were. Does that change anything?

    Who would you want on your team?

    How about one more set of stats?
                RC     BW
    Batting .200 .311
    On-Base .323 .368
    Slugging .273 .344
    SB 1 7

    --Spring Stats--

    Sticking with your decision? Do these 55 ABs by RC or 61 ABs by BW mean more than the ones they've put up in every other season? (BW has 2965 professional ABs; RC has 2257)

    If you're the Washington Nationals, they do. Brandon Watson is heading north, and Ryan Church begins the season in New Orleans.

    Others can rip the hell out of the decision and the decision-makers. (Federal Baseball has a perfectly amusing example)

    But as I was trying to think about why a team would do something this stupid, especially in light of the whispering campaign against Brandon Watson that started this very morning, I started to wonder if it was Frank's call.

    Frank has praised Brandon for his effort this spring, and has compared him positively vis a vis Endy Chavez, last spring's CF speedster project. Might Bowden have let Frank make the ultimate call? Hopefully one of the beat writers will fill us in a little more tonight and in the morning.

    I suppose that it's good that the team is showing that they're serious with the level of dedication, but I don't understand how it makes sense that Church gets lopped off for having some hits not fall in, and Pedro Astacio/Ramon Ortiz survive the axe despite letting hits fall in everywhere. I suppose that that's the difference between having a multi-million dollar guaranteed deal, and being under the clubs control.

    Sucks to be Ryan Church. And sucks to be the National's offense. It's certainly worse off tonight than it was this morning.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    What's $50 Million Between Friends?

    We know that Jose Guillen is jonesin' for a new contract. What's he really worth?

    With the way that he and the team trailed off, it's easy to forget just how amazing his first half was: .310/ .360/ .539 with 18 homers and 51 RBI.

    We easily remember that he had huge difficulties hitting at RFK, with just 3 homers at home. He hit just .238/ .323/ .343 at home, but blistered opposing pitchers to a .320/ .351/ .591 line on the road.

    Certainly some of it was psychological, but much of it is because he has the wrong sort of swing for the park. Guillen's power is to center and right-center -- two places that are absolutely unforgiving in this park.

    All-in-all, he's an above average outfielder. He's not a cornerstone player, but he's a very good complimentary hitter. If he's batting fifth or sixth for you, you've got a pennant-winning offense. If he's batting third or fourth, you better have a damn good pitching staff. Over the last two years, Guillen's offense has been roughly 20% above league average. And if he had been healthy last year, he would've approached the 140% rate he had in his wonderful 2003 season. (STATS) To put that in perspective, someone with a 140 OPS+ is a top-10 hitter, the kind of player that you CAN build an offense around.

    How much is that worth though? For simplicity's sake, let's compare him to other rightfielders. I'm using ESPN's leaderboard and comparing him to the RFers four places above and below himin terms of OPS.

                      OPS   WARP  CONTRACT
    Bobby Abreu 879 7.0 5-$64 million
    Jermaine Dye 846 5.7 2-$10.15 million
    Jay Gibbons 833 4.9 4-$21 million
    Shawn Green 832 6.1 3-$32 million
    Jose Guillen 817 5.2
    Jason Lane 815 4.1 1-$450 thousand*
    Emil Brown 804 4.5 1-$1.775 million**
    Juan Encarnacion 795 3.7 3-$15 million
    Ichiro Suzuki 786 8.4 4-$44 million
    * Lane is still under the team's control.
    ** Brown is still arbitration-eligible.
    OPS is on-base + slugging, a good shorthand measure of offensive productivity.
    WARP is Baseball Prospectus' attempt to explain how many wins better a player is than the crap a team could pick up for free if there was an injury. (Think Michael Tucker!)

    Jose Guillen wants 5-$50 million, and the Nats have reportedly offered 4-$25ish -- basically Jay Gibbons money.

    At the Nats price, that's a clear bargain. At Guillen's price, it's not. Bobby Abreu, a clearly superior player, is making $12.5MM or so. Ichiro is making 'just' $11MM per season. Is Jose Guillen as good a player as either? I can't see it, even if you ignore the off-field crap.

    And that's the thing that bothers me about both offers. Would you commit to Jose Guillen for five years? Would you commit to him for even four? Would you just have him committed? [Rimshot!]

    How's he going to react when Frank Robinson gets the Gold Watch? How's he going to react if Soriano hits up a storm and starts stealing some of his limelight? How's he going to react if the team wants him to sit because of a strained muscle?

    We don't know. And given his track record, I don't really think we want to find out.

    Jose Guillen is the ultimate 'lightning in a bottle' kind of performer. He's wonderful on a short deal where, if he explodes, you can just move on. But if he goes apeshit ballistic, like he did with the Angels when Mike Scioscia pulled him for a pinch-runner, and there are still 3 years left on the deal? What then?

    That's why, if I were Bowden, I wouldn't even give him four years. (Well, actually, the first thing I'd do, were I Bowden, is phone Guillen's agent to tell him that we're not going to be negotiating unless Guillen is a model citizen this year, and then the second thing I'd do, were I Bowden, is resign.)

    I think I'd rather pay a higher yearly salary for fewer years. At this point, there's no way that Guillen would accept a two-year deal. But would he take 3-$30?

    Assuming there was an owner in place, what would you offer?

    Fouled-Off Bunts: I Have Too Many Windows Open So Don't Expect Anything Coherent Edition

    I missed this last week, because updated its story several times, but Jim Bowden apparently offered Alfonso Soriano a 5-year $50 million contract extension, which Soriano had turned down. I recall that Ken Rosenthal and Tom Boswell both speculated that that could happen, but this was the first time that I've seen reference to it actually happening. I'll spare you the analysis now -- I'm sure you could fill your own in!
    Soriano said: "It's not the money. It's about me, the love that I have for the game and the fans. It's more important for me to play the game. If I worried about the money, I would have taken the $50 million when [Bowden] asked to sign to stay in Washington."

    It is believed that the Nationals offered Soriano a five-year, $50 million extension.

  • The griping about Soriano has begun. He misplayed a line-drive to left-center yesterday, and Jose Cardinal says that he's not shagging enough flyballs to get ready (When did they start hitting liners when shagging?) WaPo says that Soriano blows Cardinal off. says that Soriano "hasn't been available."

    Meanwhile, reports that Frank Robinson pulled Soriano aside and told him to run hard to first. Soriano loves to showboat watch the ball, and in this case, he didn't run a flyball out. That's one of the maddening things about Soriano, and could be a flashpoint with a redass manager like Frobby. Remember, he was on Guillen's case for that last year.

    Interestingly, Jim Bowden did a few innings of the Nats game on Friday night, and embarassed himself with his huckster fanboy impersonation. After Soriano cranked out the homer to left, Bowden screamed, bellowed, cheered, and pratically soiled his pants with excitement. Then, on the replay, Bowden pointed out how much he loved Soriano's SWAGGER! and confidence in just standing at the plate admiring his homer. Perhaps he'd like to talk to Frank about that?

  • While we're talking about disgruntled outfielders.... Jose Guillen's sciosciometer is rising. He wants an extension, and he wants it now! Jose SMASH!
    He declined to talk about the type of contract that he wants, but according to two sources, he wants a five-year deal worth $50 million. However, the Nationals are offering a four-year deal that would pay between $6.5 and $7 million per season. Washington is not planning to go to the $10 million per year range, according to one source

    5-$50 Jose? Good luck with that one. Even a four-year deal is a bit much. You just never know when he's going to blow up. $7 million is a pretty good deal for the production he provides though.

    I'm sure this story'll stick around for a few days.

    Regardless, there's a chance that Guillen starts the season on the DL, and that he wants to be sure he's healthy before playing. (Interesting how this is a priority in a contract year, huh?)

  • also reports that the Nats were (are?) close to trading Joey Eischen to the Tigers for Nuke Logan. Logan is less than useless, but Eischen isn't anything special. The article says that that would free up a spot for Bill Bray to be a second lefty, although it seems like he's not necessarily the most deserving.

    One thought though.... Joey Eischen was re-signed as a free agent. Isn't there a rule that signed Free Agents can't be traded until June (or something like that?)

  • The same article contains this laughable assertion: "One source also said that Washington is looking into the possibility of trading outfielder Michael Tucker, who has looked overmatched at times this spring."

  • Saturday, everyone was worried about Zimmerman's errors (except Zimmerman, who blamed the boredom of spring) FRobby didn't like that answer, and talked to him: "Robinson talked to the rookie near the batting cage and told him to watch what he said. Robinson didn't like that Zimmerman wasn't that concerned about his defensive lapses.

    "He said nothing was wrong with what I said, but it might have come out wrong," Zimmerman said."

    So how did Zimmerman respond? Two two-run homers'll get FRobby off your back!

  • Patterson looked great, again. Tony Armas stunk. Regardless, the rotation is set -- by default, as it were.

  • Speaking of default... The Church/Byrd platoon that I've been pushing since God knows when seems like it's going to finally be a reality.

  • Federal Baseball notes a report that Brad Wilkerson is having shoulder problems, even if the MRI didn't show any problems.

  • Down with Comcast! organized an Anti-Comcast rally with a bunch of area politicians (including an alleged anti-semite/Wil Cordero All-Star) lobbing veiled threats at Comcast. District of Baseball was there, and has a first-hand report. The WaPo has a story, and the AP carries Comcast's side. Me? I wish they'd both burn in hell. (Why is my basic cable bill over $50 a month now??)

  • Hey, did you know the Nats Farm System sucks? The basic article mentions some of the changes they've put in place. Meanwhile, NTP wonders what could've been.

  • Distinguished Senators has his always enjoyable Season Preview, now with less swears! (Comparatively) On the Nats: "DFL isn't a very reliable guy, and he'll probably be spending his summer in Detroit or Milwaukee or somewhere like that, leaving us to suck really bad." Who's DFL? You'll have to click to find out.

  • Friday, March 24, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Pay No Attention To The Bats Behind The Curtain Edition

    Ramon Ortiz finally pitched like a major league pitcher. His six shutout innings helped the Nationals to a 1-0 victory. The particulars? Five hits, zippo walks, and two strikeouts -- it's that last number that's not particularly encouraging. Shutting out a team is nice, but it's the lack of any sort of dominance that's worrying. Still, it's an improvement over the all-line-drive pitching approach he had been using to this point.

    While the focus is on his pitching, and the fact that the Nats managed to make it through a game without an error, it hides the fact that the offense did nothing. Four singles hardly counts. Even more than last year, the Nationals are going to be a team that's going to need to string a few hits together to score runs. When those hits aren't coming, we'll see those familiar dead innings. But on the bright side, their offensive approach makes the games go by quicker!

  • The team made more cuts. NFA has the boring details. Of note, Mike Difelice, the backup catcher who once assaulted a girl and burned her, was reassigned, and is likely to take his pathetic aging carcass to soil another team's uniform.

  • Have no fear. Soriano's only hitting leadoff now because of a need to get him ABs, since he missed so much time with the WBC.

    In the same article, Ken Wright demonstrates why I'd never hire him to manage my baseball team: "So that's begs the question: Who is going to lead off this season for the Nationals? With shortstop Cristian Guzman likely opening the season on the disabled list, veteran shortstop Royce Clayton seemed a likely answer."

    Clayton's career OBP? .313.

    Thankfully Frank is a bit smarter than that: "Anybody can be the leadoff hitter if you put them up there, but no, I don't see Royce as the leadoff," Robinson said.

    Phew! Wait... Frank? Why are you still talking? "I would see Royce, if he's going to hit in the top somewhere, as a number 2-type hitter."


  • Tim Kurk....Jian reports that the Nats (and by that, I mean the tools-obsessed GM) were interested in Tigers outfielder Nook Logan (STATS).
    5 reasons why trading for Nuke Logan is a bad idea:
    1) He's an outfielder. We have enough of them!
    2) He makes Brandon Watson look like a Ruthian slugger.
    3) Even the Tigers are having a hard time finding a place for him.
    4) He's like Ichiro -- without the batting average or charisma.
    5) A wacky name does not a good ballplayer make. (See also: Dawkins, Gookie)

  • Tonight's game is on UPN-20 (or whatever the hell they're calling themselves this week) at 7. There's nothing else on tonight of interest to the local sports fan, right?

  • DC's CFO did a study of the ballpark and concluded that it's going to be a cashcow for the new owners (and presumably a tax windfall for the city). The study says to expect over $200 million initially before leveling off at 'just' $190 million per season. That would place the Nats in the top-3 of revenue-generators.
    "Any kind of number north of $200 million that doesn't include TV [revenue] sounds astronomically high to me," Nationals President Tony Tavares said.

    In particular, Tavares and two people who formerly held business positions at Major League teams said the report's figures on ticket prices and revenue generated from tickets appear to be too high.

    The number certainly does seem high, but keep in mind that MLB has a long history of doing everything in its power to pretend that revenues are lower than they actually are. It's awfully hard to scream for public subsidies when you're diving into your money bin Scrooge McDuck style.

  • WaPo writes about the adjustments that A-Sor is going to have to make to play left. Some of the players interviewed think that it's going to be more difficult than people assuem.

  • Boswell chats at 11 today. Potential questions:
    --Now that he's moved to the outfield, will this affect Sorian's VORS (Value over replacement Swagger)?
    --Is WASH=Ing/TON the best baseball city or what?
    --When do we get a new owner? (as if he has any freakin' clue!)

  • Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Now About The Actual Games Edition says that the Nats MVP might be Alberto Castillo. He's the one who helped convince Soriano to move to left. (Might that help his chances of breaking camp as the team's backup catcher?)

    Other notes from the column:
    --If Vidro dies, Damian Jackson moves to second. (whither Marlon Anderson?)
    --Pedro Astacio finally threw well, shutting down the Triple-A Round Rock Express. 7 Ks and 1 BB are a GREAT sign.
    --Jose Guillen played again. He went hitless, but he's still reporting no pain (Not that he'd tell anyone anyway!)
    --The horribly struggling Ramon Ortiz pitches against the Orioles and John Halama tomorrow. Buck says that Frank has a $500 bill for each Nat who homers of Halama.
    --In today's game, Kyle Denny stunk, and Steve Watkins looked solid. You've gotta think that Watkins will be the first name called once the next arm falls off.

  • Catching up on other stuff from the last few days...
    Armas looked good:
    Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. pitched three shutout innings against the Dodgers, and pitching coach Randy St. Claire said that Armas appears to be in top form like he was in early 2003 before he tore his labrum and rotator cuff in his shoulder.

    "His fastball has some riding life like it used to have," St. Claire said "He was a guy that used to throw four seamers up in the strike zone at 93, 94 mph. This past couple of years, he hasn't had that."

  • Nationals Farm Authority provides the Cliff's Notes version of a Baseball America interview with Nats Farm Director Andy Dunn.

    Key point: Kory Casto will stay at third, not second like the team had talked about. They want him to focus on his hitting, rather than trying to learn a more difficult position.

  • Nationals Farm Authority also notes that the Nats have named a few roving minor league instructors: Dante Bichette, Darnell Coles, and Keith Moreland. NFA points out that Coles and Bichette aren't strangers to Jim Bowden; surprise, surprise! They were former Reds!

  • Federal Baseball turns the keys over to a guest writer, who takes a look at the lineup for next year. Brandon Watson hitting 9th? Looks good to me!

  • The Montgomery Biscuits are having a turn-back-the-clock radio broadcast. Their pxp guy will be at the radio station, having codes sent to him via instant messenger which describe the plays on the field. There, he'll recreate the sound effects just as they did in the early days of baseball broadcasting. Sounds interesting, and I wish I could hear it!
    [update: I should've checked the dateline! I got this from a message board, and didn't check the date. Apparently this happened last year! Nice idea though]

  • Official writer of Capitol Punishment, Jonathan Mayo, wrote a story about the New Orleans Zephyrs and their partnership with an organization to help rebuild New Orleans. I highlighted the story last week, and the donation page is now up. If you want to help the Zephyrs and Frank's Magical Builders rebuild a local Boys and Girls club, you can find out how at their website.

  • Boswell chips in and writes one that's already tabbed for his next book. It includes this gem, which is certain to get the crusty vets on the BPG forum riled up:
    Until such time as the Nats are offered a quality third starter in trade and he can escape, Soriano is being paid $10 million to hit 30 homers, steal 30 bases and not get killed in left field. Just because he's a speedster, he'll be better than past hard-hitting Washington left fielders like Frank Howard and Roy Sievers. "He'll be better than they were the first day," Robinson said.

    Did you ever really look at Frank Howard's numbers? He was a butcher in the field, but an absolute monster with the bat. Look at what he did and remember that he was putting those numbers up in the 1960s, which is the lowest run-scoring environment in MLB history. For his career, Howard had an OPS that, when adjusted for league and environment, was 42% better than the average player -- and this includes the decline at the end of his career. Alfonso Soriano, on the other hand, has never had even ONE season with an OPS that high relative to his league. His career high came 4 years ago and was 'just' 31% better than average.

    It's a rough day when I'm forced to side with the BPG crew.

  • Two More Words On Soriano

    I know, I know... I'm getting sick of him too. Soon enough we'll be able to refocus our energies on hating the style of play, not the players themselves! Before we get there though...

    Mike's Baseball Rants tried to put what Soriano was doing into the context of the eternal struggle between labor and management in Major League Baseball. He expresses the same sort of perverse disappointment that I felt with Soriano's decision to play. Now we'll never know what would've happened.

    What Soriano was attempting to do was pretty monumental, and was going over uncharted territory. While it's easy to point to his $10 million salary and yell at the bum to move over, it's important to keep in mind that he's still treated like property, having not yet attained six years of major league service time. As a result, he's bound by the contract terms he signed way back in 1998. And while, yes, he freely signed that contract and has cashed checks for many more millions than I'll probably ever see, don't let our envy of his pay affect the principles of the issue.
    Back in the day, players argued that they could not be held to a team in perpetuity as some sort of chattel. Fights flared up with John Montgomery Ward and the Players League rebellion in 1890, Danny Gardella challenging being blacklisted after playing in the then-rival Mexican League in the late Forties, and Curt Flood famously refusing to report to the Phils—I can't blame him—after a trade in 1969.

    Those players were fighting for the right to play for the team they wanted at a fair market value. That's a right that the players later won to some degree. That is, players must complete six seasons of major-league service to earn the right.

    Soriano, though he may not have known it, was fighting for a player's right to play a role that he desired, the one that he felt was best for his career in the long run.

    Yes, it's a bit silly in a practical sense to compare what the millionaire Soriano was doing to Curt Flood's momentous stance (if you don't know Flood's story, read this!), but when you strip away the salary, it's the type of battle that might not have looked so out of place thirty years ago. Does a player, who is still his club's property, have any input into where he plays? We won't know now. Soriano's ultimately correct decision to take his place in left robbed us of the chance to find a resolution to that. Another day, perhaps.

  • The other story I wanted to point out is from one of my favorite baseball writers, Buster Olney. When he's not shilling for things his employer pushes on him, he's an excellent writer who sees things that other writers miss. I've heard a few writers who've seen him work, and they speak with a strange reverance about Olney's approach. He's quicker than them, and he sees more than they do. (And he usually writes better than them, too!).

    At any rate, he used to cover the Yankees for the NY Times, and knows Soriano from that. He wrote about Soriano in his ESPN Insider blog. The link works for me, despite its supposed Insider status. (Thanks to Kyle for the link)
    You can already get a sense how the winds of sentiment are shifting in the Alfonso Soriano matter. Some folks are talking about him as if he's baseball version of Terrell Owens, and that is simply untrue. He is a good guy, easygoing, and in the seven years I've known him, I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone else. He's not going to start dumping on Jose Vidro, taking teammates down with him.

    Soriano's a tough and determined person. When he was a teenager, Soriano signed his first professional contract with a team in Japan, and upon arrival there, he found, much to his chagrin, that not a single member of the organization spoke Spanish extensively; one teammate exchanged a few rudimentary phrases with him....

    [Soriano] forced himself to learn Japanese as quickly as possible. When he first came to the big leagues, he would greet some of the players from Japan with great enthusiasm -- Tomo Ohka [me: uhoh, don't tell Frank!], Ichiro Suzuki -- chatting in Japanese.

    He had a great spring training in 2001, and the Yankees, in an effort to find a place to play him, shifted him to left field. Soriano enthusiastically embraced the opportunity and played terrifically at the position, running down balls in the gap; he seemed like a total natural, as if he was the next Mickey Mantle, who had shifted from shortstop to the outfield, like Soriano was trying to do....

    It would have helped the situation markedly if the Nationals had talked to Soriano about the shift before penciling him into left field. The club is saying that they were not given permission to talk to Soriano, but back-channel talks go on all the time in baseball. They could have posed the question through a friend, or off the record through the agent, or through a mutual acquaintance. This apparently did not happen.

    And while the Nationals are justified in thinking Soriano would be better in left field than second base, handling it the way they did was simply disrespectful of Soriano's belief that he is a second baseman, and that his market value as a free agent next fall would be greatest at that position. As a historic offensive second baseman -- and Soriano's production numbers are off the charts among his peers -- he might figure he could make $12 million or so, for five or six years. As a corner outfielder, his market value would be much less than that. You might argue, rightfully, that nobody will pay him that kind of money, but you have to respect that this is what his opinion apparently is. This is why the conversation needed to take place in December, rather than February and March.

    Olney clearly thinks he's a good kid, and from my days as a fan of that other team, I'd agree. It's just been one big foul up after another since we first got word of the trade.

    But it's over now. Soriano's in left, and it's time to move on. He's an exciting, dynamic player, even if you'll gnash your teeth at some of the pitches he swings at. But when he's going well, he'll do something once a week that'll bring one of those subconscious smiles to your face -- the kind where you wind up shaking your head and chuckling out your nose.

    What's done is done. And I'm happy to have him.

    Now about that General Manager....

  • Don't Play Chicken With A Crazy Man

    It appears that Soriano has blinked. WTEM just reported that he's going to play today.

    Updates later as more comes in....

  • Ladson gets the scoop:
    Alfonso Soriano has decided to play left field in the Nationals' Spring Training game Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team spokesman said.

    Soriano, who on Monday refused to take the field for a game against the Dodgers at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., told on Tuesday that he would think it over about playing and he would talk it over with his agent and wife. Apparently he had a change of heart after those discussions.

  • Svrluga updates his story:
    But on arrival in Jupiter, catcher Alberto Castillo said Soriano had told him on the bus that he would accede to the club's wishes and move to the outfield.

    A Nationals official also said that Soriano told Robinson that he would play the outfield....

    Castillo said that Soriano had talked over the situation with his family and decided to accept a move to left field.

    "I told him this is a job, this is a business," Castillo said. "It's going to be very hard for him, but after talking with his family and everybody else, he's going to go try and enjoy the outfield."

  • Frequent Commenter BoteMan is at the game, and has set up a temporary blog and is audiocasting the event. He has his first report up -- Soriano's 0-1 with a long fly ball.

  • The Baltimore Sun is doing a better job of keeping us updated. Roch Kubatko is blogging and has a few nuggets. First, he says that Soriano would prefer to play center and Frank is open to the idea. He thinks that Soriano looks pretty good out there, too.

  • So, how'd he do? He went 1-3 with a double and a walk. Seems like he did ok in the outfield, and he did have an outfield assist, doubling off a runner at second.

  • Did you know that there's an official MLB Chatroom on AOL? Me neither. But this guy was there, and he recorded all the gritty details when inJapan_Bowden was talking to BallparkFrank. l8r.

  • D-Day For Soriano

    I'll be updating this as new crap comes in... keep scrolling.

    Today's supposed to be Alfonso Soriano's last shot, and he's unsure whether he's going to play:
    "I'm going to think about it. I'm going to talk it over with his [sic]wife and agent, [Diego Bentz]," Soriano said when reached by phone. "I want to play, but they have [Jose] Vidro at second base. I will make a decision [on Wednesday morning]."

    Does that sound like the beginning of someone caving in?

    Ladson tells a story which just adds to the confusion:
    According to two baseball sources, bench coach Eddie Rodriguez wrote two lineups on Monday. The one without Soriano's name in the lineup was on the clubhouse bulletin board for most of the afternoon.

    "With me, I'm thinking I'm out of the lineup," Soriano said. "Before they made the lineup, I told them if I'm not playing second base, I do not want to be in the lineup. Nick Johnson called me at that time and he told me that they had me in the lineup, but [nobody showed up]. Now I look like the bad guy."

    Huh? My reading comprehension sometimes sucks, but I'm still trying to see if I get this right... Because Eddie Rodriguez is a feckup (reason #1,376 why he needs to be shitcanned), Soriano didn't know he was in the lineup, so even if he had wanted to play, which he's made clear he wouldn't have anyway, he couldn't have? Huh?

    Soriano, it seems, is feeling the pressure of yesterday's stunt. The team did an excellent job of shifting the public's ire from Bowden's incompetence (highlighted by the Sheinin piece in the Post which noted that Bowden made the trade EVEN THOUGH he knew that Soriano was opposed to moving) to Alfonso Soriano's decision.

    Tin Foil Alert: Did the lineup card get switched at the last minute to make him look bad? Why would Eddie have two lineup cards? We want answers, Bill! Of course if they make the front office look bad, we'll have to turn to another source....

    Regardless Soriano is now realizing that his petulance, especially at storming out of the clubhouse during the game, only intensified the focus on him, and was a bad case of crisis management. Now he's apologizing to the press for not talking. Damage control, for sure.

    Meanwhile, Svrluga's article raises, and sort of answers some of the questions I asked yesterday:
    Soriano's impending free agency could be a determining factor in the continuing conflict, and it's a point the union may argue if the Nationals put Soriano on the disqualified list. The Nationals and Major League Baseball officials believe that a player on the disqualified list doesn't accrue service time. Soriano has almost 5 1/2 years of major league service time, and must get to six years to become a free agent. If he were to remain on the disqualified list, management argues, he would not have his six years, and therefore would not become a free agent at the end of 2006. Instead, he would remain Nationals property.

    Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, however, doesn't explicitly state that players on the disqualified list don't accrue service time, and the union, should it get involved, might argue that Soriano should earn credit for his time even if he ends up on the list.

    Emphasis added, of course. That doesn't quite sound like the open and shut case that Bowden was crowing about yesterday, does it?

    I'd argue, regardless, that Soriano is going to be a free agent at the end of the year. If he gets his service time, it's clear. If not, he'd still be arbitration eligible, and there'd be no way the Nats would tender him a contract next year. (A wrinkle COULD be whether his current contract would carry over to the next year, but let's not think about that now; my head would explode!)

    I have no idea how tomorrow's going to turn out. Nothing, at this point, would surprise me.

    I do know, however, that for the first time in my life, I can heartily endorse this Tony Kornheiser column and/or product.

  • ESPN's Roger Cossack weighs in and says that Soriano is fecked. I dunno. It doesn't seem that clearcut to me.

    MLB and the Union recognize that there's a difference between 2B and OF. When they compile Free Agency rankings, they list them in two separate categories because the demands for each position are different. If they both agree that they're different, couldn't that be used as an argument that Soriano can't be forced to switch? Just sayin'....

  • Bowden in Bowden's own words:
    Had any of us felt that Alfonso would not play left, we would not have made this deal. But you can’t make that decision after the fact....

    Texas refused us permission to talk to him before the trade. We still felt it was a worthwhile gamble because of our offense the year before and his athleticism.
    Every decision you make as a GM influences your future. And not all moves work out. If Soriano had agreed to play left, hit 40 homers and driven in 100 runs, they call you a genius.

    When he refuses to play, you get criticism and rightfully so....

    When deals don’t work out, the GM takes the heat. I accept the responsibility.

    As all things are with Jim Bowden, it's all about him, isn't it? And isn't he setting himself up perfectly for being the conquering hero should Soriano blink? Can't you see the track-suit-wearing Buttafuocoite strutting around as if he were king of the world? Is your bile rising too?

  • The NY Times gives an overview, and includes this anecdote, indicating A-Sor's stubborness isn't new:
    Last May, Soriano pouted when Rangers Manager Buck Showalter removed him from the leadoff spot and dropped him to fifth in the batting order. Soriano said he viewed himself more as a base-stealing threat than as a power hitter despite consistently ranking among the American League leaders in home runs and strikeouts.

    Just fix it, Frank!

  • WTEM is reporting that Soriano is in the lineup today, leading off and playing left. No word if he was with the team when they left for Jupiter, where they're playing the Cardinals.

  • The Eagle has boarded. Repeat. The Eagle has boarded. He's on the bus, but still unsure if he's going to play; he's talking to his agent. A compromise perhaps -- his agent could play left?

  • WTEM says he's playing. I'll be updating here.

  • Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Defending Soriano

    I'm loath to do this, because i really can't stand what the miserable SOB is doing, but I can also sort of see where he's coming from -- even if I don't completely agree with it.

    Soriano is being asked to move to an unfamiliar position in an unfamiliar league on an unfamiliar team. And he's balking at it. While his refusal is certainly precedent setting, is it completely unrealistic?

    If the Nationals had moved Brad Wilkerson to second base, he likely would have complained, and we would have sided with Wilkerson, most likely. If the Nationals wanted Soriano to catch or to pitch, we'd likely agree with him, too. Is asking him to move from second to left materially different? While left field is an easier position than second, it's still a completely different position -- one he doesn't know, and one he doesn't have much of a desire to play. Where's the line between asking him to move to left and catcher? Is it because of the difficulty of the new position? Would it change if Soriano were a Gold Glover?

    I have answers to most of those questions, but I'm not confident that they'd be right -- especially from a legal/arbitration sense.

    While it's easy to say he should just move, and to compare the situation to you being transferred to another position at work, it doesn't really work that way. Because of the CBA and his lack of service time, Soriano has very little control over his work environment. Soriano last had input into his career in 1998. He can't just up and quit if he didn't like the department he was transferred to like you or I could. Bowden even said the uncomfortable truth: "He would still be our property." Needless to say, the connotation of that last word isn't helping anything.

    And that's Soriano's problem. That's the same problem he had when he was in Japan. When he signed a contract with the Carp as a teenager, he went to their training academy. When he blossomed and showed promise he had a chance to play in Japan, but was miserable. He also saw dollar signs, and the restrictive Japanese system gives players even less control over their contracts than MLB's does. As a result, he found a loophole. He simply retired from Japanese baseball. In doing so, he sat out an entire season, and was officially free from the Japanese League's reserve clause. He then declared himself a free agent, and set sail for America, where the Yankees swooped in and made him a millionaire.

    Seeing any parallels?

    And, if I had to bet, I think that that same sort of scenario is going to play out here. Even if Soriano sits on the DQ list and doesn't accrue service time this year, are the Nats really going to go to salary arbitration with him next year? It's likely that they'd non-tender him, making him a free agent one way or another. You're not going to tender a $10 million contract out of spite! Soriano's showed a willigness to sit out a year. Why would this season be any different, especially with as little respect that Jim Bowden has shown him (not saying that he deserves respect, but I suspect we'd feel differently if we were Alf!)

    There has to be a middle ground in there somewhere, but with the stunts that have been played so far, I think the bridges may have been napalmed back into the stoneage.

    Admit it though.... there's a part of you that hopes he's still around just so that you can boo, right?

  • Needless to say, other Nats bloggers have their say:
    --Nats Blog says that Soriano's a jerk and that Bowden's a laughingstock
    --Federal Baseball says it's a tale of lust.
    --Oleanders thinks Soriano's a jerk, but that Bowden's ultimately at fault.
    --Nasty Nats wants to get rid of Soriano.
    --Curly W brings the bitterness and the swears!
    --Triple Play hates Soriano for making him side with Bowden.
    --Beltway Boys reluctantly supports Bowden's actions.
    --Just A Nats Fan has a first-hand account from a reader about how it actually played out at the game last night.

  • Monday, March 20, 2006

    Soriano Fires The First Shot

    We don't know who shot those fateful first few shots at Lexington and Concord in 1775, but we know who fired the first one today.

    Penciled into the starting lineup with a big ol' 7 next to his name, Alfonso Soriano sat in the dugout while the team marched on the field, a yellow-bellied deserter.

    "We told him if we get to Thursday, and he refuses to play left field, we told him at that point we will request that the commissioner's office place him on the disqualified list, at that time -- no pay, no service time," Bowden said.

    "If he refuses to play and goes home, and the commissioner's office accepts our request to place him on the disqualified list, then at that point, if he were to sit out this year, he would not be a free agent, he would stay our property because his service time would stay the same."

    I'm weeding through the CBA now to see what I can dig up. The 'no service time' angle surprises me, and, if true, is going to be the sword of Damocles perched over his Curly W. Soriano, I THINK, is at 5.078 years of service time. You need 6 full seasons to qualify, so he only has a week or two of the season to play around with.

    Verrry interesting! And more later as I figure it out!

  • Here's the piece that Dave Sheinin wrote earlier this spring on the 'what ifs' if Soriano refuses to play. There's nothing about the disqualified list per se, but he does sort of layout the timeline for the dance we're about to go under: team takes action, Union appeals, etc.

  • From the CBA (Text page 77, PDF page 88):
    For purposes of calculating credited service, a Player will be
    considered to be on a Club’s Active List if:
    (a) placed on a disciplinary suspension by a Club, the Vice
    President, On-Field Operations or the Commissioner, or on the
    Disabled List;
    (b) called to active military duty for up to two years or if called
    to emergency duty by the National Guard for a period of up to
    thirty days.

    Is the disqualified list separate from disciplinary suspension? The lack of capitlization on 'disciplinary suspension' makes me wonder if that's a catch-all category.

  • Also from the CBA (Document 148, PDF 159):
    A Player who properly has been placed on a Restricted List
    for either failing to report to his Club or failing to contract with it,
    or who properly has been placed on a Disqualified List for failure to
    render his services to his Club, shall be eligible to become a free
    agent as provided in Article XX, if otherwise qualified as set forth
    therein. Upon becoming a free agent, such Player shall automatically
    be removed from the Restricted or Disqualified List and reinstated
    to active status.

    "If otherwise qualified"? That's the key phrase. Soriano, as of today, isn't qualified. Assuming a full year on the list, would he have the proper amount of service time in accordance with the last excerpt I posted? On the surface it seems not, but there seem to be enough vagaries here that I'm not sure anyone could be certain -- all pending on what the definition of "disciplinary suspension" is and whether Soriano's actions would qualify as that. We know where Bowden stands, at least.

  • Ladson's article's up. (I wonder what Rocket Bill thinks of the Wilkerson trade now?)
    Soriano declined several times to make a comment and left the stadium by the second inning....

    "If he refuses to play and he goes home, and the commisioner accepts our request to place on the disqualified list, if he were to sit out, he would not become a free agent," general manager Jim Bowden said....

    According to one source familiar with the meeting, Soriano asked Bowden the same question he asked Robinson a few hours earlier: "Why didn't you try to talk to me before you made the trade?" Like Robinson before him, Bowden informed Soriano that the Rangers would not allow the Nationals to talk to him until everyone in the trade took their physicals.

    Soriano was acquired from the Rangers on Dec. 7 for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and right-hander Armando Galarraga.. The trade didn't become official until December l3 because Wilkerson won [sic] on a trip to the Bahamas. [me: Blaming Wilkerson again! ;)]

    Soriano responded by saying, "[Not granting permission] should have told you something."

    Good report by the Rocket Man.

  • There's a thread on this at Primer. There might actually be some useful info there -- or it could just devolve into a Bowden-bashing thread, which we all probably need at this point anyway! ;)

  • Svrluga's article is up.
    He left the ballpark in the second inning after a clubhouse attendant drove his white Cadillac Escalade nearer to the back entrance of the stadium.

    As he walked to the parking lot, Soriano declined to comment on the situation, as he had all day. Asked if he would play Wednesday, he said only: "We'll see. We'll see. I don't know."...

    Robinson said he would not give Soriano any time at second. "If he's going to play here," Robinson said, "he's going to be out in left field."

    Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said in San Diego that the league is advising the Nationals on the legalities involved. Ultimately, though, "it's a player-club issue," Manfred said. Commissioner Bud Selig and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players' union, declined to comment. It's possible, though, that the union could eventually take up Soriano's case, arguing that the club would be diminishing the player's value by moving him to left. [me: if that's the argument they're going to use, they're going to get their ass handed to them.]