Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Limbo Everbody!

Nuttin' to blog about... so, instead, some tasteless nuggets.

--Soriano scared off the Orioles with his 7/$117 million demand. He'll scare lots of teams off with that. Nice knowin' ya, A-Sor. The Phillies seem interested, though.

--Federal Baseball notes that some of the Elias Rankings (which determine the amount of compensation a team gets for losing a Free Agent) are starting to trickle out. As expected, Soriano is a Type A.

--He, Armas, Guillen and Fick have filed for Free Agency. Ladson implies that neither Guillen nor Fick will be back. Guillen for obvious reasons, but Fick was brought in, in part, because he was one of Frank's favorites. Sans Frank, who needs a redass?

--John Russell, currently managing in South America, had a phone interview with the Nats and might interview in person next week. He and Acta are the only names consistently out there, although Tony Pena lingers like a depressing memory.

--OMG, probably correctly, thinks that the Nats job might be the least attractive one out there for potential managers.

--Last week, for a few hours, at least, the Nationals had season ticket prices for the upcoming season, and there were price cuts everywhere (though the Diamond Club wasn't listed). My seats in the 500 level behind the plate dropped a buck. Other sections dropped more. They've since taken the prices down, but hopefully that was a case of someone putting info up too soon, and not someone putting incorrect info up. I'd expect season ticket renewals to start filtering out in the next month or so?

--The Harrisburg Senators are for sale.

--Someone thinks that Bill Ladson would make a good manager.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Peace In Our Time

Yesterday, Herr Selig and Prime Minister Fehr met in a beer hall outside Munchen to settle their differences. They arose with a 5-year agreement that'll assure us of continued peace long into the future -- or at least until the Sudetenland looks mighty attractive in '11.

The big news, well, at least for Nats fans, is that we'll still get compensation for Alfonso Soriano. To make a long story short, Type A free agents still get the same level of compensation. Type C free agents go away. But for Type As and Bs, the range of who qualifies as each narrows -- basically, the useless analysts at Elias rank every player in the majors based on rudimentary counting stats over the last two years, pro-rating for time lost to injury. Players ranked in the top 20% are Type As. Players in the top 40% are Bs. Additionally, Bs no longer require a team to lose their first-round pick. It's simply a sandwich selection. So, Soriano's eventual signing with another team'll still be gravy for us.

Federal Baseball and the Farm Authority do a good job running down some of the other provisions. There are some interesting angles with the revenue sharing program that could have an interesting impact, but without the actual CBA language, we're all just guessing.

The other key is that it changes around some things with the amateur draft to really put the screws to the kids. It doesn't institute a hard slotting system, but it really makes it difficult for a kid to use holding out as leverage -- for one, the signing deadline moves up to August, and also, teams that don't come to terms with a player get the exact same pick in the following year's draft. (NFA has a bit on that, and some other wrinkles -- good and bad -- with the minors).

But the best quick analysis of the thing I've read is from our friends at USS Mariner, and there's a good discussion in the comments. His point 4 about the marginal cost of mid-salaried players is an interesting one. It'll be fascinating to see how that pans out in the next few years.

So, good for baseball fans -- there's peace!

And good for Nats fans -- picks for A-Sor!

It's a shame we're not going to get anything for Joey Eischen though. ;)

(Oh, that's one more thing.... It seems (and I'm not 100% sure on this) that teams no longer have to actually offer arbitration to a FA to get the picks. In the past, small market teams, especially, were hesitant to offer arbitration to some good players for fear of having their budget busted. The most pertinent example is with Les Expos and how they received zippo for losing Vlad Guerrero.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Say! It's Not Joe!

Joe Girardi took himself out of the running and Svrluga's story seems to indicate that it was his job if he wanted. Good. I wasn't a big Girardi fan based on everything I read about his tenure in Florida. (And perhaps I'm still bitter because the crappy bastard stole half of Jorge Posada's should've-been Hall-of-Fame career, but that's another story).

So it looks like it's down to Manny Acta (who interviewed with the Rangers and is on the Giants' radar), Terry Pendleton (who seems reluctant to leave his family in ATL), and Tony Pena (who's afraid to step foot in Missouri lest he leave with buckshot in his hide)

I guess I'd rank them in that order, but I don't know a whole helluva lot about the managerial acumen. Much like a late-night comedian loves scandal, I think I'd kinds like to see Dusty Baker here. Maybe that, at least, would cure some of the malaise that struck my bloggin' in season two. Sadly, everyone's favorite MLB.com Beat Writer sez that that ain't happenin'.

Lucky Or Just Good?

After I looked at Endy's season last week, I thought I'd take a look at how some of our batters did. Were they lucky? Did their approach change? Let's see! Just as the peripheral stats can tell a lot about a pitcher, they can sometimes tell a bit about a hitter.

  • Brian Schneider: Through the first four months of the season, he was competing with Cristian Guzman for worst season by a Nats regular. He rebounded, of sorts, but still had an overall disappointing year. When you break down his stats, though, nothing shows up. He walked as much, struck out as much, hit as many line drives, and hit as many grounders as usual. He set a career low in HR/flyball (by quite a bit), and that's certainly reflected in his career-low .329 slugging percentage. He actually did better on his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this year than last.

  • Nick Johnson: The Walking Stick's breakout season comes mostly on the backs (ahem?) of his eye. He upped his already excellent walk rate to 18% of his plate appearances (up from 15 and 13.7% the last two years). But he also did a better job, unlike Schneider, of pure slugging. He turned more of his flyballs into homers than before: 16% versus 11% and 10% in the last two. That sort of power advancement, especially for someone his age and with his eye isn't likely a fluke. If his leg stays bolted together, there's no reason he can't do it again.

  • Jose Vidro: Lower walk rate? Check. Higher K rate? Check. Fewer line drives? Yep. BABIP that's down about 20 points from your glory days? Check. Bloated monstrosity of a contract for a player with declining skills and the range of Pauly Shore? Bingo. Shoot me now.

  • FelipE Lopez: He didn't slug much for the Nats, but he got on base, setting a career high -- and considering the execrable shortstop play Washingtonians have witnessed, we'll take it! Lopez' walks were way up, but his slugging (and HR/FB) were way down. Some of that, for sure, is the park. Everything else, to include BABIP, was roughly at his career averages. If he comes back at short, he's an asset, even with the arm of a feces-flinging monkey.

  • Ryan Zimmerman: There's not much to compare him to. He has an encouraging (for a young kid) 9% walk rate, but struck out in about 1/5 of this PAs. One thing to watch for next year is that he did a really good job (11.4%) of turning his flyballs into homers. I suspect he's due for a (what the statheads would call) a consolidation. The interesting thing from his chart were his 18 infield hits, and his 10/12 success rate on bunting for hits. That was one of my favorite parts of seeing the games on tv (finally!) -- watching him casually look over his left shoulder to see where the 3B was set up.

  • Alfonso Soriano: Gone, but it'll be illustrative. He nearly doubled his walk rate up to 9.4% versus a career average of just 5.4%, which helped to drive his career-high .351 OBP. He wasn't especially hit lucky as his BABIP was actually below his career average (though much higher than in 2005). He hit about 5% more flyballs than in the past, and also converted them, at a higher rate, into homers, accounting for the bump in his counting stats. It should be noted that with him sleeping through the final three weeks of the season, his slugging average actually dropped all the way down to .560, which isn't much better than he did in his 2002 season -- when he missed 40-40 by a single homer.

  • Ryan Church: More walks, more Ks, fewer line drives, but a lot more flyballs. Other than his Soriano-like HR/FB rate, seems like he'd be able to do the same thing he's been capable of doing the last 3 years -- providing league-average production in the outfield for the league minimum.

  • Nuke Logan: Danger Will Robinson! Danger! He had a flashy, fairly impressive end to the season, but that was built on an unsustainable .377 BABIP. The ground-ball-hitting speedster even set career highs in flyballs hit and for fewest groundballs per PA. Somehow, he only had 2 infield hits in about 100 At Bats.

  • Austin Kearns: Walks went up. Ks went down. The rest of his profile is all over the map. He had a very high BABIP, but its offset by a low line-drive percentage. If he gets that up, it should offset some of the reversion to the mean in his BABIP, right? (You can tell I'm making this up, can't you?) He upped his flyball rate, and the groundballs went down accordingly. Austin Kearns fun fact: He's only attempted a bunt for a hit twice in his career.

    Sooo.... Now what? I'm not really sure what that told us. Most of the Nats, it seems weren't really doing anything outside their means. No one, save for Logan, seemed to be lucking into what they were doing. The stats do show the cratering of Vidro. They show the excellence of Johnson, but everyone else pretty much did what they typically do. Yay for being average!

    I'm still delusionally optimistic about this offense, but I've been saying that for 4 months, and they've yet to show it. Perhaps that's just my coping mechanism for dealing with a truly dreadful pitching staff. When the choices are clinging to the future of Felipe Lopez' bat or reconstructing all 438 line drives given up by Pedro Astacio....

    Go Lopez!

  • Friday, October 20, 2006

    So, About That Catch

    Inning-Endy Chavez' (man, you don't know how please I am that that nickname took off!) catch last night would've been the stuff of legends. But with their loss, it's relegated to just a foot note, along other such great catches like Bernie Carbo's in Game 6 of the '75 World Series; they're great, but ultimately pointless. But considering how mundane this NLCS was, it'll be the one thing most people remember from it, in much the same way that last year's NLCS is remembered most for Pujols breaking Brad Lidge.

    There's been a lot of Endy love going around, especially by the Mets fans. He had a terrific year, getting on base and playing sensational defense. And last night, the preening Joe Buck attributed that to Endy's change in attitude and his willingness to hit the ball on the ground, while not always trying to hit a homer. If that sounds familiar, that's because those are the talking points the team used when they drummed him out of town. But is it right? Let's look at the numbers.

    Endy hit 55.3% of his balls in play on the ground this year. His career average is 55.4%. Last year, when he was being pilloried, he hit a higher percentage, 56.7.

    Endy hit 24.6% of his balls in play in the air, which is about his career average. Last year it was just 22.7%.

    By those two measures (and sure they're not perfect), Endy really isn't doing anything different. In fact, if you look at the types of balls he's hit, he's had a typically Endyian year.

    The only major difference in the types of hits is that he was able to succesfully bunt a few more times. When he did it (and in fairness, he did do it more often this year) he was successful about 48% of the time. In '04, when he played for the Expos full time, he was succesful only about 30%. Bunting more often and with more success is definitely an improvement, but as Bernie Castro showed, man cannot live on the bunt alone. All other aspects of Chavez' game are basically the same.

    Oh, there's one thing more, though. Endy Chavez had a career-high in his batting average with balls in play (BABIP). That is, when he didn't K, BB or homer, he hit .341. For his career, it's just been .295. Now, it's certainly possible that this is a reflection of a new skill, a new approach at the plate (although that's not borne out anything other than his bunting success rate), but it's also possible that it's just dumb farkin' luck.

    I'm leaning towards the latter (of course I would; I don't like Endy).

    He had a great season and was a valuable fourth outfielder, but the gnashing of teeth over losing him might just be because he lucked into a few more hits this year than in the past. Considering how management was trying to hammer his round peg into a square hole (so to speak), the Nats weren't likely to get this kind of performance out of him. And considering the potential they acquired for him, even though Marlon Byrd would stink underwater, losing him isn't the worst thing in the world.

    Mets fans are high on him today, but a crisp dollar bill here says that they, too, will be gnashing their teeth next year.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Arms For The Poor

    With money to burn and holes to be filled, let's look at some pitchers! In our pointless, sure-not-to-be-followed plan for the offseason, we're left with three spots for starting pitchers and about $22 million bucks. Easy enough.

    First, though, we need to figure out how to properly evaluate pitchers. In my last post, I used ERA+. It's a perfectly fine shorthand, but you need to realize its limitations. Since it's based on ERA, it doesn't factor in a team's defense. Pitchers playing in front of the Tigers are sure to have an advantage over ones in front of the Nats. Just as pitchers lobbing the ball in Texas are going to have higher ERAs than ones working in San Diego (although, it should be noted, that ERA+ does try to adjust for this.) There are other factors that ERA doesn't accurately capture, such as a player's luck.

    To get a more accurate assessment, it's important to break down the pitcher's stats, and look at the components, those things the pitcher controls (ie walks, strikeouts, etc). The defense really has a minimal impact on those things; they're almost completely in the pitcher's control. If we can isolate them, we can get a better snapshot of what the pitcher himself is doing.

    For a much better, more in-depth, and less half-cocked explanation, I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY urge you to read this USS Mariner piece on evaluating pitcher talent. It explains which stats are best to use, why they're important, and where the danger signs are.

    In evaluating pitchers, I'm going to use FIP, which aims to use those components, which USS Mariner rightly says are so essential, to provide a baseline ERA. FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching is basically what it sounds like. It's not perfect, but it does a better job of assessing how well a pitcher did or didn't pitch. (If you're interested in more info about this and the debate about its -- and other defense-independent measures -- check this out, but especially the many links on the bottom.)

    I'll be linking to each pitcher's profile at Fangraphs. You can delve further into the numbers, as each of those component stats are found there. As one of the commenters in another thread pointed out, with the prospects of Vidro and Lopez, groundball pitchers might be best avoided.

    The other important thing I'm looking for is innings and durability, neither of which the Nats had last year. We simply need at least one Loaiza-type, a pitcher who can consistently go 6+ innings without getting the snot beaten out of him. Taking a risk on some injury prone players (as they did with Astacio and Armas) last year is fine in one or two of the spots, but with a staff anchored by John Patterson and a AAA team that lacks productive starting pitchers, they need innings out of someone.

    NAME             IP/3         BB9  K9  GB%  LD%  FB%  FIP
    Miguel Batista 206 74 198 3.7 4.8
    52 20 28 4.58
    Adam Eaton 65 128 199 3.3 5.9 37
    24 38 5.37
    Jason Marquis 194 207 201 3.5 4.5 43
    17 40 5.96
    Gil Meche 186 143 127
    4.1 7.5 43 19 38 4.68
    Tomo Ohka 97 180 84 3.3 4.6 39 21
    40 5.01
    Ramon Ortiz 190 171 128 3.0 4.9 41 19
    40 5.51
    Vicente Padilla 200 147 115 3.2
    7.0 44 22 34 4.31
    Jeff Suppan 190 194 188 3.3 4.9 47 23
    31 4.76
    John Thomson 80 98 198 3.6 5.2 44 21 36 5.10
    Jeff Weaver 172 224 220
    2.5 5.6 38 23 38 5.52
    Kip Wells 44 182 138
    4.3 4.0 51 20 29 4.87
    Jamey Wright 156 171 78 3.7 4.6
    58 18 24 4.94

    Ted Lilly 181 126 197
    4.0 7.9 38 19 43 4.85
    Mark Mulder 93 205 225 3.4 4.8
    55 22 24 6.06
    Mark Redman 167 178 191 3.4
    4.1 44 20 36 5.04
    Randy Wolf 56 80 136
    5.2 7.0 37 18 44 6.48

    IP/3 is the last three years of IP; Red and green mean that the player is particularly bad or good in that category.

    OK, so there's a mish-mashed compilation of stats -- and links to more in-depth info -- who do you want? How would you rank them?

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006


    Our friends at Beyond the Box Score continue their season-in-review feature by looking at our fair team. I always enjoy reading the 'outsider' perspective, that is someone who doesn't track the team closely. They might notice things or have observations that are different than those of someone who's dying with each successive loss.

    Unfortunately, most of the review focuses on the two key Soriano decisions -- making the initial trade and not trading him at the deadline -- so there's not much new to add. What's interesting though, is the perceptions -- inaccurate ones -- that linger, especially about the decision to not trade Soriano in July.

    As far as the Soriano/Wilkerson trade, he capsulizes it this way, "At the moment though, the trade appears to be somewhat of a bust, although it's tough to second guess it considering Soriano's past performances, not to mention what his future may hold."

    Appears to be somewhat? Even Brad Wilkerson's mother knows that the trade was a steal.

    it's tough to second guess. Well, sure, there were mitigating circumstances, such as Brad Wilkerson's injury, but to second guess, don't you have to admit that your first guess was wrong? I was more pro-trade than most, and even I didn't think that it was a great one. It's not hard to admit that we were wrong, and that Bowden got a steal, even if the one year of Soriano (plus picks) didn't push the team towards a pennant. But that doesn't make Soriano valueless -- the typical stathead rightly points out that, in the context of the MVP award, we shouldn't hold a player's crappy teammates against him.

    BBTN moves on to the July non-trade and really lets Bowden have it. He cites two mistakes that Bowden made. Both of them, at least, appear to be based on faulty or mis-reported assumptions.

    [Bowden] failed to negotiate a significant trade of Soriano for prospects, even though there were numerous near-deals reported. This is the problem. Most of the reported deals were hooey. There were two reasonable packages floated out at the end, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar from the Angels or Scott Baker and Jason Kubel from the Twins.

    The first deal was reported by mlb radio, and no other outlet had it. If it were offered, it was a reasonable package, but one that's defensible in turning down. The second one is one reported by Baseball Prospectus, and it's one that one of their authors, Joe Sheehan used to rip Bowden, and which BBTN cites:
    Let me simplify this choice: Bowden decided that he'd rather have Alfonso Soriano from ages 31-34 than Jason Kubel from 25-28, Scott Baker from 25-28...and $35 million! Unless Soriano is suddenly going to morph into Albert Pujols--hell, even if he is--you have to pull the trigger on this trade. The gap in production for the cost is far too great. You can make this deal and then use the money on Jason Schmidt and think seriously about the 2007 wild card.

    Even that's not really the choice. There's nothing stopping Bowden from trading two months of performance that do nothing but hurt his team's draft position next year and maybe drive some small amount of money into the team's coffers, then chasing Soriano this winter! You're betting the small chance that he'll sign with his new team before hitting the market, but you're getting back two pre-arb players, one who bats third and the other who could be your #2 starter right now.

    That's good analysis. It really is. There's one problem. It's not clear that that deal was actually reported. I can't find a link refuting it, but I did write about that at the time, which means I picked it up from somewhere. My word against theirs, sure, but the point its hard to hang someone for hearsay.

    Dodger Thoughts, in preparation for the offseason, has an interesting post that applies in this situation, as well. He cautions people to beware the rumor mill -- that leaks and rumors are just part of the game, and just because you heard something, it doesn't mean it's so. (And that's certainly true for my refutation of the Baker/Kubel thing as well)

    But if you're going to assert that "Bowden had some deals that you would have to be out of your mind to turn down in exchange for Soriano" then there's a little extra burden of proof on you. I followed it closer than most, and I certainly didn't hear nor read of many that were jaw-dropping.

    There are decent arguments that Bowden made a mistake in not trading Soriano, but pointing to speculated deals isn't one of them. And BBTN's conclusion about the consequences if they do re-sign Soriano is very valid.

    I didn't write this to rip the writer. I typically enjoy his work, and he usually finds an interesting wrinkle to the CW. But what's interesting to me, and what it demonstrates, is how hard it is to be a generalist in a world with so many specialists.

    Most people who read that are going to agree with it -- hell, I agree with most of his conclusions -- but unless you're paying carefull day-to-day attention to all things Nats, it's easy to miss some facts, or to come to see things differently.

    I'm drawing a parallel here with the perceptions of Frank Robinson, that tired 'big picture/little picture' analogy I keep using. I guess that that's what this year has taught me, or at least rammed home. When the same thing is observed from a distance and up close, it may look completely differently. Are both right? Can you have too much information and be too close to a subject, bogged down in the minutia?

    Most important, I guess is knowind and understading when and where to apply a big picture of little picture approach and how to weigh the two. With Frank's managing, I knew which approach to favor. With Soriano's non-trade? I'm not as sure.

    (sorry for the pointless ramblings!)

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Pitching, Patching, Putching

    There's an interesting thread at Baseball Primer about, of all things, the chances of the Cubs rebounding next year. The Cubs recent struggles mirrored our own. Like the Nats, they were roughly .500 in 05 before the pitching fell apart this year, pushing them towards 100 losses.

    In the thread, there's a discussion about what a 'normal' pitching staff looks like. (post 4) The 'ace' of the average staff, for example, put up a 118 ERA+. (ERA+ you'll recall adjusts a player's ERA for the league and the ballpark, putting it on a scale where 100 is average and 110 is 10% better). By contrast, the Nats' best starter, Michael O'Connor (who knew?) put up a 92+. Ramon Ortiz logged the most innings and won the most games, but he put up a dismal 79 ERA+, which, according to that Primer post, is roughly analogous to a fifth starter. Ouch!

    Post 8, there, lays out the ugly, ugly truth. If his numbers are right, Washington starters produced a 82 ERA+. No wonder the season sucked. For contrast, the poster notes that the average SP ERA+ is typically 96.

    The problem for the Nats last year was a lack of talent, but also a lack of health. Only two pitchers started 30 or more games, and they had 12 different starting pitchers, most of whom fit the very definition of 'replacement level'. Nats '06 team stats are here.

    Going into next season, John Patterson is set to be the ace. He's certainly got the talent, but after a year of forearm problems and with a long injury history, there are pretty big questions surrounding him. If the nerve problem he had last year was corrected and won't come back, he's certainly capable of putting up 30+ starts of 120 ERA+ ball, an ace by almost any definition. Of course he's also capable of putting up 8 starts of 100+ ball, as he did this year. But when you're diving in the dumpster, sometimes you've gotta pray for some luck.

    The other four slots are wide open. You've gotta think that Mike O'Connor or Beltran Perez have a chance for one or two of them. Counting on one, as a fourth or fifth starter, is fine. Counting on both could be a mistake. (especially with O'Connor missing time last year with elbow soreness)

    What this team needs is innings -- near-league average innings.

    When last we left, we filled out the lineup, and were now looking for some pitchers.

    One of the commenters in my original salary projection post raised a good point. I underestimated what Chad Cordero's salary is going to be. Arb-eligible closers have done significanly better than my estimate. K-Rod got $3.7 million; Joe Nathan made $2.1 his first time; Brad Lidge was just under $4 million.

    For ease of math, I'll adjust Cordero up $2 million to $3.5. (It's also worth thinking about signing him to a long-term contract, instead of getting killed at arbitration each year, but that's another post).

    So, our new number is about $22 million, and we still need those three roughly league-average pitchers. Should be easy, right? Especially since no other team is looking for pitching. I'll have a look at some of the names later.

    Charles In Charge

    I haven't been keeping track of the managerial search here because there really haven't been too many developments. Pineilla's gone to the Cubs. (good) Dusty Baker's name has been floated. (bad) Joe Girardi is still lingering at the fringes. (meh) Tony Beasley is out. (oh well) Many Acta is set to interview with the Rangers and Giants. (alack)

    I havent' been too concerned, because, for the most part, we don't really know a damn thing about most of the candidates floating around -- other than the retreads like Piniella and Baker. The manager, as frankly demonstrated, is not just about on-field strategy, but also about those personal interactions with the players and about setting the tone on the field. We're just not able to glean these sorts of things by how fast and capably a third-base coach waves his arms to send a runner. So, for the most part, I'm agnostic. I'll judge the guy when I see him intentionally walk a slew of batters (like Giradi does).

    That being said, Manny Acta sounds intriguing, even though his name hasn't really been connected all that much with the Nats. Lone Star Ball excerpts an interview with him where he says all the right things about putting together an offense, and as a compadre pointed out, his philosophy seems perfect for hitting coach Mitchell Page's style.

    The new manager, though, retains the right to select his own coaches, with one notable exception. The Nats have brought Randy St. Claire back for another year. The rest are free to seek jobs elsewhere, something that Davey Lopes has done, catching on with the Phillies. St. Claire, despite the crappy pitching, has proven to be a pretty good pitching coach. You don't hear any guru-like quotes from him, but his success with teaching Hector Carrasco a changeup, and the emergence of a consistently strong bullpen are notches in his favor.

    His project last season was teaching Chad Cordero a changeup. It was pretty mediocre in the first half, but he must've worked on it quite a bit, as it was one of his key pitches in his improved second half. Diving down and away from left-handed batters, it's the perfect contrast to his hard slider, which comes in faster while slipping in under the hands.

    Svrluga notes, at the bottom, that the Nats have hired Bill Singer to scout Asia for him. For a good indication of why this, at least on the surface, seems like a terrible idea, read that last graf.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Strike One For Soriano

    The AP says that Alfonso Soriano has rejected the Nationals offer of a 5-year $70 million contract. Jose Rijo, who seems like he was doing some of the negotiations for the Nats while in the Dominican, says that it is "almost impossible this great player will stay on our payroll." Either that's a negotiating ploy, or the Nats are near the ceiling they've set for Soriano.

    At that price, it's probably a good thing that he's likely to head elsewhere.

    The team is in a delicate position. Soriano IS PR and does draw eyes to the team, but there is a limit to how much he deserves. In his weekly chat yesterday, Barry Svrluga reported that the Nationals would be willing to bump up the payroll a bit to retain Soriano, but to otherwise expect a freeze. That's reflective, I'd assume, of the price tag (extra tickets sold) a star can bring. But, in the end, it's a winning team that ultimately packs them in.

    And with that gaping hole of three starting pitchers and just $27 million to spend, Soriano's price is too high.

    So they're left in a position of getting rid of him in the most sensitive way possible. They've made a loud and public offer that's reasonable. But it's also one that they knew he'd turn down. Even if they go higher, it's likely that some other team will outbid them. And if they do go higher, it'd likely be with the knowledge that that would happen, allowing some appeasement to the fans. (The BPGers seem content so far) "Hey, we offered him a fair deal. He just made a business decision."

    And so did they.

    Now about those draft picks...

    Sale Of The Century

    So yesterday, we looked at what the Nats needs are, and what kind of resources they'll have. It looked like we had about $27 million for three starters and an outfielder.

    That's not a ton of money, but it's enough to get some viable players. As has been pointed out before, if you want to sign a free agent, you better be bidding on 3 others. You're not going to get everyone you target, even among the bargain-bin types we're sure to be rifling through.

    Today, let's start with the outfield. We've got Kearns in right. And some combo of Logan and Church in left or center. My preference is to slot Church in center, defense be damned. I don't think that Church is a bad defensive centerfielder (though his freezing on a liner over his head in the final game rings fresh in the mind), but he's probably on the under side of average.

    But he can hit, putting up a .269/ .347/ .461 line in his 527 MLB ABs. He was even better in 2006, mashing a terrific .276/ .366/ .526, despite the team apparently focusing on everything he can't do. This is especially impressive when you factor in that the average NL Centerfielder hit just .263/ .333/ .412.

    So he's well above average offensively for the position, and he's slighly below average defensively. Add it up, and, at worst, you have a league average player. But here's the important part. Church plays for peanuts. When you can get league average performance for a nearly minimum salary, you're coming out ahead.

    That's not to say that Logan doesn't have a role. He's a fine defensive player and has some speed. But he has no business, despite being a switch-hitter, ever seeing right-handed pitching. For his MLB career, he's put up a .608 OPS versus righties. But, luckily for him, against lefties, he's put up a terrific .817. It should be pointed out, though, that he was equally execrable from both sides of the plate in the minors last year.

    Seems like the makings of a pretty good platoon/rotation there, doesn't it?

    I'm torn. I really don't know whether the Nats should go after a full-time leftfielder, platooning Church and Logan, or whether they should find another guy of that sort, a 4th outfielder kinda guy who can be one of the pieces in a three-man rotation for two slots.

    If the team brings back Alex Escobar, he could be part of the right-handed solution, which would mean they should focus on a lefty. But if they non-tender him, they'd likely need to focus on someone such as Bobby Kielty, who is unlikely to be tendered a contract by Oakland. (and who is probably most famous for his hair)

    I'd bring back Escobar, and see if he can live up to his potential. So I need a LHB for the mix. (Someone in the comments suggested Kory Casto. I don't see it. He hit well for a Nationals prospect, but that was in AA, and it's going to be more important for his development -- especially to take that quantum leap ahead that he's going to need -- to get regular ABs in Columbus.)

    We're talking players like David Dellucci (whose AB music while in Texas was the theme to the Godfather), Rickey Ledee (Escobar's compadre in prospectdom), Dave Roberts (whom the Nats had interest in two years ago) or Frank Catalanotto (who has been quite good despite not hitting many homers). If they wanted a pure leadoff man, Kenny Lofton could probably be had in the $5MM range. (pass!)

    I'd target those four, probably in Dellucci, Catalanotto, Robert, Ledee order. The first three will probably require a two-year deal. Ledee might be getable on a NRI make-good contract (like Michael Tucker last year). Offer Dellucci 2/$2.5 and see if he bites. See if Cat'll not take 2/$4. There's potential there for not much money. And with such a minimum commmitment, these are the kinds of players you can unload for 'prospects' (note the scare quotes) without much effort. Dellucci, just last year, was traded for a pretty good pitcher. Dave Roberts has been traded a bunch of times.

    For the sake of being conservative, we'll say this takes $3 million. OK, we've got $24 million left, and all we need is three pitchers. Easy enough, right?

    1) SS, Lopez
    2) 2B, Vidro
    3) 1B, Johnson
    4) 3B, Zimmerman
    5) RF, Kearns
    6) LF, Catalanotto (Dellucci?)
    7) CF, Church (Logan?)
    8) C, Schneider

    That's surprisingly non-terrible.

    Life Goes On

    There are a few pieces you should read about yesterday's plane crash which took the life of pitcher Cory Lidle. I like what each of them say about death and life, and how they apply to all of us, not just someone who was lucky enough or, more importantly, skilled enough to throw a ball around the grass for a living.

    The first is a piece written by the mlb.com beat writer for the A's. He got to know Lidle personally, and they became friends. I like this one, not because it's written well, but for the tone and the reaction of it. It reads as an almost instantaneous outpouring of grief, the kind of reaction we'd all have in a similar situation. I especially like how he tries to come to terms (eventually saying screw it) with how his personal relationship with Lidle balanced with his professional responsibilities.

    There's another amazing story in ESPN, by Alan Schwarz. It's certainly the most well-written thing I've read. It perfectly captures the frivolities of life, without resorting to the tired, nearly offensive cliches like "It puts things into perspective." Schwarz, too, became friends with Lidle and recalls some good memories, the small anecdotes that give you a snapshot of a person. But how he found out and his reaction, doing what any good friend would do, is the gripping part. Just excellent stuff.

    Bronx Banter, which is certainly the most well-written sports blog, has an equally interesting version, this from the perspective of a Yankees fan, living in the city and dealing with all the confusion of the day. What touched me, though, wasn't so much his account of that, but his description of how others deal with grief. I thought about that, and my first reaction upon hearing of the plane crash was similar to the one his coworkers had, a silly ARod suicide joke. It seems callous in hindsight, but at the time, it's just a way of dealing with tragedy.

    Writing in Salon (it's worth the click for the commercial), King Kauffman has the most refreshingly honest take. He tries to balance the fantasy of sport with the reality of life. He argues that we don't really look at these players as humans or as people who have lives, childresn, families, schedules. He points out that when Lidle was traded in July, nobody stopped for even a second to contemplate what effect that would have on his family. We were too busy thinking about whether he was an upgrade (or figuring out of Pat Gillick had last his mind). It's a tough thing to admit. It's admitting to being selfish and only thinking for ourselves and what his impact had on our lives. Answer: it didn't, at least until his death knocked us into reality. He concludes that, for most people, that's a choice that they're comfortable making. Just play hard for me, wear the uniform, and don't create a personal relationship. Selfish in some respect, but that's just reality.

    It's the reality that's really strange sometimes. One of our own Nats Bloggers had a relationship of sorts with Cory Lidle. Those six degrees are really strange, are you not? Farid from the Beltway Boys worked for one of Cory's minor league teams and recounts his experiences with him, even as he's struggling to remember much from so many years ago.

    But, again, like in the piece from above, it's those tiny snapshots, those glimpses of personality that make up our memories. Each of these stories attest to that. And each of them give us the tiniest glimpse about who was lost yesterday and, perhaps, tell us a bit about ourselves.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    How Much Is That Dog Team In The Window?

    Before we get tooooo far ahead of ourselves, and charting out the future course of National- and mankind, it's probably important to take stock of where we are for next year's roster. Some salaries are estimates, and I could be way off on them; those are noted accordingly.

    $1,000,000 -- John Patterson (arbitration elgible, was $322,500)
    $400,000 -- Mike O'Connor/Beltran Perez (estimate, pre-arb)

    $1,500,000 -- Chad Cordero (arbitration-eligible, was $525,000)
    $1,300,000 -- Luis Ayala
    $700,000 -- Jon Rauch (arbitration-eligible, was $335,000)
    $700,000 -- Ryan Wagner (likely arbitration-eligible, was $380,000)
    $400,000 -- Saul Rivera (estimate, pre-arb)

    $3,500,000 -- Brian Schneider

    $7,500,000 -- Jose Vidro
    $5,500,000 -- Nick Johnson
    $4,500,000 -- Felipe Lopez (arbitration-eligible, was $2,700,000)
    $4,200,000 -- Cristian Guzman
    $500,000 -- Ryan Zimmerman (estimate, pre-arb)

    $3,500,000 -- Austin Kearns (arbitration-eligible, was $1,850,000)
    $500,000 -- Ryan Church (estimate, pre-arb)
    $400,000 -- Nook Logan (estimate, pre-arb)

    That's it. Those are the only sure bets to return. The others are all roster-filler-types (like Micah Bowie) who could come back, but aren't locks -- and wouldn't come back at a significant price anyway.

    That's roughly $36 million for 16 players. Assuming the payroll holds steady in the $65 million range, that leaves about $30 million for the remaining 9. And, as you can see, there's a gaping maw in the rotation and the outfield.

    Let's, for the hell of it, plug some values in to get a better picture.

    We need a backup catcher, so let's bring back Harper at $400,000. We need a Fick-type, a veteran pinch-hitter. He can catch, play first, and backup the OF. He made $850,000; we'll stick with that. We need a LH reliever. Mike Stanton (or his ilk) can be had for $1,000,000 or so. St. Claire seems to like 12-man staffs, so we'll take one of the New Orleans Columbus crew at $400,000. They liked Castro's speed. Maybe he can be the new Jamey Carroll at $400,000. (or Dorta or Casto or whoever at the minimum). How about an Alex Escobar/George Lombard-type as the fifth OFer? That's, say, $500,000 (to be generous).

    That motley crew eats up $3,550,000.

    What does that leave us with? Three empty rotation spots and a starting outfielder (either in left, if Logan's your guy, or in center, if you prefer Chuch -- and don't think he can handle center).

    So we have about $27 million for three starting pitchers and a starting outfielder.

    What would you do with that money? Re-sign Soriano? Let Soriano walk and dump it in pitching? You could entrust another starting spot to one of the Traber/Perez-types, to free up more money for the other positions.

    Here's a fairly comprehensive list of free agents. You can sort by position to see which SPs are available, although it includes players with options that are likely to be picked up, so blogger beware. Is there anyone realistic (ie: Not Zito) that you'd target? How would you spend that money.

    If I don't get fatter and lazier, I'll give you my answers later. That's a pretty big if, though.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Toys For Good Boys And Girls

    Our friends at Baseball Reference have filled in the lineup and batting order charts for last season.

    Want to know how many consecutive times Frank sent Zimmerman out there? Every day from 6/6 to 8/22.

    Want to know why Schneider didn't hit? Maybe because he caught 17 of 18 games (only to soon go on the DL with bad hamstrings... I wonder why!)

    Would you believe that our most common lineup had Marlon Anderson at 2B? Or that we used 91 different lineups throughout the year, to include 9 different centerfielders?

    How about that we used 110 total batting orders in just 162 games? Or that the most common batting order was used just 6 times (although four different lineups were used that many times).

    That's a lot of instability!

  • Heckling readers gleefully pointed out the stupidity of my recent Division Series predictions where I went a sterling 0-4, completely missing every @#$#@$ing series. I told you I stink.

    In Baseball Prospectus' pre-season Predicatron contest, I had the Mets and the A's. I guess I'll stick with them, even if the opposite result wouldn't surprise me. I'll take the A's patience over the Tigers liners, and the Mets offense over the Cardinals, well, whatever it is that they're known for. (Overbearing managerial strategy?)

  • Monday, October 09, 2006

    Pohlad Lite?

    When the Lerners were named, I wrote a post (I think, but then I'm also suffering from early dementia) worrying about some things I had heard/read that made me think we might have another Pohlad on our hands, an owner who'll scrimp and save, devoting just enough resources to putting a passable team on the field, but who won't go that extra mile in devoting resources to the team. Obviously, we don't know one way or another (although the talk about actually reducing payroll next year makes me lean even more in that direction), but today's profile in the Washington Post does nothing to dissuade me from that feeling.

    It's a good read about the Lerner family and their business dealings. They're crisp, to the point, and stick to the letter of the law, even in places where compromise might best be in order. Obviously, when dealing with the sad sacks who run the gov't here, that might be a prudent strategy, but it does show where much of the friction over the garage situation comes from.

    In short, the article paints the picture of an owner who views the team solely as a business development, and who is singularly focused on the stadium, without any real cares as to how it effects the surrounding areas. I'm not one to decry selfishness; I think it's (through its effects) an important part of what makes this country great, but the Lerners were given a public good, and they should have some sort of obligation to the community, especially in making sure that their new stadium works with the community as a whole, and that it and the surrounding development blend seamlessly so that the economic engine that was promised comes to fruition.

    What do you think? Am I a reactionary ninny? Do they have any obligation to the community? Or are they, as good businessmen, allowed to run the team/construction as if it were any other project?

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Sullied My Good Name

    Harper at OMG tabulates the data, and shames me.

    Sometime after the Kearns/Lopez/Clayton/Bray/Majewski/Sabo/Wagner trade, I got full of myself and my magical prognostication abilities. Somehow, I came to the conclusion that minus Guillen and Clayton and Watson and.... that this was a very good offensive team. I bet Mr. Harper that the Nats would be a top-6 offense from that point forward.

    Well, they weren't.

    They were 11th. Close, right? Well, nope.

    He does point out some mitigating factors though that do make it closer than it actually appears, but you'll have to click over to read them.

    He does point out something interesting, though:
    The Nats finished 6th in Septemeber with Soriano providing little offensively. This supports Chris’ theory that the Nats could have an above average offense in 2007.

    Maybe that $16 million would be better spent on some pitching, pitching, pitching?

  • Speaking of pitching, pitching, pitching...

    Take a look at Federal Baseball's recap of how truly dreadful this team's pitching was. He focuses on the sheer lack of innings (irrespective of quality) from the starters, and what that means, and what the team is going to need to do/look for in the upcoming offseason.

  • Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Flotsam and Jetsam

    The Nationals dumped a lot of roster deadwood yesterday, releasing crappy pitchers such as: Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Joey Eischen, Pedro Astacio, Zach Day, and Felix Rodriguez. As some day it must happen, Bowden's got a little list. They'll none of them be missed.

    This is more of a procedural move than anything. There's still talk of bringing Lawrence back next year -- tho the prospects of bringing back a mediocre pitcher who's coming off shoulder surgery ain't something to get too excited over.

  • With Florida's firing of Joe Girardi, he becomes the hot name with the Nats (although the vast NL-central conspiracy has him going to the Cubs). One question for all the Girardians: What evidence is there that he's a good manager?

    It strikes me that his tenure is the Frank Robinson problem all over. From a distance, the macro level, he looks great. Look at what he did with the kids (ie look at what Frank did with a moribund franchise). But when you look closer, he doesn't look as pretty. Girardi kept Josh Johnson (who led all rookies in ERA) in the bullpen for a long time, despite his 'baseball people' telling him to start him. He mouthed off to his owner, telling him to F off, which you don't do, even if Loria deserves to be kicked in the nuts. And, by all accounts, he's an arrogant SOB, insisting that he knows best because he 1) went to Northwestern, and 2) Was a Yankee. Big woop.

    He MIGHT be a great manager, but I don't see how anyone could draw that conclusion yet.

  • Soriano's money-grubbing agent is meeting with the Nats today. One of Ladson's stories last week mentioned a 5/$80 figure for Soriano, which would be ridiculous.

  • PT Bowden says that the team won't be a player in the FA market. He also says that they're scouring the "depths of the earth" to find starting pitching. I can't be the only one that interprets that in a way that'll find us watching Walter Johnson's reanimated corpse on the mound on Opening Day.

    Meanwhile Todd Jacobson hints that payroll could actually be lower next year. (I wonder if he'd hint at that if he hadn't heard whispers -- Svrluga's hinted at the same thing).

    If that's the case, my fears of a Pohlad-lite will intensify. The team ran an admitted $25 million profit last year (and god knows how much they actually made). DC's tax revenues are down slightly from last year, which is an indication that they're not making as much, but there's still profit. And when you factor in an improved radio deal, not to mention an increase in payments from MASN, there is NO EXCUSE to lower payroll, especially when the club won't even invest a few extra hundred K into the draft picks they select.

  • Preston Wilson needs to STFU. He rips the team for letting Frank go, and complains about the clubhouse last year.

    Recall that Wilson, who was completely superfluous, filling a need that didn't exist, came over and hit like crap, playing some of the worst centerfield defense this side of Bernie Williams. Then, with the season nearly over, Frank inserted his carcass time after time into the lineup for a vain attempt to get him 90 RBI, putting stupid personal statistics ahead of what was best for the team. No wonder Wilson is upset. Screw him.

  • Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    A Modern-Day Nostradamus

    Season's over, let's see how wonderfully astray my predictions went.

    In the AL I had:
    East: Yankees
    Central: Indians (OOPS!)
    West: A's
    Wild Card: Los Soxes (OOPS!)

    I had the Twins 3rd and the Tigers 4th. (I'd love to see anyone who had the Tigers higher -- I was impressed with their defense, but didn't expect the pitching to emerge, even though those two go hand-in-hand)

    In the NL, I had:
    East: Mets
    Central: Cardinals
    West: Dodgers
    WC: Braves (OOPS!)

    Not toooo bad, I guess.

    I had the Nats pegged for 75 wins. Close enough, even if A Wary Fan's guess in comments was better.

  • So now that I've demonstrated my incompetence and stupidity, how 'bout them playoffs?

    Twins over A's in 4. This is a helluva matchup with two teams that are pretty evenly matched. I like Minnesota's bullpen a lot better than Oakland's, and they'll be key in any starts that Silva or Radke make, keeping the Twins close enough.
    --Gleeman's series preview
    --Some nameless, faceless corporation's A's-sanctioned series preview

    Yankees over Detroit in 4. Detroit seems to be running on fumes, and they have a pretty mediocre offense -- one that might not be able to abuse the Yankees pitching staff the way a good team could. All you need to know about the Yankees offense is that any one of their players could be batting cleanup on the Nats (or, hell, most any NL team). ARod, the choking dog, is batting sixth!?
    --Friend to Distinguished Senators and Ain't-I-Cool glasses-wearing Dayn Perry's series preview

    Padres over Cardinals in 5. If the Cardinals were playing anyone but SD, I'd pick them. As we know, you're rarely as bad as you look when you're losing, and the Cardinals still do have Pujuols, Edmonds and Rolen. With Carpenter going twice, they've got a great chance. But, the Padres, to me, are the best team in the NL. Their pitching is certainly the deepest from front to back, and I love their defense (when Piazza isn't catching). Their offense seems worse than it is, simply because Petco Park is a bigger offensive drain than RFK. Take a look at Mike Cameron's numbers. Why isn't he in the MVP discussion -- at least as one of those down ballot guys.
    --If you're allergic to capital letters, here's the must-read Cards preview.
    --Here's the Padres-blogger Ducksnorts' look at the offense and pitching.

    LA over Los Mets in 4 -- The Mets have the better offense, but their pitching is pretty mediocre, thanks to all the injuries. The offense can certainly knock the crap out of mediocre pitching (as Ramon Ortiz can attest), and they're going to need a strong performance from their bullpen, which is perfectly capable of doing so, to keep them in some of these games. With LA, you never know what you're going to get. For a time, they looked like the best team in baseball -- but that was immediately after a 40-game (or so it seemed) losing streak. This one's pretty evenly matched. Look for Marlon Anderson to be the difference! ;)
    --Dodger Thoughts series preview
    --The Eddie Kranepool Society is nervous.

    What say you?

  • Sunday, October 01, 2006

    A Fitting End

    And thus the Frank Robinson era ends in a most appropriate way with Chad Cordero, a relief pitcher, batting for himself.

    God really was smiling down on us today.

    Things To Be Happy About

    One game left, in what's been a disappointing season. Yet, it's right about where we all had them pegged -- 70ish wins, or so. It's that discouraging journey, the wave of losses and wins that add and subtract, giving us our feelings about this team.

    It's been a rough year to watch, tough as a fan. Oh, we still love the team. We still love when they win. But the losses -- not just the Ls, but the way they came about -- have been tough.

    Still, despite the overall results, there's been a lot to like about the team, the small things that've pulled us through, made us smile, and appreciate what's so wonderful about this stupid little game where grown men smack around a piece of leather with a stick.

    1) Ryan Zimmerman's clutch hits -- Who'll forget that game-winner against the Yankees or the two-week run it was in where he walked us off seemingly every night. Yet, we have to go back to April for the first glimpse. Remember his first homer? A 9th-inning shot off Billy Wagner, pulled deep into the mezanine level in a game the Nats would win in extras. We thought he was something special, and we had high expectations. He surpassed them.

    2) Soriano's power -- Most poopooed the idea of him being able to hit for power. And even those that didn't, couldn't have expected what he did. When he's locked in, and that beautiful uppercut swing and strong wrists are whipping his bat through the zone, it's a beautiful sight. His biggest blasts are the kind that instantly create a smile on your face, where all you can do is shake your head while chuckling; it's just to hard to believe it sometimes.

    3) Nick Johnson's eye -- He's not a traditional cleanup hitter, but he's still an offensive force. Playing in a full season (mostly) for the first time in his career, he walked an amazing 110 times, which is the highest total for a Washington player since Ed "The Walking Man" Yost. Next year, I'd love to see him higher in the order, so that all those walks mean more baserunners for Zimmerman or whoever bats cleanup.

    4) Brian Schneider's resurgence -- He was DOA at the All-Star Break. Since then, when Frank ripped him for being complacenet, he's been hitting like the player the Nats thought they were get. It's been a joy watching him recover his swing, finally making solid contact, driving the ball through the infield. He's been a completely different player, batting .293 since the break.

    5) Felipe Lopez' skill -- He seems to have really improved with the glove over his last month or so, so that he's not the complete mess he was for a few weeks (I'd love to hear an explanation -- coaching? injury?). But offensively, he's a treat to watch, with a beautiful line-drive swing and better-than average patience. After 18 months of some of the worst shortstop play in baseball history, he's been a delight.

    6) Austin Kearns' glove -- I love his on-base skills, but it's with the glove that he really impresses me. He has tremendous range, and is particularly skilled at reading balls and getting a great jump on them. If you think back, it's hard to think of a specatcular play he made, because what he does is routine, but it's effective. He puts his body in the right position to cut off balls, holding doubles to singles, and is always in an excellent spot to make the throw towards third, keeping runners from taking the extra base. Very quietly, he's a star.

    7) Daryle Ward's power -- He was awesome to watch when we had him, the sort of game-changing bench force that a good team needs, and that causes the other team's manager to sweat a bit. And compared to Tony Blanco? No wonder we loved the guy!

    8) Tony Armas' slider -- Remember how good he was back in April or May? His slider had bite, and his fastball had late movement. It's a shame he just doesn't have the endurance or arm strength to make that hold up.

    9) Mike O'Connor's appearance -- When they called him up, I ripped the hell out of Bowden for making the dumpster dive to an AA pitcher. O'Connor came up, and got the job done efficiently, even if not spectacuarly. Watching him pitch, it's a gangly mishmash of arms and legs as he flings his fastball up with just enough deception to get it by the ocasional hitter. Somehow, more often than not, it worked. The kid did well enough, and was a joy to watch, especially when he was on that tear of 3 earned runs or less starts.

    10) Jon Rauch's dominance -- he's slipped a bit from his early start, but Rauch was the cog in the bullpen, which really emerged in the second half. He came in early and often, logging tough innings, setting the game up for Cordero. I'd still like to see him get a chance to start, but it's hard to argue (or give up) the success he's had in that role.

    11) Chad Cordero's second half -- Since his pre-ASG meltdown against the Padres, he's been a force, having given up just 8 total runs. His workload has been scaled back a bit, which helps, but he's also started throwing his changeup a lot more, and with much more success. That's the pitch that Randy St. Claire taught him in the spring, and its diving action down and away from left-handers is a great contrast to his hard slider which dives in. Its just one more tool to keep them off balance.

    12) Saul Rivera's development -- Part of the New Orleans Kiddie Korps, he's the only one who's really stuck. I'm not sold on his long-term success, but for this season, at least, he was able to hold his own. If he can keep doing what he's doing, he's going to be a key part of the middle relief corps for next year.

    13) Ryan Wagner's arm angle -- Usually when teams say that they've noticed a flaw in the mechanics of a recently acquired player, they're just blowing smoke up someone's butt long enough until they can quietly dump him a few weeks later after no improvement. Ryan Wagner is the exception to that rule. The Miracle Worker, RSC, got his arm slot to a comfortable position, and, after a few rough outings, he's been quite good, lessening the sting of the Majewski trade.


    This is a dramatically different team today than the one that took the field on the first of the year. With Kearns and Lopez (not to mention improvments by Schneider), it's a better offensive team. The bullpen was a complete mess earlier this year. Now, at least when we have a lead, there's a little bit of a reason to be confident with Rivera, Rauch and Cordero. They've played better, and are 'just' 5 under for the second half versus the 14 under they were in the first. No, that won't win any pennants, but there's reason to believe that things are better -- especially if they can find any sort of competent starting pitchin in the offseason.

    Off-field, it's been a wonderful year, and that starts with finally being free of MLB's reign of error. The jury'e still out on the Lerners and how committed they're going to be financially to putting a winner on the field, but they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    Thanks to small small deals that said goodbye to some old friends like Livan, and to a seemingly solid draft, the farm system appears to be in better shape. And, at the very least, they've put people in place, like Mike Rizzo, who have a long track record of succes. There's plenty of reason to be optimistic here.

    It's been rough, but it's pretty easy to see (and to say) that the Washington Nationals are in a much better position than they were even six months ago.

    I've been down quite a bit, but I shouldn't be.

    When I take off for the game in an hour or so, I'm going to keep these things in mind, and be happy. We really are better off today than we were before.