Monday, October 31, 2005

Fouled-Off Bunts: Part Two, The Link Dump

Lotsa extra non-bloggy goodies today....

  • The Nationals are apparently interested in luring Bobby Valentine from Japan. Lots of people hate Bobby V. He's an agressive, wiseass personality. But he wins. His teams play hard. They play smart. But his personality dominates the team, and becomes the focus. And lots of people have a problem with that.

  • Sports Network, some sort of wire service, ran a generic recap of the Nats season. You won't find anything surprising here.

  • Moon Gwang-lip reviews the performance of Koreans in baseball. Didn't we used to have one of those? Oh yeah:
    Kim Sun-woo kept a low profile early in the season. In the 12 games he played for the Washington Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, he posted only one win and ended up being abandoned.

    Only moving to the Colorado Rockies in August, the 28-year-old found what he couldn’t find at the Nationals. With the help of Kim Byung-hyun, now a teammate, he learned how to bring his genius into full play.

    He clinched five wins in a row including a shutout in a game against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 24. And the final result was six wins and three losses with the ERA of 4.90, the most glittering one in his five years’ struggle in the Major League. It certainly seemed to have satisfied the Rockies’ management and shed a bright light on his prospects for years to come.

    Kim, however, had difficulty controlling the ball in some of his appearances.

    ``Moving into another team turned out a to be a good opportunity for me,’’ Kim said.

    ``I learned many things from (Kim) Byung-hyun and I discovered the ability that I am supposed to have. I was not good at the final games, but I don’t give much care to that. As I get older and older, I think I become more confident.’’

    Abandoned is certainly the right word! :)

  • The Pitt Post-Gazette has an interview with Tim Grubbs, who did the PBP for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Nationals Triple-A team. It goes into his background, but also how he and the team were affected by the hurricane.

  • Community Service. Charity. Blah Blah. Apparently the lack of Nationals power makes kids go hungry at night.

  • Your non sequitur of the week goes to Mike Wise and his column about Freddy Adu:
    In the most hideous performance at RFK Stadium since Frank Robinson let Cristian Guzman hit, D.C. United lost its chance to defend its championship, and perhaps its 16-year-old sapling of a soccer star.

    It's funny because it's true. Misery truly loves company, I suppose.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: Blogger Backslapping Edition

    Just a quick update on the contract status of a few players. Seven have officially filed for free agency (in order of competence), Esteban Loaiza, Preston Wilson, Joey Eischen, Deivi Cruz, Tony Armas, Carlos Baerga, Gary Bennett. Yick! Loaiza and Eischen are the only ones the team will pursue.

    Free Agency is just a formality. It doesn't mean that players are coming or going, just that they want to be able to shop around their services.

    One interesting thing... The Federalist and I have been talking, trying to get to the heart of the arbitration rules. He's finally posted on it, using his advanced legal degree from a fancy institution of learnin'. Me? I've got the diploma I printed out from one of those spam ads. (Tip: Yellow highlighter is perfectly acceptable in lieu of gold foil embossed seals)

    At any rate, the 20% maximum paycut that we've mentioned from time to time doesn't apply to regular free agents who undergo arbitration. It only applies to those who haven't yet attained free agent status -- players like Nick Johnson. So Preston Wilson, COULD have his salary cut by more than 20% were he to accept arbitration. Still, there are other reasons to not offer him a contract (which the team isn't planning on doing anyway.) And if I ever get off my lazy butt and finish up the Campaign '06 series, I'd argue that again....

  • If you read one thing this week, make sure it's the latest celebrity profile in McCall's. If you read two, make it this interview with Shawn Hill, one of the few relatively bright spots in the Nationals farm system. Nationals Farm Authority got off his keister and did actual reportin' and stuff, contacting Shawn and getting some non-cliched answers from him. Great job by NFA!

  • Our friends at Nats Blog apply the Leonard Koppett managerial test to Frank Robinson. See if you agree with their conclusions.

  • Just a Nats Fan listened to the radio, and heard an interview with Jeff Smulyan. She has the complete rundown, including all the insipid soundbites I'm coming to expect from him.

  • Nationals Interest, apparently a closeted Dodgers fan, rips them for their firing of DePodesta. A commenter claims that he's from the area, and throws him out there as a possibility for this team. I dunno. I think he got a raw deal in LA, but it does seem that he failed at some of the things a GM needs to do -- it's more than just player evaluation.

    But I bring this up moreso for the Bowden possibility. His wife is an 'actress' and I would imagine that Bodes wouldn't mind being closer to her and where the action is. LA is presumably going to want a more traditional baseball man as leader, as evidenced by their soon-to-be interview of Pat Gillick. Bodes is reportedly in the good graces of Tommy LaSorda, and would probably make the short list.

  • Finally... Curly W has a contest. I think Basil's winning so far.

  • Friday, October 28, 2005

    Adjusting The Margins

    Cap'n Leatherpants continued his Man of Action motif yesterday. Not only did he put crayon to paper on a six-month extension, but he hopped right into the transaction fray, signing two infielders, Damian Jackson and Bernie Castro.

    Neither is going to remind anyone of Barry Larkin or even Randy Velarde, but taken together, they exemplify what Bowden does best -- bringing in spare parts to supplement a team. His problem has been identifying the core of a team, hoping that his spare parts will grow into the role. Needless to say, that's a strategy that rarely worked.

    Let's start with Bernie. I haven't seen details, but I'm pretty sure he was given a minor league contract. That's where I expect him to end up. He had a cup of coffee with the Orioles at the end of the season, but he's not especially young. He'll presumably stay in NO where he'll be Vidro injury insurance. If Vidro goes down, we won't need to trade John Patterson away for 3 months worth of Junior Spivey.

    His main asset is speed. He's a fast runner, with excellent base-stealing ability. He doesn't have much power, but he has a decent batting eye, and doesn't strike out a lot. He handled himself well in the short time he was in Baltimore. Essentially, he's a faster version of Jamey Carroll.

    Damian Jackson was signed to a 1-year $700,000 major league contract. He'll be on the bench as the jack of all trades. It's a good signing. Jackson is the perfect player for the National League. He can play competently at every position, giving the manager plenty of late-game double-switch options. He has excellent speed, and is a great base stealer (15-2 last season; 132-36 for his career).

    He's not much of a hitter, with an OPS+ hovering near 90. (Remember that 100 is league average) But that's better than Jamey Carroll's 70 or Carlos Baerga's 78.

    But you're not signing him as your top PHer. He gives the team the late-inning speed it lacked, the versatility of playing multiple positions (including short stop!). Given this team's injury history, that's especially vital.

    It's a good job by Bowden.

    Nationals Farm Authority, who also writes about the transactions, speculates (and laments) that this could mean the end of Jamey Carroll's tenure. I'm not so sure.

    Carroll is arbitration eligible, meaning he'll get a handsome raise, but he's not going to be rich overnight. While Carroll isn't especially great, he's a hard worker, a good ambassador for the team, and appears to be a genuinely nice guy. There's some value in that. Hopefully they can work out some sort of deal before the arbitration process. Maybe an extra year or two in exchange for less money? I'd hate to lose him.

    NFA also notes that Bowden has said bye to Deivi Cruz, and that he would like to keep Junior Spivey. The Spivey thing seems to me, as it does to NFA, like a ruse. Spivey is also aribitration eligible and will be making $4 millionish under the process. Unless he's starting (which would mean a trade of Vidro -- a good thing, but that's a topic for another day!), he's not worth the money. But Spivey, even at that price, could be tradeable. When push comes to shove, though, I really don't think they'll be extending Spivey's contract.

    But as he's shown several times, you're never quite sure what Bowden is going to do.

    MASN Expands

    Have Charter as your cable company? No? Me neither. Does anyone? If you do, you're in luck. You get MASN now. Left out in the cold are the 99.34% of the area that has Cox or Comcast.

    I guess that MASN'S logo is meant to represent the hoops you need to jump through to see the games.

    Pass The Red Face Paint

    Tom Boswell's back with his Red NATS #1!!! Foam Finger.

    I have a weird attitude towards Boz. I enjoy his writing, and his passion for the 'idea' of baseball carries his columns. But sometimes his analysis -- especially when it's blinded by the color of his glasses -- makes me shake my head. He's a brilliant baseball mind when he wants to be. And he's all-too eager to snarl at the stupidity of the average fan, or at least that's the condescending attitude he sometimes gave during his weekly chats.

    He's at his best when he's a cheerleader, the leader of the pep rally. He tries here, but some of his analysis falls short.

    His column looks at the Chicago White Sox, and says, "Why not us?" It's an interesting topic. He looks at market size, revenue potential, and the core of the team, and concludes that there's no reason we can't win. He's right about all that, but as he's wont to do, he ignores the points that weaken his claim.

    He extolls the virtues of the smallball style of play the White Sox supposedly play, and notes that that's how the Nationals won. Lots of people made the smallball point in the aftermath of the World Series, yet they ignore how many homers they hit in the postseason and throughout the regular season. In the World Series, their three biggest hits were all homers: Konerko's slam, Podsednik's game-winner, Blum's extra-inning shot. For the season they outhomered us by almost 100. True that some of that is park-related, but they had power that this team lacked.

    Earlier this season, the Nationals weren't winning because they were bunting or stealing bases. They were winning because they were ripping extra-base hits all over the park. To claim that it was smallball that was causing the team to win is revisionist history.

    Another point he makes that bothers me is about the new owner's payroll. And this is something we're going to have to look out for. Jerry Reinsdorf has owned the White Sox for a quarter of a century. He sure as hell didn't pay $450 million when he bought the team. Whoever the new owner is is going to be leveraged to the hilt. They're not going to be able to bump the payroll up significantly, because the banks who are giving them the loan will be knocking down their doors demanding payments.

    His overall point that all teams can compete is correct. But it comes down to good management. If you're Gerry Hunsicker (who really laid all the groundwork for the Astros) or Billy Beane, it can work. The question is whether Jim Bowden is that sort of competent manager? Boswell seems to have faith. Do you?

    MoreOn Bowden

    The Post and Times have their respective stories on Bodes' contract extension.

    The Times story hits on what this means for Frank Robinson's future. Reading between the lines, Frank will have more time to play golf next year:
    manager Frank Robinson and his coaching staff still have no idea whether they'll be back in 2006. Both Tavares and Bowden said yesterday they'll try to hold off making that decision until the club is sold.

    "As long as the ownership situation is resolved in a reasonable amount of time," Bowden said. "We're hoping to wait for the new owner for many of these decisions. But there may come a time where we can't wait any longer, and we'll make the decision and go forward."

    Bowden has said that he'll hope to make that decision by Thanksgiving, but does that mean there'll be new owners by then? The owner's meetings are 11/16-17. So hopefully.

    Both articles emphasize how tight Bodes and Tavares are:
    "He's got a vision," Tavares said. "He's got a plan, and he sticks with his plan. I think for all those reasons, and the fact that he's a very hard-working guy -- I'd stack him up with anybody in that GM's capacity -- he deserved this."

    That's a lot of manlove.

    At least the team has some stability. Our friend, the Federalist said it best:
    No matter what one may think of Jim Bowden, I surmise most reasonable people would find agreement that it's hard to make decisions when there's no decision-maker. Bowden is our decision-maker at present, and decisions must be made, and they can't be made in the absence of a decision-maker. Faced with the choice of decisions or no decisions, one probably must side with "decisions," even if that means that Bowden is the guy still doing the decision-making.

    All of which is a long of way of saying, "Eh."

    Thursday, October 27, 2005

    April For Fools

    Jim Bowden's contract was officially extended through April, giving him a sixth month reprieve, and the franchise some stability as it lists into the offseason.

    Nationals Farm Authority takes a look at several other front-office announcements that were made as well -- the front office has been reorganized. Read him for the details.

    But he points out one of the bright sides -- that Bob Boone's new promotion (to assistant GM) means that it's less likely that he'll be taking over in the dugout.

    Still, as I said the other day, I think that its dead man walking for Frank. Tavares and Bowden seem to be in each other's corner and Tavares really doesn't like Frank. Unless Frank makes sweeping coaching changes (Bye McCraw, Huppert and Buford), there's no chance he comes back. If he does agree to those changes, he's probably 50-50.

    Bowden obviously wanted some certainty. Still I wonder whether this six-month deal would be enough to keep him from another job, such as in Arizona? Does he have an out? Is this just a bargaining chip with AZ? Look, I've got alternatives, I don't need the D-Backs! Or does he have assurances from one or more of the lead groups that they'll keep him around post-April? You'd assume that the groups had to tacitly endorse the extension in the first place. Can you tell that I don't really know?

    A Developing Situation

    Franklin Haney, the fifth man in a three-team race to own the team, has made another splash, offering to pay for any stadium cost overruns in exchange for develpment rights to the ballpark district, if he gets ownership of the team. Currently, any cost overruns would be the responsibility of the city.

    So although his announcement won't really affect MLB's attitude towards him that much, it could have a huge influence on the DC politics -- he's hoping to win them over to help them exert influence in the process. There will certainly be cost overruns -- the dirty secret of stadium building (as Milwaukee is still finding out!)

    But there's another possibility, given one blogger's intrepid reporting. Just A Nats Fan recently did a post on the various ownership groups.

    Yesterday, as she blogged about last night, she started getting lots of searches for info on Haney, including one from one of the competing, learned groups? Maybe it's just research? Maybe it's just a coincidence? Maybe it's a sign that they're looking to consolidate? Take me on as part of your group, and I'll run the development for you? Who knows! It's speculation at this point.

    With the World Series over, hopefully they'll have news on the owner. The endgame is near. (Of course I've said that 14 times before.... but this time I mean it!)

    An Ode To Pants

    I sat in my chair last night, watching the final out of the World Series, seeing sheer joy play out in front of me, a joy I didn't share.

    I thought back to when my original team first won back in 1996. I know, I know... no one likes to hear a Yankee fan reminisce about winning, but we hadn't won anything back in 1996. It was all new. I remember having a room full of people huddling around the only TV on my dorm's floor, cheering so loudly that one of the RA's from two buildings ran over to yell at us.

    The feeling I had when Charlie Hayes closed his glove on the foul pop was one I'll never forget. So although I didn't share in the excitement of the White Sox fan, I can relate. Read the sheer joy at Black Betsy. They joy of winning is fun to see, even if you can't share in the complete emotion. If your team has won, you know the elation. If it hasn't, you've got something to look forward to.

    The end of the game did fill me with a little sadness though. The season's over. All the games have been played. And the Washington Nationals' first season is completely over. Quite a ride.

    As they showed Ozzie Guillen, Fox flashed one of their ubiquitous graphics, noting that he is the first Chicago manager to win the World Series since Pants Rowland. What a name. I know a bit about Pants, if only because of that name and what he accomplished. Pants died in 1969, almost forty years ago, and had a relatively short career as manager, given his successes.

    But he won. And that's why, 88 years after his accomplishment, he's still remembered. As the Prospectus cliche goes, Flags Fly Forever. And the memories of the games leading up to those flags stick with you. I remember Paul O'Neill's hobbling catch of a vicious liner to right-center that saved a game. White Sox fans are going to remember Juan Uribe leaping high into the stands to rip a foul ball out of the air, turning a strike into an out. Those memories will stay and be treasured.

    Somewhere in Chicago, a few people have memories of Pants. And their children and grandchildren have memories of stories about Pants. Winning is special.

    I can't wait to experience it here.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    The Future Is Now

    Nationals Farm Authority continues his march through the barren desert of the Nationals farm system with his top-5 lists.

    He looks at Vermont, where former first-round pick Clint Everts began his climb back from Tommy John surgery.

    And also at the Gulf Coast League, where the Nats got some surprisingly good offensive performances.

    Rooms To Let, Fifty Cents

    The Moonie Times finally does some actual reportin', uncovering one of the key holdups in the drawn out lease negotiations: MLB wants to weasel out of its financial responsibility. Shocking, huh?

    This holdup centers on disasters. In the case of terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake, plague, another Bonus March, alien invasion, or just a stiff breeze, MLB doesn't want the team to have to pay rent for games not played.

    Don't you wish you could tell your landlord/mortgage company that you're not going to pay for nights that you don't spend in your house? Wouldn't that be great?

    The catch is that DC needs those rent payments guaranteed for all thirty years because their Wall Street overlords demand it. Those Wall Street overlords mean business. They're not going to have faith that DC will honor its obligations -- they want to see the cash flow in writing before the next Marion Barry takes over.

    The answer:
    Mark Rosentraub, a sports economics professor at Cleveland State University, said insurance usually will cover any business loss resulting from switching stadiums and that all the parties must decide is who pays the premium.

    In the District, any losses resulting from war or terrorism likely would be covered by the federal government. And closure of the stadium because of weather-related problems like a hurricane is viewed as an unlikely event, meaning premiums are relatively low.

    OK, so that shouldn't be too hard to solve then. But then reality slaps me aside the head and I realize that we're dealing with MLB and the DC Gov't. A match made in hell.

    The WaPo also notes that MLB may be backing away, in the interest of expediency, from the newly created requirement that the lease be done before ownership selected. Unfortunately, it's another throwaway quote from Bob Dupuy, which, if you parse it correctly, doesn't actually mean anything:
    If negotiations bog down, "then we will have to review the situation," DuPuy said yesterday in Houston. "We have to get the new owners in place before next season. It's not fair to the new owners to not have this done."

    Ifs and thens are easy outs for MLB.

    While that's all going on, DC took control of 16 pieces of property at the stadium site, after having worked out deals with the 7 others. As part of the eminent domain process, the residents have ninety days to clear out, unless a court orders an injunction. And even Harriet Miers knows that that's unlikely to happen given the Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision.


    Welcome Back, Welcome Back

    Barry Svrluga rediscovers that there's a major league team in DC, writing about them for the first time in a few weeks. And he's got big news: the team is trying to extend Jim Bowden's contract. Arizona has interviewed him at least once, and is very interested in him. He's also been connected (if only in rumor) to Philly and Tampa Bay. With competition for his services and no clear replacement in house (nor ownership to actually find a replacement), the team feels it's in their best interest to lock him up.

    I'm not JimBo's biggest fan (duh), but this is probably a smart move. If Barry's report is right, it would just be a one-year extension. Essentially he's working on an at-will basis now. The one-year contract would give him some security and give him another year.

    In the meantime, he gets to play the part of Jack Torrance as caretaker, hamming it up, running around like a madman, wanting to butcher the team. (On a side note, have you seen this? [big download] Most of you probably have. It's a re-edited trailer, casting it as a romantic comedy. It's better than it sounds!)

    More importantly, because it's a one year role, when and if a new owner comes in, there's no reason they can't dump him out behind the trailer in the parking lot and bring in their own guy.

    But this makes me wonder a few things....

    First, didn't one of the ownership groups say that they'd keep Bowden on board? Could this be an indication that MLB is leaning that way? (Does anyone remember which group that was?)

    Second, this is probably the end of Frank. Tony Tavares openly criticized him recently, while praising Bowden extensively. If TT is covering for Bodes, you've gotta believe that he's going to give him authority (or even the mandate) to wack Frank.

    Given what TT revealed about Frank's lack of focus and preparation, that's probably a good thing. (Unless Jimbo's choice is Bob Boone, one of the worst managers in major league history.)

    While extending Bowden isn't the ideal, nothing this team does is ideal. But given the patchwork circumstances, this is about as good as we're going to get. And with the free agency process set to begin as soon as two weeks from tonight, the extension is probably what's best for everyone.

    (I can't believe I just typed that!)

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Campaign '06: First Base

    The Incumbent, Nick Johnson

    Nick Johnson was the one National who exceeded expectations, and the one National who most lived up to them.

    The latter first: He played in just 131 games. That's his career high. He can't stay healthy. Last year it was a bad back and a broken face. This season it was a heel. Next season, a pulled urethra? who knows? On one hand it's hard to say he's injury prone -- it's not like he's Ken Griffey blowing out his hamstring three nights a week. They're all separate injuries, but add them all up, and he's missed half a career. Do we have any reason to believe that he can stay healthy next year? Probably not. But as they taught me way back years ago in Boy Scouts, Be Prepared -- more on that later though.

    Now that the ugly's outta the way, let's get to the good: Nick's bat. He set career highs in most every major category. On a team of hackers, his steady, patient at bats stood out like a fanny-pack-wearing tourist in Georgetown.

    One at bat in particular sticks in my mind. Against Greg Maddux, with the team down by one, NJ out-waited Maddux. NJ knew that Maddux would likely be pitching around him. Ball. Ball. Ball. 3-0, Maddux got the gimme pitch, to bring it to a 3-1 count. Then he laid a sinking fastball low in the zone and Nick Johnson got the pitch he had been waiting all AB for, golfing it deep to the mezzanine in right field.

    That's typical Nick. Too many other batters on the team would swing at the first good pitch. Some of Maddux' pitches were tempting, but Nick knew that he'd eventually have to give in.

    He's not the ideal cleanup hitter. He's not a slugger, but his level, line-drive swing, combined with his excellent eye would make him a perfect 2 or 3 batter.

    Nick Johnson is still under the team's control (assuming the no-brainer decision of arbitration). He made just $1.45 million last year. He's sure to double that, at least, this season. He'll still be a bargain.

    Despite the injuries, he'll cruise to an easy reelection.

    The Issues:
    With the incumbent's uncertain health, it's important to have a strong, commanding vice -- someone with gravitas.

    The Nationals are in luck. Brad Wilkerson, the jack of all trades, plays a capable first base -- which he did during Nick's Achilles slumber. (That Brad chose that month to forget how to hit is a separate matter!)

    But it's still important to have depth, preferably someone with some right-handed sock. They could spell Nick when appropriate. And if they can play an alternate position, all the better.

    The Contenders:
    Jeff Conine: Mr. Marlin lost lots of his power (park? age?), but still got on base. He can play the corner outfield and is an excellent defender at first. I'd be surprised if the Marlins didn't re-sign him anyway.
    Julio Franco: Older than Bobby Cox, but man, can he hit -- especially in a platoon role. He's one of the few batters (three, I think) to hit an opposite field homer at RFK.
    Wes Helms: Half the age of Franco, and capable of playing third. He's another all-or-nothing hacker.
    Olmedo Saenz: Back from the dead, he's always been a great platoon player. Hypothetically he could fill in at third, but he's a miserable fielder.

    A less than inspiring slate of candidates, huh? I almost feel like an Iowan.

    The Dark Horse:
    Paul Konerko
    is making millions with each run he drives in in the playoffs. Whoever signs him for the kind of money he'll probably get (15 MM per) will come to regret it quickly. He's an excellent hitter, but Cooperstown won't be clearing space for his plaque anytime soon.

    The Trilateral Commission Recommends:
    Nick Johnson's never going to be healthy. And he doesn't have the true power that this team could reallllly use. Trade his carcass somewhere before he breaks his sternum sneezing.

    Meanwhile, look at Jim Thome. While Philly would be hesitant to trade intra-division, Thome, til this year, has been the model of health and power consistency. He has Nick Johnson's batting eye, AND the ability to hit 40 a year. As a dead-pull hitter, the park wouldn't be as big a factor as it is for Guillen and the other spray hitters. Plus, Philly would probably pay part of his contract. Why pay Konerko 4/60 when you could have Thome (a better hitter) for 3/30?

    What About My Vote?
    Considering how crappy the other candidates are, I'm going to vote a straight National-party line. It pains me to type this, but the person we're looking for is Vinny Castilla.

    Vinny looked done, but in fairness to him, his knees were shot. If the offseason of rest (and surgery) is able to help him, he could hypothetically come back to his early-season form. Even in a down year, he still did mash left-handed pitching: .314/ .401/ .432. OK, so it's not really mashing, but on this team that counts!

    Carlos Baerga filled in at first a few times. I'd give him a golden watch. Invite him back as a coach/mascot, and say thanks.

    But I'd also look at Rick Short. We were screaming for him all year, but truthfully, he's about as bad a defensive infielder as Baerga. I didn't see a lot of him, but I saw enough to convince me that the assessment was right. Still, with the bat he had last season, he'd be capable of holding down first in a pinch.

    So stick with the familar faces: Vinny and Rick. They're both under contract next season, so the team wouldn't incur any additional cost.

    With Nick, Vinny and Rick, the team is certainly in capable hands.

    Monday, October 24, 2005

    Campaign '06: Catcher

    The Incumbents, Catcher: Brian Schneider and Gary Benett.

    Brian Schneider is under the team's control. If they offer arbitration, he'll run again next season.

    Schneider is a lock to return, and should receive a healthy raise next season. He made $2 million this year, and should get a decent raise, probably to the $3-4 million range. He's an exceptional defensive catcher, with a strong, quick release. Towards the end of the season, his defense suffered because of a shoulder injury that shut him down for the final month of the season, but there's no reason he won't rebound next year.

    Offensively, he's excellent, especially for the position. He had a 99 OPS+ (where 100 is league average). If you're getting league-average offense out of your catcher, you're on your way to having a decent team. He hit .266/ .327/ .409, whereas the league average catcher hit just .250/ .313/ .363; he gets on base more, and slugs more than the average catcher, even before you adjust for the extreme pitcher's park he played in.

    He'll cruise to an easy re-election.

    The vice catcher's job is different. Gary Bennett is a free agent, and unlikely to be re-signed. His offense was pitiful (a 56 OPS+) And team officials were unhappy with his defense. He was especially poor at blocking pitches at the plate, and he'll probably head to his seventh team in six years.

    His former office is wide open.

    The Issues:
    Backup catchers are usually pretty easy to acquire. There are plenty floating around (and more will become available after teams decide whether to tender contracts in a few weeks). With Schneider's defensive strength, it's not as important to have a defensive stud. As long as they can block the plate occasionally, the team should be ok.

    Ideally, they'd be right-handed, so they could give Schneider a day of rest against some lefties, while gaining the platoon advantage.

    The Contenders:
    Brad Ausmus: Defensive Wiz, Offensively inept. I can't see Houston letting him go anyway.
    John Flaherty: Decent power, ok defense. Likely to be re-signed by the Yankees to be Randy Johnson's caddy. Plus he turns 38 next season.
    Todd Greene: A DH who plays catcher. He's benefited by playing in hitter's parks the last four years.
    Eddie Perez: Greg Maddux' former caddy, you know he's good defensively. And truthfully, he's not a bad hitter in platoon situations. But he's older than dirt, and chained to Bobby Cox' side.
    Todd Pratt: Contractually obligated to play for the Phillies or Mets. He's a below-average defender, but above-average hitter. He has an excellent eye, getting on base at a .350 clip for his career, making him a league-average hitter overall. Would be an excellent platoon partner.
    Kelly Stinnett: Low average, below-average defense. Not a horrible hitter for a catcher.
    Chris Widger: The Expos' former starter, he doesn't get on base much, but can really slug the ball.

    The Dark Horse:
    Benji Molina and Ramon Hernandez are the two biggest names on the market. Molina isn't young, and is already the slowest player in the majors. Plus he's never been that good offensively. Hernandez, on the other hand, is good offensively, especially once you adjust for the park. Ramon is the only catcher on the market who'd be an upgrade over Schneider. And even then, it'd be close.

    The Trilateral Commission Recommends:
    Left-handed hitting, defensive-oriented catchers who can hit are worth their weight in tungsten. Ship him to the Mets for Aaron Heilman and some prospects, or to Anaheim for Maicer Izturis and Juan Rivera.

    What About My Vote?
    One of Pratt, Stinnett or Widger (probably that order), would earn their place at the top of my ballot. We paid Gary Bennett $750,000 to stink up the park last year. We could probably have any of those for between $750K and $900K.

    Saturday, October 22, 2005

    There'll Be Some Changes

    With the deadline now over, only one of the properties that DC made offer to accepted the proposal to move off the site of the stadium. Begin the eminent domain.

    The city has the option of taking the property on the quick. Essentially, they can put the money in escrow, and as long as a judge doesn't declare an injunction, which given the Supreme Court's recent decision, isn't likely, it's all over but the bartering. With the money in escrow, the city can take title of the property; the courts will determine the final price.

    Some of the holdouts are complaining that the city isn't helping them to relocate -- whether that's not providing enough costs, or not helping with rezoning efforts to find a suitable alternative location. But the process marches on.

    Meanwhile, groups are lining up to start development along the Anacostia Waterfront. The ballpark doesn't sit right on the water. There's a large buffer zone controlled by the Anacostia Waterfront Commission, a quasi-public agency. They'll have the final say on which of the nine groups that bid will control the development rights.

    As the land grab starts, there's still the tiny matter of the lease. Jerry Reinsdorf says it's the city's fault. (If you don't have a rooting interest in the World Series, Reinsdorf is as big a reason to pull for the Astros as any.)
    "There are some things that the city has to do before we can conclude the final lease," he said, though he did not cite specifically what those things are. "The ball is totally in the city's court. It can move as fast as the city wants it to move."

    That's not what you said a month ago, Jerry!
    "There will probably have to be a time when I need to be in Washington for a day or two to get this done and I won't have time as long as [the White Sox] are in this."

    What a mess. Even though it's a mess, things are starting to churn along. And that's better than nothing, I suppose.

    A Brief Personal Indulgence

    One year ago on a boring Friday at work I made the plunge. Having been an avid blog reader, I figured I'd give it a shot. I can still remember clicking through blogger's interface, trying to figure out what to name it, what address to use, and all sorts of other small decisions that don't really matter all that much anyway.

    I didn't write that much the first day. But that's ok because no one was reading it anyway. At the time there were only a few Nats Blogs, most of whom have vanished into the ether. I didn't think I'd make it this far either!

    I started because I wanted to learn about the team. I followed the Yankees semi-religiously, and didn't know a whole lot about the Expos, or of the National League. Writing would force me to learn about the players, and discover the kinds of things I like to know about, especially because there were so few places to learn them. Expos blogging wasn't the cottage industry it's turned out to be in DC.

    But I also wanted to do it so that I could write again. The job that pays me the big bucks (HA!) requires a lot of whereases and heretofors. Although the prose I churn out technically follows the syntax rules of the English language, it's horrible to read and write. I'm not the best writer in the world: My sentences are sometimes clunky; I could certainly use an editor to scale back my wordiness; and my train of thought frequently leaves the station before the engine. But it's a comfort and a release to write in a more conversational style. Plus it lets me vent my anger and frustration at the team!

    And along the way, I've discovered a loyal band of readers who share the same passion for baseball and the Nats that I do. Thank you! The nature of blogging is that it's a very selfish act. The blogger assumes that anyone would give a rat's ass about the drivel they type out, and takes gratification when the hit counter climbs. But I sincerely hope that some of you have gotten something out of it too.

    So thanks for reading, but let's get back to baseball. I've had enough of this self-admiration society!

    Friday, October 21, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Get Off Of My Lawn Edition

    Own property in southeast at the stadium site? Today's your deadline to ship out before the city starts the eminent domain process. But then, if you actually did own land in southeast, you probably already knew that, huh?

    Most of the concern expressed by the landowners is with the difficulty of finding a relocation spot. The owner of the gravel pit, for example, can't just set up shop in Rock Creek Park. And the owner of the much-maligned strip clubs/bath houses probably can't get the zoning variance he'd need in Georgetown.

    Whether you approve of their choice of business or not, they are going to be impacted by the ballpark, and their customers, whether for gravel or titillation, can't just get that at 7-11.

    Still, they're being offered a fair price. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're being treated fairly.

  • Leo Mazzone, the Braves' long-time pitching coach has accepted a job with the Orioles, and a chance to work with his old friend Sam Perlozzo.

    He's been regarded as the best pitching coach in baseball for good reason. While some sneer that he's had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz to work with, Sabernomics ran the numbers and discovered that it's his massive effect on the other pitchers on the staff that make him so valuable. It's greater than you'd think.

    The reason for bringing it up isn't so much to focus on the Orioles, who also hired away Jim Duquette from the Mets, but to focus on what effect this will have on Atlanta. Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz have an amazing eye for talent, and have always been able to get surprising performances out of young hitters. Will they be able to do the same without their star pitching coach? For the Nats' sake, I hope not.

  • Federal Baseball has a look at Larry Broadway, the not-so young, injury-prone, first baseman, who's the poor man's Nick Johnson. It's an excellent overview, and that kind that I would do were I not the laziest human being this side of... umm.. I'll think of a comparison later. Zzzzz.

  • Thursday, October 20, 2005

    Mystery Player

    I was looking over my bookshelf and found an old copy of the Stats Inc Scouting Notebook. It has player profiles for every player in the majors, as well as top prospects. Thumbing through it, I was surprised at how accurate some of their descriptions still are even though the book is a few years old.

    Let's see how accurate their descriptions are. Are they good enough for you to guess them? Post your guesses in the comments, and I'll let you know how you did. All players played with the Nationals this season. For bonus points, take a guess which year the book is from.

    Player 1
    (Player 1) is neither a very patient nor disciplined hitter. He swings at most everything....He has a relatively quick bat and decent power, so when he does hit the ball, he can drive it into the gaps and over the fence. At times he tries to pull the ball too much and gets caught up in trying to hit home runs. His performance with runners in scoring position and in the clutch was brutal, forcing (his team) to hit him down in the order.

    Player 2
    Was once considered one of the best fastball hitters in the game. But whether it was the injuries or advancing age, he didn't look anything like the (player 2) of old. His bat was slow, and he rarely showed the form he was known for...He was so bad at times that some observers wondered if he was done....

    Towards the end of last season, (player 2) told reporters he would be the Comeback Player of the Year. Unless someone takes him off their hands, the (team) can only hope he's right. His injuries gave (team) a chance to look at prospect (studly prospect), and the team liked what it saw.

    Player 3
    (player 3) opened last season by batting .290 in April, courtesy of a new approach at the plate. He connected for four home runs in May, however, and returned to bad habits. He rebounded to hit well in July and August, and was rewarded with a long-term contract. Although he played very poorly after signing the new deal, the (team) was generally happy with his development.

    He adopted a new hitting style in spring training, reducing his movement at the plate to provide better balance for his swing. The results were very positive: he showed much more pop with the bat than he had during his rookie campaign. But he occasionally fell back into his old habits, and his strike-zone judgement remains mediocre at best.

    He possesses decent range and a very strong arm, but lacks concentration on routine plays and commits too many sloppy mistakes.

    Player 4
    Hits for average and demonstrates good plate discipline, and he should develop above-average power.... Look for him, one of the game's top young hitters, to fine-tune his bat and a defensive tendency to get caught between hops at Triple-A.

    Player 5
    Despite all the strikeouts, he has a fairly solid approach at the plate. He tends to chase high fastballs and good breaking balls away, but he no longer tries to pull everything.

    The former high school running back has an awkward running style. His routes can make things exciting at times, but his speed enables him to outrun mistakes.

    Player 6
    A power pitcherwhen he first arrived in the big leagues, he has evolved into a crafty veteran. He throws three quality pitches: a fastball, curveball, and changeup. He will mix their velocities and types of movement depending on the situation... He is a severe groundball pitcher who focuses on keeping his pitches low in the strikezone.

    Player 7
    As the lanky righty made his way up the ladder, he looked like he was worth every penny of his bonus. He has the mid-90s fastball of the most dominant power pitchers, yet also can summon the hammer curve and change to knock hitters out.

    Player 8
    He has never met a pitch he didn't like. He rarely walks and rarely strikes out. He has excellent hand-eye coordination, but he does get himself out.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Pee For Me, Pee For You Edition

    Tony Williams emphasized how important the Anacostia site is for the baseball stadium, as the hum of anti-stadium zealots continues to reawaken, and as the city is prepared to begin eminent domain on the property holdouts.
    Mr. Williams, a Democrat who is not seeking a third term, has been pushing for the Anacostia River location because it is key to his waterfront development initiative.

    "When you consider the sum cost already put into this site, all of the time and effort and money," he said. "I think you will find ... there is no longer any comparison."

    Just playing devil's advocate here, but doesn't this seem wrong to you? It's pretty clear that development is surging forward, even as the stadium remains slightly in doubt. There are already plans for new housing developments, some of which are already being constructed, and the Anacostia Riverfront development project will be built stadium or not. How much of future development will be attributable to the stadium, and how much was naturally ocurring to begin with? You can be sure that stadium proponents will ascribe 99% (or more!) of it to the ballpark.

    And aren't the costs of the Anacostia site already a sunk cost? If it's cheaper point forward to build at RFK, it's cheaper period.

    Clearly I support the stadium, but I can't stand these arguments being made when there's not a lot of fact behind them. The stadium should stand on its own merits, not some trumped-up PR hype and hope.

  • Malek and Zients, one of the two or three favorites for ownership, met with Herr Selig yesterday. The Lerner's have been summoned for a seance today.

    With a new collective bargaining agreement on the not-too distant horizon, Selig wants to make sure that he has a new ally. Owners, for the first time, got concessions from players during the last negotiations. Selig wants to go in for the kill, and would want to pull a page out of the FDR playbook by packing the court in his favor.

  • Newsday has a profile on Nationals third-string catcher Keith Osik, who has accepted the managing job at Farmingdale College.
    Osik had asked for his release from the Nationals last spring training when it appeared he would not make the big-league roster but they called him in August. At the time, he was working as a personal instructor at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank and playing softball with his buddies. "Nobody watching but I loved it anyway," he said. "I was in the pool at home actually enjoying the summer I never had since high school when the phone rang."

    Osik worked out with the Triple-A team in New Orleans, got out of town just before Hurricane Katrina hit, and spent September with the Nationals, who wanted him as catching insurance for a wild-card run. Osik still showed allegiance to his job at Farmingdale. "When he was with the Nationals, he was making calls to get recruits," Harrington said

  • Some rabble-rousing professor is kvetching about the number of women's bathrooms reportedly in the new park.

    While I can certainly understand the need for equality, this guy seems like one of those activists for the sake of activism sorts. I can almost smell the patchouli from here.

  • Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Bill Ladson Mails It In

    It's been a while since I've ripped Bill Ladson, so here goes...

    One of my favorite features is his mailbag. He hasn't done one for months, and I was starting to miss his banal insights. Just when I was feeling depressed, he rips out a new one! Way to go, Rocket man!

    I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the insipidness of the questions was weighing down his meaty analysis.

    Then I thought about it.

    Isn't he the one selecting the questions? I wouldn't dare suggest that he's making the questions up, because he'd sue me. But could he pick questions that are actually... say... interesting? Or at least lead themselves to insights? But then that'd force him to work hard at answering them, cutting into his valuable time polishing Tony Tavares' shoes or playing the Mary Poppins role to one of Bowden's five children.

    Where else can you get insights like:
    What is the future of Tony Armas Jr. with the Nationals? -- Mayker C., Orlando

    Armas is a free agent and most likely will not return. He made over $2 million in 2005, and the Nationals likely are not going to pay that kind of money for him next season.

    Is Nick Johnson a free agent this offseason? -- J.P., Washington, D.C.

    Johnson is arbitration eligible for the third year in a row, and he is expected to be back with the Nationals for the 2006 season.

    Wow! Thanks for the info, Laddie!


    Youppi, the Montreal Expos former mascot, made his triumphant debut with the Montreal Canadiens. Youppi is ten times the mascot of Screech, who's main talent seems to be walking.

    The Canadiens also did something the Nationals should've done -- retired the Expos' numbers. Gary Carter and Andre Dawson attended and raised a banner honoring those players.

    It really is a shame that the Nationals are ignoring the team's history, starting with assigning Tim Raines' retired number to Mike Stanton.

    Today's Smulyan Spin

    Jeff Smulyan visited the Washington Times, and got the publicity he wanted. (Even as Barry Svrluga reported on Tony Kornheiser's radio show that he doesn't think that Smulyan is in the lead.)

    He believes that his expertise in the broadcasting industry will help him crush Angelos' spirit, solve the MASN/Comcast squabble, and broker peace in the mid-east while creating a viable third party to completely reform government in the US.
    He said that to reach higher payroll and turn a steady profit he will push for the Nationals to get a larger share of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, created as part of an agreement with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Major League Baseball, as compensation for the Nationals' move to the region. Under the deal, the Orioles will own at least two-thirds of the network despite operating in a smaller market.

    "It's not the best deal, clearly we know that," Smulyan said. "If you look at the two markets together, it's disproportionate."

    Smulyan and his partners said they could use their knowledge of the broadcasting industry to help spread the distribution of MASN, possibly gaining a larger share of the network in exchange. Currently, MASN can only be seen on DirecTV and RCN Cable, with about half the games on WDCA Channel 20.

    "If [Smulyan] can go to Angelos and say 50 percent of 2,000 is better than 60 percent of 1,000, he can increase penetration, increase the revenue and show Angelos how to make it work better," said prominent District banker Bob Pincus, a minority partner in the bid who headed an unsuccessful effort to bring baseball to the District in 1991.

    Smulyan also said he believes he can help end the dispute between MASN and Comcast, which has refused to carry the network on its cable systems, leaving thousands of area fans unable to watch Nationals games.

    "There are people who believe we might be helpful, simply because I've been in the broadcast business for so many years," he said. "Obviously there's something that needs to be done. ... The fact that people in Washington can't see those games on cable is not good."

    OK, Jeff. I'm sure you're going to lower beer and ticket prices too, huh?

    One More Year

    The saga of the front-office restructuring continues as Scouting Director Dana Brown was offered a one-year contract extension by Lame Duck GM Jim Bowden.

    I'm not sure how (if at all) this relates to yesterday's firing of Adam Wogan, but it's clear that it's also an attempt to fight off any advances from other teams. It had been reported that Omar Minaya, his former boss, was sniffing around, looking to offer him a scouting job with the Mets.

    Bowden certainly sings his praises:
    "The first thing I did when I came in last November was study all of the reports from all of our scouts," Bowden said. "Dana, by far, stood out among everyone as a premier evaluator. He has a tremendous ability to evaluate amateurs, and a tremendous ability to evaluate pitchers in general."

    Bowden got his start as a scout. And Bowden does have a good eye for amateur talent, so that praise does mean something. Unfortunately, Bowden isn't the best at separating the major-league talent from the minor-league talent.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Safe, For Now

    The front page of today's WaPo Metro section has a story on the stadium that's not online. It's a shame, because it's great news for the stadium.

    Linda Cropp has decided to use the procedure to block any major alterations to the stadium financing bill, as it winds its way back through the Council to correct some technical flaws.

    Typos are mine:
    Cropp, who was a leading critic of the public investment last fall, said the city must honor its agreement unless costs rise too high at the proposed waterfront location. Her strategy on the amendments is intended to limit the council's ability to derail the stadium. Council members are not permitted to make substantive changes to technical amendments, which are used to correct relatively minor mistakes in wording....

    Cropp expressed confidence that the council would approve the amended package. "I have faith in a sensible coucnil," Cropp said.

    The article goes on to note that they'll come up for a vote on 11/1, but then need to be approved twice more in a similar fashion to last year's stadium resolution.

    The article also has a sidebar detailing the three technical problems. Without boring the snot out of you (too late, huh?):
    1) They forgot to write in the reduced amount of the gross receipts tax, putting the full $26 million in instead of the reduced $14 million amount.
    2) A guarantee of the $12 million utility tax to ease Wall Street's revenue fears.
    3) They created two tax financing districts but revenue incorrectly -- not enough was going towards ballpark funding.

    There's a quote from some long-dead politician who said, "you can have the majority if I get to make the rules." As long as Cropp stands by her word, the stadium should make it through the Council, again.

    But Cropp keeps hedging her statements with cautions that she'd consider moving the stadium to the much-cheaper RFK site. You never know what she'll spring at the last minute.

    So while the seas may appear to be calm and serene, there's a storm warning up ahead. At least we dodged the first one. (Or was it the fifteenth?)

    That's Why

    My girlfriend doesn't really get baseball. Sometimes she tries. Sometimes she just throws her hands up in frustration. She'll get into it when its her team (Twins) or when she recognizes the players (Pierzynski), but when it's two teams she's not familiar with, she doesn't understand.

    Last night, as the ninth inning of the Astros/Cardinals game began, she asked me why I was watching it.

    "Because it's an exciting game. It's an important game, and the Astros are just three outs away from going to their first World Series."

    "Why do you care about them though?"

    "I don't really care about the teams. I just like seeing good, exciting baseball, and it's fun to see the crowd this excited."

    "Could you turn it down though? I don't like that noise."

    After saying this, she went to the kitchen, but I could tell that she was half watching while she fumbled with the water pitcher. By now there were two outs and two strikes with David Eckstein at the plate. A single and a walk later, Albert Pujols came to the plate.

    Now she knows who Pujols is, if only for the childish smile we all get inside our heads when we say his name a certain way. But she also knows that he's a good hitter, and that he's important -- if only because we saw the Hallmark Christmas ornament of him at the store over the weekend.

    I was leaning forward in my seat, and I could just tell that she was paying even more attention (the fumbling with the water pitcher had stopped.)

    Pujols' homer was as dramatic and mammoth as Roy Hobbs'. There are no-doubters, and then there's that wall-scaling, train-track-pounding monster.

    From behind, I heard the kind of awed chuckle one lets out when they're impressed and can't really believe what they saw. You laugh at it as if to shake it into reality.

    Now she knows why I watch.

    But This Time They Really Mean It

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever you say, Mr. Dupuy.
    Before Game 5 of the National League Championship Series in Houston, MLB President Robert DuPuy said he remains hopeful the sale of the Nationals will be ratified at the owners' meetings next month. He acknowledged that it would be better to have a new owner in place to be able to make such decisions but said the current administration is authorized to move forward.

    "They're going to operate under current management until a new owner is in place," DuPuy said.

    Uh huh. OK. You remain hopeful, huh? Don't you have to have a soul to hope?

    At least Selig is getting off his slimy hot-dog-scarfing, rumpled rump. It's been a few months (years?), he supposes it's time he meets the new potential neighbors.

    What a mess.

    Wo' Be Gone

    Nationals Farm Authority is all over yesterday's dismissal of Adam Wogan as director of player development. He's the one to read today: speculation on what this represents in terms of a power struggle, whether it was tied to the disaster of the canceled instructional league, or the increased role that Bob (Ba)Boone might take on.

    It's the last point that especially distresses me, and the WaPo has it covered.

    Bob Boone was a disaster as a manager, primarily because he couldn't properly evaluate the talent on his own roster. It wouldn't shock me to learn that Boone was the yutz who thought that Preston Wilson was a good defensive centerfielder. This doesn't portend future greatness for the franchise.

    One other thought... With everyone's contract set to expire at the end of the month, why were they making the decision now? NFA has some speculation about the power struggle (see the link above), but it still doesn't make a lot of sense, especially given their pronouncement that the position won't be filled til new ownership is named. Even if Wogan were the biggest hack on the planet, as long as he's not actively maiming players, wouldn't it make sense to keep him on the job?

    Eh. But what do I know?

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Go West, Bodes-Man

    What does 81-81 get you? Fired, if you're Ed Wade. Interviews, if you're Jim Bowden.

    Bowden, according to the Post and the AZ Republic, has spoken with the Diamondbacks about reuniting himself with Claudio Vargas. The St. Paul Times claims that the Washington Times report that the Devil Rays were interested in Bodes was wrong.

    Tony Tavares has given teams permission to speak with Nationals employees, an extremely fair move, given that all their contracts run out in two months.

    While I probably wouldn't shed tears over the loss of Bowden, whose success wasn't as big as the noises he made (ie here he still claims that the Nationals were built to be a post-season team), losing him would make an already-difficult transition almost impossible.

    Would the assistant GM, Tony Siegle, take over? Tony Tavares was doing some negotiating before hiring Bowden last year. Either way, it'd be a mess, until MLB gets off their collective butts.

    Also, the WaPo reported that Omar Minaya is picking at the bones of the carcass he abandoned last year, asking for permission to steal Scouting Director Dana Brown, who by all accounts has done an excellent job. So far, Tavares hasn't given permission, because the position Minaya is offering a lesser position.

    The team's been screwed over with the way it's been treated the last 10 years. Why would we expect this year to be any different?

    Saturday, October 15, 2005

    Five Minutes To Midnight

    We're not to armageddon yet, but the four horsemen are shoeing their horses.

    DC CFO Natwar Gandhi has asked the Council to reopen the ballpark legislation to make several technical corrections. Those corrections will enable the city to get a fair bond price.

    Unfortunately, with many new anti-stadium members on the council, all hell could break loose:
    Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who joined the council after the stadium deal had been approved, said he would seek to reopen the debate if given an opportunity.

    "If we're looking at amendments, maybe we need to look at other things," Brown said. "Baseball's great; I love baseball. I'm not interested in holding up a project that would cost millions to D.C. taxpayers down the road. But I am interes ted if there's a way to reduce the amount of public financing. I'm all for that."

    I'll have a little more later. But for now, this doesn't look good.

    Friday, October 14, 2005

    Home Despot

    Chairman Boz dons his thinking cap, looks around Busch Stadium, and likes what he sees. In an article that I can't find online, but is on the front page of the WaPo's print edition, Boswell lays out a scenario for how to spruce up RFK to make it look less like a cookie cutter, and more like Busch.

    His plan?

    • Add four rows of premium seats in front of the field boxes to reduce the foul territory.
    • Move the bullpens closer to center, and wrap the lower reserved seats around to fair territory.
    • Near the bullpens, put backless bleachers to sell on the cheap.
    • In that same area, install a patio area with some picnic tables.
    • Rip out the 500-level seats in dead center to put a manual scoreboard; he notes that this could be cheaper than expected, and that the Cardinals display seems to be made out of plywood!
    • Put a grass berm in center field (I don't think there's room).
    • He suggest a number of other visual flairs to break the monotony of the stadium.

    He has some interesting ideas. Some would work. Others wouldn't.

    But without new ownership, none of that would get done by the start of next season anyway. And if the stadium really is set to open in 2008 (HA!), then some of these might be cost prohibitive, especially with an ownership group that's likely to be leveraged to the hilt.

    I like his enthusiasm, but one thing struck me as I was reading it... Are stadium detractors going to seize upon this as evidence that RFK is good enough? Will they point to his suggestions and use this as evidence that with just a few million in improvements, that the stadium's A-OK? We'll find out....

    Vultures Are Circling

    Harry Jaffe, a columnist with Washingtonian Magazine, wrote a column for the DC Examiner about the sad state of our team.

    He's reading the tealeaves, and sees the doomsday scenario: Bye Bye, Team!

    He looks at the lack of a signed lease, the ownership stall, mate, and the recent grumblings by the DC Council all as ominous signs for a process that should've been done months ago.

    I still think that every party has too much invested in this deal to louse it up, but I can't shake the contraction scenario out of my head either. Likely? Nope. Possible. With baseball, anything is.

    Semi, but not really related, the Washington Times reports that MASN is making another effort to twist Comcast's arm. More importantly, they're beginning negotiations with cable providers in North Carolina and Pennsyltucky to expand the network's (and Angelos') reach. Negotiations also continue with Cox, but as was the case last season, it's mostly haggling about price. MASN wants a lot. Cox doesn't want to pay. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Slow Day

    Not a lot of news in the Nationals world. Everything is status quo.

    From Barry's chat yesterday, it seems that Jim Bowden will be allowed to stay in office past the 10/31 expiration of his contract, but that it will be day-to-day. However, he also said that the two lead groups (presumably Malek and Simian) have asked Selig to tie his hands until the ownership issue is resolved. I guess both ownership groups think we have enough toolsy outfielders.

    Simian Smulyan gave another interview. Again, he didn't really reveal much: "We see some things about the Washington market that are very, very attractive to us. There's all sorts of factors: the development around the stadium, the possibility of cable TV, the incredible growth of baseball on the Internet. As we looked at this, we became more intrigued."

    47 words. Zero content. He should be a Nats-blogger!

  • Jack Evans, friend of baseball, is learning that it might not be a good idea to have your PAC pay for your season tickets. Apparently, DC has some bizarre restrictions on the use of PAC funds, completely separate from how the rest of the world works. But, seeing how this is the city that will arrest you for drunk driving even if you have a .00 blood alcohol level, is it really surprising?

  • Nationals Farm Authority is trying to get to the bottom of whether the Nationals winter instructional league has been canceled. Barry says no. One of the players says yes. We'll find out. (Maybe not until we get a new owner though!)

  • Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    They Have Blogs Too

    Nationals Farm Authority looks at the Top-5 hitters and top-4 (because he can't find five!) pitchers at single-A Potomac, our friends to the south.

    If you're an Ian Desmondite, you'll want to read!

  • Nats Blog looks at RFK's qualifications as a pitcher's park. (It's more qualified than Miers!) But more importantly, they discuss what it means when acquiring pitchers.

  • Distinguished Senators strolls through the stats, surveying for statistical surprises.

    He does answer the age-old question of exactly how bad is Cristian Guzman. [Insert another Miers joke.]

  • Last, but not least, Curly W, who's not afraid to make an unpopular opinion (such as his defense of Jimmy Bo), puts up a pseudo defense of Smulyan.

    I can't say that I agree with him. He attacks the carpetbagger canard, which as I've said a few times, I think is BS. But he also states that corporate ownership might not be a bad thing.

    Those are two separate arguments (one with merit, one without) and he blurs them. Corporate ownership isn't ideal because they have other mouths to feed. Their responsibility is to the shareholders, not to the team, the community, the fans, or any of the other BS we contrive to make us feel good about our team's owners.

    The recent history of corporate ownership is a short-term one. Disney, Fox, etc, have mostly been in and out, milking out the tax advantages, or trying to tap into as many revenues as they can. Tribune, the long-time owners of the Cubs, has a less-than stellar stewardship of that team. Its sole goal seems to be milking as much money out of the team as possible without investing nearly as much as they could for a team as popular in such a large market. (Which doesn't surprise anyone who's followed how the Tribune company runs their newspapers)

    He's right in that MLB looks for consensus, but that consensus is typically among the Lords themselves, other parties be damned.

    No, the doomsday scenario I laid out yesterday isn't likely, but with MLB, you never know.

  • More BSBS

    Bud Selig's BS continues.

    Typically, it can take 45 to 60 days for final approval before an owner can take over operations. But during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at U.S. Cellular Field, Selig said the process should be much shorter for the Nationals.

    "A lot of the vetting process that we normally go through has already been done," Selig said. "We've spent a lot of time on the eight groups and gotten a lot of information. I think it is fair to say that once someone is selected, they will go through the ownership committee on an expedited basis.

    "Once we have chosen them, we need to get them in place," Selig said

    Like, say, by January 04? Spring Training 04? The All-Star Break? The end of August? Before the postseason? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

    Maxwell's House

    Not content to rest on his laurels after a wonderfully mediocre 81-81 season, Jim Bowden the Man of Action, got things done, wrapping up negotiations with fourth-round draft pick, Justin Maxwell.

    Maxwell has tons of potential (but then, so did I, and look where that's gotten me), but he's rarely been healthy enough to live up to it. By all accounts, he's a terrific defensive outfielder, and would become, presumably, the only Animal Sciences major in the Nationals' organization.

    He'll start next season at A-ball, but will have to make improvements relatively quickly. Despite his apparent youth, he is already 21, and has lost several years of development time because of those injuries.

    We'll see how he turns out. Regardless, the system needs warm bodies under the age of 28. He instantly becomes one of our best prospects.

    Orange Delirious?

    After reading today's front-page story in the WaPo's Metro section, I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

    Presumed wannabe mayor Vincent Orange got the DC Council to partially reopen the stadium funding issue, by kvetching about the private financing deal with Deutsche Bank.

    That deal, as I discussed the other day, makes no sense for DC. It takes away future revenue streams for a promise of up-front cash, while taking away much of the risk for the Bank. Deutsche Bank could make money hand over fist when revenue exceeds expectations, or it could bottom out and have DC bail it out with revenue from the tax coffers.

    But the article seems to indicate that this is more political posturing, with Le Grande Orange taking a few hacks at Linda Cropp's bastard child. Strangely, she supported opening the agreement, because it's non-binding.

    Whether that's the case or not, it does worry me that the precedent has been set. Any of those wackos on the Council (and you know which direction I'm looking) could try and stick their once-crack-addicted foot in the door and louse things up.

    Hopefully it's what Councilmember Phil Mendelson said, "This is more about rhetoric, and it puts the stadium at risk. We are at the risk of reopening the wounds here, and to what purpose? For a silly piece of legislation?"

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Pencil Me There!

    The Schedule's out.

    Be sure to block off June 23-25. I'm getting a bus ready for anyone who wants to come! ;)

    On The Defensive

    A few months ago, I asked you help participate in TangoTiger's defensive survey. The season's over, and the results are in.

    Based on the premise of the wisdom of crowds, his study attempts to take the aggregate opinion, hoping to get close to the truth.

    The results? Brian Schneider's our best defensive player; Carlos Baerga the worst.

    Score one for the crowd!

    Each player was rated on a series of abilities. A score of 50 is league average. Each 20 points represents a standard deviation.

    So Brian Schneider's score of 95 for "release" is at the top of the league. Carlos Baerga's score of 8 for "hands" is at the bottom.

    Our doubleplay combo of Guzman and Vidro were rated very poorly 33 and 35 overall respectively. Vidro's first step was rated especially poor, which makes sense, and Guzman's throwing accuracy was dreadful as well.

    Right behind Schneider is Jose Guillen, who seems to be a terrific defensive outfielder. He sometimes looks like he gets a bad jump, but he made a large number of basket and shoestring catches on a full run. His arm, while very strong, sometimes get the best of him; when he has a chance to nail a runner, he sometimes overdoes it.

    Preston Wilson is at the other end. While I don't think I'd rate him as poorly as the crowd did, he's a pretty poor defender in center. He received brutal marks for his first step, which is clearly the problem. Once he's in motion he's fine, but it just takes him forever to get that long stride moving.

    TangoTiger has some brief summaries by various bloggers of the players who were at the top of the ratings. They make for a nice read, and help you appreciate how these players are viewed by those who watch them most frequently.

    More Smulyan Blather

    Jeff Smulyan continues trying to sell the concept of using Emmis' money to fund his toy purchases.

    Q: You mentioned baseball - what do you say to investors who may be skeptical of a potential $100 million Emmis investment in the Washington Nationals?
    A: While initially this was a possibility I was pursuing alone, it became clear that it made sense for Emmis to be involved. We looked at it, and we saw the total nature of the investment. Obviously the team is quite profitable, and on a cash-flow basis, the investment would be at a lower multiple than the TV assets we’re in the process of selling. But we also believe there are some other opportunities that come with it - cable TV rights, [HA!] stadium-area development, participation in Major League Baseball’s internet venture - that are very attractive. People should also know that under the limited partnership we’re organizing with D.C. investors, Emmis would not be liable for any debt from a purchase.

    Not much new, but it's always interesting to see what the chosen one has to say.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Not All Its Cracked Up To Be

    Sunday's WaPo had a front-page story on DC's baseball revenues. Short version: Team makes more cash than expected, the city less.

    The team is expected to earn a $25 million profit, which is even higher than their mid-season projections.

    When the team released those numbers back in June, I didn't think they were correct based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations. I had surmised that revenues increased by at least $60 million. That number would be even higher now considering the increased ticket sales.

    The city falls short (over $500,000) because they're generating less revenue, in part, because of the 25% no-show rate. Typically, it's in the 15-20% range. Additionally, they overestimated the demand for parking. 45% of the people going to games took Metro; they were expecting only 40%. (Maybe the usurious $10 pricetag is a reason for that, eh?)

    One aside -- Heath and Nakamura repeat one mistake I see with increasing frequency: "But the Nationals' first season in the city was such a success that baseball officials have set a sale price for the team of at least $450 million, far above the projections last year of $350 million to $400 million."

    Wrong. The reason the sale price is higher has nothing to do with the success of the team. It has everything to do with the $75 million MASN pricetage that MLB had to pay to become equity partners *cough* with Peter Angelos. MLB's not going to eat that money on their own. It's a tangible asset that they're trying to include in the price.

    But where this whole revenue thing becomes worrisome is in the harebrained private financing scheme.

    As part of that, DC has signed away future revenue streams for $246 million in hand. In signing away future revenue streams, DC loses out a chance to make even more money in the future. But in this case, if the future revenues aren't high enough, DC would lose out as well -- Deutsche Bank wants a revenue guarantee. They want it both ways.

    Either way, DC is a no-win situation. If revenues are higher than expected, they lose out on the gain. If they're lower, there's a chance they'll have to pay out of their own pocket.

    So why is private financing, as currently constructed, a good idea?

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Sickening Stadium

    Thanks to the always-invaluable William World News comes a link from the City Paper with details about the Stadium. It's an EXCELLENT read, working off the planning documents HOK and the Nationals are using.

    It's also sickening. Read all the details and see how the typical fan is being screwed over -- even more than expected. But in a city where everyone tries to create illusions of power to show how important they are, it's to be expected.

    I'm going to excerpt large portions, but read the whole thing for the stunning and stupifying details.

    Planning documents provided by the Sports Commission reveal that each luxury suite will be appointed with a “24 oz. carpet…wood veneer millwork and stone countertops… [r]efrigerator, ice maker, chafing dishes, plasma TV, computer connectivity, bar sinks.” The club seats—“a premium seating area for a premium price”—will share a concourse with the suites and, if recent stadiums are any guide, will likely feature waiter service and special parking privileges....

    Down at field level, there will be a special 500-seat home-plate section called the Founders Club...Just above the Founders Club will be the 1,300-seat Diamond Club—think junior partners at Wilmer Cutler and Gilbert Arenas’ entourage. And that’s it for the seating behind home plate. Yup, the only chairs within earshot of the catcher are in the ballpark’s superpremium sections....

    In a June 7 letter, the Sports Commission once again bridled at the Nationals’ requests for more premium seating. “The inclusion of eight Founders Suites will add [square footage] to the building and increase finishing costs,” the missive explained. The Nats’ stadium consultant also wrote that the team “expected the Party Suites to be located on a separate level above or below the Suite Level.” In a June 23 letter, the Sports Commission responded that “we believe that minimizing the number of separate levels is more cost effective than increasing the height of the section by adding another level.”

    A look at the current state of the stadium shows that the Sports Commission hasn’t exactly stuck to its guns. HOK’s Spear says that the supposedly budget-busting conference center is now an approved part of the stadium plans. Same thing for the Diamond Club lounge. Two-thousand club seats? Make that 2,500. What about those 74 suites? Revise that up to 78—oh yeah, and they’ll all be on the infield dirt. The architects crammed the boxes in by stacking them on top of each other. The plan is to cram 58 standard luxury suites with 16 seats apiece, 10 Party Suites with 24 seats each, and two Owners Suites with 24 seats each into a two-story space; there will also be eight megadeluxe 16-seat Founders Suites on the field level....

    Nationals fans had it lucky. Those Diamond Club seats that went for just $90 here typically go for three times that amount. Those same seats in Tampa Bay are $200. Not anymore, I suspect.

    The seats in the upper deck will be 19". The City Paper notes that they're currently 20-21". What about legroom? Scrunch up!
    According to planning documents, nonpremium rows in the ballpark’s lower concourse will measure 33 inches from front to back—that’s 2 to 3 fewer inches than you’ll get in parts of RFK Stadium’s lower deck. Oh, and don’t forget that your chair’s going to fill about 20 of those inches.

    I hope you enjoyed your view from the 400s.
    HOK’s June 30 concept design showed the upper concourse at an elevation of 87 feet, 3 inches. That’s 15 feet higher off the ground than RFK’s top deck. But that was before the architects, the Nationals, and the Sports commission settled on a double-decker luxury section. Spear says the drawings he’s now working on will place the upper deck another 6 feet higher.

    Want some clean, cold water? Be prepared to pony up.
    According to planning documents, the stadium’s public concourses will be outfitted with nonrefrigerated drinking fountains. In other words, bubblers that spew swamp fill: At a mid-July afternoon game, with the temperature around 95, those WASA pipes will discharge a lukewarm chlorine-lead brew. In the suites and club-seating section, the fountains will serve up cold water.

    At least we know what the dimensions are finally -- hey, quirky outfield dimensions. That's original!
    The new field’s contrived distances will try to summon the old parks’ essence: 340 feet down the left-field line, 385 in the left-field power alley, 413 at a sharply angled outcropping just left of center field, 400 feet to straightaway center, 380 in the right-field power alley, 368 on the short side of a protuberance in right-center field, and 330 to the foul line in right.

    It seems that our worst fears really have come true. If you've got an expense account or lots of disposable income, you'll be fine. But if you're a schlub who likes to go the occasional game, you'll have a worse view and worse seats for higher prices. But at least you'll have more concession stands with higer prices to buy things at!

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Better Late, Maybe Never

    The already-delayed lease negotiations for the stadium will be even later. Today, MLB's thug-in-chief, Jerry Reinsdorf claimed that he's too busy with the White Sox to negotiate properly, so that it's highly unlikely that the stadium lease will be signed before the end of the post-season, and, by extension, that the Nats won't have new owners til the end of the World Series. (Remember, the offseason truly gets started two weeks after the World Series.)

    If it wasn't so expected, it'd be depressing.

    The problem is that it's one big clusterfark. You have three parties trying to conduct bilateral negotiations, and each party is trying to screw over at least one of the other parties. And, as in all cases involving sports business, it's the fans who get it in the keister.

    First is the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission. They're the quasi-public agency that runs RFK. They're the ones ultimately responsible for the stadium, and have been the ones negotiating directly with MLB.

    Second is the DC Council. Now mostly comprised of anti-stadium zealots, and fairly powerless to stop the stadium, it appears that obstruction is their drug of choice.

    Lastly are the thugs at MLB. Jerry Reinsdorf, who makes it especially difficult to root for the 'underdog' White Sox, is the principle negotiator, and has been instrumental in steering the team towards DC -- but I'll get to the problem with that later.

    What follows is my read on the issues, based on the articles we've seen, and some conjecture.

    DCSEC contends that the DC Council doesn't have to sign off on the lease. The Council claims they do. There's infighting there. Presumably, MLB sides with DCSEC on that issue; they know the DC Council would be a losing proposition.

    DC Council wants local ownership. MLB wants free reign to pick who they want *cough*smulyan*cough*. DCSEC, wanting to get the deal done, hopes to cut out the DC Council altogether to avoid hassles.

    Essentially, it seems like it's coming down to Smulyan. Reinsdorf wants him. The council doesn't. (It hurts to type this, but I side with the council!)

    First, I think the carpetbagger angle is pure horsecrap. We all generalize from our personal experiences, and those who make that argument are mostly the people viewing things through the Bob Short prism. Prior to the Nats, a team hadn't moved in a bazillion years. They're not going to allow him to move, especially if there's a binding lease. (See the Devil Rays as an example)

    But more importantly, if the going price really is $450 largelarge, he HAS to stay in DC. Portland might be a nice city, but it's not the size of this metro region. The team is going to need DC's large cash flow to stay solvent; they simply are going to need a large market.

    What really worries me about the prospect of Smulyan is the same reason that Reinsdorf likes him: he won't rock the boat. Reinsdorf knows that Smulyan isn't going to be Steinbrenner South. Smulyan has already proven, in his time in Seattle, that he's the kind of owner who will put a minimal product on the field -- just enough to stay competitive and bleed money from the hopes of the fans.

    Instead of maximizing the revenue streams and running this team like it was a top-10 market, he'll stay in the middle of the pack, and would be unlikely to raise the bar on player's salaries.

    And that's where the problem of Smulyan's ownership structure rears its head as well. He recently announced that, contrary to my earlier speculation (hope's probably a better word), that Emmis, his communications company, would contribute a large portion of the price of the team.

    Corporate ownership has been a problem. Fox, Disney, AOL, and the Tribune company have all tried. In all cases, their focus wasn't necessarily on maximizing revenues and plowing them back into the team, but in ensuring that the team turned a profit so that they could go back to their shareholders with bright smiles on their faces.

    Think about the Cubs. They've been owned by the Tribune Company since the dawn of time. They play in a big market in a beautiful stadium, and are backed by one of the largest media conglomerates in the country. Yet they rarely win. The company doesn't make the extra effort to put a winner on the field, and is instead content to put an adequate team out there, knowing that the lure of the ballpark and that winning slightly more often than not is probably enough to turn a profit.

    Do we want the same here?

    Smulyan may be a nice guy -- he certainly has a lot of defenders -- but he's already failed as an owner. (It does make you wonder, though, that if things were SO bad in Seattle, why would he want back in?) Here comes my cheap shot: This is an owner who thought that the Seattle market was so completely horrible for baseball that he tried moving to Tampa Freakin' Bay. Is that the judgement of a guy you want running your team?

    But back to the lease...

    With Smulyan as the heir apparent to the team, the DC Council is fighting tooth and nail, wanting MLB to name ownership before the lease process is finalized.

    So what happens next?

    The stadium agreement calls for the deal to be done by the end of the year. But as far as I know, there isn't a penalty for non-compliance. Hypothetically, MLB COULD walk away from the deal. But it's such a sweetheart setup that I can't see them pulling away -- especially considering how much their calves were fattened by the team's successs.

    Could they pull up the team and move? I suppose it's possible. But remember, they're not going to make the money they made here anywhere else -- especially because no other market has a facility as capable as RFK of hosting them.

    But here's where my paranoia meter starts screaming out.

    In the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Player's Association agreed to drop their objections to contraction after the '06 season. I know it's a longshot, but it IS a possibility again, especially with Florida's continued inability to get their stadium built. If MLB decides to hold on to the team through the end of next season, the likelihood skyrockets.

    Why would they turn down $450 million though? Because they stand to make more money.

    Short-term, they'd each have a larger share of the $2.37 billion TV contract they just signed with ESPN. Long-term, MLB could expand in a decade when Las Vegas or Portland become more viable markets. Arizona and Tampa Bay, for example, paid $130 million as an expansion fee. That's a price that's only going to go up, netting them more money down the road.

    Who really knows where it's headed though. If I was a betting man, I'd say that this gets done; it's in everyone's best interest. But MLB has shown a propensity to shoot itself in the foot if it thinks it can get the insurance settlement.

    We'll know when we know, I suppose.

    What would you bet?