Monday, February 15, 2010

Bowden Redux

My friend sent me a link to this Nats Journal post with the comment "it's enough to make you hate baseball."

Now initially, I assumed he meant the idea of another pointless "Guess the 25-man" post.  Man, those things are the low-hanging fruit of the blog world.  They're only a notch or two above cat pictures. (Awwww!  Isn't Mr. Franklin super cute???)  They're especially annoying because they make it seem like spring's actually a competition.  Contract status makes 23/25 of those decisions.  It's only with the Mike Morses of the world (and his lack of options) that force a team to make a decision.  And, really, besides his friends and family, who gives a flying shit about Mike Morse?

But instead of starting down that road... when I asked, my friend said that it wasn't that, but the deadbeats on the roster: Scott Olsen, Eric Bruntlett, Wil Nieves, etc.  This is our roster? The team we're supposed to be jazzed about.  Sweet jesus.

It's been interesting skimming some blogs and message boards and their reaction to the offseason the team's had.  Rizzo can apparently pee a fine vintage merlot, at least I think I read that somewhere.  What's frustrating about that analysis is that the accompanying analysis usually doesn't have Rizzoid's actions stand on their own; they're always in comparison to Cap'n Leatherpants.  He's not being judged on how he's doing, but by who he's not.

That's the same sort of thing that happened with Nyjer Morgan.  While he had a damn good stretch before his injury, he looked all the better compared to the stumbling, unmotivated dufus who wandered around center before him.

The offseason isn't over yet, but the early January claims that Rizzo was having a fabulous offseason were fare too premature.

Here's where we stand: Jason Marquis is our 'ace'.

Read that again.

That's what's been frustrating for me about the offseason.  The Nats haven't taken any risks at all.  Everything they've done has been measured and calm.  Marquis is a medium risk, medium reward pitcher.  In his best seasons, he's going to be a bit better than league average.  There's not much upside there.  And while that's lightyears better than some of the crap we've seen lob balls in the vicinity of Potomac Ave., that doesn't mean that that's a success.

The market had 3 or 4 high risk, high reward options out there: Harden, Bedard, Sheets and Chapman.  The Nats kicked the tires on two, so there's that.  But those are the kinds of players that would really make a difference, and all they'd cost is a little bit of Uncle Teddy's depression-era cash.  

Instead we got Marquis.  Could've done worse, for sure.  Better than Bowden's attempt at Cabrera, yes.  But the Nats in 2010 won't be judged against the record of a hypothetical Leatherpanted team, but by what they do with Ws and Ls.

Same goes for the other signings.  Pudge?  Meh.  Call that Medium Risk, Low Reward?  Dude's been washed up for a few seasons.

Brian Bruney?  Sweet Jesus.  I love that the PR staff always shoehorns his name in the lists of key pickups as if Brian Feckin' Bruney is anything more than a generic middle reliever.

They didn't take any risks anywhere.  Why not?  Is that Rizzo's nature?  (If so, that's a problem going forward).  Financial issues?  (I don't think I've said "CHEAP!!!" since my 'return')

We'll see going forward, perhaps.  But as you look at these moves, and you contemplate a roster with Miguel Batista and Wily Taveras, just think about the reaction that Bowden would get if he brought those guys in.


  • I agree. I've said since the end of last season that we need to sign two starters. They picked up Marquis right off the bat. He probably wasn't the best choice, but it was clearly the guy they wanted. I patiently awaited the second guy.
    At first, it looked like it might be Garland or Smoltz. Then Bush and Washburn were being considered. Then Chapman and Sheets. Then we end up with Estes, Batista and Benson. And suddenly Rizzo morphed into Jim Fuckin Bowden.

    Did Rizzo learn anything from last year? Because he doesn't show it. If anything, last year was probably a better offseason. Let's compare.

    2009 offseason acquisitions: Willingham, Olsen, Cabrera, Dunn, Wells, Tavarez, Beimel and Bard.

    2010 acquisitions: Bruney, Pudge, Marquis, Capps, Guardado, Bruntlett, Capps, Walker, Batista, Kennedy.

    Bard=Pudge, Olsen/Cabrera/Wells=Batista/Estes/Wang/WhateverotherscrapheapSP, Tavarez/Beimel=Capps/Bruney/Walker. That leaves us with Willingham and Dunn vs. Marquis and Kennedy.

    Whatever way you look at it, we're still going to have an awful pitching staff, an average offense, and at best a mediocre defense.

    What would Jim Bowden do? Just look at what Rizzo has done.
    I want to believe that Rizzo is better than Bowden, but there's no evidence to suggest he is.

    By Blogger Will, at 2/16/2010 1:07 AM  

  • Would Chien-Ming Wang meet your criterion for taking a risk? He is a 2-time 19-game winner coming off of surgery. He seems a similar risk to Ben Sheets to me. Would I have liked to see them sign Aroldis Chapman, too? Damn straight, but we had to settle for "we were in it 'til the end."

    The Willy Taveras signing seems like vintage Bowden to me, and it was a disappointment. Signing Wang would take a little bit of the edge off for me, though.

    By Blogger Positively Half St., at 2/16/2010 6:59 AM  

  • An extreme groundballer who needs every last bit of his stuff to succeed despite not striking anyone out and who's coming off his second major shoulder surgery and who isn't likely to be ready til may? Yeah, that's a difference maker.

    I guess I'd put him in the medium risk category. Even if he comes back a bit it won't mean much.

    For a medium risk return, I'd rather have a more sure thing.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 2/16/2010 8:05 AM  

  • You've definitely taken the "glass is half empty" approach to the offseason acquisitions.

    Two things to keep in mind:
    1. no marquee free agent is going to come to a team that lost 103 games, no matter how much money we threw at them. If a type-A, stud FA is switching teams its usually to get from a mediocre-to-good team to a team that has a chance at a title. Almost across the board. If a very very bad team has a pending FA stud, they would have traded him last july.

    So Rizzo got what he could. Next year if the Nats go 71-91 and have Strasburg sitting there looking like a 20-game winner, we'll have slightly better FAs willing to come here. Its a process.

    2. Every off season acquisition you're bitching about IMPROVED THE TEAM. Capps is better than MacDougal (who was dancing the high wire all season). Bruney is better than Rivera or whatever loser we were putting out in the 8th inning all year. Pudge is far better than Bard. Marquis will put up better numbers than any starter from last year not named Lannan. Kennedy is much much better than Gonzalez, Hernandez, Harris and other retread 2nd basement candidates. The rest of those guys are non-guaranteed, cut-em-loose if they suck players that you shouldn't really be worrying about.

    Face it; Bowden screwed us for years both with his Cincinnati Reds alumni obsessions, his penchant for head cases and "athletes" instead of ballplayers, and his horrible drafts. So you've gotta be patient with progress.

    Honestly, i think this team could finish ahead of NY despite having 1/3rd the payroll.

    By Blogger Todd Boss, at 2/16/2010 8:39 AM  

  • @Todd Boss: Agree that Kennedy and Marquis make us better, but it is not AT ALL clear to me that Capps and Bruney do. Capps was better than McDougal 2 years ago, but not last year. If McDougal was "walking a high wire" all year, Capps was falling off of it. Compare their numbers.

    As for Bruney, Clippard and Burnett had far better numbers and appear to be better 8th inning options than I guy who walks almost 5 batters per 9 innings. Bruneys are a dime a dozen.

    Agree with your 1st point however, regarding winning.

    By Anonymous Jaxpo Nat, at 2/16/2010 8:53 AM  

  • Macdougal walked as many guys as he struck out and was the benficiary of some extreme luck in terms of getting his saves. Capps had an off year in 09 yes but he was dominant in 07 and 08.

    Put it another way; if MacDougal was so fantastic and was better than Capps, then why is he still looking for work while there was a bidding war for Capps?

    Bruney: i'll tell you what he has going for him that we've been missing for two seasons here: a freaking fastball. No more Saul riveras and Julian Tavarez's slinging the ball up there at 87mph and getting pounded. At least Bruney can hump it up and miss bats here and there.

    In the end; there are no real "bad contracts" when you sign a guy for one year. In reality Capps, Bruney, Walker, etc are all just stop gaps until we start developing our own guys.

    By Blogger Todd Boss, at 2/16/2010 9:57 AM  

  • Two things to keep in mind:
    1. no marquee free agent is going to come to a team that lost 103 games, no matter how much money we threw at them. If a type-A, stud FA is switching teams its usually to get from a mediocre-to-good team to a team that has a chance at a title. Almost across the board. If a very very bad team has a pending FA stud, they would have traded him last july.

    This is often spouted as common knowledge but is absolutely false. Can you name ONE guy who has taken significantly less money to play for a winning team? You want a guy, pay up. Money talks and BS walks.

    Chris's point is spot on. This is a team with 205 losses in the past two years. They operate in a major media market with a brand new stadium. They have a bottom third major league payroll. Yet they refuse to use their massive resource advantage to get better faster. To take even ONE risk.

    No one can convince me that if Rizzo had called Rich Hardin's agent and said $8.5m he would have said "Sorry Mike, I'd rather pitch in the bandbox in Arlington for less."

    By Blogger traderkirk, at 2/16/2010 10:19 AM  

  • Name one guy? How about Mark Teixeira? By all accounts, we offered him more money than the Yankees to play basically 30 minutes from his home town. And (shocker) he went to NY to win world series.

    Building baseball teams is still a process. You can't just dump $40M in the FA market and win. Proof? See the Mets. They have 3 times our payroll and are a complete mess. Yes the RedSox and Yankees have huge payrolls but they also have significant home-grown talent and top-end farm systems.

    I've spouted off about how we're spending like a small-market while in a major market too, but i cannot fault the moves. There really weren't that many high-end FAs on the market who we were really candidates for. We talked about Garland but it was clear he was staying west coast.

    Harden is an injury risk. We're already down one starter (Zimmermann), committed to a second injury-risk starter (Olsen) and pursuing a third (Wang). Rizzo specifically said he wasn't going to roll the dice completely on his rotation. Plus, TEXAS IS A BETTER TEAM than us! If you're harden would you take $8M to play for a team that was competing for the playoffs or $12M to suck in Washington?

    By Blogger Todd Boss, at 2/16/2010 10:50 AM  

  • "Macdougal walked as many guys as he struck out and was the benficiary of some extreme luck in terms of getting his saves."

    Bottom line is Capps allowed 1.65 runners per 9 (whip) and MacDougal 1.52. Capps was extremely hittable. And if you want to live in the past, MacDougal had some good years too. Not saying I like MacDougal, but don't pretend that Capps is some glorious improvement.

    As for Bruney, he will "hump it up and miss bats here and there." Unfortunately, he also misses the plate too much. But have fun watching that radar gun.

    By Anonymous Jaxpo Nat, at 2/16/2010 11:08 AM  

  • Taveras is the symbolic "LERNERS ARE TEH CHEEEEP!" acquisition: The Athletics are on the hook for his $4M salary for 2010, so the Nats owe him only league minimum.

    Talk about a throw-away acquisition.

    By Blogger Bote Man, at 2/16/2010 11:54 AM  

  • I'm not sure that I agree with you here. Granted Pudge is washed up, but he's been around long enough to provide at the very least some experience for our stable of young, AAAA pitchers, which by the way makes the Marquis signing all that more crucial because even if he pitches at the league average for the year, he is still taking innings away from pitchers who in past years just haven't been ready for the big leagues or were rushed because of lack of depth at the Major League level (see Ross Detwiler's jump from AA last year).

    Basically, the best part of these acquisitions is that they keep the Nats from rushing prospects because there's no depth in the bigs. Signing Bruney and Capps means that there's less pressure on prospects like Drew Storen to move faster than they may need to. Signing Kennedy means more time for polishing Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, just like signing Dunn last year allowed for Chris Marrero to have more time to develop.

    The fact that these are all 1 or 2 year, relatively cheap contracts also means that there is no commitment to these players unless they perform, and even if they do, they can still be traded at the deadline for some value.

    While there is some semblance that any moves the Nats could make would only be an improvement, their biggest problem since they got to DC has been thin depth at the major league level and each of these signings has provided just that.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2/16/2010 12:10 PM  

  • To be clear, I don't think the Marquis signing is a bad one. Were Pudge on a one-year deal, it'd be tolerable.

    I just don't think the team is all that improved on paper from the last few seasons, despite what some were characterizing as a successful offseason.

    Now the team's almost certainly going to play better. The bullpen can't possibly be as bad. And regression to the mean and ol' pythagoras -- especially with Manny "He's my 7th-inning guy" Acta gone -- mean we're due for a nice rebound.

    But that rebounds as much due to luck as it is to Jason Marquis' chances of winning a Cy Young.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 2/16/2010 1:04 PM  

  • And there's also the significant possibility that guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham give you less than they did last year.

    Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy up the middle. That's just tough to ramp up for 6 years into the Washington Nationals.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2/16/2010 1:56 PM  

  • I disagree with this. They are doing exactly what they SHOULD have been doing the last few years--improving and getting deeper. The pen will be much better this year. The rotation is better with marquis, and now with wang too (hopefully). Kennedy is an improvement. I don't like the pudge signing either, but 2 year deals don't hinder their ability to compete down the line--especially with such a low payroll to begin with. And this year doens't matter anyway...all that matters is strasburg and if he lives up to the hype and whether or not zimmermann comes back from the injury to pitch like he was.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/16/2010 2:15 PM  

  • There is ZERO chance Texeria took less to sign with the Yankees. No matter what Stan says. So try again.

    As for Rich, if the Nats had offered him $12m, he would have taken it.

    And spending big money on Jason Bay and Oliver Perez IS the fast track to last place. But I am not talking about long term big money FA deals like those.

    Get a guy with tremendous upside. Then you have something to deal to get longer term cheap assets. Right now, could the Nats get anyone's 1-5 prospect with what they have on the roster? Maybe Adam Dunn to an AL team but that's it.

    And if you aren't going to spend in the draft (and they didn't in '09) and if you aren't going to spend internationally (and they aren't) then at least take some gambles with players who's history makes them cheaper. I really don't care if they are injury-prone. How does that make a bit of difference? That's why it's called a gamble. How is the season any worse off if you sign Ben Sheets and his elbow explodes in May? Ohhh our carefully constructed 74 win team is now a 68 win team. BFD. I want impact players not mediocre placeholders. That's the KC/Pittsburgh treadmill to disaster.

    Wang's signing is at least a step in the right direction. There is a chance he pitches well enough to generate some trade interest. Not likely but at least the chance is there.

    By Blogger traderkirk, at 2/16/2010 3:46 PM  

  • Nobody who has followed this team since they got here could be too excited about next year. This off-season has a feel of getting some recognizable names to fill space on the roster and stadium until 2011 when some of these high draft picks from the past 3-4 shitty years will be ready for the show. (Which feels scarily like the past 2-3 off-seasons)

    By Blogger Rob B, at 2/16/2010 4:34 PM  

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