Friday, September 24, 2010

The Kasten Years

An odd narrative emerged during the 2008 postseason -- Chuck Lamar, the former general manager of the moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was portrayed as the unappreciated master builder of the now-emergent Tampa Bay ballclub. During the American League playoffs, the announcers afforded Lamar relatively brief mentions, but when Lamar's new team (the Phillies, for whom Lamar became director of scouting) faced his old team in the World Series, Lamar became something of a fulcrum of the broadcasts. "How ironic it is," we were told in meaningful tones as Lamar was captured on camera looking on, "that he is now watching the team he works for compete against the team he put together."

This theme sounded very peculiar, something bordering on cognitive dissonance, because Lamar had been regarded as a thoroughly lousy general manager, one of the worst of his generation, when he was fired after the 2005 season. But suddenly a new message was emerging: Lamar had a very keen eye for talent and could have fared much better had he not taken some bullets for Tampa Bay's impulsive former owner. So by the time of the 2008 World Series, Lamar's successor, Andrew Friedman, was building on the foundation Lamar had started.

That stuff was probably 75 percent bunk, but this post isn't about Chuck Lamar's curriculm vitae. It is about how perceptions can change over time.

Although a case certainly can be made that Stan Kasten's time as president of the Washington Nationals has been a failure, I'm uncertain that this perception will take hold in the long term.

As it stands, of course, the organization has accomplished almost nothing meaningful since the Lerner/Kasten ownership group took over during the 2006 season. The initial forecast of punting 2007 to consolidate resources for an exciting opening season in Nationals Park was so drastically amended that we're now supposed to be pleased that the club won't be losing 100 games for the third straight season. Attendance has tanked (except for the Strasburg starts), and the team creates almost no buzz (except for what Strasburg himself created). What the organization itself has accomplished over the past few years (such as bringing in Strasburg and Harper), it has accomplished only as a direct result of its own on-field futility.

We were told that this was a long process -- I swear that they've officially been in a "building phase" for approximately 1400 days -- but that the organization had a plan. You know, "The Plan." I can't remember when "The Plan" was coined or by whom -- not by the organization itself, although Kasten did nothing to dissuade the term -- but the topic attracted a lot of attention and commentary in late 2006, throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and maybe into 2009 for the true believers. Most of us realized that there was nothing really novel about the team's approach to player development, whether it be called The Plan, The Process, or Doing It the Right Way. But it got some people very excited; these people extolled their patience as a virtue.

There's not much actual talk about "The Plan" these days, but, truth be told, the Nationals organization isn't in terrible shape and the future seems brighter. The team's base of talent is broader, as we're seeing what seems to be the first wave of sustainable home-made prospects. It's folly to suggest that all positive developments are attributable to Kasten, and the Lerner family does create a certain unease about whether they'll come through, but the Nationals organization has as good a chance as any to emerge in the post-Kasten years as a consistently competitive and fruitful one.

And if it does, I'm sure you'll see plenty of articles crediting Kasten, even in his absence, for this success. Will the praise be earned? Depends on your perspective, I suppose, but some of the praise will indeed be earned. There's much behind-the-scenes that we, as fans, do not know. Kasten's talk is certainly cheap (cue up the StanSpeak Translator, Chris!), but I do think that substance was there too. If it's true that Kasten held the organizational structure together and paved the way for a grown-up GM to assume command, then those contributions more than outweigh heading up the regime that inflicted Mike Bacsik on us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Three paragraphs on Jim Riggleman

It would seem that the Nationals intend to bring back Jim Riggleman for another year of exciting Washington Nationals Baseball. At 34 games under the .500 mark over the past season-and-a-half, Riggleman has had a moderate amount of success in the Nats' managerial seat, at least relatively speaking -- Manny Acta's group was 35 games under .500 when he was canned half-way through last season. If you're roughly as far below .500 in 1 1/2 seasons as Acta was in a half-season, then you're doing pretty okay, once you input the Acta normalization factor.

Riggleman has his positives and his negatives. On the one hand, the Riggler has "brought accountability back into the clubhouse" for the first time since the somewhat gruff days of Frank Robinson. On the other hand, it appears impossible to demonstrate from an absence of evidence that Riggleman handled Steven Strasburg absolutely perfectly. Balancing the equities here, I think most agree that John McGraw would be a better choice, but that would require a time machine.

My thought on Riggleman is this. Late last week, Bruce Chen racked up his 10th victory of the season. That leads the Royals, which means Chen has more wins on the season than Zack Greinke, which means pretty much nothing. Still, it does give Chen a second season of double-digit victories, five years after his first. Chen's seasonal won/lost records since his debut in 1998: 2-0, 2-2, 7-4, 7-7, 2-5, 0-1, 2-1, 13-10, 0-7, 0-0, didn't pitch in MLB, 1-6, 10-7. Chen now has 46 career wins, exactly half in the aforementioned pair of double-digit-victory seasons. What this means is that Chen is always available, is sometimes the choice of a team with a dire need and nothing better available, and is vaguely capable of competency when he does get the chance. That's why Chen's been around 12 seasons, and that's why the Royals brought him back this year despite the fact that he went 1-6 for them last year. And Jim Riggleman is essentially the manager's version of Bruce Chen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The End Is Near

I haven't died -- yet. Though check in in another week!

I'm still writing intermittently ...

For the first, I wrote about Jim Riggleman's future with the Nats. Nobody's said anything about to indicate that the double-switch master is in trouble, but given his tenuous contract situation, maybe he better call up Rob Dibble on how to break leases.

The other was actually kinda fun to write. The Yahoo overlords asked me to chip in with a Dear John-style letter, kissing off the 2010 Washington Nationals. So long. Farewell. Auf Weidersehen. Adieu. Adieu. Adieu. To yieu. And yieu. And yieu ... wait ... where was I?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Defending The Caveman

Did you ever think you'd see me kinda sorta maybe defend Rob Dibble? The lukewarm defense is over here.

So what about that Nyjer? Things are definitely in his head... his performance... Riggles leaving him out to dry... the demotion to 8th... He's shown that he's not a particularly instinctive player. (Note: he was picked off while you read that sentence) And he's in the middle of a tough season, after having the half-season of his career, which prompted far too many to blow smoke up his ass.

So with all that, it's pretty clear he doesn't know what to do. Do I charge? Do I slide? Do I break back? Do I steal? Do I charge? No! Do I charge? NOW I DO!

Add it all up, and it's someone who needs a break.

I've kinda thought for a while that he's someone who might need some mental help along the way. I dunno if that's true, but I'd hope the Nats (who know him better obviously!) help him out.

But in the meantime, his reckless play is going to get someone like Ryan Zimmerman hurt. So he needs to be sat down, 'til he gets his head in order.