Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Secret Obsession

I want to be a GM. OK, I don't really. It's too much work. Too much stress. Too many big decisions. And too many Keyboard Kommandos sitting in their boxers while munching on salt and vinegar potato chips (mmmm! BRB) unfairly ripping your every move simply because they don't like your dutch boy haircut or your stylin' new track suit.

At any rate, as a pseudo-wannabe (and as a stat-drunk computer nerd), I'm a big fan of a number of baseball simulations out there. Whether it's OOTP, DMB, Simnasium, Hardball Dynasty (you get the picture yet?), I've probably played it. But the Granddaddy of them all (maybe not in a chronological sense) is Stats Inc's Diamond Legends.

Diamond Legends is an online version of Diamond Mind Baseball -- considered the most realistic of the sim programs. It's a variation of a game that Bill James (pauses to genuflect) created over a decade or so ago to stave off the offseason of boredom.

At the heart of the game is the ol' question that us silly ol' baseball fans ask: what would Nap Lajoie hit in Coors Field? OK, so maybe that's not something you're asking every day, but the prospect of letting Ty Cobb take his cracks against Nolan Ryan while playing in Safeco Field? I'm there!

I've got a team credit kicking around, and if there's enough interest in it, I'd like to start up a league with any of you schmucks. It's $20 for a season, but it's money well spent, and it'll give you boxscores to look at every morning for the next 4 months. I'd need 11 other saps for a full league, but even if we don't come close, it'll be nice to be able to beat up on a few other friendly faces.

If you wanna see how Frank Robinson would do while hitting in Coors, or how Tom McCraw wouldn't hit in the Polo Grounds, lemme know. You get a million bucks, a catalog of players (which includes Negro Leaguers like Josh Gibson -- and many many many that you've never heard of), and a few months of fun.

If you're interested, drop a note in the comments, or shoot me an email. If you have any questions about how the game works, or if you need direct force applied to your elbow, lemme know that, too. In the meantime, I'll be doing my research, looking for the toolsiest outfielders I can find. Hey, Look! It's Willie Wilson!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

StanSpeak, 45th In A Continuing Series

Credit to Bill Ladson, who scores an interview with The Genius™, Stan Kasten. Ladson asks the right questions, and, as per his usual, Kasten answers none of them. His answers would be perfectly fine for a different set of questions, which is why he comes across so well -- this isn't a Mark McGwire before Congress sorta thing. But you really need to read Kasten's answers as if you were contracting for services with Beelzebub; every word matters. Thankfully I've got a friend in Atlanta (Let's call him Fred Burner), who's provided me with the StanSpeak Translator. With some copying and pasting, and the flicking of a button or two, it spits his deep, dark, hidden thoughts, so that us, the non-humble humble non-geniuses can understand this great man. I'd encourage you to check out the entire interview -- there's some good stuff in there -- but here are things you won't be seeing, at least without modern technology.

On how surprised he is by all the money being dropped on free agents:
We heard reports of it, but couldn't tell you a damn thing first-hand, so I'm not surprised about the vigorous market, which is rumored to exist, even though it's not one of the best classes we've ever had (Man, they suck!). But I am surprised at some of the contracts that I've seen. $50 million for Gary Matthews?!

We heard reports that some wacky people were going to have a renewed or a redoubled sense of confidence in the business moving forward, but why would I?. Some people have looked at their own economics and have been able to justify some of the expenditures that we have seen. Our "economics", however, justify nothing but profits for me!

In our own case, we are in a very different set of circumstances this [coming year], in that we're focusing on pocketing as much revenue in the next year before pocketing even more revenue when the new place opens up. It's a brilliant plan, if I do think so, myself. So it's hard to put myself in the shoes of other non-Genius people who don't value profit as much as I do.

On whether the Nats plan to spend "this kind of money" when the new stadium opens up:
I don't know what you mean by "this kind of money." I reject the premise of your question, little man. The payroll levels in the future will be higher than the payroll levels in 2006 and '07, that's for sure, but if you think we're going to run this like the top market we are, HA!. ... We are never going to do contracts that are unwise as defined by me, a person who hates agents because they cause these ungrateful players to expect to get paid. We are going to do the best, as defined by me, deals that we can. Having said that, I expect us to be as aggressive as possible always -- whether it's looking at opportunities, but not actually consummating deals, in free agency or signing six-year free agents -- stars such as Tim Redding and Marlon Byrd-- , Rule 5 Draft picks -- like Kenny Kelly and Tony Blanco -- or trades. (Hopefully that AHole blogger recognizes that we did this one right, at least)

On whether he thought the Nats had a chance of re-signing Soriano:
I just didn't know with absolute 100%, iron-clad certainty. It was impossible to predict. Who knows? Maybe he would've relented and taken our 5/$75 offer. [chortle]. We had a chance in a technical sense, but this worked out just fine for us (Me: Don't have to explain to the simpletons why we didn't re-sign him for that ungodly number; Daddy Lerner: doesn't have to break the seal off his panda-skin wallet) and way beyond fine for Alfonso and his greedy SOB agent.

On whether he was satisfied with the Cubs measly second rounder and that sandwich pick:
Absolutely. What choice do I have? Let's face it, we have a building job that we need to do. We are not happy that we need to do it. That's the situation that we find ourselves in. To ignore it would be foolish. To pursue a free agent (CRAP! I let the plan out. Think, think, think) -- even to pursue our own free agent (Nice Save!) -- at that kind of money and not improve our team, what would be the point of that?

On what he likes about Manny Acta:
First of all, I love the way he speaks. He speaks with real decisiveness and clarity, but not too much clarity. That would be bad. He articulates a position that brings confidence, and he'll learn how to better dodge questions. The single quality that is most important in a manager and head coach is leadership. Can he lead men? Can he articulate a vision that will cause people to follow him? I get that feeling when I spend time with Manny Acta. I bet he could even convince the typical DC fan that we're in a mid-sized market!

On the team's chances of being improved under Acta:
I think we will get the most out of what (the very little) we have next year. I don't know yet what we are going to have (since all those minimum salaried guys will duke it out in spring training) or what position we are going to be other than 5th in the NL East. I'm already 100 percent confident that we are going to make an awful lot of progress in moving this forward -- building our foundation (stadium) and setting the stage for even further success (stadium revenues) down the road.

On what the team's payroll will be in 2007:
I don't think about teams that way, because it makes me look cheap. I think about assembling assets (actually I think of them all as debits) and not passing up opportunities to pass over free agents. As to what the final number will be, I couldn't tell you now even if I wanted to, which I most assuredly don't, because I don't know what my revenues are going to be, and I've clearly been too busy to even estimate this. Since we're not going to be players in Free Agency, why should I waste my team estimating expenses? I don't know what money I will have available. It all depends on how much Daddy Lerner wants to sock away under his mattress. Whatever it is at the start of Spring Training, it will be more on Opening Day. It could be more by the trade deadline, assuming that business is going well, and if it's not, you fans have yourself to blame -- not me, the guy who hasn't bothered to set a free agency budget, nor the puppet GM I have in place without authority to pursue anyone.

On what it's like to work with Jim Bowden after having worked with real baseball men like surefire Hall of Famer Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz:
I think he has done a very good job. I hope nobody noticed that that didn't answer the question he asked. We all know we have our limitations, and we all know that Jim has limitations. We also have some very exciting profit-making opportunities in Washington. He has done well within our limitations and opportunities and within his many limitations. We haven't even begun to talk about the Pacific Rim program that we are starting to put in place. Jim has been aggressive doing that. When I named him our GM, I may or may not have been on quaaludes, the most single thing about him is how resourceful (read: frugal) he is. He will look under every rock to try to bring assets to our club at rock-bottom prices, and, so far, that is exactly what he has tried to do, while mostly failing.

On whether they've discussed a role for Frank Robinson yet:
Jim and I were talking and laughing about that [on Wednesday]. We haven't gotten to it yet. It's about 4,230 on our list, somewhere below seeing what kind of deal Barry Zito is looking for. We have been working on first, hiring a manager, then preparing for the Winter Meetings. Perhaps in January, we'll turn our attention more fully to that or perhaps I'll get a set of pliers from the tool chest and remove my right rear molar.

On whether Frank Robinson worked hard as a manager:
Frank's career, especially his terrible managerial record, speaks for itself. The reasoning that went into the decision, which was made by Jim Bowden (and managerial changes are something I have no input on, even though I, strangely, seem to have had lots of input on his replacement, so don't blame me), was more a reflection on needs, such as a competent manager, and expectations moving forward over the next two, three, five years that our manager won't nap in the dugout. That's the reason Jim NOT ME DAMMIT!!! made that decision, and it was not at all a reflection on Frank Robinson, but on his crappy managing.


Wow. That works much better when I'm not bitter and angry. Oh well. There goes my chance of having good seats in the new barn! ;)

Larry King Presents

If you're dragged to only one family-friendly movie this holiday season, make it Flushed Away...A return of the Tomo Ohka Experience would be sure to have them packing the aisles...If there's any justice in this brutal world, the new stadium will be named after DC's favorite son, Austin Carr...$5-$10 million for naming rights? I'd gladly tatoo Stan Kasten's signature on my rump for half that...If you're driving in Minneapolis, and you see a sign welcoming you to Hopkins, you're probably lost...Touch your right elbow with your tongue if you think that there is a better GM of a fifth-place NL East team than Jim Bowden...I'm glad to see that the Washington Times saw fit to address one of the pressing issues of our day, the Lerner's cheapness...How cheap are the Lerners? Word on the street is that they had Thanksgiving dinner at the local shelter...

Is there a player that the beat writer for the league-run, internet-only news service hates more than Ryan Church?...If there is, can we trade Church for him so that we can read more rips? They're kind of fun...With the news that Manny Acta has named Pat Corrales as bench coach, I'm reminded of something, but now I've forgotten it... I have a feeling that if there were just one phone line in the Nats front office, and a toolsy Reds former outfielder and a former Braves coach were to be on the open market, the sound of Kasten's and Bowden's heads colliding while scrambling for the phone wouldn't be as loud as I'd hope for, thanks to all the lint in Jimbo's melon...Kasten, of course, would place a priority on signing whichever of those two would work the cheapest...Derek P from Quebec doesn't understand baseball (or the world)...

Pound for pound there's no worse fielder in baseball than Jose Vidro...For future reference, you can tell that Soriano's talking out of his hooha by the foul smell...When I'm looking for good Thai food in Minnesota, I settle on Sawatdee...On the scale of silly trades, Chad Cordero for Wily Mo Pena would rank somewhere below McGriff for Murray...Where are my pills?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

From A Certain Perpsective

It looks like the final price tag for Alfonso Soriano is 8 years, $136 million, $17 million a year. That's a huge, huge price, and if money does buy happiness -- not that I'd know -- he's going to flashing that winning smile that Bowden raved about so much, for a looooong time.

Good deal? Bad deal? Horrible, stinktastic deal? It all depends on who you are and how you view it.

Alfonso Soriano: Great deal, pendejo!

Diego Bentz: Great deal, pendejo!!1!!

The Tribune Company: They're definitely not getting a bargain, but the rumor is that they're on the way out. They'll get a year or two of production, plus all the sundry ticket sales and ratings increases while whichever sap buys the team from them gets all the risk of a 72-year old Soriano hobbling around the outfield.

The Lerner Family: Ka-ching! That's $15 million of pure profit right there. I'm sure the martinis they make from the tears of DC schoolchildren tasted extra salty and delicious tonight. (You don't really think they're going to bump that savings back into the payroll, do you? HA!)

Stan Kasten: Woohoo! He doesn't have to take the PR hit of not signing Soriano. They supposedly offered a 5/$75 million offer, which the average Nats fan thinks is fair -- why would anyone need more than that to live, right? uh, yeah -- so there's no PR hit for losing Soriano. That's Bugs Bunny money, man!

Jim Bowden: Crap! Here come the second guessers. Baseball Prospectus has made a cottage industry out of ripping Bowden over the last three months for not trading Soriano at the deadline -- all based on a discredited Will Carroll report. Bowden was holding out for an A+ package at the deadline and likely didn't get much more than some Bs. (Nobody really knows though). Getting two first rounders was the fallback position, but because of the Cubs ineptitude, we'll only be getting a yummy sandwich -- on rye, please -- pick and the Cubs' second rounder. Better than nuttin', but it's a drop of about 10-15 draft places. Draft well, Mr. Rizzo. Draft well.

Nats Fans: @#$##$ Soriano was about the only thing worth watching last year. Watching Kory Casto grow -- even as he doesn't have a really high upside -- will be an interesting diversion, but Soriano's loss creates a chasm of excitement.

Cubs Fans: !!! Some are kvetching about the money, but the object is to win games, not have the most wins per marginal dollar. The Cubs needed an outfielder, and they got the best on the market. They likely went a year or two too long. And they're paying a million or two too much. But who the feck cares? They play in Chicago, not Peoria. Winning -- and Soriano's worth what? 5-7 wins over Juan Pierre? -- brings in a lot of dough. Meanwhile, they get an exciting player. Soriano's a lot of things, and he has flaws, but he's always exciting. Whether it's the moonshots that'll break glass across the street, or his base stealing, he's a fun player.

The Hack Blogger Who's Typing This Entry: I'm sorry to see Soriano go. But at that price, it's the right move. Still, I don't think this is a bad deal for the Cubs. Sure, they overpaid, but he's clearly going to improve the team, and the Cubs can certainly afford to overpay. The Cubs, last year, were done in by injuries to Lee, a manager who insisted on playing the worst possible lineups, and a weakass outfield. You've gotta believe that all three will be improved this year. If they can get anything out of Prior/Wood, plus with Rich Hill and a likely free agent pitcher or two, they've got as good a chance as any team as breaking out of that woeful division. Remember that St. Louis' entire rotation, practically, is going to leave via Free Agency, and Pettite and Clemens are likely abandoning Houston. The signing makes sense for the Cubs in a way that it wouldn't make sense for us.

That being said, it's time to put up or shut up for Kasten and Lerner. There's some misinformation in the Post account, and there're some questions that need answering.

Sez Bowden: "We just did not feel it was in the best interest of the team to go that many years and that many dollars. We felt those dollars were better utilized in other ways."

What ways are those dollars better utilized? Is the team going to invest the $14 million or so they had budgeted for Soriano (based on the reports of their contract offer) in other free agents? Will they go after the second tier of pitchers? Or are they going to go trawling through the twofer bin at the dollar store?

If the money is going to be reprogrammed as minor league money, where is it going to be spent? Are they really capable of spending that much, or even a portion of it, on the minor leagues?

Kasten, from the time he took over his position in July, wondered openly about whether spending a large portion of the team's payroll on one player made sense when the team wasn't very good with that player on the roster.

Kasten's certainly a master. As a businessman, he knows that this line is pure BS, but that it's one that certainly plays well in the press. If a $25 million player provides $25 million worth of value, it doesn't matter a damn bit whether your payroll is $50 million or of its $250 million. You're still getting value for your money. The question isn't about what percentage of a team's payroll a player takes up, it's one of what the true value of a player is. In Soriano's case, he was a bargain at $10 million, even if that's 20% of the Nats' payroll. At $17 million, of course, he's not.

But somehow Kasten (and he's hardly the only one guilty of this) has managed to spin the debate from what's real to a handy talking point that obfuscates the issue. Hey, I guess he really does know how DC works!

Going in the other direction leads towards Oriolism, where it's better to give 4 mediocrities like Kevin Millar and Jamie Walker $4 million contracts than it is to give one valuable player a $16 million one. The $16 million guy is likely a better buy.

The Nationals have made their strategy clear: Grow the team through player development, save money this offseason and be ready to spend beginning in 2008, when the club is scheduled to move into a new stadium in which it should generate millions more dollars of revenue.

Save money this offseason? Save implies that they're putting it into a bank, ready to use it in the coming years. It doesn't usually work that way. With MLB teams, a penny saved is a penny earned. That money doesn't flow from year-to-year. Unless they have a dramatically different accounting system -- which is highly unlikely -- from any other major league team, today's profit is pocketed. They'll look to the new stadium's revenues for their budgeting in 2008, not how much they banked this year.

I'll be sad to see Soriano go. After hearing Guillen and Vidro kvetch about how it was impossible to hit homers at RFK, it was nice seeing him disprove them both. All you've gotta do is pull the freakin' ball down the line. Oh, and having world class power helps! In a lost season on the field, he was one of the few bright spots. Electricity didn't fill the stands much this year, and certainly not even close to the way it was in '05. But on the few times it did, chances are it was because of him.

My lasting memory of him is going to be of watching a rocket land in the bullpen in left, only to look down and see him rounding second in his trot with his head down while the crowd roared. I'll miss that a lot.

  • Update: Federal Baseball makes a good point. To properly evaluate the value of Soriano, one has to factor in that it effectively moves up, by a year, the compensation they'd have received had Brad Wilkerson walked via free agency. He's eligible at the end of the year. And, more importantly, because of the tightening of the classifications, there's a good chance that Wilk wouldn't have been a Type A anyway -- he's only a B this year, which would net just one ol' sandwich pick.

  • Holy Market Correction, Batman!

    Thanks to NFA for the link: Rosenthal sez that the Cubs are close to signing Soriano for 8/$135 million.

    Try not to laugh.

    If so, it's good news for Soriano, but bad news for the Nats. As one of the few teams that stunk worse than us, the Cubs first-round draft pick is protected. We'd still get a first-round sandwich pick, but we'd only get the Cubs second round pick -- which, truthfully, isn't that many picks down from several of the places (ie Mets) that Soriano could've ended up at.

    More later....

    It's Pretty Sad

    It's Sunday morning, and after scanning the articles in the Post, there doesn't appear to be one single stinkin' thing about the Nats. A major newspaper in a major city covering a major league team, and there's nothing? Not even a tiny li'l notebook with baseless speculation?

    Kansas City has one.

    Tampa Bay had something yesterday.

    And we get nuttin'.


    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Past A Diving...

    One of the constant refrains of the season past was about the World Class Crappiness of the team's defense. Especially in the middle infield, it was a complete nightmare, and had a major hand in turning a crappy pitching staff into a fan-morale-killing torment that would've been comical to watch if 1) I didn't have a rooting interest and 2) I hadn't paid actual money to watch it.

    Evaluating defense is sort of the Holy Grail of sabermetrics. Everyone and their brother has their own method of figuring out how much a player's bat is worth -- most of which come within just a few runs of each other. But defensive stats are all over the place. Even using similar data, different systems can produce contradictory results. Earlier this year, I took a look at a few of those stats, trying to describe what they do, and what they told about the Nats. (Short answer: we suck)

    One of the ones I didn't look at was the Probabilistic Model of Range. (catchy name, huh?) David Pinto, at Baseball Musings, has been working on a method of evaluating defense, using play-by-play data to figure out what a team should be doing. His method is here, but, in short, he looks at a number of factors including direction of the ball, speed of the ball, handedness of the pitcher and batter, etc, to determine what the odds are that the fielder can make the play. A soft flare right to the shortstop needs to be caught 100% of the time. A screaming liner back through the box will be turned into an out much less frequently. His database scans through all the plays assigning a value to the team's defense.

    And, well, for the Nats, it stinks. In the overall team results, the Nats are dead last. Based on this method, the Nats should have recorded 3,220 outs on balls put in play. They only got 3173 outs, a difference of about 50 outs. In the abstract, that's 2 entire games worth of outs that they crapped away whether by error or a complete lack of range. Looking it another way, the defense caused the pitching staff to throw at least 17 more innings than it needed to -- and likely higher because innings continued, in many cases, beyond where they should've ended.

    When an opponent put a ball in play against the Nats (ie: not a walk, K or homer), they batted .309. They should have only batted .299. Bad defense contributed 10 points of batting average. Scary!

    Pinto, helpfully breaks the team stats down further, into infield and outfield expectations.

    In the outfield, the Nats were squarely in the middle of the pack, turning about as many balls into outs as you'd expect -- just a difference of three outs. Austin Kearns is a terrific defender. Soriano had some growing pains, but his assists made up for some misplays, and he was pretty good by the end. The jury's out on Church. I don't think he's great, but he didn't seem as bad as someone like Preston Wilson.

    So about the infield, the killing field. The Nats, as you'd suspect were the worst in the league, and groundballs accounted for roughly 50 should've-been outs. Nats infielders let opposing batters, when they put the ball in play, bat 25 points higher than they would've with just an average defense. The difference between the Nats and the best team, the Astros (with Adam Everett, a shortstop that most stats say is an All-Time great fielder), is mind-blowing, roughly 50 points of Batting Average in balls in play. It's depressing to think about, especially with the prospect of those same 'fielders' running back out there next year.

    I've always been of the mind that defense was underrated by most statheads. You only need to go back a few years ago to see Baseball Prospectus writing articles praising the late-90s Oakland A's for completely punting defense. (Jason Giambi, outfielder!) But with the recent rise in prominence of DIPS and Batting average on balls in play, the role of defense seems to be gaining in prominence. Oakland, for example, seems to emphasize that more than anything, even as hacktastic scribes still rant about OBP and Moneyball. Meanwhile, over the last two years, Chicago and Detroit have made it to the World Series, in large part because of their outstanding defense. (Save your pitcher's errors jokes for another time!)

    USS Mariner recently had a somewhat-maligned post about Aramis Ramirez, contending that Aramis (he of the 35+ homers a year) is basically worth as much as Adrian Beltre (he of the mediocre offensive numbers). It's a convincing case that rests partially on the park, but mostly on the defense. The spread between an average defender and the best in the league might not be as large as the same for offense. But the spread between the best defenders and the worst is quite large -- as the Houston example above demonstrates.

    Putting together a team isn't just about putting runs on the board, but keeping them off as well. Now that's not to say that the Guzman/Vidro decision is a slam dunk for Guzman because of the defense. The chasm between their offensive values is important.

    But turning a ball in play into an out is essential, especially for our maligned pitchers. And it's something the Nats failed at, quite miserably.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: What's The Frequency Kasten? Edition

    The Nats signed for another year with Washington Post Radio. The deal includes a post-game call-in show. Hooboy. I can't wait to hear the drooling fanboys talk about how we're losing because Jamey Carroll isn't around, and how beautiful Don Blasingame looked when he pivoted on a DP. Stan, if you're reading this (and Lord knows why a high-powered executive would waste his time reading the drooling rants of a fat guy in front of a keyboard), please don't let Phil Wood near the mic. He might have the institutional knowledge of Washington Baseball, but yeaargh! If the radio show is nothing but manchild callers trying to restore their youthful glory by yammering about how wonderful it was to lose 95 games a year in a stadium that wasn't nearly as full as they seem to recall, I'm going to... I dunno. Something. Maybe I won't listen. So there!

  • A bunch of crap happened with the whole garages for the fat cat VIPs that you and I'll never see. JDLand, as always, has the scoop and pertinent links. The new and interesting wrinkle:
    Jack Evans mentioned that aboveground garages are now being planned for the 300 south side parking spaces, which Clark Construction says can be done for $1.6 million. If this is true, that they're now dispensing with the idea of a grand southern-side plaza (where hardly anyone will be arriving from anyway) then they should have just put 10-story garages right there and had all the parking on the south side. I imagine this is still not a finished discussion

  • Stanton back for a third time? Ugh. At least Acta's smart enough to not have the bastard intentionally walk every other batter he sees. (The sign/trade Stanton thing would work a whole lot better if we could package up the chaff we're trading for and trade it for something useful)

  • Ibid Manny must've read my memo. Mitchell Page is back. You did see what I had to say about Guzman, right?

  • Frank might not know how to manage his way out of a paper bag, but he does know talent. And he does speak highly of Acta.

    Somewhat related, but in a discussion about how accurate readers of Baseball Prospectus were with picking the standings, one of the most fervent, hard-headed statheads, MGL has a few comments about Frank. This guy, whose motto is "if it can't be counted, it doesn't exist", thinks that the team was better than it played last year: "I did not consider the impact of who I consider the worst manager in baseball. Maybe he cost them 3-4 wins." If Frank's puzzling moves are leading a numero-crat to gag on bile, maybe there's something there.

  • SorianoWatch06: Phillies and the Orioles!? Cubs still in it. (Watch for the typical Angelos playbook. He waits til the contract is all but signed before loudly announcing an offer significantly below the rumors floating out there. Then a week or two later he loudly bitches about the Yankees, even though the Yankees weren't the player who signed the guy he 'wanted'.)

  • There's no gambling in baseball unless you're a former part-time birddog scout with the Nats/Mets. This'll kill his hall chances.

  • Want a house near the stadium? Better buy a lottery ticket.

  • Hot Blogger Action!
    --K-Fed laments a major oversight in the recent MLB Awards voting. More important (and serious!), is this excellent look at Manny Acta and how, while he might be the right man for the job now, we shouldn't expect him to be hoisting too many pennants in the future.

    --NFA notes some more minor minor-league signings.

    --OMG seems worried about the Nats complete disinterest in Free Agency. Have you heard their name connected with anyone? (even the Royals are talking moves! -- and they even signed minor league free agents!)

    --Nats 320 covered the Acta press conference and gives a full rundown.

    --The Beltway Boys continues its quest to free the world from the tyranny of Austin Kearns. (I'll have to respectfully -- you didn't think I could do that, did you? -- disagree with him on that one.) And he sings the praises of Acta.

  • Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Dear Manny:

    Welcome to DC. I trust that you were treated fairly and that your handsome two-year contract offer was sufficient? Aren't you impressed by our GM, Jim Bowden? He sure was clever with that "We're ready to Acta-vate!" introduction, wasn't he? Has he told you about his 1.5 pennants? The man's quite a rockstar. Keep this between you and me, but don't go out drinking with he and his wife. Bad things happen, man.

    Now that you're in charge, you'll have to get to know the roster. There are some guys you're really going to like. Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero, etc. You probably saw what they can do when your former Mets team was pounding the bejesus out of the Nats. Remember that game early in the year when the Mets hit four homers in the first inning off Livan? Yeah, me too. I probably wasn't as happy as you were, although your shoulder probably got sore from all the high-fives you had to give.

    That there, though, is the team's biggest problem. We've got no pitching. You spoke about how you were aware that you weren't going to cut it as a major leaguer pretty early in your career. Well, that wouldn't preclude you from toeing the rubber with the Nats. We stink. If I were you, I'd pull Stan aside and tell him that you're resigning if the team re-signs Ramon Ortiz -- unless they can pull off a complicated sign and trade whereby Ramon goes to the Mets and is contractually obligated to pitch against us.

    You seem like you've got a good head on your shoulders for strategy. That's good. The old man you're replacing wouldn't know his... well, let's just say that we've had some disagreements. You're on my good side, for now. Here are a few things you need to do to stay on that good side:
    1) Don't ever bat Cristian Guzman second.
    2) Don't ever pinch hit with a reliever unless it's the 15th inning.
    3) Don't hit and run with a slug on the bases.
    4) Don't nap in the dugout.
    5) Don't ever bat Cristian Guzman.

    It's a simple list. I hope you enjoy DC. If you're looking for good Thai food, I'd go here. If you live in DC, wear your wallet in the front pocket, and keep your wife indoors after dark -- here's a crime map.

    Your pal,


    PS: Bring back Mitchell Page.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Silver For Zimmerman

    Ryan Zimmerman finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, and came just a few votes short of winning it. Hanley Ramirez, a deserving choice, won the award.

    It's bittersweet for Nats fans, but Zimmerman had the misfortune of playing in the strongest seasons for rookies in memory. I guess I'll have to console myself with watching him for the next 15 years.

    Stan Speak

    Stan's WaPo chat is over. I'm glad he made himself available, even if we didn't glean a wholllle lot out of it.

    I love how Stan (much like this blog) manages to say a lot, but without revealing any actual useful information. Program a few stock buzzword cliches ("fan experience" "improved minor leagues" etc) and toss it between some appositives, mix in some commas, and some happy-sound language, and there ya go. It sounds good, but he's a lawyer at heart. You have to dig deeper to see what he actually means. Thankfully, I've got the StanSpeak Translator handy.

    On the upcoming year:
    But let's be clear. I will never concede that we won't be able to win in 2007. But that doesn't mean that I think we have a chance. We will do all we can...take advantage of any improve the team right now Ha! You thought these clauses were in reference to winning in 2007. Double Ha!. And I think we Me and Mr. Lerner will really be well positioned in time for the opening of the new ballpark in 2008 to take advantage of (read: line my pocket) the new revenue streams that will be coming. Ka-Ching!

    On Radio in DelMarVa:
    Obviously our focus will be the very best signal in the greater DC area, but we will definitely also be looking into growing our network in order to better serve a much wider regional footprint as well. Don't call us. we'll call you.

    On the non-public managerial search and the meddling media:
    I'm afraid this time it got stranger than usual because we were taking extra care to have some private discussions, and the media is hungry to write something, anything. Why won't they leave me alone? Did they bother Einstein or Mozart? Unfortunately, that resulted in a number of inaccurate reports along the way. Two things to remember; 1) I firmly believe that we can get the best , most candid information by keeping our business dealings private until we have something ready to announce. It's only accurate if it has that StanK-approved Spin. and 2) Some teams hired a manager quite a while ago...and they've had no stories since. We've had numerous stories every day for a month. Please don't point out how two sentences ago I was decrying the irresponsible media for their shoddy stories-at-all-costs lying ways, and now am praising them for their relentless coverage. All coverage is good coverage except when I don't like the coverage.

    On the reasons for Tom Pacoriek's dismissal:
    I know Tom has a lot of loyal fans, and deservedly so. You fool some of the people all the time. He has a very unique style which sucks. As we build this franchise up , we are dedicated to looking at all aspects of the operation and making changes in any area where we think we can make improvements. I hope , and expect, that you will enjoy next season'e broadcasts even more than in the past, even though I didn't actually answer your question..

    Regarding his star outfielder:
    It's true that we took a hard look at trading Alphonso last July. I can't even be bothered to learn his fargin' name.

    On Whether They've Planned A Frank Robinson Day:
    The whole front office is consumed with planning for next season , both on and off the field. And as we have said, we definitely plan to have a formal Frank Robinson Day. No details yet, but we'll be letting everyone know. No, and go Feck yourself.

    On ticket relocation and Nats Batting Practice:
    our goal is to get everyone as close as possible to where they are now, and where the ticket prices are highest.

    And on batting practice,we will definitely be doing that in 2007...for at least some games. We have technical difficulties at RFk that make doing it for all games a problem
    (read: Aramark sucks), but I hope to have the new ballpark in 2008 open for fans with bulging wallets to attend batting practice EVERY GAME so that they come early and spend, spend, spend inside the stadium instead of that dopey ballpark village.

    On a long rant that sounds like it could've been written by me were I drunk. (And why am I not drunk yet?):
    Whoa. That was an awful lot of assumptions in one paragraph. So I won't respond to any of them, because a good lawyer knows that to admit to one part of a question, you're giving credence to the rest. And, man, that's a funky rant. So, here's some buzzwords. Someone in the ticket office wrote them for the back of a brochure:

    I have a very strong belief that we are on track, and actually ahead of our timetable, to be not just very good , but very good over a long period of time. And I think the fan reaction so far suggests that most people agree. We have a very good young nucleus, a growing player development system, and great ownership support. Those are the elements that any team needs to succeed. It's obvious you're a fan. When we do succeed, you know you'll want to be here. So stay on board. You won't regret it.

    On what's good about the new stadium:
    The new stadium will be able to reach out to fans in ways that are simply not possible at RFK. Spend money! If you just enjoy watching the game , we'll have grerat seats and sightlines They're reasonably priced!, and a fantastic set of video and information boards Kids love the video boards!. However , if you're on of those people who like to have other entertainment Because baseball is a boring, boring game, and we're going to be losing a lot for the next few years, we'll have something for everyone at a reasonable price. Fan gathering areas standing room tickets, live performances Eddie Money, novelties Spend Money!, games Spend Money! , kid's areas Spend Money!, many, many diferent kinds of bars Spend Money!and restaurants Spend Money!. There will be things to do such as spending money,and reasone to come to the park early, like spending money. And yes, watch B. P, while spending money.

    On how the Tigers approach to Free Agency might mean that signing Soriano would be prudent for the Nats:
    As we've said from the start, we love Alphonso Or whatever the hell his name is and we would love to sign him for one year on a personal services contract. But we will only do so , if it can be done in a way that allows us to continue to build a successful franchise Eat it, Fanboy. Having one great player, at the expense of all the other things we need (I hope nobody notices that 'things' doesn't necessarily refer to free agent major-league pitching) wouldn't make much sense. Having said that, let's wait and see what happens. This time of year is very unpredictable. And I need time to find some circuses to divert your attention from the bread shortage.

    On how bright the future is:
    But number two, I now believe we can get where we're going sooner that I thought before I came. That's becaus of all that has been accomplished since June. From the draft, to the new Dominican efforts, to the Kearns/Lopez trade, to then infusion of over a dozen young arms this off-season... Chris Michalak is only 36. He's younger than me.

    Chat With Stan

    Team President Stan Kasten will be chatting at the Washington Post this morning at 10. Get yer questions ready.

    What I'd ask him (and maybe I will) is:

    1) From the impression you've given, the team will not be pursuing anything but the bargain bin for free agent acquisitions. How does pursuing some free agents (Padilla, Lilly, etc), as you've put it, "hurt" the team when 1) they would not be taking away development time for any upper-level prospects and 2) the money 'saved' by not re-signing is unlikely to be directly reinvested in the team in other ways.

    2) Is the franchise's accounting structure set up such that a dollar saved in one account (by not signing Sean Black, for example), can't be spent in another.

    3) The signing of all those scouts the other day is terrific, but how does this rank the Nats, with respect to other teams, in number?

    4) The team has no intention of signing Soriano at the price he's talking, and has very little interest at the 5/$75 figure that's been floating around for a few months. Why do you continue to play coy with this lack of interest?

    5) Do you still hold that sports agents are too good at their jobs and that they should be banned from baseball?

    6) What's a reasonable estimate of the team's payroll in 2008 when the new stadium opens up (and no, payroll is not a proxy for team quality)?

    7) Given how two years ago MLB was admitting to a profit if $20-$30 million per year, and even acknowledging that it was likely down due to attendance and capital investment in RFK, how can you justify a flat-lined payroll this upcoming season, especially with media rights fees paid to the team increasing?

    8) Dominique Wilkins for Danny Manning? What the hell were you thinking?

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Acta, At Last

    Rosenthal sez it's a done deal. Manny Acta is set to be named Nationals manager.

    Of all the names that were bantered about, his was the most intriguing, simply because he's the only one I knew anything about -- based on an interview excerpted at Lone Star Ball.

    Acta seems to be aware of the numbers, and hopefully won't do mind-numbingly stupid things. We can, I'd wager a small fortune, expect to never see Cristian Guzman leading off, for example. (Is he a stathead?)

    He's young, energetic, respected by some players, and had the balls to bench Soriano in the World Baseball Classic last year.

    All things considered, the Nationals did well.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Major Jammage Edition

    Tom Paciorek is out as Nats TV PBPer. (Color guy! What the hell was I thinking?)

    Paciorek seems like he's genuinely heartbroken over the decision, as does his partner Bob Carpenter. They had excellent chemistry together. Apparently it wasn't fake.

    Apparently the Nats want someone who's more knowledgeable about pitching and catching. Paciorek's insights were mainly focused on the mechanics of hitting, an approach that's unusual for many broadcasts. (Does anyone really want to see Ramon Ortiz' hanging slider broken down anyway?)

    MLB's report paints a picture of dysfunction as Stan Kasten and MASN bounce the ball o' responsibility from side to side. That same report mentions two names. The Silver Fox, Buck Martinez, current MASN employee and Orioles broadcaster, gets a mention. He's boringly non-offensive, despite his nasally, whining voice, and the tendency to start each sentence with a "wehullll" delivered as if he were a boiler blowing off some steam.

    The other name is that of former Cubs announcer, Steve Stone. Stone is highly regarded (and seems eager for the job). He was let go by the Cubs a few years back when he started announcing what he saw (an underachieving, sloppy team). Rather than blaming the manager or GM for putting the mess together, the Tribune company fired the messenger. From what I've heard of Stone on ESPN, he's a pretty good announcer, even if he has that nasally wine like Bucko (sans the baritone).

  • The other big news is Nats hired a slew of scouts. This, during MLB's tenure, was one of the most neglected portions of the team. When done well, it's also one of the most critical. The most familiar name on the list is that of failed TB GM Chuck Lamar. But he seems like a personification of the Peter Principle; he was well regarded as a member of Atlanta's scouting operation.

    NFA has a big rundown. The interesting question is from the comments. How many do they have now (23), but I wonder how that compares to the rest of the league.

  • Injury updates: Nick Johnson, recovering from his broken leg, had minor surgery to remove some scar tissue. Nothing to worry about there.

    Mike O'Connor, meanwhile, had some cartilage removed from his elbow. He should be ready for spring training.

  • WaPo runs down the managerial search. They get this gem of a quote from Kasten:
    "During this search we have interviewed people who would be across the full salary spectrum, from very large contract to very small," Kasten said in an e-mail, "and we are prepared to hire the best fit, irrespective of which it is.

    "Having said that, I should also tell you that I have encountered some people during this process who have a very different [read: higher] view of an appropriate contract for themselves than do I. In such cases, I typically give more weight to my view."

    Manny Acta's still optimistic.

  • Soriano Watch:
    Tigers? Philly. The Cubs' #1 Target.

  • Monday, November 06, 2006

    Victory Is Ours!

    With the stroke of a feathered quill, Jim Bowden did what he's done 1.5 times in his 13 seasons as a big-league GM; he's put together a division-winning roster.

    Sadly for Nats fans, the flag that'll be flying this October will be in Columbus.

    The Nats haven't been able to deliver on a manager (latest: No Jewett, No Russell), but Kasten's promise to sign a boatload of minor-league free agents hath come to pass. 21 one of 'em.

    Four of them were offered 'contracts' and added to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft, and giving them a pretty solid chance of making the roster next spring.

  • You might know Tim Redding from such pitching staffs as the Houston Astros or the Portland Beavers. Redding had a promising start to his career with the Astros with a 3.68 in his first full season. But he lost effectiveness and batters started smacking him around while his homer rate skyrocketed. He pitched last season for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, putting up a solid 3.40 ERA over the full season. Impressively, he upped his K-rate, and looks like he could be a solid 4th starter this year. Of course I said the same thing about Billy Traber... What's worrisome is that last year was his first solid year of pitching (majors or minors) since 2003. Did he change something? Or was it just a fluke. The batters will let us know in March.

  • You might know Joel Hanrahan from.... well, probably nowhere. Hanrahan was the Dodgers 2nd round pick in 2000, but he's never made it to the majors. Hanrahan has been held back by a lack of control (~5 walks per 9), and having the misfortune of pitching for Las Vegas, a notorious hitters park in a hitters league. He's had impressive K rates, and he's been decent about keeping the ball in the park. It just appears that he can't harness his stuff and control it enough consistently.

  • Josh Wilson is a right-handed middle infielder who played 10 games for the Marlins in 2005. He can hit for a little bit of average, walk a bit, rip a few doubles, but nothing in his record jumps out. His extra-base hit totals over the last few seasons are inflated by the parks -- Albuquerque and Colorado Springs are two of the highest parks elevation-wise in all of pro baseball. Baseball America (scroll to the very bottom) says that he's decent defensively.

  • Michael Restovich, whom I touched on this morning, is a right-handed corner outfielder. He's put up solid slugging numbers wherever he's played. But he doesn't really control the zone, striking out a lot without walking much. He's got a chance to be useful to the team, especially in a platoon role.


    As far as the rest of the guys, I'll let the press release do the heavy lifting:
    The Nationals also agreed to terms on minor-league contracts with right-handed pitchers Jermaine Van Buren, T.J. Nall, Colby Lewis, Felix Diaz, Eduardo Valdez, Josh Hall, Winston Abreu, Jim Magrane; left-handed pitchers Mike Bacsik, Billy White and Chris Michalak; catchers Juan Brito and Danny Ardoin; infielders Joe Thurston and Alejandro Machado; outfielders Darnell McDonald and Wayne Lydon.

    There are some interesting names there. Most of them, though, will play the year in Columbus, getting a chance only if they impress in Spring Training, or if injuries creep up. (IF!?)

    Just some quick notes:

    --Van Buren has the potential to be a surprise reliever. Check out the K rates. He stunk in a limited opportunity for Boston last year, but hasn't had a truly bad season since Rookie ball.

    --TJ Nall, like Hanrahan above, found the transition to pitching AAA ball in Las Vegas to be difficult. But he had decent success everywhere else with a solid K rate and decent control.

    --Colby Lewis has pitched quite a bit in the majors, mostly poorly for the Rangers. Lewis was solid for the Mudhens last year, and will likely anchor the Clippers' rotation.

    --Felix Diaz briefly pitched for the White Sox in 04, and he had a poor year in AAA last year.

    --I can't find a listing for an Eduardo Valdez, but there's an Edward Valdez who was signed by the Reds during Jim Bowden's tenure there. He wouldn't do something like that, would he? Blah stats, but, hey, he pitched for Potomac and Bodes vouches for him.

    --Josh Hall is another former Red, but he has a local connection; he's from Lynchburg. He held his own in his first crack at Triple-A last year, but he's never had the kind of control that'll allow him to have any sustained success.

    --Winston Abreu pitched for the hated Baltimore Orioles last year. He's got a live arm, striking out a slew of batters, but, like so many other minor leaguers with live arms, he's got about as much of a clue where it's going when he releases it as I do. Plus, he seems to be homer prone. Poor kid!

    --Jim "Not Joe" Magrane is a career minor leaguer. Too many homers. Not enough bats missed.

    --Mike Bacsik is a lefty who's pitched parts of four seasons in the majors. He appears to have decent control. And considering the park and league, his 2006 was excellent. Might he be this year's Micah Bowie? The Nats could use a LHP in the pen.

    --Billy White is a left-handed reliever who's never pitched about double-A. Lots of strikeouts. Lots of walks. He looks like one of those 40-pitch per inning kinda guys.

    --Chris Michalak is an old man (36!) who's pitched in parts of four seasons. A reliever in the minors until the last few years, he's been solid, if unspectacular. Based on his success and his low K-rate, I'd bet he's a pretty extreme ground-ball pitcher.

    --Juan Brito fills the Wiki Gonzalez memorial role, having bounced around the majors and minors. Brito has put up solid numbers, but, again, they're in a park and league made for hitting. Still, he's 27, and if he's going to have a career season, it'd be now...

    --Danny Ardoin is another minor league vet catcher. Even considering the league, his .338 average in '05 is impressive. Either he or Brito could be good insurance when/if Schneider goes down this year.

    --Joe Thurston is a second baseman with a solid offensive track record. Great things were forecast for him, especially when he ripped the crap out of Triple-A pitching as a 22-year old, but he regressed, and was never able to put together an elite season. If Vidro were to be traded, Thurston looks like he'd be a solid bench player.

    --Alejandro Machado is a middle infielder that Bowden had traded to the Boston Red Sox before last season. A decent contact hitter, he doesn't have much power or much patience, but he's got speed.

    --Darnell McDonald, a right-handed outfielder, only seems like he's been around forever. He's never hit much, which would be fine if he were a gold-glove outfielder. Is he? Damned if I know.

    --Wayne Lydon is a right-handed outfielder born in Fairfax. He's been a model of slap-hitting consistency, and his only chance at major league success would be as a 5th outfielder.


    There are some possible spare parts here, and some filler for the rotation. But nothing that'll get a Nats fan too excited.

    But if you're in Columbus, and you're not a buckeye, there's quite a bit to be excited about. Real, live, professional baseball players. Sure, there might not be an Mitch Jones here, but they've got Wayne Lydon! The Wayne Lydon!!!

  • I'm In Control Here

    Stan Kasten had his Alexandar Haig moment last week, calling a press conference, disguised a luncheon, to assure the wary press corps that he had a plan. And that he was fully in command.

    So, the flailing that you've seen with candidates like Girardi and Pendleton pulling out for the most flimsy of Washington excuses ("family reasons") is ok. That's all part of the plan. Accounts of prospective managers being called once or twice then ignored for weeks? That's part of the plan too. Have no fear. Stan Kasten is in control, and if those pesky, meddling scribes didn't need to fill inches for their yellow-stained broadsheets, there wouldn't be any controversy.

    Whatever. An exhaustive search was hopefully part of the plan, but I have a hard time believing that Trent Jewett (god love him) was part of plans A, B or C. If Terry Pendleton hadn't pulled out, do you think they'd actually be interviewing Trent? It's possible, I guess.

    But what galls me about the press conference is the ridiculousness of it. Kasten protested the media's coverage, basically implying that it was inaccurate. Well, if they want accurate media coverage, they need to be up front with the reporters. Let them know who's being interviewed. Let them know what's going on so the fans have a farkin' clue.

    Because right now, the impression we get is one of managerial candidates running away from the Lerners like they have cholera, people we've never heard of phoning from Venezuela to throw their hat in the ring, and poor saps like Dusty Baker sitting longingly by the phone like a smitten teenage girl. And we're supposed to be confident in this search and the way it's being run?

    The media is part of the story, Stan. Maybe in an attempt to control the story he's let the story take on a life of its own. It can't work that way; the Nationals don't control the media and don't have a monopoly on the truth -- and most importantly, the interpretation of said 'truth'.

  • Kasten continues to play the coy little "We're still interested in signing Soriano," game. Left out is the little parenthetical he mutters under his breath "As long as he's willing to take a contract significantly below his market value."

  • The Nationals, it seems, don't want to really bid on any free agents (other than the same class of crappy Ortiz-quality ones they scraped off their shoes last year.)
    "I don't want to rule anything out, but [signing big-name free agents] is not my current game plan," Kasten said. "I have said that when you sign free agents I actually think you take yourself farther away from your goal, if you are not ready to take advantage of the money you spend."

    Could someone please explain that last sentence to me? That doesn't really make sense. How does signing a free agent (and maybe most of this hinges on the definition of 'big-name free agent') hurt the team? Especially on the pitching side, there are holes that need to be filled with someone better than the Billy Trabers of the world. A Free Agent would not harm player development because it's not taking away a job that's likely to be filled by a minor leaguer.

  • The team said they're likely to pursue a slew of minor league free agents. There are some useful players floating around, and it's a good way to stock some emergency depth, especially at the AAA level, where the Nats are as barren as the Great Salt Flats, but they seem like they're counting on them for roles with the Major League team. God help us if I'm watching Mike Venafro throw innings for us.

    Minor League Baseball helpfully has a listing of available minor league free agents. Some decent bench guys there.... maybe a stopgap starter or two, but, other than cheap, they're not really offering much.

    To that end, the Nats have made at least one signing, Mike Restovich, the former Twin. Restovich is a slugging cornerman (stats)who fields like a slug. But he hits right-handed, and he does hit pretty well, especially in a platoon role. He's got as good a chance to make it with the team as any, and would be a good solution as a 4th or 5th outfielder.

  • Thursday, November 02, 2006

    And Then Some Other Boring Stuff Happened

    No news is good news?

    The World Famous Trent Jewett interviewed for the Nats job yesterday. Jewett has been the AAA manager for the Pirates, and has had a fair amount of success in the minors.

    At this point, I don't really care who they pick. I bet as each day goes on and the names get more and more obscure, Frank Robinson smiles a bit wider.

    The Winter Meetings start in a month; that's the date that Bowden has said he'll have a manager by.

    OMG points out that Mr. Jewett looks like he'd be a blogger, and is optimistic that the Nats have had a plan in place for the managing job, and aren't just flailing around aimlessly.

    OMG also, in a different post, observes why the decision to offer Mitchell Paige and Randy Knorr minor league jobs is a good thing, especially for everyone's egos.

    --Except for Tony Beasley, that is. Cementing his status as a major-league Ahole (big time!), Bowden offered Beasley a job in the minors, only to yank it away from him when he didn't immediately accept. He said/she said, and Bowden has another enemy.

    This isn't the first time that Bowden has pulled that stunt. He once offered Ron Oester the Reds' managing job, only to pull it (and offer it to Bob Boone) when Oester wanted some time to think (and counter-offer with a higher salary). All this prompted Oester to call Bowden, "one of the worst people in the world." It's hard to disagree with that!

    --Ramon Ortiz filed for Free Agency, and seems like he's eager to come back. As painful as the Ramon Ortiz Cy Young Express was to watch, he's an innings-eater. Offer him arbitration, if he accepts, great. If he declines and goes elsewhere, even better. He's a Type B Free Agent, and would get us a sandwich pick. Yay.

    --Think the Lerners like sticking it to the DC Gov't? They stick it to Brevard County too, getting them to pay up and make $2.6 million in improvements to Space Coast Stadium. (The comments in the sidebar indicate that the natives are restless!) Thanks to NFA for the link.

    --Proving that Teh Internets suck, The Internet Baseball Awards are in, and Ryan Zimmerman ain't the Rookie of the Year. He finished third.

    Not to steal his thunder, but the giant multi-national conglomerate that Federal Baseball belongs to also did voting, and Ryan Zimmerman finished second there, despite appearing on more ballots than anyone. (This particular author has one of the more interesting ballots I've seen!)