A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Adam Dunn Makes Crocuses Bloom

Filed under: Organization,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 3:23 pm February 11, 2009

I happened to be looking out the window this morning to this view, when I heard the news:

$th Avenue in Anchorage

Sure looks like spring to me!

I was, in fact looking out my window when my RSS feed displayed the headline from “Nationals Journal”: Sources: Nats Sign Adam Dunn.

So I immediately head over to NJ, and it was like a virtual blog party. Even the curmudgeons and naysayers were happy.

I was happy.

I don’t know if Dunn is the right choice for the Nats or not. I am not a Major League GM. But the faithful feel better, and that makes a big difference.

I feel compelled to say “I told you so…” Even Boswell, in his chat today (before the announcement) was roasting the crow, in preparation for the feast. He said, “The Nats are going to look very smart __and I’mm [sic] be delighted to lash myself in the public square__ if they get Dunn at a great price. But I doubt it. I don’t se(e) them being a “first mover” but more like a “too late reactor” in this situation.”

If only I could be there for the lashing, because Bos will be laughing hysterically with every stroke.

This points out the danger of being an armchair GM. None of us have all the information. All we have is opinions. And while the faithful lost faith, the front office went about their work, first making a credible bid to Teixeira, and then acquiring Dunn. But in this web 2.0 world, our opinions carry some weight – not very much, but some. After all, I am just some guy with a blog, but hey, you’re reading this, aren’t you?

The real proof will come in August and September, when it is clear where the 2009 Nats are headed, and what the foundation looks like for 2010. But today, as our favorite team converges on Viera, more than a few of us have come to the realization that Stan Kasten and the Lerner Family and Jim Bowden have done exactly what they promised they would do. And they did it despite our whining and complaining, and not because of it. I think some of you owe them an apology – or at least, you should renew your season tickets.

Nine months of hand-wringing are over. And as the crocuses poke through the Earth in NatsTown… Let’s play ball!

Eggs in One Basket

Filed under: Organization — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 3:30 pm December 23, 2008

They never really had a choice.

For all of the reasons that people have quoted, including Jim Bowden’s comments in the most recent Nationals Journal posting,Mark Teixeira was the perfect free agent candidate for the Nationals. He addressed virtually every one of the Nationals major needs: he plays a position that the Nats are now desperately trying to fill, he can hit, he’s a local product. The magnitude of his contract dispels (at least partially) the notion that the Lerners are unwilling to spend money on payroll. By making a credible offer to Teixeira, the Nats have helped change the perception of the organization in the eyes of the public and the media – though I would say that there is still a long way to go there.

Only one problem – Teixeira now wears pinstripes.

And what a problem it is. The Nats really needed to sign Teixeira, but for more esoteric reasons than simply the performance of a player on the field.

Bear with me for a moment – I want to perform a mental exercise. Suppose you could wave a magic wand and make two things happen: First, you would make Nick Johnson impervious to injury, and second, make sure he performed at the level he has during his healthy times with the Nats. Would Nick Johnson be all that different from Teixeira?

Not that different. Comparable OBP. Less power. Similar average. Similar fielding. Nick Johnson isn’t Mark Teixeira. But he isn’t bad. An injury-free Nick Johnson (the logical equivalent to a calorie-free cheesecake – nice in principle, but a fantasy) would solve the Nats on-field problems for a quarter of the money. But what the magically-enhanced Nick Johnson doesn’t do is this: He doesn’t have local roots. He doesn’t have star power. He doesn’t send a message to the clubhouse that today is the day to win, not next season. He doesn’t send a message to all of Major League Baseball that the Nationals have come to play, create a baseball dynasty in Washington, compete perennially, and be a force both on the field and in the marketplace.

Teixeira does.

But nobody else does, even with a magic wand.

There is nothing in the free agent market that the Nats need the way they needed Teixeira. That’s not to say that there are not free agents out there that the Nats might pursue. But the scope of the Nats need is very different with respect to the remaining marketplace. Signing Dunn (or, heaven forbid, Manny) will be a hollow acquisition unless either can be had a fire sale prices. Both have significant flaws and pose problems for the organization in terms of making them fit. And sure, lots of people can make arguments about this player or that one, but again, which of them puts fans in the seats and makes Nationals Park a line of pride on the back of a baseball card? None of the free agents address that issue, and honestly, I believe that is the most important issue that faces the Nats – credibility.

Do you need proof? We only need to look at the pursuit of Teixeira, and how it turned out. Could the Nationals have kept a low profile, as the Yankees did and then swoop in at the last minute? Of course not. The only reason the Nats were even in the running is that they substituted cash for credibility – and apparently Teixeira left some cash on the table in order to play for the Yankees.

Need another example? Free agents don’t walk away from Redskins money, regardless of how poorly they play. And it isn’t like the Yankees tore up the AL East last year. No reputation and no track record equals the Nationals. Fix the reputation and the need for a track record goes away.

If the Nats are significant players in the remaining free agent market, it will be like sending the kids off in a toy store with $20. They’ll spend every penny and have nothing to show for it in a week. On the other hand, not making a significant expenditure will rile the portion of the fan base that has only a one-dimensional view of player personnel, where payroll is correlated with quality.

So the Nats lost in their quest to land Teixeira. But there was a lot more at stake than the obvious. Fixing the hole on the field will be relatively trivial. Fixing the hole in the baseball world will take time.

Purity of Heart

Filed under: Organization,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 1:34 pm December 22, 2008

The withdrawal of the Angels from the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes adds some important philosophical clarity to the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in baseball.

There are really only two players left – The Red Sox and the Nationals.  Maybe the Orioles, but maybe not… they probably don’t have the money or the stomach to be at this table.

To me, Teixeira’s choice comes down to being a cog in a corporate juggernaut, or the cornerstone of an up-and-coming franchise. About the choice between buying success and building success. About the choice between being a hired gun and a hometown hero.

It is about good and evil.

OK, not really about good and evil… but the old adage of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” just doesn’t hold with the Red Sox. It is possible to hate the Yankees AND the Red Sox. They’re both on the evil side of the ‘Evil Empire’ continuum. They’re more alike than different.

The stakes are vastly higher for the Nationals than for the Red Sox. Signing Teixeira doesn’t transform the Sox the way it does the Nationals. Collin Balester, Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman have all weighed in on the pursuit of Teixeira, and all three agree that it changes the entire focus of the team. It at very least starts the clock for respectability, which until now was just a vague notion of some goal in the future.

It also transforms the Nationals in the eyes of the league, and the public in general. Numerous articles and blogs have been written about the perception of the Nats now that they’re serious players in the pursuit of Teixeira. The disciples of “The Plan” (myself included) have either seen through this misperception – or kidded ourselves into believing that the Nats austerity was part of a larger view – but my opinion is in the minority. For the doubters, here is the proof… but for at least some of the doubters, being in the game is not the same as winning. For them, anything short of a contract would be as if nothing happened at all.

There’s also this: Mark Whicker’s piece in the Orange County Register about the departure of Teixeira from Anaheim. Between the lines in this piece is the argument that there is a lot of pressure in being the “Final Piece” of the puzzle – the very thing Stan Kasten suggested that the pursuit of a major free agent would be for the Nats. Clearly, Teixeira isn’t the final piece for the Nats, but in fact, he’s something more. He’s a necessary piece. He answers questions on the field, but he also answers questions about the Nats future, and for the cynics among us, he answers a huge marketing question, too. Teixeira will not draw fans to the park like Soriano did, but the acquisition of Teixeira will draw fans because the fan base will finally believe that “The Plan” is a viable path to perennial success.

I don’t envy the Lerners. They probably see the acquisition of Teixeira to be as much about  a referendum on their commitment to excellence as improving the on-the-field product.

I like the Nats’ world view a lot better than Boston. Sure I am biased. But it doesn’t matter. Failure isn’t an option.

Use the force, Ted.