Sunday, December 31, 2006

From The Home Office In Greybull, WY...

Top 10 Games that I gave my tickets away, Frank Robinson Managerial Strategies and RFK foodstuffs

10: Nick Johnson's walk-off versus the Rays
9: Bunting into a fielder's choice
8: LOOGY against righties
7: Some lame game that Ramon Ortiz pitched
6: Chili Nachos
5: Having relievers bat
4: Cheap Home Run Ale
3: Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off against the Yankees
2: Plain Dominic's hotdog, light on the mustard
1: Napping 'til the fourth inning

Top 10 Expressions of Tom Paciorek's Glee, Movies I saw and Funky names in the front office:

10: United 93
9: Paxton K. Baker
8: Borat
7: The Departed
5: The Descent
4: John W. "Squire" Galbreath II
3: Dr. Z Chris
2: HooohooooYeeeargh
1: Patton (I didn't say "released")

Top 10 Least Favorite Nats, Defunct Nats Blogs and Places to Hike in the DC Area

10: Rock Creek Park
9: Gray Pages
8: Marlon Byrd
7: Jason Bergmann
6: Bull Run Mountain Conservancy
5: Distinguished Senators
4: Jose Guillen
3: Ramon Ortiz
2: Nationals Pastime
1: Old Rag

Friday, December 29, 2006

Staff Infection

A few weeks back, I pointed to a discussion of what makes up a pitching staff. That is, what kind of numbers should we expect from each slot in the rotation?

In doing so, we discovered that the Nats had a historically bad starting rotation in 2006. As a team, starters put up an ERA+ of 82. Remember that ERA+ adjusts for park and league and normalizes the ERA on a scale of 100. An ERA+ of 82 is 18% worse than league average and an ERA+ of 118 would be 18% better. Nats starters hemorrhaged runs last year (as anyone who sat through a Pedro Astacio start could attest).

Another writer at Baseball Primer has done some of the heavy lifting, giving us a more comprehensive look at starters over the last two seasons. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing as there are lots of good nuggets in there.

You can read his methodology at the site, but basically he added up the results for each rotation slot. Ramon Ortiz hummed along all year, but O'Connor replaced Patterson (?), so his starts would count under Patterson's slot, etc.

To summarize some of his findings (and again, read the whole damn thing!):
Slot 1: 120 ERA+
Slot 2: 105 ERA+
Slot 3: 97 ERA+
Slot 4: 88 ERA+
Slot 5: 79 ERA+

It's important to note that the average starting pitcher has an ERA+ of 96, so a 3rd starter is basically average. Why, you ask? Because relievers have lower than average ERAs, in part, because Mike Stanton can relieve Patterson with the bases loaded, give up a bases-clearing triple, and not be charged any runs.

Keeping those numbers in mind, here's what he found the Nats starters to be:
Slot 1: 87
Slot 2: 83
Slot 3: 80
Slot 4: 79
Slot 5: 79

Ugh. As he puts it, that's a #4 and four #5s. It's a miracle we did as well as we did last year.

For comparison's sake, here's the '05 rotation:
Slot 1: 127
Slot 2: 106
Slot 3: 100
Slot 4: 86
Slot 5: 77

That's more like it. If we had 05's staff with 06's offense... Ah, what could've been!

So what's the point of all this and what does it mean for next year? I dunno. Probably not a whole helluva lot since we're not really in the market for anything much more than a 4th starter.

If Patterson's healthy (ha!), he's a #1. O'Connor (if he's healthy) can probably hold down the 4 spot. Although I'm not sold on him (too many walks, not enough Ks) or his long-term success, if he can do what he did last year, that's slightly better than a 4. Shawn Hill, if he's healthy could probably be a below-average three (94 ERA+ last year). Tim Redding, at worst, can be a fifth starter. He's a career 84 ERA+ guy and with his decent season in Triple-A last year, there's a chance he could be slightly better.

OK, so a 1, 3, 4 and a 5. That's not a bad start. Not as bad as it seemed, at least, right? Well, sorta. We're ignoring injury. And given the injury history of these players, there's no reason to believe that any of them will complete full seasons. And when one of them goes down, up comes Joel Hanrahan or some other scrub. Sure, maybe they'll break out. But it's just as likely that they'll be this year's Billy Traber or Jason Bergmann. There's not a lot of depth, and there's certainly no quality depth. It's not going to be too long before Matt Chico is getting the callup, exposing him before he's ready and (possibly) burning up an option year.

As I've said all along (and ad nauseum), we need a league-average inning-eater type guy -- a #2/3 type who can give us 30 starts, 180 innings and not cripple the team with 3-inning, 5-run outings. coughOrtizcough.

So this is where the rubber meets the road. Who's left? Here's the list of remaining free agent starters.

Clemens is a no-go. Jeff Weaver is likely to go to the Mets or somewhere that'll actually pay him. What's left is less-than exciting. But, because we're gluttons for pain, let's look anyway. I'll link to their fangraphs profile so you can delve through the stats, but I'll give a thumbnail sketch of these stiffs:

Bruce Chen: Flyball lefty who pitches as if it's home run derby, though his K numbers are decent. Supposedly tough to coach. He had a brutal year last year, but will turn just 30. Career 95 ERA+. Should come cheaply.

Shawn Estes: Slop-throwing lefty whom Bowden tried to acquire two seasons ago. Just had Tommy John surgery, so scratch him off the list!

Rick Helling: The former 20-game winner finished the year on the DL with knee problems after missing most of the year with an elbow strain. At age 36, he doesn't seem like he'd be a good fit thanks to little upside.

Jason Johnson: Tall, lanky right-hander who had the crap beaten out of him last year. He seemed to lose some command as his Ks went down and his walks went up -- never good signs for pitchers on the edge (he allowed a seemingly fluky 50 extra points of BABIP last year). He's been relatively durable throughout his career, which would be a plus, and he's sure to come cheaply.

Scuffy Moehler
: Slop-throwing righty who's toiled for the Marlins the last two years. 35, with not much durability, and declining stats? Ugh.

Mark Mulder: Could be this year's Loaiza reclamation project, but I have a nagging suspicion that someone better than us will snap him up. He had back problems last year, which caused him to alter his delivery, straining his shoulder. If healthy, he's got as good a chance as any to do what he did prior to last year. This would be one of the guys I'd target, even if meant more than just a one-year deal.

Tomo Ohka: We've supposedly offered him a contract, admittedly at below market. I suspect that some other team will snap him up as he's probably the best of a bad remaining lot. The Ohka we saw in 05 wasn't as good as he's typically been, especially in terms of control. If he'd come back, even on something like 3/$15, great. I'm just not holding my breath.

Ramon Ortiz
: Have you ever seen a worse fundamental baseball player? Sure, he pinch ran, but remember him trying to hit? or get a bunt down? or get the ball in front of a comebacker? He reminds me of what I'd look like out there. Sure, he can absorb innings, but I think I'd prefer someone with a bit of an upside.

Chan Ho Park: Last year was the first year he's had an ERA under 5 since 2001, and it took the most extreme pitcher's park in the league for it to happen. While he's not as bad as he looked in Texas, he's not much better than the chaff we've got.

Joel Pineiro: Over the last four years, his ERAs have started with the following digits: 3, 4, 5 and 6. Sensing a pattern? Like Jason Johnson, his Ks have steadily gone down while his walks have steadily gone up. The only advantage he has is his youth.

Mark Redman: An All-Star AND the Royals pitcher of the year. Doesn't get better than that! A lefty who's suffering from the K/BBitis that afflicted most of these other guys, he's probably worth a cheap chance on. He's relatively durable, and he's had a few years in the not-too distant past (like all of them!) that indicate that he could be a solid performer.

Aaron Sele: Admit it. You didn't think he was still in the league. Right-handed curveballer who pitched decently for the Dodgers last year as a swingman despite not having had a passable year since the Clinton Administration. He's always been fairly durable, but he's also 37. Meh. But he is a flyballer...

John Thomson: Supposedly was on his way to Seattle two months ago, but nothing happened. Injury-prone right-hander who seems like he could be a good bounceback candidate. He's had a number of solid seasons despite pitching in some tough parks. Career ERA+ of 103. Amazingly 'only' 33 years old. He's another one I'd strongly go after.

Steve Trashcan: Just like Ortiz. But worse.

Jerome Williams: I'm actually surprised nobody's signed the guy. Like everyone, he had a rough year for the Cubs, but has been excellent in previous seasons with a career ERA+ of 108. He's just 25 -- seems like a perfect fit for the plan, eh?

Jamey Wright: Not great, not terrible though he walks too many damn batters. He's another #4 for the fire.

Victor Zambrano: Like Stevie Traschan. But Worse. If signed, Chuck Slowes would likely quite. Actually to be fair, he might be the kind of low-risk signing that would make sense for the team. He's never been as completely terrible as he's been accused of being. It's not his fault he was traded for an uberprospect in a pointless deal. His walks are crazy, but he misses lots of bats. He'll probably be out with TJ surgery until at least the ASB, but the 30-year old would be more of a long-range signing.


So there are some names. Some are clearly terrible. Some are meh. And some aren't half bad. None of these guys are likely to cost much more than the $3 million or so that they paid Ortiz last year, and with the Vidro trade, there's certainly a little extra money there. (and don't sell me the line of bull that they traded Vidro for a bigger TV). Are there any of these guys that you'd go hard after? Would you just let the team roll out Hanrahan in May?

[Nats fun fact o' th' day: The Nats spent a combined $10.85 million on Armas, Drese, Astacio, Lawrence and Ortiz]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Irrational Exuberance

I'm getting really tired of the pro- and anti-plan arguments, especially when many of those on the pro-plan side are willfully (or maybe it's just ignorance?) distorting the anti- side. OMG, as always, sums up the case really well (and I'd link it if his site wasn't down now! -- check it out later), pointing out that the difference between the two sides isn't nearly as great as some would make it out to be.

The basic arguments against it, as exemplified in the comments to that thread, boil down to 1) They're going to spend money in the minor leagues and 2) Have patience. 2 isn't an argument and 1 has been demonstrated to be mostly false.

Now here's a real argument against jumping into the free agent market. There are some valid points here and some rhetorical distortions, but it's an attempt to have an honest debate. You could probably tell that I'd align myself with comments like 2.

But again, the basic constraints that I've argued for time and time and time again is that if the Nats were to move into the free agent market (only for pitching, an identifiable need) it would have to be in a manner that wasn't blocking players or prospects (certainly not a problem) and would have to be in a manner that didn't harm the long-term prospects of the franchise (ie: no 7-year deals to Zito).

It's easy to haul out Gil Meche and say that all deals are bad. But Vicente Padilla's deal wasn't bad, and it wouldn't cripple the franchise. Miguel Batista's deal isn't outrageous, and three years wouldn't harm the franchise. Even dreck like Kip Wells (1/$4MM) is a step up over last year. Both Padilla and Batista are above average starting pitchers. Batista's roughly similar to what Esteban Loaiza did for us in '05, and Padilla's even better than that.

To be clear, I completely understand that those pitchers would not push us to a pennant, but I've never liked the "All or nothing" strategy. That's what leads to Marlinsesque fire sales (see, I can argue disingenuously too!). What it's about is me being selfish -- shocking, huh? I want to see a team that has a chance. It's far more preferable to watch a team lose 3-2 than 10-4. Sure, a loss is a loss, but if I'm sitting in the seats, there's hope for the former. Not for the latter. And that's all I'm asking.

Could the money be spent better? Perhaps. The upgrades to the new stadium are a nice step -- and demonstrate the ol' irony that you have to spend money to make money. But to reflexively say that it's all going to the minors is just wrong. Some, sure. All, nope. If the money IS being spent better, then what they're doing is fine. We're starting to see some evidence of that, which was completely missing before. But, as always, I'm a skeptic first.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My True Love Gave To Me

One of the advantages for being such good friends with the Lerners as I am is that from time to time, you get good, top-secret info. I was over at their place the other night, eating some gefilte fish, and I came across the Christmas lists of some of our various friends. I figured there'd be no harm in passing it along.

Jim Bowden: Leather buffing brush, home breathalyzer kit and something red.

Stan Kasten: Brisket-in-a-box, Scout's Honor and a new leash for Bowden.

Manny Acta: Pitching, pitching, pitching.

Frank Robinson: A really fluffy pillow, A new 4 iron and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

Jose Vidro: Bionic knee, a big latte mug and a gift certificate to Golden Corral.

Nick Johnson: Ace bandages, Wooly Willy and a "Full Metal Jacket" DVD.

Cristian Guzman: A nifty T-Ball kit, ear plugs and a time machine to 2001.

Jose Guilen: Dueling pistols, Duct tape and rubber bands, and a blood pressure monitor.

The PA Announcer Guy: Spanish to English dictionary, Baseball for Dummies, English to English dictionary.

Randy St. Claire: Bailing wire, A Prayer Book, Jug of Tums.

Mitchell Page: Alfonso Soriano, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

Ryan Church: Tabasco sauce to put fire in his belly, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" and some DVDs

Alfonso Soriano: extra-large wallet, gold-plated Rolls and a World Series ring.

John Patterson: An extra elbow tendon or two, two consecutive weeks of health and some Bengay

Chad Cordero: An iron for his hat, sparklers for the bullpen and Rolaids.

Chris Needham: Everything on this guy's list.

Have a great Christmas! I hope that Santa brings you all your non-Free-Agent wishes!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's The Economy, Stupid

This post isn't going to be as in-depth as I'd like it, but it should get the general sense of something that's been kicking around in my mind.

The Beltway Boys points to Chicago's recent signings as an example of the folly of the market and how you can't build through the free agent market. I'd quibble with some of his assertions, but that's for another time. I do take issue with his idea that these contracts are going to cripple the teams: "In a couple of years, the market will have stabilized, and guys like Ted Lilly aren't going to be earning $10 million a year. If he remains true to his career statistics, he'll likely have under-performed during his stint in Chicago, and the Cubs, still smarting from signing all those free-agents, will try to get rid of Lilly and the gang."

I can't argue with the second half, although I think much more highly of Lilly than he does. But I think his first part is wrong. I'm not meaning this to pick on him, but it's a general argument I've seen in a few places, especially with respect to the smarts of the Lerner's current tight-wallet strategy.

We're starting to see a radical change in the economics of the game. That, as much as anything, has probably led to the turbo-charged free agent market. What's made baseball different than football is its reliance on local revenues. You hear lots of teeth gnashing over the Royals' ability to compete, yet there's never any talk of Green Bay not being able to compete. The NFL generates most of its money through the gigundous national TV contracts. Whereas in baseball, the Yankees get tens and tens (if not hundreds!) of millions more from their team-owned cable network than the Royals do for their broadcast rights. It's an unequal playing field.

There's still a huge disparity with what the Yankees make, but teams are gaining larger and larger bundles of shared revenue. The recent TBS package brings MLB's national TV Rights to about $3 billion over the next 7 years or so, and this guy estimates that means an additional 19% in revenue. At the same time, is exploding. Although nothing has been officially released, I've read that teams get about $6-7 million for that, and it's only going to grow. One estimate I read recently expects that number to double in the next few years.

This 2001 article (I'd really encourage you to read the entire series if you're at all interested in the economics of the game) says that mlb teams used to only get about $24 million in league revenues. This article claims it's up to about $27 million. But with continued growth in MLBAM, the increase in revenue from the new TV deals, and continued growth in near areas, such as their deal with XM, revenues will continue to expand -- as that article notes, profits were up nearly 50% in just one year.

With revenues climbing higher and higher and some changes to the revenue sharing formula which make it less profitable to be a cheapskate, creating incentives for teams to grow their own local revenue, there's no reason to believe that salaries aren't going to continue to grow steadily. They might not grow as exponentially as they seemed to this offseason, but $8-10 million is going to be the going rate for a league average innings eater. Just one offseason ago, Billy Beane was laughed at for signing Esteban Loaiza to a 3/$21 million deal. 12 months later and that almost seems like a bargain, doesn't it?

At some point, we're all going to have to hold our noses and accept the new reality. Of course, this places a premium on having a top-notch farm system. If you can have the kids do it for a fraction of the price, you're better off. But, at some point, the Nats are going to have to pay top dollar for top talent instead of kvetching about the prices. Otherwise they'll be like my grandmother who always tipped by rounding up to the next dollar because she only got a nickel back in the thirties. Or worse, the Peter Angelos strategy of paying 3 mediocrities $5 million a year instead of giving one stud the $15 he deserves.

Time, of course, will tell.

The system is changing. All of us need to adapt.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fouled-Off Bunts: Adios Edition

The Jose Vidro trade is official, and even if Chris Snelling never plays another game in the majors, and even if Papa Lerner buys himself gold-plated diapers with the saved money, it's a good deal.

Snelling, to many Ms fans, was as much of an enigma as Ryan Church is to us. And, unfortunately, they seem to be under the mistaken impression that he won't get jerked around here either. Ya never know! Hopefully it'll be Church and Snelling side-by-side, but I wouldn't wager any money on that either! USS Mariner has been Snelling's biggest supporter, and one of their authors pens a love letter to the guy. Meanwhile, the natives are still restless.

  • Leaving no barrel unscraped, the Nats signed Ray King (a fat lefty) and Jason Simontachi (a broken-down righty) to non-guaranteed contracts. The King signing could be a steal. His peripheral numbers weren't all that impressive last year (.303/ .365/ .539 against LHB), but those are way out of line with his career, where he's held lefties to an impotent .216/ .286/ .310 line. Unfortunately, the underlying stats show an ugly trend. He's striking out fewer and fewer batters, walking more, and giving up more gopher balls. Some of that could be Coors (even if it's not the homer haven it was), but it's also likely that the guy is eating himself out of the league. Our friend at Federal Baseball gives this a much more thorough look than I have, and a much more thorough look than Ray Feckin' King deserves, but it's hard times for a Nats blogger, man! At least he hasn't resorted to listing books.

    Simontachi? Who knows. He wasn't good when he was healthy, and that was a few years and a shoulder surgery ago. Eh, why not? He can't be worse than Armas.

  • Dominicans love Manny Acta.

  • Our fair beat writer is back with another mailbag, showing the delightful mix of facts and misinformed opinion that make him #1 in our hearts. We find out that Ryan Church has been handled perfectly, and that the Nats DO respect him because Jim Bowden once said something glowing about him. We also find out that he's a bad player because he strikes out too much. If you, like our misinformed, agenda-riddled friend, think that strike outs are a huge problem, this ancient article won't convince you, but it's the best effort you'll get from me.

  • OMG still hates Cristian Guzman, and seems to be gagging at the thought of him returning to short.

  • When the loyal fans of Section 320 think the Nats are screwing over the fans, you know that Kasten's really screwed the pooch hard. (See here and here)

  • The Beltway Boys has a nice look at the career of one of the All-Time great Senators, shortstop Cecil Travis, who died over the weekend. I could quibble a bit with the stats (Travis played in one of the best eras for offense), what's important is the man who compiled them.

  • As I did last year, I bought the 2006 season disk for Diamond-Mind Baseball. I haven't had the chance to really tinker around with it yet, but I thought I'd pass along a few tidbits.

    RFK Park Factors (where 100 is average, 110 is 10% above average and 90 is 10% below)
    #s in () are last year's ratings
    Left-handed batters:
    Singles: 103 (97)
    Doubles: 81 (74)
    Triples: 150 (111)
    Homers: 85 (91)

    Right-handed batters:
    Singles: 94 (80)
    Doubles: 94 (118)
    Triples: 108 (104)
    Homers: 82 (73)

    Left-handed batters were virtually the same. The larges change was the increase in right-handed singles and homers. Call that the Guillen effect. Despite our perception that RFK was a homer haven, that was as much a function of our increased power and craptacular pitching. Sure, they gave up more at home, but they gave up more on the road, too.

    The game also rates players defensively, taking into account their ability to make plays. It's not directly analogous to range, but they do sorta go hand-in-hand. They rate players in 5 categories: poor, fair, average, very good and excellent. Fr and VG represent players roughly one Standard Deviation above average. Pr and EX are about two. So most players are average, and there are only a handful at the extremes.

    A few interesting players:
    Ryan Church in center: Fair
    Royce Clayton: Average (!)
    Alex Escobar in center: Fair
    Austin Kearns: Excellent
    Nook Logan: Very Good
    Felipe Lopez: Fair
    Alfonso Soriano: Average (they're modeling an entire season, and he was pretty bad for a few months)
    Jose Vidro: Poor
    Ryan Zimmerman: Average (don't shoot the messenger, but most other defensive stats sorta agree with this)

    Alright, that's enough copyright infringement for one night!

  • Sunday, December 17, 2006

    Hurry Down The Chimney Tonight

    I read a ton of crap every day, but I don't really read many books. Well, that's not quite accurate. My book-reading schedule is on a complete hiatus during the baseball season. When the season ends, the number of books I read (and movies I watch) go up dramatically. But, when I do read books, it's rare that I pick up any fiction. I don't really know why that is, and it's something I've tried to change (with some slight success so far this offseason). I don't know what the hell any of that has to do with what I wanted to write when I sat down to the keyboard, but I'm too lazy to hit ctrl+A and delete.

    Needless to say, I've read a ton of baseball books. Some good, some bad. With our good friend St. Nicholas about to visit, here are some that you might want to put on your list, or buy for that baseball-loving friend who's semi-literate.

    I'm a huge Bill James fan, and he's taught me more about how to think and scrutinize things than just about anyone I know. If you only know of him a abacus-weaving raving stathead, then you're missing the real BJ. He's an entertaining writer who uses numbers as adjectives, combining them with his words to paint interesting pictures of people and events. If you've never read anything by him, there are lots of places to go. I'd highly recommend his old yearly baseball abstracts (There are always a few kicking around on ebay) Though they're covering seasons I was barely alive for, the kinds of thinking and perspectives he uses are still entertaining, even if half the names are of guys you've barely heard of.

    I'd also recommend his Historical Baseball Abstract. It's not a perfect book, but for a good intro the entirety of baseball history, it's not bad, giving you snapshots of events, decades and players. It's the kind of book that's fun to pick up and put down whenever you've got a few minutes. (Sounds perfect for a certain type of reading room in your house, huh?)

    Another must-have is The Glory of Their Times. A few decades old, it's an oral history of the early days of baseball told by the players themselves. Walter Johnson gets mentioned frequently, and Washington's own Goose Goslin tells his story.

    It seems to be out of print, but Lords of the Realm is essential to understanding the business side of baseball, and the development of the Players Association. It starts in the olden days, giving a history of the Reserve Clause and the numerous attempts to break it. And it does an amazing job of explaining how the relationship between the players and owners has changed dramatically to the point where they could let a baseball season be canceled. I really can't recommend this one highly enough.

    Picking up where that left off, in Juicing the Game current WaPo Redskins beat writer Howard Bryant talks about the changes to the modern game, and the on-field and off-field forces that have dominated the news since the strike.

    A pretty entertaining book, Fantasyland is the story of a newspaper reporter who decides to use his insider connections in an ill-fated attempt to win an experts league of fantasy baseball. It's part history of fantasy baseball and part character study of the uber-statheads who dominate the competition. The interactions he had with David Ortiz over whether he should play him or trade him still stick in my mind a few months after having read it.

    Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders is a good bathroom book -- the kind you don't need to read chronologically, with short capsules about some of the dumbest moves of all-time.

    If you've never read Ball Four, just get it! You'll thank me later, after you're done laughing!

    And now that you feel guilty for reading all this lite fluff, pull open any of these Roger Angell books. He's not just my favorite baseball writer, he's one of my favorite writers period. He elevates writing about a stupid little game to an art form. Many of his books are compilations of season recap articles he's written for the New Yorker and perfectly spin and encapsulate the period in which they were written. "Not So, Boston" is about a perfect a story as one could write about baseball.

    For something a bit more recent, I'd also highly recommend the Best American Sports Writing series. When you find yourself captivated by a fishing story, you know the writer has done something amazing. And, although it's a few years old, the Best American Sports Writing of the Century is a wonderful pickup. It features some of the giants of the craft and stories from some of the most famous games, including an extensive section of amazing stories written on a tight deadline (including Red Smith's amazing story on the Shot Heard Round the World -- how's this for a lede? "Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.")

    That should tide you over 'til April!

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Vidro, Vidi, Vici

    It's a shame that we never saw the real Jose Vidro. The broken-down singles hitter we saw bore no resemblance to the actual player. I'm too young to remember it, but the stories you hear about an ancient Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield of Shea Stadium seems an apt parallel. That's not to say that Vidro was anything close to Mays. He wasn't. But he was a pretty damn good player. We just didn't see it.

    Vidro wasn't a very highly regarded prospect. The Expos drafted him in the sixth round, way back in 1992. In his first crack at pro ball, he smacked around the Gulf Coast League, batting .330 and (you won't believe this) stealing 10 of 11 bases.

    1993, he got the call-up to Burlington and fared poorly. He suffered two separate stints on the DL with the same wrist injury, killing any chances he had of success. Despite that, the Expos pushed him forward. While the big club was doing amazing things in 1994, Vidro flat-lined. He was smacking doubles, and he showed a decent eye, but his overall numbers were less than impressive. To an observer from afar, it looked like he was bumping up against the ceiling of prospecthood. He either had to improve, or he wasn't going to make it.

    In 1995, he took that big step forward. Repeating High-A, he smacked the crap out of the ball for 44 games, batting .325 and ripping 15 doubles, before the Expos sent him to Harrisburg. He couldn't hold the solid average at the higher level, but as a 21-year old second baseman, he was holding his own against advanced competition. He had turned himself back into a prospect.

    In 1996, he split time at second and third as the Expos, who had Mike Lansing capably filling second, were trying to figure out a place for him in the lineup. He and Vlad Guerrero led Harrisburg to the Eastern League title -- Would you believe that Vidro had more RBI than Guerrero? And in 1997, he got the bump up to Triple-A. He still mostly played 3B and showed the same kind of line-drive power swing that had carried him throughout the minors, hitting .323 with an impressive 40 extra-base hits in just 70 games.

    He would get his chance in June. With Vlad Guerrero on the DL, the Expos sent for the hot-hitting kid in the minors. In the 7th inning of a game against the Cubs, he was sent up as a pinch-hitter with the Expos down 2, promptly doubling in his first at bat (off the immortal Steve Trachsel). He later came around to score, and the Expos would rally to win in the bottom of the 9th. Unfortunately, that would be only one of three hits he'd have in his first go-around. He got sent back to the minors before being recalled in July. He became one of the primary PH options off the bench, and saw a fair amount of time at third. It wasn't his natural position, and he didn't really handle the adjustment, despite the attempted switch in the minors, too well. His rookie stats don't look that impressive, but then you realize that he was just 22.

    The Expos wisely penciled him in as their starting 2B and 6th batter in the next season. It didn't go well. He was batting just .171 with a meager .214 slugging average when the Expos sent him back to AAA, filling his spot with Orlando Cabrera. Vidro would bounce up and down throughout the year, never really gaining traction in the NL or at Triple-A. Still just 23, he was at another crisis point. Orlando Cabrera, Shane Andrews and Wilton Guerrero were all young and floating around the system. With other options available, how much patience would the Expos show?

    Jose Vidro started the year with the Expos, but he was on the bench watching Wilton Guerrero play second. He had intermittent starts, playing at second and first, showing that he had made those adjustments and he was for real. Two hits and 5 RBI on April 14, then three more on the 24th. By early May he was batting almost .300 and slugging over .500. The second base job was his, and he played like he was never going to give it back. When his first full year in the majors was over, he had his .300 average and 45 doubles. He was on his way to being a star.

    Jose Vidro would do even better in 2000, crushing 24 homers and hitting 51 doubles while batting .330. All are career highs. He would be rewarded by making the All-Star Game in Atlanta. Although it's hard to imagine it now, Vidro was a decent fielder, roughly league average on Montreal's tough concrete grass.

    The next three seasons were like clockwork. Vidro showed up, hit his liners, and, in the process, got named to two more All-Star Games. In 2002 he was actually voted in by the fans as a starter -- a deserving, if surprising, choice.

    But the crappy field conditions and his inattention to conditioning started taking their toll (I'm sure the team's brutal travel schedule, which featured a stretch of games that went from Montreal to Puerto Rico to Seattle to Miami played a part). A sore right shoulder and a gimpy knee in 2003 limited his games and cut back on his effectiveness. The knee injury would come back in 2004, limiting him to just 110 games and a career-low slugging percentage.

    With talk of contraction swirling, and the uncertainty of the future, Vidro, who was the team's only real star, did the unthinkable: he signed a four-year contract extension tying him to the only franchise he'd ever known and without knowing their ultimate fate. From afar, it seemed admirable, and a stroke of genius by GM Omar Minaya and an amazing act of loyalty by a player. But up close, the cynic could certainly point to Vidro's declining performance, his now-nagging injuries and wonder how risky the move really was for the player.

    Vidro had knee surgery in the offseason, and when 2005 began, he found himself in a new city, playing for thousands, not hundreds, of fans each night. April 7 was our first glimpse of the player that was: Jose Vidro's 10th-inning homer won the game for the Nats and gave us the first sign that there might be something special brewing. On April 20, his two-run homer was the only scoring of an improbable shutout win over the hated Braves. But in May, he hurt his ankle and returned to the DL. It's hard to remember it because of what came later, but he was batting .290/ .365/ .510, and living up to past expectations.

    With the team steamrolling through the first half, Vidro returned on July 5th, and it was certainly a coincidence that that's when things went to hell for the Nats. Two days before, they had won their 50th game out of just 81 played. They would go on to win just 31 more. Vidro played second almost every day, and just couldn't do it. First the ankle, then the knee. They each acted up, robbing him of any range, and any drive with his bat. By the time the season was over, that amazing slugging percentage was down to just .424. Vidro was starting to look done.

    2006 saw much of the same. He started out hot, hitting .377 in April. Impressively, he was showing decent range at second, getting to balls that were rolling past him the previous year. He had a huge 5-RBI game against the Astros in April, ripping a three-run bomb that put a close game out of reach. But it was all a wasted effort. Lousy pitching kept the team from winning, and a hamstring injury to his other leg robbed him of any remaining range, eventually taking his bat with it. Although Vidro wouldn't admit it, Frank Robinson believed that his knee was acting up, too. Add it up, and it was a lost season for him and the Nats.

    Second basemen simply don't last as long as other positions. With his injury history, declining performance and body shape, there's not much reason to believe that he'll rebound to what he was. Fat Bottoms might make the rockin' world go 'round, but they don't get to many grounders.

    It's a shame that we never saw what he was, a line-drive machine who was a legitimate All-Star second baseman. We saw a few glimpses here and there, but the overall feeling most Nats fans are going to have towards the guy is one of mediocrity. We'll remember the knee. We'll remember the gut. We'll remember all those grounders slowly rolling towards Jose Guillen in right. It's probably not fair to Jose; he is a better player than that. But it's the only memory we'll really have.

    I wish him luck in Seattle, even as I don't expect him to do much there. Perhaps DHing will take pressure off that knee and give him a measure of what he was doing before, but he's going from one extreme pitcher's park to one that might actually be worse. It's going to be a challenge for him, but his career has been filled with challenges that he's overcome. He's at another one of those forks in the road in his career. Either he performs, or he's out of baseball. Hopefully he can show Mariners fans what all the hype used to be about.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Jimbo, The Miracle Worker

    All that's pending is a physical, and Jose Vidro is a Mariner. The Nats are netting Chris Snelling, an oft-injured outfielder who's put up some excellent hitting stats in the minors. They're also getting a reliever, Elmiano Fruto, who I know nothing about.

    I expect that our good friends at USS Mariner will be having a conniption any moment now. Check out Lookout Landing for bridge jumpers as well.

    No word on the $$ changing hands, but it's probably safe to assume that there's quite a bit being shipped out (Actually it's in the article and I glossed right over it -- $12 million, ouch! I'm doubly an idiot; the MARINERS are paying $12 million. We're only on the hook for $4 million. Amazing! The Commisar has to approve it, but I don't see why he wouldn't). Regardless, getting Snelling for Vidro, a guy who I would've thought could pass through waivers unclaimed, is a steal.

    I'll have more later... and I mean that!

  • Here's USS Mariner on Snelling 2 years ago. Adjust expectations downward because of all the injuries, of course, but it's a sign that there could be a few decent seasons in his bat. He's under team control for four more seasons, and won't be arbitration-eligible until next year.

  • I warned you about the injury-prone thing, right? Start here and scroll. Then click. And scroll. Then click. And scroll. Then....

  • Thanks to the knee, he's likely not a full time center fielder anymore. But Vidro wasn't a second baseman either. It evens out. ;)

  • M's fans, this is what to expect: Lots of slap-hit singles, the occasional drive to the warning track, mixed with some harmless groundballs -- except when there are runners on, then they're automatic DPs. Defensively, he should remind you a lot of Edgar Martinez. Seriously. He plays deep because he has no range. But still, he doesn't get to anything. Imagine Bret Boone hooked up with Aaron Boone in a drunken three-leg race, and that approximates Vidro's range.

    They can't have the bad sense to play him at 2B, so he's gotta be the DH, right? Then he's definitely just like Edgar, just without the eye, the contact-hitting skills, those pesky extra-base hits. But he does have his foot speed.

  • I haven't felt this giddy since they sent Inning-Endy to the minors. Hell, maybe I WILL renew my tickets. (And, yes, I'm saying that before I've come to terms with the idea that this means that Cristian Guzman is our starting shortstop)

  • Here's a scouting report on Fruito. I wasn't impressed when I looked at his stats (link in the first part with his name), but they said he has good stuff; he just can't control it.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: Love Me Tenderless Edition

    Yesterday was the deadline for teams to offer their arbitration-eligibles contracts. Those who weren't tendered contracts become free agents. (In short, a player with three to five years of service time (and a few guys with 2+ years that we won't worry about today) are eligible for salary arbitration.

    According to, the Nats had five arbitration eligibles, offering it to them all. I was working under the assumption that both Jon Rauch and Ryan Wagner were eligible, but it appears that they weren't (I'm guessing that they missed the cutoff -- under that parenthetical 2-year rule -- by a few days). That's good for the Lerners' wallets.

    My semi-educated guesses for salaries:
    Chad Cordero, $3.5 million
    John Patterson, $1 million -- I don't have much of a clue on him. When healthy, he's pitched well, but he's never been healthy!
    Felipe Lopez, $4.5 million
    Austin Kearns, $4 million
    Alex Escobar, $750K (Like Patterson, another tough one to gauge because of the injury problems)

    Throw those into what's already on contract and the Nats payroll is in the $40-45 million range for next season.

    Other teams throughout the league had to make the same decisions, and the less-than exciting list of new non-tenders is here. We'd be able to make a bid on any of these guys, though most every one of them stinks (or, as in Marcus Giles' case) would fill a need that we just don't have.

  • I like reading non-fanboy perspectives of the team and getting the outsiders perspective. The Hardball Times takes an in-depth look at our fair team, and wonders what the hell is going on. It's about as fair an overall assessment as you'll see, noting the problems with the pitching and the defense, but with passive praise for the bats. We can quibble with a few points here and there, but his optimistic take is that if things break right (ie: Patterson gives a full '05-like season, Church plays left; Redding gives us something), the team is looking at the low 70s in wins.

    Of course, if things don't break, Helllloooo Detroit!

  • Our friends at are back for another beating with their latest mailbag. It seems that the loyal readers don't like the relentlessly negative coverage of Ryan Church and how the team does nothing but pick at his faults, something the writer doesn't seem to really understand. Perhaps he's too close to the situation? OMG tries to explain why the fans might be ticked (and why some of the answers are a bit screwy).

  • The Nats are looking at Don Sutton for the broadcast booth. Yawn.

  • The Farm Authority has the rundown of the Nats minor-league coaching carousel. I hope he can get me Tony Tarrasco's autograph!

  • Instead of pining for what could be, Nats 320 is looking at what is. Here's their look at the pitching staff, and the position players.

  • There was that bit of news last week about the Nats being interested in Tomo Ohka -- on a below-market deal. That it came two days after an article where the Nats said that even Jamey Wright was out of their price range led me to believe that it was more public posturing than anything. Now that the Cardinals are rumored to be bidding on him, along with several other teams, it's about as likely as we thought it would be when we read that depressing WaPo piece last week. I'm about as likely to have Kasten over for tea and crumpets.

  • Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Meet 'n Greet

    Yesterday, Manny Acta and a few of the Nationals paid a visit to beautiful Viera, Florida. Part community relations, part ticket spiel, part attempt to sooth the locals who've been held over a barrel by the Lerners who are demanding nearly $3 million in improvements to the stadium there, a good time was had by all.

    A loyal reader was there, and passed along this account:

    "Interesting meet and greet, they had about 200 people attend and it was
    open bar and free food (hot dogs, pretzels, and popcorn). Manny, Shawn
    Hill, Mike Shapiro, Tyler Holmes (Florida Operations), Mitchell Page,
    and some of the minor league operational staff were in attendance. The
    GM of the Brevard Manatees got up and made a pitch for spring training
    season tickets and then Shapiro got up and made a similar pitch and
    added how much the Lerners care about Brevard fans. He also made a big
    deal about the Nationals refurbishing Space Coast stadium, however he
    failed to mention it is being paid for by a $2.8M county bond.

    "Manny was introduced and gave a pretty good speech. He spoke about his
    desire to win and no one is going to tell him in Jan-Feb that his team
    won't be competitive. You can tell him that in October, but not this
    early. He also said that every team has the same number of players and
    every player will play hard for him.

    "He and the other speakers stressed the point that the franchise will be
    fan friendly, he said it a couple of times.

    "The Q&A was interesting, Manny opened it up by saying that he wasn't
    taking questions about his pitching lineup (half-joking?). The first
    question was a softball about Frank and did Manny respect his
    accomplishments. Manny answered that he had a tough situation and took
    on a team that no-one else would. He didn't say anything about Frank's
    current position with the club.

    "I was up next and asked about Church. He said Church will be competing
    for the LF spot and he will give him a chance to become a contributing

    "At that point my son began screaming for his juice so I had to take him
    and my daughter out of the room to get them so OJ from the open bar,
    pretty convenient. We went back in and Manny was answering a question
    about his style of managing, not sure from his answer if he was saying
    he will or won't be a hard ass. He is getting pretty good at the Kasten
    double speak. You may need to break out the translator soon.

    "After Manny spoke they gave the kids in the audience baseballs and had
    them line up for Manny and Shawn's signatures. Shawn posed for a pic
    with my son.

    "I thought they did a good job working to connect with the fans. It will
    be interesting to see how it plays out over spring training. I plan on
    being out there on 2/15 to welcome the pitchers and catchers."

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    This I Believe

  • I believe in "The Plan."
    The key to any long-term success is to have a farm system churning out major league quality prospects. You need guys who can come in for a few years and give you league-average performances for $350K a year so that you can afford to give Carlos Beltran his $17MM a year when he's a free agent.

  • I believe that Stan Kasten will turn DC into a revenue-generating machine.
    Much is made of his on-field success in Atlanta, but where he really excelled was getting fannies into seats, getting a stadium built, and ensuring that the Braves could maintain a payroll high enough to keep their young superstars and to acquire missing pieces to push them over the top.

  • I believe that, for the short term, Jim Bowden is the right man for the job.
    Crazy, huh? Bowden's strength really is "catching lightning in a bottle." We may focus on all he does wrong, but he has a pretty good eye for hitting talent, and he typically puts together a passable scrapheap bullpen, giving his pitching coaches a lot of leeway to work miracles. If, as it seems they've done, they constrain him -- the things he says, and the kinds of creative but over-reaching moves that have dominated his career -- he could be very useful while the team makes its transition. Of course, when the time comes, we'll have to bury him 15 feet off the teeming shores of the Anacostia.

  • I believe there are lots of misperceptions, on both pro and con sides, about what the plan actually entails, and that it's not really in Kasten's interest to correct most of them.

  • I do not believe that every dollar saved on major league payroll is going towards the minor league payroll, nor do I believe that a buck saved this year is a buck that's going to be invested in future years.
    This is a perception that, although Kasten hasn't stated it, he's allowed to linger, in part, perhaps, because it wouldn't serve him to refute it. I'll admit that I don't have every specific, but there are some interesting patterns.

    This post (which is attributing an argument to me that I never made) on BPG is highly illuminating. Under MLB control, the Expos averaged about $3.5 million on draft signing bonuses. Under the first year of Lerner control, the team spent $5 million, just a $1.5 million increase over what Selig had signed off on. While that's a damn good thing, that's not nearly as impressive as you would've thought for all the talk, right?

    They do deserve lots of credit for expanding international scouting, which was non-existent before. Although (cheap shot warning) if it's going to produce 34-year old hack middle infielders, we can probably save a few bucks by axing the whole shop!

    The point isn't to denigrate the good things they're doing, but to point out that the $20 million difference between what they spent last year and what they're likely to spend this year on MLB payroll isn't ALL going to the minors.

  • I believe that RFK can support a greater than $45 million payroll.
    Since their books are closed, we can't really figure everything out, but in 2005, they were projected to generate $129 million in revenue. That article, which was written at about the halfway point of the '05 season, also notes that they were on pace for about a $20 million profit.

    I'll acknowledge that a lot of that was the honeymoon effect, and lots of winning at the right time. The profit would also be less today because, as the article notes, their non-payroll expenses (scouting, minors, etc) were below league average.

    Most recently, Forbes Magazine's annual franchise valuation, which every team executive hates and distrusts, pegged the Nats as the 6th most valuable franchise. The article claims that their estimated $145 million in revenue is roughly 20th in the league, but that they were the fourth most profitable team in baseball, making nearly $28 million in '05.

    I don't know where the truth is, but even if both the Post (who got their numbers right from MLB at the time) and Forbes are conservative, there's a little bit of money, even at RFK to play with.

    Yes, I'll acknowledge that these revenue figures were likely down quite a bit last year, which, based on an average ticket price of $22 -- the figure from the Post piece -- accounts for about $14 million (my math was bad earlier) less in revenue. But league revenues are up thanks to the success of and the renewal of the Fox contract, and the creation of the new TBS package. I'll be interested to see the new Forbes valuations.

  • I believe that the Nats would be well-served to sign two veteran free agent starters.
    I think they need veteran inning-eating starters to protect the kinds from overuse, especially those in the bullpen, but also for those who'd be staring down 150 innings of a 6.50 ERA. I think it's also important for the fans this season, to know that the team hasn't given up on putting a passable team on the field this year. And it's important because, while the prices might seem high this year, they'll seem even higher next year. Gil Meche was a bad deal; Vicente Padilla was not. Jason Marquis was a bad deal; Schmidt wasn't. But that's for another post.

  • I don't think the team completely writing off the 2007 season will have any meaningful long-term consequences so long as the team looks like they're making an effort next year, when the revenues start rolling in.

  • I believe I've written too many words.
    What do you believe?
  • Thursday, December 07, 2006

    Rule 5 Goodness

    The Rule 5 draft was this morning, and the Nats selected two players.

    Jesus Flores (stats) was the Mets #9 prospect, a catcher who had a breakout power season. There's a lot of potential there, but the jump from A-ball to the majors is a huge one. He'll presumably be Brian Schneider's backup, and the only question is what this means for Brandon Harper. Will they carry three catchers?

    Levale Speigner (stats) has been the closer for the Rochester Red Wings (MN's AAA team). Just looking at the stats superficially, there's not a lot of potential there, given his age, but he looks like he could hang around as the 5th or 6th man of a bullpen. It's a somewhat curious pick, but it's not like they were choosing from a group of All-Stars.

    The Nats did lose recent FA signing, Alejandro Machado. There's no great loss there, as he was mostly minor-league depth.

    Recall from the ill-fated Tony Blanco experiment that Rule 5 selections must stay in the majors for the entire year. You can't send them to the minors unless you trade for their rights with the original club.

    In the minor league portion, the Nats selected Justin Jones from Minnesota in the minor league portion. And we're losing a few other organizational fillers in the minor leagues -- nobody 'prospecty' though. More later.

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Enter Boswell

    The Post's main baseball columnist finally decides to weigh in on the Nats, firing a reasoned, well-argued shot across the '07 version of Stan Kasten's "PLAN!"

    Tasty excerpts:
    "If you're rebuilding, it helps to lose 90. Worse than that serves no purpose. And, once you've made your peace with such losing, it's hard to calibrate how low you'll fall. It's a dangerous game."

    "The Nats' new owners may not fully appreciate the risk they are taking. Baseball has many levels of "bad." How lousy can a Nats team be, and for how long, before the potential fan base, which seemed huge when 33,708-a-game turned out in '05, starts to dwindle? Can that shrinkage become permanent? For that matter, does Kasten understand the depth of ill-will that Washington harbors toward baseball after 33 years of being played for suckers?"

    "But what if he's [Kasten and his plan] wrong? The proper analysis of any plan includes focus on worst-case possibilities."

    "the Nats are playing a high-stakes game in which they bet that Washington fans are sophisticated or patient enough -- or gullible enough -- to embrace a horrible team that didn't have to be bad. The Nats have a respectable everyday lineup and a solid bullpen. If the Nats go 56-106, it was a war of choice."

    "The Nationals should rethink what now appears to be their plan for radical inactivity in '07. You don't damage a team's fundamental morale or ruin your relationship with your fans by losing 91 games. But there is some number of defeats -- and it's a lot less than 119 -- that may cause the Nats far more damage than they imagine possible. When you're building -- long-term or short -- penny wise is almost always pound foolish."

    Well said, Mr. Boswell.

    Though I suspect they'll take this under about as much advisement as they took your $5 million plan to revitalize RFK or your request for them to chip in for a limestone facade at the new stadium.

    Take Your Meager Scraps

    Ah, the winter meetings! When even the lowly Royals fan feels a glimmer of hope. This it the year that Doug Mientkiewicz will lead us to victory! Why it was only last year that Nats fans had the same feeling. Even if they didn't amount to anything, those rumors sure were fun.

    This year, we're getting nuttin'. The only prospect is a TRADE FOR MANNY!1!! (Except we wouldn't be acquiring Manny, and we'd be losing the Chief -- not quite what you had in mind, huh?)

    Banks of the Anacostia relays one that'd involve us shipping out Cordero and getting Noah Lowry (stats) back. Laughable on the surface, but Lowry isn't completely terrible -- a league average left-handed pitcher who's under team control for four more years. As the beginning of a deal, you could do worse.

    There's another crazy-talk deal that'd involve us giving up Cordero AND Lopez. That seems like a non-starter. It's not that Lopez isn't tradeable, but Cordero is marketable on his own. Lopez as well. He shouldn't be a throw-in in a trade.

    Rumors are fun, and you know that Jimbo's itching to pull off another one of those "Just Damn!" deals so his rose-cheeked moonface gets on TV once more.

  • Surprisingly, the Mets turned down an offer of Mike Hinckley for uber-prospect Lastings Milledge. Do you suppose that that offer was met with 1) Silence 2) Laughter 3) Anger 4) Silence followed by laughter, then anger when Omar realized that Jim was serious?

  • Ibid. The Nats head trainer quite the team for the most Washingtonian of reasons, family reasons. That it came a day after the Reds renewed their efforts to file a grievance over MajewskiTendi(o)nGate is a complete coincidence.

  • Thom Loverro rightly says that part of the "Customer Experience" that Kasten Krows about so much involves making a minimum effort on the team the actually puts on the field.

  • Monday, December 04, 2006

    Timing's A B***

    What should appear in my inbox today? Yep, my season ticket renewal form. With a click or two of the mouse, I can hop on teh interweb and re-up for another exciting year of in-person Nationals baseball. Hey, the "convenience" fee is only $20 this year, an absolute bargain.

    And if I hurry up and pay in full by the first of three deadlines, December 19, right in time for the Holidays, I get a Nationals MP3 player!1!1! (Hopefully one that functions better than Jose Vidro.) Presumably, the early deadline is so that the Lerners can get all their grandchildren extra-snazzy Hanukkah presents.

    If the Nationals don't care about the 2007 season, why should I? Tickets in my location aren't in great demand. I'm leaning towards not renewing. I've got MASN finally. When 36-year-old Chris Michalak coughs up 6 in the first, I could just change the channel. Maybe to TBS.

    Cold Cast-Iron Stove

    On what feels like the coldest day of the year, MLB's GM meetings are beginning in beautiful, sunny Orlando. Last night, I started hacking out an entry, a gentle to-do list for our friend, Jim Bowden, as he prepares to put "The PLAN!" into action. (Ya know, things like cutting back on the minibar since Stan's budget-conscious eagle eyes are watching, or stocking up on the free hotel soap for use at RFK bathrooms, saving the team dollars).

    But after reading Barry Svrluga's latest, what's the point?

    We're getting closer and closer to the truth with each of these stories. And each one kills the fanboy in me a bit more. The Nats, it seems, aren't even going to make much of a play in the secondary free-agent market. They're content to go with an all-kids, minimum-salaried roster. We'll be the Marlins. Just without all that talent.

    Truth #1: Both Bowden and team president Stan Kasten understand that fans will consider that the Nationals allowed their best player, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, to take the riches offered by the Chicago Cubs -- an eight-year, $136-million deal that is the gold standard of this offseason -- and expect that that money be allocated elsewhere. But club officials say, quietly, that's not likely to happen.

    Truth #2: [E]ven though spending an extra $10 million or $15 million on player payroll for 2007 -- signing, for instance, a pair of poor to middling pitchers -- might mean more wins, front office members don't believe significant value should be placed on, say, winning 75 games instead of 65 when the ultimate goal, winning a World Series, would be just as far away.

    Truth #3: "We are very mindful that people who paid their money are mostly concerned with what they're going to see that night, even the ones who appreciate that there is good stuff happening beneath the surface. That's why we spend so much time on customer experience." (Kasten)

    Truth #2 is a valid belief. In the grand scheme of things, there really isn't much of a difference between winning 65 and 75. I think, though, that if they're planning on going with a rotation of Patterson, Chico, Colby Lewis, Tim Redding, and Beltran Perez, that we're talking about a 60-win baseline, but that's for another day.

    Truth #3 pisses me off. Customer experience certainly is important, as people who remember the long hotdog lines and surly vendors can attest. And, for a successful franchise, you do need distractions to draw in non-fans and families. But there's a point there in the middle where they need to intersect. Bread and circuses doesn't disguise the rot of the republic. Maybe his experiences are shaped by working all those years in Atlanta, one of the worst fan markets in all of sports. But for the most part, people come hoping to see a win. When the team wins, they go home happy, ready to come back another day. When the team is trailing 6-1 after 3 because Colby Lewis just didn't have his good stuff, it makes their decision to come back another time more difficult. I'm not going to pretend that I know more about running a major-league team than ol' Stan, but his continuous preaching of "Customer Experience" as the trump card over a shitcan team is wearing thin.

    If ripping a hole in the bottom of the barrel is the approach the team is going to take, then they need to go hole on the hog. Blow the roster up. I love Austin Kearns, but he's not especially young, and he's arbitration eligible. Someone would love to have him. Trade him. Brian Schneider's a good luxury for a team, a left-handed defensive specialist. But on a lousy team? Trade him. Nick Johnson's my favorite Nat, but someone will give up a ransom for him, especially with his bargain-basement contract. Trade him. Chad Cordero's a good, but replaceable closer, who's about to be overpaid for what he can give in relation to a minimum-salaried guy. Trade him. Trade them all. If they're really rebuilding, let's really restock the system.

    I want to see 2 or 3 Rule 5 selections this week. If you want to reload a system, why not take other team's prospects? If 2007 doesn't matter in the eyes of Kasten or Bowden, they we'll have no problem finding roster spots for them.

    If 2007 doesn't matter, then make it not matter in the right way.

    (And if 2007 doesn't matter, why should I renew my season tickets?)

    If you completely agree with every ranting word I've typed over the last few weeks, or if you think I'm a ranting, short-sighted idiot, I'd strongly urge you to read this piece by Oleanders. Harper does an excellent job putting into words what I'm thinking, and what my worries about the team are. I sometimes take the hyperbolic position here in an attempt to be cute, but I think he nails it without all the bile.

  • UPDATE: NFA has an excellent post about one of the big downsides of not signing ANY free agents. It actually CAN harm the farm system. Wha?

  • Saturday, December 02, 2006

    Adios Jose

    We found out why the Nats inxeplicably offered arbitration to Jose Guillen: He was on the verge of signing a one-year, $5 million offer to play for the Seattle Mariners.

    The good folks at USS Mariner seem happy with the deal, labeling it a "medium impact, medium risk move." I don't think they quite understand the Jose Guillen experience! I wonder how he's going to take to being the short half of a DH platoon, as he's likely to be for a few months til his arm is fully healthy.

    Safeco has traditionally been death to right-handed power hitters. But as he's shown, his power is to right, where it's a bit easier to launch them out of the park. Still, the park's in his head already: "A lot of players don't like to play in Seattle because of the stadium, but I only need health, and I trust that my numbers will be there at the end of the season."

    Lucky Ms fans!

    He went out with a whimper, but it was his big bangs that carried this time through that magical first half that caused us all to fall in love with this team. He was Jim Bowden's first "Wow!" move with the Nats, and it'll be sad to see him move on.

    I don't think any of us will ever forget this. 18 months later, I've still got a big grin on my face.

    Let's Make A Deal

    Last night was the deadline for offering arbitration to your free agent players, and the Nats made two surprising moves. They offered arbitration to Loco Jose Guillen, and declined arbitration for the Ramon Ortiz Cy Young Express. Both are a little headscratching.

    First, a bit of an explanation for those who aren't transaction junkies (And if you are, just jump down to the first bullet). After 6 full years of major-league service, players whose contracts expire have the right to become free agents, and are able to shop their services around. Teams, though, have the right to offer salary arbitration to their departing free agents. If arbitration isn't offered, nothing really changes. They player can just walk away.

    But if it is offered a few things happen. First, it puts the next move into the player's court. He has until 12/7 to decide whether to accept or reject the offer. If he accepts, he takes himself off the market and essentially signs a one-year deal with his original team. The player and team will later meet at a salary arbitration hearing, where each side makes a case for a salary based on what other players of similar type are making. The arbiter picks one number or the other. In most cases, though, the player and team come to a compromise before the hearing, frequently splitting the difference between there two figures. No player really wants to sit in a board room while listening to their boss run through a litany of faults so they can nickel and dime their salary. I'd say that no team does either, but other than the resulting salary, I can see Mr. Kasten rather enjoying that part of the process.

    If he rejects the offer, nothing really changes. He stays a free agent, and can still re-sign with the original team. (It used to be that there was a silly rule that prevented the player from returning 'til May, but that was one of the casualties of the latest CBA.)

    But his decline means one important thing; the team can receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. As we saw with Soriano, free agents are ranked by a crazy Elias formula nobody's ever seen, and which really doesn't work. For compensation purposes, they're lumped into a few categories, but the only ones that draw compensation are Type A and B.

    A team that loses a Type A, you'll recall, loses their first-round draft pick, plus the original team gains an additional pick sandwiched between the first and second rounds. (The exception, we saw with the Cubs signing Soriano, is that a team with one of the first 15 draft picks can't lose their first-rounder; they lose a second-rounder instead). Signing a Type B has no real 'cost' to the signing team. The losing team only gets a sandwich pick. (Prior to the latest CBA, Type Bs gave up a first-rounder)

    With that in mind....

  • What the hell does this mean for the Nats?

    Declining arbitration to Tony "4.2 Innings" Armas and Robert "@#$#@$" Fick are no-brainers. Armas was a C, which merits no compensation. Fick wasn't even ranked that highly. There's no benefit to offering them arbitration, especially as there's a chance that the arb process would award them more money than they'd make as Free Agents.

    But declining arbitration to Ramon Ortiz? I don't understand why. I can't really see what the downside to offering it to him would be. Think back to the process. If they offer and he accepts, the worst that would happen is that he comes back on a one-year deal. He'd likely make something like 4-5 million (I'm pulling that out of my butt). That's more than I'd like to pay for him, but not by much. It's certainly not going to crush the team or hurt the long-term future of the team. But if he declines and ends up signing elsewhere, the Nats would get one of those first-round sandwich picks, something created out of thin air.

    They'd either get a likely draft pick or one year of a crappy pitcher who, if anything, can eat innings. I don't see what the downside to either option is. But by declining, they get nothing. No benefit at all.

    If they were so giddy and eager to get picks for Soriano, why weren't they in this case? Where's the consistency of their decision? The cynic in me would point out that they don't want to spend the money on either 1) the active roster or 2) the extra first-round draft pick signing bonus, but I'm not that cynical. ;)

    I'm sure there's a rational explanation for this, right? Right?

    The other mystifying decision is the offer of arbitration to Jose Guillen. Coming off a season of injury and with his many attitude problems, is there really going to be a hot market for him in free agency? Especially since it's likely that he won't be back til the All-Star break? There's a very slim chance that someone else would sign him, meaning there's little chance they'll get a draft pick.

    Plus, in Guillen's case, a reading of the tea leaves is likely to show that the 4-6 million he could make in arbitration is going to be higher than the deal he'd get on the open market. He'd be crazy not to accept.

    So the Nats will be dealing from a position of weakness. If they really wanted Guillen back, (and with Kearns, Logan, Church, Casto, Restovich and Escobar already filling the outfield, I can't see a spot for him) they could've just negotiated a regular deal with him -- one that's incentive-laden and likely worth less than he'll make in arbitration. Now they certainly can still negotiate and sign something with him before the arb hearings, but they'll be dealing from a position of weakness. If he doesn't like their 3/12 offer (or whatever), he can just take them to arbitration.

    Where's the upside for the Nats?

    I dunno. I don't see where either of those decisions makes too much sense for the Nats. I thought that the alternatives, in both cases, were no-brainers. I didn't even think to write about them prior to because I assumed they were automatic decisions.

    Am I missing the boat? Is there some decent explanation for these two moves?