Tuesday, February 28, 2006

And The Worst Comparison Of The Day Is....

"If somebody has a good year, stays injury-free and goes out there and does their job, I don't know why you would expect that person to take a backup role," [Royce] Clayton said. "If Roger Clemens goes out and pitches well and does his job, I don't think there would be teams that expect him to take a role as a reliever. I don't know why anyone would expect me to do that when I feel my abilities are going on the upswing, not the other way." -- MLB.com

I understand that professional athletes need confidence, and need to believe that they're the best. It's that edge that makes them who they are, but....

One of these lines is Royce Clayton over the last three years. The other is right-handed batters versus Roger Clemens over those same three years:
A: .260/ .320/ .362
B: .233/ .288/ .372

Don't cheat! Who's who?

Fouled-Off Bunts: Alf-Ageddon Edition

Sheinin writes an interesting piece, wondering what the doomsday scenario is with Soriano. If he really refuses to move to second, what could the team do? Bowden's suspended a player without pay before. Will he need to do so again? Looking for quotes from labor lawyers? Give it a read! It's a pretty interesting read -- even if I can almost hear the BallPark Guys ripping Sheinin for being too negative.

Juiciest part? Bob Boone, who played an active role in the Union during the strike era of the early '80s, gave Soriano a history lesson:
According to a person present at Thursday's meeting, at one point Boone said sternly to Soriano that the difficult labor fights of that era were never intended to help a player refuse to move to another position.

"We fought for important rights. We went on strike for important rights," Boone said. "But nothing was ever said a player getting to decide where he plays. I respect Alfonso Soriano's plight. But I also respect [Manager] Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden's plight. And I also have to respect the talent of Jose Vidro. . . .

"There are plenty of ways this could end. There is a best-case and a worst-case scenario, but I don't think anyone wants to see the worst-case."

Sausage-making question.... if Sheinin is getting this second-hand, how can he quote Boone precisely? Either his source for that is Boone, or he listened to a tape recording. If it's a recording, isn't it a bit creepy that they're recording these meetings?

  • Kornheiser blathers about Soriano the way the guy at the water cooler does when he doesn't really know about sports. I'm linking only because I forgot to close the window after I read it the first time. Share in the misery.

  • Looking for a generic preview of the upcoming season? Sports Illustrated is there for you.

  • The League-run internet-only news service has one of its daily notes columns. In this edition you learn:
    --Soriano's avoiding the question we want answered by skipping the Nats first two games prior to him having to leave for the World Baseball Classic
    --Luis Ayala doesn't appear to be suffering from any elbow pain like he had the other day -- or at least enough to get him to skip out from the WBC.
    --The Church/Johnson to the Sox rumors, as I suspected, were drummed up by the writer in the Herald, as Bowden is denying them.
    --The Nats think that David Wells isn't healthy. Funny, I just thought he was big-boned.
    --Minor leaguer "Christian Guerrero" [sic] has left camp after three of his family members were killed in a car accident.
    --Livan Hernandez has a dog, which isn't surprising, but Robert Fick has a cat, which is. Robert Fick is a cat man? Who'd a thunk it?

  • Scott Hanson's blog had this nugget:
    I asked Brandon Watson -- a contender for the leadoff spot in the lineup -- what he goes home to first in...

    He said he didn't really remember, and hadn't been measured in a while... but he thought 3.6 or 3.7


    Ichiro is considered the fastest in baseball, and I saw an article where they said he was a 3.8

    Like Brandon said... he didn't really remember.

    Faster than Ichiro? No wonder Bowden loves him.

    He also says that Ryan Church is rooming with Ryan Zimmerman. I wonder if Frank will hold that against him.

  • For those of you keeping track of such matters, Bowden wore khakis, not nylon pants yesterday.

  • As promised, Mark Zuckerman, not to be confused with Pinchas Zukerman, answers your questions. Well, maybe not your question. I was going more for a second-person, plural effect.

  • Lest someone encroach on his turf, the master of the mailbag, marked his territory yesterday afternoon.

  • There's been a Spin Williams sighting.

  • And in what will come as a shock and disappointment to Distinguished Senators, Royce Clayton's dreadlocks are no more.
    "Dreadlocks were a spiritual journey for me. Now, it's a new start," he said. "I said I just want to come in and focus and, to me, it's like a symbolic reminder that I'm starting anew.

    "There were a lot of good moments and positive energy" with the dreadlocks, he said, "and this is a start of a whole new positive energy."

    As long as he doesn't lecture me on the healing power of crystals, I can live with that.

    Interestingly, the article notes that Clayton's in excellent shape, and that his marriage to an Olympic sprinter has helped focus him on his conditioning. I found another article that makes the same claim. Check the dateline on that one. He's hung around the league. Has he been any good though?

  • Monday, February 27, 2006

    Negro Leaguers In The Hall

    It's a bit disappointing to see that the Washington Post only has a watered-down AP article on the Negro League candidates inducted into the Hall of Fame yesterday. And while it's certainly notable that the first woman makes it into the Hall, the article focuses mostly on that: "Here are five paragraphs about her, and oh yeah, some other guys got in, too."

    It's not for space considerations. Tom Boswell wrote a lengthy column that says a lot without saying anything about the World Baseball Classic. Yawn.

    Instead of trying to fill you in on any of them, I'll just link you to a project that Baseball Primer is doing. For the last few years, they've been meticulously going through baseball history year by year and voting on the Hall of Fame. They've tried to relook at everyone's career, sticking as close as they can to the actual historical record. It's been interesting watching them considering such forgotten stars as Fred Dunlap or Lip Pike.

    They've taken the extra step of including Negro leaguers in their evaluations, and have inducted many of them into the Hall. Here's their full index of Negro Leaguers that they dicussed.

    The new inductees into the real Hall are linked below. Some of the discussion threads are better than others, and some include the actual historical stats that these players put up. It might help you get a better understanding of the actual people who were elected, and what kind of player they were. They deserve better than the list of names in the Post.

    Ray Brown, pitcher
    Willard Brown, shortstop/outfield
    Andy Cooper, pitcher
    Frank Grant, second base
    Pete Hill, outfield
    Biz Mackey, catcher
    Jose Mendez, pitcher
    Louis Santop, catcher
    Mule Suttles, first base
    Ben Taylor, first base
    Cristobal Torriente, centerfield
    Jud Wilson, third base

    We Got Pedro!!!!

    OH MY GOD! The Nats just signed Pedro! Wow! I can't believe it!
    Pedro's, like, totally the best pitcher evah! Wowza!

    If only it were THAT Pedro, huh? Instead, Jim Bowden ran down to the used car lot, kicked the tires of a few models, and came home with the DeLuxe Astacio model.

    The League-Run Internet-Only News Service reports that he gets a $700K contract with a boat load of incentives. It's unclear from the reporter's account whether the $700K is guaranteed or non-guaranteed. If non-guaranteed, Astacio could be cut for $175K at the end of spring training. [UPDATE: It appears that it's guaranteed]

    If guaranteed, the Nationals would be on the hook for the entire portion. That's also when the bonuses would kick in, starting with a $500K roster bonus. There are also $2 million in other incentives, which are hopefully high enough as to keep Astacio from reaching them, save for the most unlikely of seasons.

    It's hard to know what to make of Astacio. (Stats) He's had some good seasons, some terrible seasons. Some healthy, others injured. We don't know what we're going to get. He's basically Tony Armas. Just older.

    You're going to hear a lot about his excellent close to the season. (See that mlb.com article for an example) A 1.89 ERA is nothing to sneeze at, certainly. But it came in just 19 innings. Why is that any more valid than the 19 innings he pitched in May, when he put up a 7.32 ERA?

    Statistics can be used to explain lots of things. It's important to understand them well enough to understand when they're being used incorrectly, trying to tell you that what you see isn't what you're really looking at.

    Last season batters hit .271/ .323/ .447 against Astacio. He walked 2.6 per game, and struck out 5.5. Neither of those are bad. Neither of those are excellent. He allowed 1.2 homers per game, too, making him slightly homer-prone, something RFK is sure to help. He hasn't had a truly good season since 2000, when Coors Field muddled the numbers.

    What can we expect? I don't really know.

    It's hard to be upset at Bowden for signing a pitcher. And given what was floating out there, Astacio really was the team's only option. But I still have to wonder what's going to give. Drese, Armas, Rauch, Astacio, Ortiz -- Two aren't going to make it. Of those five, only two (Rauch and Drese) can be traded.

    I'm intrigued to see what's going to happen this spring. We've got a lot of cooks, and Jim Bowden is there, stirring, stirring, stirring. How's the soup going to taste? (Yeah, that attempted analogy sucks. Sue me!)


    The bloggers have started weighing in. And nothing's official to the bloggers weigh in, right?

    --Federal Baseball notes his lack of durability (Pedro's, not Basil's), and that Petco was his savior (again, Pedro's, not Basil's)

    --Caleb at National Interest worries about Astacio's durability, too. But more importantly, Caleb thinks that the Nats pitching rotation would be perfect for the next Real World cast. Also, he notes that Astacio brings to 42, the number of Nats who've had labrum tears.

    --Friend to the Japanese, Ryan at Distinguished Senators displays the kind of wonderful analysis, which makes him a hit in the far east: he quotes me. Ryan's really just upset that this could hurt Jon Rauch's chance of getting a break.

    --Farid of the Beltway Boys gives it a big thumbs-up. Though I'm not sure I'd agree with his assessment that Astacio is "200+ inning pitcher", a number he's reached four times in his career.

    --Somewhat related, Rusty Staub at Oleanders wonders whether the recent hyping of the pitchers on the team (including the news that Ramon Ortiz has improved because of his work with Jose Rijo) is just part of a sales job by the front office. The results will certainly let us know.

  • Here's the Post's take, including a digression on why the Nats are going for an MRI this time.

  • Smoke And Fire, Now I'm Choking

    Let this sink in:
    The Washington Nationals are believed to be eyeing the Red Sox for a potential deal for a starting pitcher...

    Matt Clement, who is owed $9.5 million each of the next two seasons, is probably out of Washington’s price range, but Bronson Arroyo, who inked a three-year deal worth $10.5 million in January, certainly would be appealing.

    To acquire Arroyo, the Nationals may have to part with a package including first baseman Nick Johnson or outfielder Ryan Church.

    Lest you think it's just one of those high-falutin' Boston papers (where they drink their coffee with pinkies extended), our own Dave Sheinin notes the Nats interest. Sheinin didn't mention any potential Nats. And it's important to note that the Boston paper uses weasel language to indicate what the Nats MIGHT have to give up without indicating that that's his conjecture, as opposed to something from the team. (Even if those seem like reasonable guesses) Bill Ladson, for what it's worth, didn't mention either Arroyo or Clement, just David Wells.

    Would you trade Nick Johnson (the team's best offensive player when healthy -- a big 'when', I know) for Bronson Arroyo (stats)? If you would, do you have anything else you could sell me?

    Sheinin's article notes that the Nationals are bumping up agains the $60 million payoroll they've established. That jives with my estimates. Interestingly, Arroyo is due to make about $3.5 million this season -- roughly the same as Nick Johnson. Take that for whatever you think it's worth.

    I suppose that giving up Church wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I like the guy, and am intrigued by his potential (especially at his low cost), but he's on the old side of prospecthood, and the team really doesn't seem like they're going to give him a fair shake -- or at least they're doing everything in their power to make it look like they're not going to.

    Whatever happens, don't let it be for Nick Johnson.

    If Nick were to go, would they slide Vidro to first? Let Fick/Lecroy duke it out there? Would Daryle Ward come up? There are plenty of options. But they all taste like poo.

    All's Well That Ends Wells

    Upon hearing the news that the Nats are interested in David Wells -- with certain strings attached....

    Boston-Area Used Car Dealer

    J. BOWDEN, a red-haired man of about 40, wearing a stylish navy blue pullover with a large white W on the front, and a mismatched pair of nylon track pants.

    THEO, a young, eager car salesman, dressed in his father's white shirt and garish red tie.

    THEO: Hi, Welcome to Boston Motors, my name's Theo. What're you looking for today?

    BOWDEN: Hiya, buddy. Just looking around, mostly. The axle fell off my '85 Mustang, and I'm looking for some new wheels. It's like I'm always telling my wife, you can't have enough wheels, wheels, wheels!

    THEO: Well, is there any special type you're looking for?

    BOWDEN: I want something big! As big as they come! What about that thing over there?

    BOWDEN gestures over to the behemoth of a vehicle in the far corner of the lot.

    THEO: Oh, the 1997 Expedition? They don't make them like they used to. That's for sure. I've gotta warn you though, it guzzles gas, and belches oil.

    BOWDEN: Look at the SIZE of that thing! I had one of these back when I lived in Ohio. Finest set of wheels I had. Loved it. I'll take it!

    THEO: But it has a ton of miles on it.

    BOWDEN: Don't care! I'll take it.

    THEO: Well, ok. We're asking $10,000 for it.

    BOWDEN: Sounds good. Hey, I don't really have any money to pay for this today, though.

    THEO: That's ok. You can just talk to our financing department. Tony can work something out with ya.

    BOWDEN: Well, that's a problem, too. I'm on a day-to-day contract, and my credit's shot. So how about I take the wheels. You guys can pay for most of it, since you want to get it off the lot anyway.

    THEO: Sir, that's not quite how it works.

    BOWDEN: Sure it is. When I was in Ohio, the dealers worked that way.

    THEO: Sir, with all do respect, our dealership is one of the top-5 in the nation, and we're on pace for record sales this year.

    BOWDEN: C'mon Theo! Let me help you catch some lightning in a bottle. Make the sale. You don't really need anything from me. Tell ya what. Since you're a good kid, I'll throw in this Huffy, and a transmission from this old Pontiac Sunfire. Deal, kid? C'mon!

    THEO: Security!


    David Wells is old. David Wells suffers with occasional bouts of gout. David Wells is surly. David Wells and Frank Robinson would probably come to blows. David Wells is a decent pitcher, but isn't the difference between the Nationals winning the World Series, and missing the playoffs.

    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Lookin' For Love In All The Wrong Places

    I can't vouch for its authenticity, but....

    The Silver Shoulder Lining

    Nats expected #3 starter Brian Lawrence is out with a torn labrum. Depending on how severe the tear is, Lawrence could be out for 3-4 months, or he could be out for the year.

    Essentially the labrum is a sheath of cartilege inside the shoulder joint that acts as padding where the arm meets the body, and it helps to stabilize the joint. As the ball of the arm rolls around in the joint, sometime tears occur.

    Last year, Jon Rauch suffered a minor torn labrum. Surprinsingly, he was able to come back the same year, pitching a few decent innings down the stretch for the Nats. Tony Armas also suffered a torn labrum a few years ago. His came in concert with a torn rotator cuff. The double combo of shoulder injuries are the primary reason he's worn the 'potential' label for so long. Ryan Drese also had surgery on a torn labrum last year, and claims to be fully healthy for the season. On the hitting side, Jose Guillen is recovering from the same injury (as a separate story, it seems like he's hurrying back too quickly). At least with this team, it's a fairly common injury!

    To read Tom Boswell, the season's over. It's not. While having Lawrence in the rotation would be a good thing, the dropoff from him to the other stiffs isn't THAT great.

    While Lawrence was penciled in as the third starter, it wasn't for his expert pitching ability, but for his innings-eating abilities. When he's going well, he's a league average pitcher (when you adjust for home park). In fact, each of his last three seasons have had an adjusted ERA below average.

    Lawrence is a sinkerballer who gives up lots of hits, doesn't walk anyone, and strikes out almost no one. Do the Nationals have anyone like that? Yep!

    One of the Nationals' spring training 'problems' was how they were going to cut through all the starting pitching depth (even if it's mediocre depth). Ryan Drese, Jon Rauch, Tony Armas, and Ramon Ortiz were fighting for the last two spots in the rotation. Now they're fighting for the last three. Yeah, it'd be nice to have a little more depth to play with, but not all of those pitchers were able to break camp anyway. And I'd expect Bowden to ramp up his interest in Pedro Astacio, too.

    Randy St. Claire has said that Tony Armas is looking as good as he has since he's worked with him. (Spring training fluff?) If you were reading me last year, you know that I'm a Ryan Drese man. As I wrote many many times last year, something was off with his arm angle -- something the surgery has corrected, or so he says.

    Regardless of who slots in, the Nationals weren't going to win the World Series this year. Losing Lawrence probably isn't the difference between being a playoff team and not. I mean, think about that! Brian Lawrence a difference maker? If your team is constructed so that he is, you've got other problems to worry about!

    Sure, it'd be nice to have 200 league-average innings. But it'd be nice to have a shortstop who hit league average, too.

    (If you're one of those that thinks that a day where I'm more positive than Tom Boswell is a sign of the Apocalypse, you better drop to your knees and repent!)

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Vidro For Sale Edition

    Tom Boswell says that trading Jose Vidro might be the best option:
    Actually, the Nats know that one of four scenarios will eventually play out. None is terrible. Most are good. Soriano can agree to play left field so Vidro can play second. This is the Nats' fantasy. Believe it when you see it. Or Soriano can play second and Vidro, if he demonstrates over the next four-to-eight weeks that his knee is healthy, can be traded. This is a high-probability outcome. Or Vidro, if healthy, can play second and Soriano can be traded. This is less likely. Soriano, with 35-homer, 30-steal skills, is a better fit for the Nationals' desperate offensive needs than the more subtle Vidro.

    Leaving aside the questionable nature of the last sentence, this contradicts what Dave Sheinin reports:
    Team officials ruled out moving Vidro, who is considered a far better defensive player than Soriano, to another position.

    The Nationals ultimately could trade Soriano, who reaches free agency after this season, although thus far the team has found his trade market less robust than it had hoped. Vidro, too, could be traded if he proves his knee is healthy. Bowden, however, said he hopes to avoid solving the problem through a trade.

    "I'd like to keep them both," he said, "because if we have them both we're a much better team."

    Coincidently, or not-so coincidently, Jose Vidro pulled out of the World Baseball Classic. Jim Bowden was already trying to get Vidro and Luis Ayala removed because of injury concerns (knee and elbow respectively). It's obvious that the team wanted him around, and I wonder if they threw seeds of doubt in his mind about his status with respect to playing second and Soriano's presence. Sheinin reports that Vidro was "stern-faced" after a meeting discussing the Soriano clusterfark. How much of it was his decision?

    Regardless, Soriano is off for most of the spring to play second for the Dominican team. As Boswell points out, this just delays the decision a month, which, he says might not be a bad thing. If there are still questions about Vidro's knee -- which there certainly are -- then this gives the Nats a month to evaluate it. If he's hurt still, Soriano could step into second. If he's healthy, Boswell says they could pursue a trade. The Mets were always interested.

    I've argued many times before for a Vidro trade. It's not that I don't like the guy or think he's any good. It's just that after this season, he still has two years and $16 million on his contract. Do you think that he's going to be worth $8 million in 2008?

    It's certainly interesting, and Boswell's article raises some interesting points for debate.

  • MLB.com reports that the Nats initial meeting with Soriano was a dud:
    According to a source familiar with the meeting, the think tank -- which included Bowden, Robinson, and assistant general managers Bob Boone and Tony Siegle -- spent that time trying to convince Soriano to make the switch. They mentioned that great players like Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez made position switches for the good of their teams. Bowden did most of the talking. After the team made its pitch, Soriano remained adamant that he was not going to play the outfield.

  • Nationals Journal has video of today's non-newsy press conference. If you do watch it, take a look at the interaction between Frank and Soriano. It's clear that Frank's working hard to make it work.

  • MLB.com has a nice look at left-handed pitcher, Mike Hinckley. Hinckley had an outside chance of making the roster out of spring training last year. This year, he has zero chance, and has probably been passed by Bill Bray on the lefty-depth chart. (Stats)

  • Proving the complete stupidity of most international drug testing programs, Chad Cordero, an asthmatic, is prevented from using his inhaler. Not only can he not use it during the competition, he hasn't been able to use it for the last two months. Ridiculous.

  • Frank threw out (hopefully literally) the possibility of Cristian Guzman at leadoff. I'm quite sure he didn't mean it literally. (At least my sanity is hoping!) Regardless, Sheinin breaks out the stats, and shows how stupid an idea that would be.

    We (Nats bloggers) praise Barry Svrluga a lot, and it'd probably heresy to say it, but I think I might actually prefer Sheinin. He's much more stat-friendly, and still a very good writer. (I'll still take Barry's chat sessions, though!)

  • Make Mine Extra Toolsy

    The same day that Dave Sheinin introduced the general public to the idea of what a Toolsy Reds outfielder is by pointing out what a good football team the Nats have, comes word, from MLB.com, that the Nationals are interested in Wily Mo Pena.

    That the Nats are interested in Pena/A Red/An Outfielder should come as no surprise. The Nats (or more precisely, Bowden) was sniffing around Pena last offseason.

    Pena's main skill is his power. He's cranked out 45 home runs in just over 600 ABs over the last two years. (Stats) Impressive power for a 23 year old. Pena doesn't walk at all, and his strikeout rate would make Brad Wilkerson look like Joe Sewell.

    Pena's played all over the outfield, but his defensive stats are all over the map -- bad in the corners, good in centerfield. So I don't really know what to make of them. Last year, though, they were mostly terrible.

    I don't really see what Pena provides over a Church/Byrd platoon. But I've been saying that for months, just with different names inserted for Pena's.

    If he available? The Reds just traded Sean Casey to free up some payroll, and more importantly, a roster spot. Dunn slides into first, freeing up a spot for Pena. Although (and this is entirely conjecture) they could potentially slide Ryan Freel into the outfield with no problem -- assuming he keeps himself out of jail. That would also force them to put Tony Womack into the lineup fulltime, which he's been jonesing for.

    I don't know what the Nats would offer, but tying up with another point I was making earlier, Jon Rauch needs to be moved. If Ortiz, Armas, and Drese make it, there's simply no room for him. He can't be sent to the minors anymore. And if Pena's on the roster, is Ryan Church really necessary? Maybe there's a package there -- even if it's one that makes my blood turn cold.

    Of course this is all probably much ado about nothing.... but in an offseason that's been focused on nothing but the Stadium and Soriano, sometimes it's fun to rumormonger!

    Are You Ready For Some (Less) Baseball?

    A helpful BPGer shares a MASN press release on this season's upcoming TV Schedule.

    Good news for the significant others of you (us!) Comcast-ites, you'll have more time to spend with them, as they'll have fewer games to watch. Yippee! Thank you Peter Angelos! Thank you, Bud Selig!

    As if there wasn't enough bad will with all the crap going on with the stadium, Soriano, and all the other distractions, they make it even more difficult to actually watch the games. And no, Comcast (or Cox) isn't blameless in this mess either. They're all corporate, scumsucking monopolies who are trying to bleed the fans dry for every last farkin' nickled they can squeeze out of us.

    They're showing only 32 games on over-the-air TV, which would be fine if people had access on cable. There'll be an additional 7 Fox Games (Game 'o the week) and one Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN. Meager scraps, at best.

    Nothing's going to get resolved until we get a new owner (or at least a proxy) and we won't get an owner until the lease is finalized. And the lease won't be finalized til MLB decides whether to approve the council's changes or to take the whole thing to arbitration -- the clock's a-tickin', boys!

    Sometimes it's hard to love something you hate so much.

    A-Sor On The Scene

    Nationals Journal has the scoop.

    There aint' much there, there. Yet. He's looking forward to playing second in the WBC, at least.

    Interesting thought.... we're all assuming that he'll be a capable outfielder. What happens if he can't cut it? Chuck Knoblauch, for example, wasn't able to make the switch. What if Soriano is Dave Kingman in the field?

    10 Burning Questions

    With position players making their grand entrances today, let's look ahead to what the key questions of spring are.

    1) Where's Soriano going to play?
    I'm sick of this question already. I've mentioned before that I would suspect that Soriano is going to back down. He wants cash. And the only way he's going to get cash is by putting up numbers this season, and not being too much of a problem. Even if he does come to ST with just an infielder's glove, I'm sure someone can loan him an outfielder's.

    But much of that depends on....

    2) How's Vidro's health?
    Jose Vidro had an injury-riddled year. Coming off knee surgery, he never got himself into game shape, which eventually took its toll on his body, breaking him down again.

    He's at the point in his career at which second baseman typically start falling apart. Other than catcher, they have the shortest careers -- all the twisting, turning, collisions greatly affect what is typically the slightest frame on the diamond. Vidro doesn't quite look like the classic second baseman, so perhaps he can avoid the classic fate.

    At any rate, he avoided surgery in the offseason, thanks to the advice of James Andrews. I have faith in the good doctor, and hopefully an offseason of rest, rehab, and conditioning will keep Vidro on his feet, and ripping doubles for 90% of the season.

    3) Can Jose Guillen Swing A Bat?
    He played most of the second half with a torn labrum -- the sort of injury that knocks pitchers out for months. He had major surgery on it right after the season, and there's a good chance he won't be ready to go til Mid-March, making an April start difficult.

    Somehow I think he'll suck it up.

    As Guillen went, so did the team. He's certainly their most consistent hitter, and we can't forget how tremendous his first half was. He hit for average, and power, driving in runs frequently when the team needed them the most. Then came the second half. He couldn't buy a hit with RISP to start, then couldn't buy a hit, period, to end.

    If Frank can keep him off the field til he's fully healthy, there's no reason that Guillen can't duplicate his first-half numbers, giving the Nats a key piece that they missed during their dog day swoon.

    4) Is Zimmerman Really Ready?
    It'd be foolish to doubt Ryan Zimmerman at this point. Everything we saw, majors and minors, indicate that he can make the transition to the big leagues. But will he?

    While we're wowed by the near-.400 average, and the doubles he cranked out, he didn't walk much. And pitchers finally started figuring him out that final week.

    It will be up to him to make the adjustments this year, as pitchers get a better grip of what he's good at, and where he's exploitable. We may need to temper our enthusiasm. He's probably not going to hit .300 this year.

    But... if things go wrong, who's capable of taking the job? Damien Jackson hasn't played much third. None of the other players have either. Could that be the one hope that Brendan Harris has?

    5) Who's In Center?
    Ryan Church? Marlon Byrd? Brandon "Endy 2.0" Watson?

    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 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.

    We've heard the criticism of Ryan Church ad nauseum. But the man has hit at every level of the majors and minors. Marlon Byrd has had a decent track record, especially in smacking around left-handed pitchers. The ideal situation, it seems, would be a platoon of the two of them. Combined, they could probably hit .280/ 20/ 80. From a centerfielder, that's great -- and it would fulfill Eddie Rodriguez' pathological need for L/R balance!

    6) Can Guzman Rebound?
    This is perhaps the most important question of the spring. It's fish or cut bait time. If his laser eye surgery, and a new hitting coach, who by all accounts doesn't have his head on the golf course, can't fix him, nothing can.

    6A) If he does fail, is Royce Clayton (especially at $1 million!) the answer?

    7) How's Livan's knee?
    Livan Hernandez had his knee drained every three starts last year, and the pain was pretty noticeable. He was rarely able to push off, and frequently looked like he was trying to step his way over a razor fence that was a little too high. It seemed like he threw even more slop than typical, perhaps because he couldn't get the extra juice on the fastball.

    If he's healthy, there's a chance that he could get closer to 2004's form than to 2005's. If so, we'll like the results.

    8) Will We Be Saying "Livan and Nasty, Then Pray For Something That Rhymes With Nasty?"
    The rotation is dreck beyond the big two. While that's probably a bit harsh, there are questions, especially now that Brian Lawrence's shoulder stiffness is lingering. Right now, he's penciled in solidly in the third spot, leaving a fight to the death for the other two spots.

    It comes down to Jon Rauch, Ramon Ortiz, and Tony Armas. We know Armas. Oft-injured, lots of potential (or so the scouts say). But he's never been able to put it together. For what it's worth, pitching coach Randy St. Claire says he looks great early on. Ramon Ortiz is interesting. He's had some decent years in the past, but he loves the gopher ball -- which will be much less of a problem here than it was for him in Cincinnati. Jon Rauch pitched effectively as the Nationals designated loser last year -- the pitcher they'd throw out there in extra innings to take a tough loss when the Nats couldn't scratch a run home to save their life. He's also out of options, which means that he'd have to be exposed to waivers (where Jim Bowden loves giving pitchers away) before being able to be sent down. If someone claimed Claudio Vargas, they'll claim Rauch, too.

    Ryan Drese is in the mix as well. Drese also had labrum surgery last year, but says he feels well, and that he's able to get back up to the high arm angle which makes his sinker so effective -- as opposed to last season when the low arm angle forced him to lob cantaloupes up to the plate.

    9) Who winds up in the pen?
    The losers of the starters battle will fight there way into an already crowded bullpen. Cordero, Ayala, Majewski, Eischen, and Stanton seem entrenched. That's before we factor in Felix Rodriguez. There are only a few slots, and lots of guaranteed contracts.

    Bowden isn't going to just crap money away and release some of these guys is he? He could trade some, I suppose, but for what? To who?

    10) How Important Are The Stats?
    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.

    Same goes for pitchers. Sometimes they're facing minor league lineups. Sometimes they're just working on one pitch, throwing nothing but a changeup, trying to learn a new grip. The team knows what's going on, but we can't, unless one of the writers fills us in.

    Most importantly, don't worry about wins and losses. They never reflect how a team will actually do. It usually seems like the team with the most veteran Triple-A lineup does the best -- in which case, I expect Ruben Mateo and George Lombard to lead the Grapefruit League in hitting, and the Nationals to be in first place by the end!

    One thing that I do find valuable, though, is K/BB ratio for pitchers. It's not a perfect measure, but it gives you an idea of a pitcher's control, as well as how good his 'stuff' might be. Even if he's giving up runs, if he's still striking out batters, it means he's doing something right. Patterson's numbers last spring were quite good. That might be one way to sort out the starter's logjam.


    I'm looking forward to the games. I'm sick of the off-field drama!

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Let The Meeting Begin

    MLB.com commences the meeting of the Robert Fick appreciation society. Expect nuggets from the Post and Times manana.

    MLB's article is constructed artfully:
    First Part -- Fick is a jerk
    Second Part -- Frank likes him
    Third Part -- He's reformed and changed, accempting his role. Bowden even says so.

    The more I'm sold something, the less I'm inclined to believe it.

    Fick's a jerk. A redass. He's vulgar -- the article notes how many times he's been fined, especially for abusing the umps. It's not that swearing is a bad thing (don't tell my mom, but I've been inclined to toss off a few, typically while watching Frank bunt a runner from second to third), but it's symptomatic of what's been his biggest problem, his temper.

    That all manifested itself in one of the dirtiest plays I've seen in baseball. In the 2003 NLCS, while playing for the Braves, he grounded to the pitcher. First baseman Eric Karros took the throw, and received a swinging arm block to his forearm from Fick, who was trying to knock the ball loose. This wasn't a pansy slap of the glove like the one ARod delivered to Bronson Aroyo in 2004. Fick was clearly gunning for his forearm, driving his arm down hard on Karros'. Fick was fined $25,000 for the play, and many were urging his suspension.

    (Good accounts and blogger reaction here and here)

    After the game, Fick, as is per his usual, delivered a profanity-laced tirade: "It's an elimination game and you've got to do what you've got to do," Fick said in a profanity-laced explanation. "I'm not saying I did it on purpose. But it's ... baseball."

    Even his own manager refused to defend him:
    "I think he tried to grab the ball out of Eric's glove, which is a little bit of a violation of the rules," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "I know there wasn't an attempt to hurt Eric but that's a good way to hurt somebody probably."

    Fick has also, for what it's worth, been a central figure in two brawls. In the most famous one, he earned an 8-game suspension (handed out by Frank Robinson) for going crazy on the Royals. The other was against the Cubs. I'll let the AP Account speak for itself: Fick was seen taunting fans in the visitor's bullpen, and fans doused him with beer.


    He's not a guy I'm going to be rooting for, even if I pull for the jersey.

  • Some people hate him so much that they've written a song (complete with MIDI file!) about him.

  • And now we find out that he has 'loose bodies' in his elbow. And we expect him to be a backup catcher? (Did you know that he's only caught 31 games since 2002?) Fick says that he doesn't think it'll impede his season, but I'm not at all inclined to believe Dr. Fick's diagnosis. I'm not a doctor, but if it's to the point where it's noticeable to him this early into the season, it's probably something that's going to require surgery, even if it's not a major one.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: What's In A Name Edition

    Here's the background on the Name thing: Post/Times.

    Essentially this company claimed the rights to the name a year or two before the move to DC. When MLB discovered this, they began negotiating for the rights. MLB thought they had an oral agreement. Bygone said nope. MLB names the team. Bygone's price goes way up. MLB sues Bygone. Bygone's rights are upheld. MLB re-sues. Trial in April. Either way, it's nothing that a big bag o' cash, or a name change can't fix.

    But it does make you question the competence of MLB's lawyers. Relying on an oral agreement with a company which appears to be a squatter? Oy!

  • Nationals Journal, the WaPo's blog is back again. We lost a saint, but we gained a monkey. Yay! More Panera jokes!

  • Hey, look at this! Zuckerman's getting in on the WaPo's action -- just without the IT architecture to actually support a chat:
    Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. The Times' beat reporter for the Nationals will respond to your questions on-line and in print each Monday, beginning Feb. 27. Send questions to Mark at natsmailbag@washingtontimes.com

    Maybe the WaPo could sue the Time for infringement?

  • Sheinin and Loverro get the ol' tag-team combo going with Bowden and Frank. Apparently, Franks' not too happy about not having an actual backup catcher on the roster (especially with one who already has a sore throwing arm!):
    "From what I read, that is the perfect scenario for this ballclub. That's what I read."

    Asked if he was comfortable with that, Robinson said: "That's the first time I've been asked. It's a little late now. You would think that would be something coming from the manager, wouldn't you? But you guys chose to go to the general manager. So I am not going to comment and second guess the general manager. I just work here."

    Strangely, MLB.com didn't run this quote.

    Let's see if we can keep the Dysfunctional Family Circus straight:
    --Tony Tavares hates Frank; Loves Bowden
    --Frank hates Tony Tavares; lukewarm, at best, towards Bowden
    --Bowden claims to love everyone, especially lithe outfielders, but probably hates Frank.

    Confused yet?

    This is what we know: They fired Frank's buddies/field staff. They hired his field staff without letting him have much input. The team president ripped the bejeesus out of him in an end-of-year interview, and probably didn't want him back. Frank (and this is something I've heard third-hand, so take it with a grain of salt) wasn't invited to the Winter meetings, but flew down on his own, essentially forcing his way into the offseason debate. And Frank's had apparently little to no input on the offseason plans, hence the backup catcher and Jamey Carroll issues.

    This is almost like Christmas at my house! All we need now is Grandma drinking too much eggnog, and telling me how fat I've gotten.

  • The Nats offered a minor league contract to Pedro Astacio. It's an interesting gamble, but, again, I'm not really sure how he'd fit in, and it's doubtful that he'd be willing to start the season in New Orleans. As it is, we have three pitchers (most of whom have as many questions as Astacio) fighting for the final two spots. Depth is important in the starting rotation, for sure, but it's easier to have depth with players like Darrell Rasner whom you can send down to the minors at the end of spring training, instead of having to cut them, like you probably would with Astacio. Anyone know what happened to Rasner?

  • The Times is characterizing Brian Lawrence's shoulder problems as an 'injury', which is a bit worrisome. He's had some stiffness, which has prevented him from doing all his drills. Maybe that's the explanation for the apparent interest in Pete A?

  • Sammy Sosa continues to do the right thing, rejecting the Nats upgraded $1 million offer.

  • Blogger Alley:
    --Senators and Federalist hate Guzman.
    --Farm Authority lists the lists listing how sucky our farm system is. Apparently, this Zimmerman kid's supposed to be good.

  • Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Stealing The Facts

    One of the annual rites of Spring Training has passed. The team's manager has complained about stolen bases, and how this, Goshdarnit, will be the year the team finally gets off its keister and runs. Witness stories here and here.

    The MLB.com quote is different than the WaPo's version, and includes this nugget:
    "We had the personnel last year to steal bases, but it's a mind set"

    It's hard to disagree with the fact that it's a mindset, I suppose. But we had the personnel?
    Player         Career High in SB     Career SB %
    Schneider 1 25
    Johnson 6 48
    Vidro 5 57
    Castilla 7 43
    Guzman 28 66
    Wilkerson 13 55
    Guillen 5 47

    I left out the bench, and the players who weren't regulars.

    Keep in mind that unless you're breaking 67%, you're probably costing the team runs.

    This comment is precisely why I have a problem with Frank as manager. He tries to shoehorn the players on his team into his predesigned strategy. That's the reason there were so many blown hit and runs, and it probably contributed to all the pickoffs -- even if Brad Wilkerson should take the brunt of the criticism.

    This isn't a team built on speed. That's not to say that they shouldn't steal bases. But it can't be forced, and it has to come in the right situations. Vinny Castilla, for example, had his own stolen base party off Mike Piazza last year. That's great! But when Brad Wilkerson is running and Junior Spivey is at the plate, there's no excuse for calling a hit and run.

    I hope this is just typical spring training manager talk. If it's not, the Nationals are going to be running into far too many outs on the bases -- outs that their weak bats need badly.

    Twas Blind, But Now He Sees

    It seems that random and anonymous message board postings can be trusted, as Rocket Bill says that Cristian Guzman had laser eye surgery in the offseason. Not only that, but he focused on conditioining and dropped eight pounds, which can only help.

    Guzman enters the season on the second year of a 4-year $16.2 million contract that was the crown jewel of Jim Bowden's coronation as General Manager.

    Jim Bowden has brought in former decent player Royce Clayton to 'compete' with Guzman. But Clayton isn't really much of an improvement over a typical Guzman, and his $1 million salary, which would become guaranteed if he makes the team out of spring training, can't currently fit on the roster given all the contracts that Bowden has given it.

    I've written before that Clayton is mostly cover. I'm sure there's an element of psychology involved, even if Guzman dismissed it to Ladson:
    Asked if the Nationals were playing physiological [sic] games with him, Guzman said, "That doesn't work for me. They can bring in [Derek] Jeter. This is the new Guzie right now."

    Guzman certainly has to feel under pressure regardless, assuming he has any professional pride. But part of my reasoning for saying that Clayton is a decoy is that Guzman almost has to play better next year. Last year was so far out of line with even his previous worst seasons that you almost have to chalk it down as a fluke.

    Bad luck, bad vision, and a bad hitting coach formed a perfect storm of suckiness, which sank the SS Washington. I like projections as much as the next guy, but any projection system isn't going to account for those factors.

    Cristian Guzman turns 28 this year. He's not old, even if his speed, which once was a major part of his game, had declined. From 2002-2004 Guzman was a consistent offensive performer, even if it was consistently mediocre. Even with his pathetic 2005, his career numbers are still .260/ .298/ .374. You can live with that from a shortstop, even if he's not going to be pushing you closer to first place.

    Is there any reason that he can't push those totals again? RFK, of course, will dampen them, and I think much more was made of the artificial turf factor in Minnesota than should be, especially given the Twins shift from astroturf to fieldturf.

    But let's aim high and suppose that he duplicates his next worst season. Disregarding his age-21 rookie year, his 2003 season was probably his worst: .268/ .311/ .365. Is that good? Nope. Would you take that this year from Guzman? Hell yeah!

    Here's the strange thing (and this should put Guzman's suckiness into context). In that thoroughly mediocre 2003 season, created 60 runs. (If you're not familiar with Runs Created, it's a rough Bill James, which aims to sum up the player's batting line into a total of runs that that player produced. It's not perfect, but it's a good thumbnail.)

    Last season, Guzman produced 37 runs. It's a general tenet that each ten runs of improvement yields around one win (assuming a normal distribution of runs, blah blah blah).

    If Cristian Guzman produces stats equal to his next worst season, he'll be two wins better than last year.

    And I'll sure as hell take that!

    So c'mon Cristian! Go out there and be thoroughly mediocre! Nats fans are counting on you to suck, but just a little bit less than last year.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Shoulder Stiffness Edition

    Brian Lawrence had shoulder stiffness yesterday, which he chalked up to having to exercise for the first time in four months. These little types of nagging injuries pop up in spring training reports all the time, because the beat writers are starving for news. Typically they don't mean a lot, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind; if Lawrence still has problems in two weeks, then it's time to worry.

  • Thom Loverro writes an interesting piece on the leadership void on the team. He notes that Livan seems to have the biggest role, but that pitchers rarely take on offensive players -- even if they have better bats than 1/4 of the starters!

    Frank Robinson, apparently, has given up on searching for one, which seems like a forumla for trouble with Jose Guillen on the roster, seemingly wanting to step in that leadership void. (An idea which Loverro rightly questions)

    Frank has some interesting quotes, and it's worth the quick read. Interestingly, despite the strikeouts, Loverro names Brad Wilkerson as one of the team's leaders.

  • Speaking of Livan, Distinguished Senators offers the first of what will probably be several hundred odes to Livan's greatness. Thankfully for Livan, his golf swing precludes the need for a restraining order.

  • Nationals Farm Authority notes the addition of catcher Erick San Pedro to the 40-man roster. Exciting stuff, huh?

  • Nationals Enquirer notes some silly comments from Bowden last week about how we should all show 'compassion' for A-Sor because of all the changes he's had to endure. I've got many things that I'm compassionate about: fuzzy woodland creatures, for example. Compassion for Soriano ranks somewhere down on the list just slightly above my compassion for certain Germans who were forced to move to Argentina in the 1940s.

    Even if you don't feel compassion, click over there to see a pic of Bowden looking particularly frazzled. Do you suppose he rolled out of bed in that track suit, Dawg?

  • Your Jim Bowden self-serving quote o' the day (brought to you by the Washington Post):
    "Let's see. There's our health. The starting rotation. The Soriano issue. We probably lead the league in worries."

    And who caused two of those three worries, Jim?

  • Monday, February 20, 2006

    Dateline Viera

    Spring has sprung. Nats are in the gear. And Opening Day is only a month-and-a-half away!

    Spring always inspires weepy poetry about the game, drawing broad analogies about how the game reflects life and blah blah blah. It's great when masters do it, but there are far fewer masters than hacks. Despite my overly large ego, I know that I lay closer to 'hack' on that scale, so I'll save you the displeasure of a paean.

    All I know (and many of you would argue that it isn't much!) is that I'm starting to get excited.

    There were a bazillion and one spring training articles over the weekend. In the interest of sanity, I won't link them all, just pulling out a few tidbits here and there. I'd refer you, especially, to Ladson's stuff at Nationals.com. He's been writing up a storm. He has the advantage of not having any limit on his column inches, and he gives you the minutiae that nutballs like you and I crave.

  • The Nats signed Kevin Gryboski to a minor league deal. I'm not sure what happened with Gryboski last year to make it so that he was still floating around at this point. But he's the kind of player who's good to have, and would be excellent injury (or trade) insurance, given his track record of success -- even adjusting for the Mazzone effect.

  • Frank claims that all the pitchers will be healthy and ready for the season's start -- which'll create a helluva logjam. The ones who have the most question, Armas and Drese, will be the ones we'll need to watch most closely.

    Here, Drese says that his arm is feeling good, and that he's finally able to get his arm angle back up where it belongs.

  • The AP ran a nice profile of Chad Cordero. Frank acknowledges that he overused him, and is open to the idea of letting him share the role (in non-threatening situations: ie three-run leads?). Also, Cordero, at this point in the spring, can't run a mile without walking. Maybe he needs the Babe Ruth hot springs treatment?

  • Fick says he's learning a lot about throwing by working with Bob Boone. I hope this isn't just a typical Spring Training roses and sunshine quote:
    "He was talking about my hands and how I should receive the ball," Fick said. "The rap on me is my throwing. He said he is going to make me an accurate thrower to second base. I have the arm strength, but I haven't had the accuracy. We talked about the correct form. It was different information than I ever heard before."

  • Ladson reports that Patterson is working on a changeup. If he can throw a functional one, he'll be deadly. As it was, his curveball was an excellent changeup, playing off his fastball exceptionally well. Recall that it was a changeup, taught to him by Randy St. Claire, that transformed Hector Carrasco from a Korean league refugee to a dominant reliever and a second-round pick.

  • Comcast SportsNet's Scott Hanson has started up a Spring Training blog -- showing the pointless, but strangely interesting, things that aren't worth writing more than a sentence or two about.

  • In a mailbag, Ladson indicates that the team is likely to head north with 11 pitchers. Who'll be the odd man out? If only they could trade Stanton.

    Bill Bray, as we'd expect, has almost no chance of heading north.

  • This year marks Frank Robinson's fiftieth year in uniform. If you were reading last year, you'll know that I don't think much of Frank as a field manager. But there's no denying that he's an inner-circle hall of famer -- one who's definitely underappreciated by the public at large. He had the misfortune of splitting most of his career between two cities. In the first, a racial backwater, he left on bad terms. In the second, he was overshadowed in retrospect by a similarly named player who played his entire career in the black and orange. I wonder how many people even know that he was the first African American manager?

    I've told this story before, but it remains my favorite Frank Robinson story. He was asked once who the best player he ever managed was. Remember that he's managed Vlad Guerrero, Cal Ripken and Joe Morgan. His answer? Himself. That takes hubris. But he's also right.

  • Friday, February 17, 2006

    Just Guillen Being Guillen

    Dave Sheinin has made it to beautiful Vierra, Fl, and he starts out by looking at Jose Guillen. It's a fascinating article, but an infuriating one. Sheinin lets Guillen hang himself with his own words, as he comes across as trying to be the big man. But he words belie some troubles laying below the surface. (Distinguished Senators has a probably much more entertaining hack or two at it, too)

    As good a player as Guillen is (and he's damn good) Sheinin's lede shows the tension beneath the surface:
    Jose Guillen is a guy you want to keep happy. Other teams have seen what has happened when he is unhappy, and it is messy. The Washington Nationals, however, don't have to worry yet. As Guillen sat in the team's near-empty clubhouse Thursday morning at Space Coast Stadium, following another lonely workout on his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, an occasional smile still crept across his face. But from where this Guillen sat, it was possible to see that Guillen lurking menacingly in the distance.

    Then, when Sheinin asks Guillen about the surgery on his torn labrum, which was much worse than initially expected, he simmers over, not quite at a rapid boil"
    "It was pretty ugly. I saw the pictures," Guillen said. "It was not a slight tear, like [the team's medical staff] said. It was pretty much broken in half. . . . I was kind of mad at those guys, because they should know what was going on in there. But I really blame myself, because I was the one who wanted to keep playing.

    Oh my. Where to begin.

    I can understand his frustration with the medical staff. That's probably something they should've caught -- and given how the team doctor was overruled by three specialists, including James Andrews with respect to Jose Vidro's rehab, maybe there are bigger questions to be asked. But Guillen should not be the one to ask them.

    As far as blaming himself, that's something he's done before, and, putting on my armchair shrink's cap, that just seems like another case of him trying to be 'the man'. Frank Robinson ultimately bears the responsibility for that. After an All-Star-quality start to the season, Guillen fell off the table in the second half, so much that by the time Sept rolled around, he was done, completely unable to hit.

    Frank should have stepped in before that. I can remember one game, right after his injury, where they had announced that they were going to bench Guillen for rest for 4 or 5 games. Two nights later, Frank had an injured Guillen up at the plate in a key pinch-hit situation. It's admirable that he's such a gamer, but at some point you need to lose a battle here or there to win a war. As it is, those meaningless ABs last year stand a good chance of keeping Jose out for the beginning of this season.

    Jose continued:

    "But one thing that bothers me is that a lot of people don't know what I went through last year. I bet you there was nobody in baseball -- nobody -- who could play through this injury. Only my family knows how much pain I was in every day after games. I don't like to make excuses, but my doctors said they don't know how I could have played with that injury."

    As much as I like Jose's bat, it's this attitude which makes it hard for me to root for him as a person, even if I'm cheering for the number on the uniform.

    While I'm sure that playing with a shredded labrum hurts like hell, what does it prove? That he's a man? So what? I don't care how big his balls are, I care what he produces on the field. And the fact is that with that shredded labrum, he was no better than Cristian Guzman for that final month of the season. He hurt the team because he wanted to be the macho man. Self before team? That's never good.

    Keep that "but" from the last sentence in mind. He's fond of using 'buts'. When we use 'buts' (keep the jokes to yourselves, children!) we mean "I really mean what's on the right side of the 'but' but I want you to think that I really mean what's on the left side."

    Here's an extension of Jose's but (Stop snickering, damn you!):
    "Everybody knows about this ballpark, how many home runs I lost there," he said. "I'd like to see somebody coming from another team [where he has hit] 40 home runs -- let's see how many home runs they hit here. I'm not going to mention no one's names. But just come here. And we'll see who has the real power here."

    STILL with the farkin' ballpark? Does he wake up in cold sweats? Yes, Jose. We know you can't hit at RFK. Get over it. The opposing team's pull hitters didn't have a problem hitting there. Nick Johnson didn't have problems hitting there. I'm not going to rip his 'manhood' (like he seems to think the ballpark is doing), but his swing just isn't right for the park. Unless a healthier shoulder (and a competent batting coach) allow him to pull the ball more, he's not going to have a ton of success at RFK. He needs to realize that that's the reason, and stop worrying about whether others think that he's 'the man'.

    Is it reading too much into it that he feels somewhat threatened by Soriano? Is it a case of salary? That A-Sor (thanks to TP for that one!) is more popular nationally?

    Regardless, it seems like he's not too thrilled with his new teammate, or at least the situation:
    "It's something Jim is going to have to fix," Guillen said. "Because everybody knows it's going to become a controversy. And we don't want that to happen here. We have a great group of people here. It's going to be a distraction for this team when those guys start taking ground balls at second base. It's the best thing for the team and the best thing for those two guys to fix that before spring training starts."

    He's worried, justifiably, about the distraction.

    Shenin ends with an ominous note:
    Guillen is not choosing sides -- just hoping everyone gets along. And he is not unhappy with the organization, really. But he could be a whole lot happier.


    What happens if the team tanks? If Frank gets the axe? If Soriano and Vidro are a problem? If Soriano outhomers Guillen? If Frank needs to bench Guillen for a few games?

    Lots of questions.... and I fear that we might not like the answers to some of them.

    Hopefully they'll stay in the realm of the hypothetical.

    Guillen has done well to rehab his image over the last year or so. But this is a scary portent.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Two Days And Counting Edition

    The news is slow while we wait the last few days for Livan Hernandez to drive his Jaguar up I-95 to beautiful downtown Vierra.

    Meanwhile.... Tony Williams thinks that MLB will sign off on the lease. It also has more details on the off-again-on-again-off-again-on-again VIP parking garage. To recap, MLB wants a VIP parking garage on site. Their $20 million payment was given to the city, essentially with the caveat that the city build the garage. The city's budgeted $21 million for it, but it only would pay for an above-ground garage. But developers, obviously, have other plans for the land -- besides, who wants to go to a below ground Applebees underneath a parking garage? The developers seem willing to front the remainder of the garage money, roughly $30 million, but of course they'll expect development rights on the land, and probably some other types of concessions. Bored yet?

  • Nationals Farm Authority recaps some more recent Nats signings, including the re-appearance of Joe Horgan, which triggers my PTSD.

  • The Distinguished Senator points to a Ken Rosenthal article which calls the Alfonso Soriano trade the worst move of the offseason.

  • Just A Nats Fan looks at Rocket Bill's recent article on the state o' the bench.

    An emailer raised a good point... with the crackdown on amphetamines this season, the role of a bench player might be emphasized as some players will just need more time to recover from their *cough* off-the-field activities.

    It's clear that the bench needed to be improved. JJ Davis and Tony Blanco, to name just two, were inexcusably bad. With the number of close games we played, a big hit here or there would've had more of an impact than on some offensive machine like the Yankees.

    Where I think you're hearing criticism though, is that there didn't really seem to be a plan or a shape to the acquisitions, other than 'let's get some better bench guys'. Anderson, Fick, Jackson, etc are all valuable players, but the number of guaranteed contracts means that players like Brendan Harris or Jamey Carroll have zero chance of making the roster. If competition is good for Cristian Guzman (with Royce Clayton, who looks like he has zero room to make the roster, too), why isn't it good for Jackson or Anderson? They've got their guaranteed contracts, and barring something catastrophic, they're heading north with the team.

    That's not a bad thing. But it is curious.

  • Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Weaver An Angel; Nats Screwed

    Jeff Weaver has signed a one-year $8.4 million contract with the Angels.

    It's of interest on several levels to Nats fans. First, Weaver has always been under the radar in terms of a Nats pickup, to fulfill Bowden's "pitching, pitching, pitching" mantra. Unfortunately, with the Soriano trade there just wasn't enough money for him.

    Not to beat a thorougly dead horse, but if the Nats hadn't traded for Soriano and hadn't signed Ramon Ortiz, they'd have saved $8.6 million. Which would you rather have? Brad Wilkerson and Jeff Weaver or Alfonso Soriano and Ramon Ortiz?

    While I'm much more open to the possibillity that Alf will be a decent player than some of the other Nats blogs, the trade wasn't made in a vacuum. And when we consider these sorts of details, you have to wonder what the thought process was in the Nationals 'think tank'. (Beyond: Strikeouts Bad! Fire Bad!)

    The other major impact it has is that it makes one of our first-round picks go bye-bye. We were scheduled to receive the Angels first-round pick for their signing of Hector Carrasco. Because Jeff Weaver is ranked higher than Carrasco, the Dodgers get it instead. Additionally, because he's a Type-A, a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds magically appears out of thin air, pushing the Nats later picks further down.

    C'est la vie!

    Thanks to frequent commenter Sam for the heads-up!

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Sosa Says So Long

    Rocket Bill gets the scoop: Sammy Sosa has rejected the Nats deal. Together now: Awwwww! Sosa wanted $1 million guaranteed, but Ladson also says that he would've accepted a deal similar to Frank Thomas'. That he thinks he's in the same category as Frank Thomas says a lot. (Maybe he means this Frank Thomas?)

    The article also brings us one of the most unitentionally hilarious sentences in a while: "the think tank in the Nationals' front office was very concerned about Sosa's eroding skills." I can't be the only person who immediately thinks of this, right?

    With Sosa's rejection, the 40-man roster smiles, and the chances of a Church/Byrd CF platoon, probably the best use of current resources, increases greatly.

  • BallWonk notes the strange tale of the Washington Nationals trademark, and how some ragtag pseudo-tshirt company is trying to stick it to Selig.

  • OMG has a good post, branching off of Bill Ladson's latest mailbag. He wonders whether the SS problem has truly been solved, what'll happen if Ryan Zimmerman comes down with small injury (given how being a 'man' is priority #1, results be-damned), and what the prospects for the pitching staff are.

  • Don Fehr makes a lot of money.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: Sick Of Sosa Edition

    Can we make this story end?

    Phil Rogers says that Sosa should try to redeem himself by playing in the WBC. A big hit here or there, and teams would be jumping all over him, right?

  • Banks of the Anacostia reports that someone else reports that Alex Rodriguez met with Sosa the other day, perhaps in an attempt to grease the skids for Sosa to end up in pinstripes. The Yankees almost pulled off a trade for Sosa a few years ago, and he could split time at DH with Bernie Williams. How can we help grease those skids?

  • But what are Sosa's chances of success? If you like analysis by table, they're not good. Players his age who had seasons as bad as his last year usually don't play much longer. Kinda intuitive, huh?

  • Moving off of Sosa.... Chad Cordero and Brian Schneider made the cut for the American team in the World Baseball Classic. Gary Majewski is an injury alternate. Being a blogger, I guess I'm supposed to say something cynical about the WBC, the increased chances for injury, about how it's all for money, how Bud Selig sucks, etc, etc. But I think this is a good thing. Even if we don't get excited over it, other countries are sure to. And anything that expands baseball's reach and encourages more people to get involved is a good thing.

  • The Evansville Courier-Press (a paper I read religiously) writes about Jamey Carroll. Registration is required, but the good Commisar of baseball has taken care of that for you (bselig@mlb.com / bselig).
    "When you see them getting other guys who are the same type of player ... that tells you something," Carroll said. Bowden reportedly questioned whether Carroll could be an everyday shortstop.

    "In the media, he more or less said I wasn't even gonna make the team," Carroll said.

  • Banks of the Anacostia, on top of his Sosa speculation from above, also looks at the Soriano mess, and uncovers the raising and dismissal of Soriano to the Cubs rumors.

  • One of the Nats TPers takes Nats fans who didn't renew their tickets to task, attempting to dismiss their arguments. I disagree with his argument, and would dispute a number of facts he lays out, notably that Bowden is hamstrung by not having a budget increase. Right now, the payroll is roughly $14 million higher than it was at the start of the previous season.

    He's right in that MLB (and this goes for all teams, not just our beloved Nats) don't 'care' about the individual fans. They're just a conduit for revenue. It's hard to dispute that. But his attitude that we should lay back and take it reeks a little bit too much like something Bobby Knight would say.

    There are a number of rational reasons why people would not renew their tickets. And altruism, which he seems to suggest, probably isn't a reason why others did renew -- it most likely had more to do with business purposes, and a desire to have renewal priority in the new stadium. That's enough for now, I guess...

  • Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Blogger Blather Edition

    Federal Baseball puts the burden of proof on Jeff Smulyan. Since he once proclaimed that he'd never want to get back in baseball, why is he now pushing to get back, and what's changed to make him an effective owner, which he most spectacularly was not in his time in Seattle?

  • Nationals Farm Authority tills the land, but finds only evidence of Trade Jim's slash-and-burn farm techniques. Ruben Mateo!? I remember back in 1997 (literally!) when Peter Gammons was convinced that Ruben was going to be the next Hank Aaron. He hasn't even been the next Tommie Aaron.

  • Banks of the Anacostia makes a triumphant return, and pushes for a Soriano/Wood deal. He also gives a thumbs up to Sosa -- contigent on a couple of pretty big 'ifs'.

  • Beltway Boys has second thoughts about Matt Lecroy. While I can't understand why he's discarding AL stats (as if there's much of a difference between the leagues anymore given that the leagues are fully integrated, and there's tons of player movement between leagues), his point about needing to look at other bits of information is a good one. At the same time, I'm not sure how useful splits of the sort he uses are. Are they indicative of an actual ability? Or are they just a random sampling?

    One thing does concern me about LeCroy, though. I took a quick look at his hitting chart, and he's not much of a pull hitter, even though he seems like he would be. I've thrown around the theory that only pull hitters can have success at RFK (which is why I'm slighly more optimistic about Soriano than many others). Obviously I haven't crunched numbers or parsed stats -- it's just observational from the 30 or so games I attended. Regardless, it's something to keep in mind as we watch the season unfold.

  • Nats Triple Play makes Dashiell Hammett hang his silver head in shame. His neo-nats-noir answers the unanswerable: What happened to Darrell Rasner? (1, 2, 3)

  • Monday, February 13, 2006

    Transaction Rules

    I stumbled across this website while trying to figure out a few things. It's an excellent glossary of transaction rules, all of which are confusing as hell.

    It's a good resource, and I'll be adding it to the Info links on the sidebar.

    Return Of Serve

    If there was any doubt that the ball's in Selig's court, the DC CFO ended that. He's signed off on the ballpark legislation, saying that the final version of the lease will not cause any problems when dealing with his Wall Street Overlords.

    Mayor Williams? Check.
    DC Council? Check.
    DC CFO? Check.

    What say you, Herr Selig?

    Payroll Update

    I wanted to update the payroll to show where we stand, now that all the arbitration cases have been decided. It also shows the roster crunch the team finds itself in. Trading Jamey Carroll helped, but there are still some questions at the fringes.

    Livan Hernandez -- $8,000
    John Patterson -- $350 (estimated)
    Brian Lawrence -- $3,200 (Salary actually higher, but SD is paying the rest)
    Ryan Drese -- $1,750
    Ramon Ortiz -- $2,500
    TOTAL: $15,850

    Chad Cordero -- $350 (estimated)
    Luis Ayala -- $1,100
    Gary Majewski -- $350 (estimated)
    Joey Eischen -- $1,300
    Tony Armas -- $2,100
    Mike Stanton -- $1,000
    Felix Rodriguez -- $1,250 ($650 is in roster bonuses)
    TOTAL: $7,450

    CATCHERS (2)
    Brian Schneider -- $2,700
    Matt LeCroy -- $850
    TOTAL: $3,550

    Nick Johnson -- $3,200 (+ $250 in playing time bonuses)
    Jose Vidro -- $7,000
    Cristian Guzman -- $4,200
    Ryan Zimmerman -- $350 (estimated)
    TOTAL: $14,750

    Jose Guillen -- $4,000
    Alfonso Soriano -- $10,000
    Ryan Church -- $350 (estimated)
    TOTAL: $14,350

    BACKUPS (4)
    Damian Jackson -- $700
    Marlon Anderson -- $925
    Marlon Byrd -- $800
    Robert Fick -- $850
    TOTAL: $3,275

    Total, 25-man roster: $59,225

    It's silly to carry 12 pitchers, especially so early in the season when there are multiple offdays, but unless Bowden cuts Rodriguez or unless one of the arms gets injured, they're almost forced into it by the numbers.

    Bowden has signed a slew of players to contracts, but there are two of note:
    -- Michael Tucker: $800 (non-guaranteed, gets $200 if released before season)
    -- Royce Clayton: minor league contract, if added to the roster, it becomes $1 million with $250K in games-played bonuses

    As it stands now, neither really has much of a chance of making the team.

    It's also important to note that I didn't include Jon Rauch, who is out of options. To send him back down to the minors, the Nationals would have to expose him to waivers, where he's sure to be selected. He has to come north with the team, or be traded, or the Nationals could lose him for nothing.

    Notice that there's no room for Brandon Watson, Brendan Harris, Bill Bray, or any of the other 'prospects' in the farm system. And there's no room for players like Darryl Ward who signed minor league deals. There are just too many guaranteed contracts, and only 25 roster slots. Sucks to be them.

    Does Bowden have a bigger trade in the works? Is he grasping at straws? Right now, multiple injuries and a judicious use of the disabled list are the only thing that's going to unclog the roster.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: One Liner Edition

    Predictably, MLB is blustering. Not content with the $600 million that the DC Council has forked over to them, they're considering taking it to arbitration (where they'd likely win damages, but then have to go back to the drawing board with a seriously pissed-off Council). Good luck with that, Bob! (Pravda means 'truth', right?)

  • Me-Sam Sosa says he'd rather retire than play for the $500K pittance the Nats have offered him, indicating that having to try out is beneath someone of his stature: "Sammy doesn't think of himself as someone who has to beg for a spot on a big league roster"

    Lemme edit that: "Sammy doesn't think of himself as someone who has to beg for a spot on a big league roster,"

  • Cristian Guzman had eye surgery? Maybe now he can see how much he sucks.

  • Dave Sheinin looks at how uncertainty affects the Nats' housing situation, noting that no Nat had bought a house in the area, and that Bowden lives in a hotel. Does he pay by the hour? We know he can't afford to pay by the transaction.

  • Speaking of cheap and meaningless business transactions, NFA looks at the cast of thousands (1, 2)that Bowden's recently brought in to entertain the good people of Harrisburg throughout what should be a very long summer.

  • Bowden Fires A Silver Bullet Through Carroll

    Jim Bowden traded Jamey Carroll to the Rockies for a small sack 'o cash. The $300K that Carroll netted will go a long way towards paying off a small portion of the free agent contracts he's handed to the following other infielders this season: Damian Jackson, Marlon Anderson, Royce Clayton, Alf Soriano, Bernie Castro (Keep filling out the list on your own).

    Carroll needed to be traded only because Bowden's transactions squeezed him out. Is Carroll a great player? Nope. Is he a good player? Eh. But none of the cast of thousands that Bowden brought in all that much better than Carroll.

    Rocket Bill regurgitates the party line the way my cat spews her Friskies on my rug:
    However, Bowden was bothered by the fact that the Nats' bench was unproductive in 2005[1], and he didn't feel Carroll was a good fit[2]. Carroll didn't drive in enough runs [3]and some in the organization felt that he was not good enough defensively to replace a player like Guzman[4].

    I've added the numbers so we can conviently refer back to them to beat the hell out of those strawmen. Well, maybe they're not all strawmen, but they're weak-ass arguments.

    1: Can't argue with that. But isn't the problem with the bench more a function of carrying (at various points) Tony Blanco, Kenny Kelly, Matt Cepicky, Jeffrey Hammonds, JJ Davis, Gary Bennett, Wil Cordero, Deivi Cruz, Brandon Watson, Endy Chavez, Brendan Harris, Tyrell Godwin and Henry Mateo, to name a few. How is their collective crappiness Jamey Carroll's fault?

    2: Not a good fit? There's a nebulous argument. I dunno, a backup infielder who runs well, gets on base at a decent clip, and who can fill it at all infield positions seems like a pretty fit for an NL club.

    3: If you're looking to your backup infielder to drive in runs, it tells you that your GM hasn't done a good job building your roster. The fourth and fifth outfielders, as well as your backup cornermen should be the ones driving in those runs. Carroll's job is to move runners over, pinch run, and do allow Frank to doubleswith Guzman out of the lineup. When he came to the plate he had no power, but his .333 OBP was eleven points higher than the team's average.

    4: Caroll didn't seem like he had a ton of range out at short, but if you're looking for a stopgap -- someone to fill in for a few games -- he was a good sub. But the only players who can play short on the roster are Royce Clayton (who's really no lock to make the team) and Damian Jackson. Jackson isn't as good as Carroll, and Clayton was never a gold glove-type SS, and he's turning 54 -- or something like that. Even if Bowden's contention was true, releasing Carroll doesn't mean the team has found someone who is capable.

    Carroll's not a perfect player, and I'm not going to pretend that the loss of him is going to adversely affect the Nats record next season. The difference between Carroll and Jackson (or whoever) in the limited amount of PT they'd both get is almost negligible from a stat angle. But the little things do matter -- the hustle, the attitude, the acceptance of a role -- all things that Carroll excelled at. Plus, on a team where PR and good news is at a nadir, Carroll's was the face that everyone saw, usually beaming a smile. He was, more than any of the other players, a goodwill ambassador. And that counts for something.

    The transaction is also emblematic of Bowden's biggest weakness: the lack of -- or at least the appearance of a lack of -- a plan. Like I just said, there's not an apreciable difference between Carroll and the other players he's brought in. Why Royce Clayton instead of Carroll? (And don't give me the competition crap -- Guzman's a sure bet to be better just because it's not possible to suck that much two years in a row.)

    There are two things that Bowden looks for in a player: power, and speed. They're the sizzle on the steak. Jamey Carroll has zero power. He does have some speed, even if he's not a base stealer. Someone like Jose Guillen, who has tremendous power, is his kind of guy. Someone like Brandon Watson, who blazes down the line when he weakly taps the ball in play, is his kind of guy. If a player excels at either or, he's golden with Bodes, dis/ir/regardless of whatever skills the player possesses.

    If you're one of the unlucky ones like Carroll or Brad Wilkerson who excel at lots of things, but don't wow Bowden with the two tools he's looking for, he will overlook you.

    And in this case, as with a number of his decisions this offseason, it's not clear that the team's any better for it.