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

Trade Deadline Post Mortem

Filed under: Media,Organization,Personnel,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 2:56 pm August 2, 2010

I am not a GM, nor do I play one on television… so I don’t have (an informed) opinion about how the Nationals did leading up to the trade deadline. Certainly the two trades the Nationals made make a lot of sense, and in terms of Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos, I think it was definitely a case of selling high.

What bothers me about it all is that the pundits seem to be critical of Mike Rizzo for sticking to his guns with regard to the trade value for Dunn (and presumably Willingham). In Rizzo’s blog, he addresses (and essentially dismisses) the criticism.

I can’t help but wonder if the team were some other… say, the Yankees or the Phillies, or the Cubs… whether the “conventional wisdom” would be so strongly lined-up against the Nationals and Rizzo.

Does (the collective) baseball somehow believe that the Nationals don’t deserve to be shrewd players in the marketplace?

Rizzo is right: if the criticism is that the other teams didn’t get Dunn at the price they wanted to pay, that is their problem.

(Next) Spring is in the Air…

Filed under: Fan Experience,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 11:36 am July 29, 2010

This isn’t much fun for me.

Back in 2006, when Jim Bowden was shopping around Alfonso Soriano, we watched and waited every day… waiting for news… waiting to hear about the trade that would send our reason to come to the ballpark off to a contender, in exchange for prospects. Soriano smiled and worked hard, swiped bases, swatted home runs, and threw out runners from left field as if he was turning the 4-6-3, and we all knew that it was a charade. Soriano wasn’t staying, Bowden was asking for the moon, and Nationals fans pretty much knew that the rest of the season was really about showcasing the healthy trade pieces, and not about putting a winning team on the field. We heard the whispers, we read the rumors. Major League Baseball’s contenders were the vultures, and the Nationals were carrion. Bowden stood between them, looking to strike a deal that would send the choicest parts away, for a handful of magic beans.

No, July 2006 wasn’t much fun.

In a lot of respects, 2010 is worse. The Nationals aren’t quite dead,  but they’re not well, either. The vultures are circling, looking to pick up The Last Piece, in exchange for prospects. Bowden is gone, replaced by Mike Rizzo. He, too is asking for the moon. He’s asking for the moon for Adam Dunn. He’s asking for the moon for Matt Capps. Who knows who else is in the trade mix. One of the things that makes it worse is how ubiquitous Twitter has become. Rumors and whispers travel the InterTubes in nearly instantaneously in 140-character chunks.

The trade deadline is the point where most baseball fans (and all Nationals fans) have to come to grip with the fact that the sweet dreams that are born in Florida and Arizona in the spring are dead. General managers knew this in April, but fans hold out hope and root for their favorite players until the end of the season. Rizzo is thinking about 2011. The fans are thinking about the next game. As the trade deadline approaches, and the rumors fly, it isn’t very pleasant for Nationals fans, who spend the days leading up to the deadline contemplating the loss of their favorite players.

I think I can handle the rumors and hand-wringing. If the Nationals can make themselves a better team through trades, I’ll swallow a little disappointment now for a shot at the playoffs next year.

But I am not ready for more of the same.

Remind You of 2005?

It shouldn’t.

The Nationals of 2005 were a very different animal than the Nationals of 2010. In many ways, it feels the same, and Mark Zuckerman wrote today of the last time that the Nationals were four games above .500. But on September 18, 2005, the Nationals were riding the escalator down, while our 2010 Nationals are riding the escalator up.

The Nationals in 2005 were the bare bones leftovers that Major League Baseball decided to impose on its thirtieth city – in many respects, worse than an expansion team, because there was no need for MLB to create the illusion of fairness of an expansion draft. The league, with the able assistance of Omar Minaya and Jim Bowden gave Washington a team with a  slashed payroll and traded away every significant prospect. Even if the 2005 Nationals had found their way into the post-season, nothing between 2006 and 2009 would have been appreciably different.

Our Nats sucked, and they would have sucked, no matter what.

But here we are in 2010. The Nationals are about in the same place in the standings as they were in 2005. But the Nats’ future looks very different.

The problem is, nobody really anticipated that the Nationals would be all that different this year. I think most of us had absorbed the idea of 70-92, and most of us would probably have be OK with that. We were ready to accept twenty-two games below .500, knowing that we would be better next year.

But we’re better this year.

Which makes me wonder. At what point does Mike Rizzo decide that the Nationals need to make a run at this season?

The Nationals shopping list is actually rather short. While the Nationals desperately need improved starting and relief pitching, they have ample reinforcements on the way, in the form of Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, and perhaps Jordan Zimmerman. Last night’s game exemplifies why the Nationals need to shore up their pitching. They won, but the bullpen made things exciting… perhaps a little too exciting for some people’s tastes. If we can wait out three weeks of Super-Two purgatory (and several rehab stints), the Nationals pitching will be getting a lot better very quickly.

The other glaring hole is in right field, where there is no in-house answer. The platoon of Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina, Willie Harris, Willy Taveres and who-knows-who-else (actually, I do know, Cristian Guzman) has been adequate to good defensively – and defense is a big part of the Nationals success in 2010. But at the plate, well… not so hot. There are some who argue that we should just let Willie Harris play the position.

I am torn. I think that Willie Harris will be a better hitter if he plays every day. But what he won’t be is the guy that offers protection to the lineup… and I think that the Nationals need one more feared bat in the lineup. Say what you will about Elijah Dukes, opposing pitchers at least respected him. Sure, you could throw breaking balls at him, but you couldn’t make a mistake to him.

The Nationals will be Also-Rans if they don’t solve their right field problem. The question is whether Mike Rizzo is going to be satisfied with meeting the 70-92 expectation, or whether he’s going to shoot for 92-70. If he chooses the latter, the Nationals are going to have to make a trade. The current winning formula isn’t sustainable… even with better pitching. They need their entire lineup to wake up at the plate. As it is now, there’s a path through the lineup where you can pitch around the hot hitters. A legitimate bat with the defense and arm for right field is what they need.

Right now.

Will History Repeat Itself?

I make an effort not to put myself in the position to be an armchair General Manager. I figure that there are probably fifty people in the world who are qualified to be a Major League GM, and I am not one of them. For me to comment would be a little like me commenting on major surgery – Take that spleen out! You can live without a spleen, right?

But there are aspects of being a GM that isn’t about evaluating talent or negotiating contracts.

One of them is, what happens when one (or more) of the Nationals’ prospects ends up playing themselves onto the big club’s roster?

The gaudy (in a bad way) start of spring training is setting up the scenario where it is entirely possible that a player like Ian Desmond or Drew Storen so handily outperforms the incumbent that Mike Rizzo’s biggest April worry is what to do with Cristian Guzman and Jason Bergmann. It wasn’t so long ago – 2008 – that this very scenario played out as Jesus Flores played himself onto the big team’s roster, even when his ticket seemed irrevocably punched for AAA.

Back in November, I traveled to Arizona for Arizona Fall League, and I interviewed Drew Storen about his plans for spring training. At that time, he said his plan was to come to Florida and make an impact. While he’s had only one appearance so far, it was notable for both its success and brevity. He’ll pitch again tomorrow – and while his appearance may be overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg, a strong performance will almost certainly get the attention of the front office. An impact, indeed.

Ian Desmond is doing the same thing… and as a position player, he’s getting a chance every other day or so to show that perhaps Syracuse isn’t the place for him.

The problem that Rizzo faces is that the business of baseball – assigning players to the minors in order to both foster their development and slow down the arbitration clock – seems to be in conflict with the actual performance of the players. I suspect it is tempting to not let a player’s emprical performance on the field interfere with a perfectly good business decision. But the fans don’t see it that way, and people like me are rooting for Drew Storen and Ian Desmond.

I am not saying that Storen or Desmond… or any other Nationals rookie… deserves to make the team. What I am saying is, if they have game, they don’t deserve to ride the bus in the minors because the Nats have expensive contracts with veterans. The fans don’t deserve it, either. I think we deserve the best available team… and I think that the take home message from 2009 is that  it is a mistake to assume that any player on the team is a lock at his position on the first day of spring training (see Milledge, Lastings). Albert Pujols comes to spring training believing he needs to earn his spot. It seems to work out for him.

So will history repeat itself?

Let’s hope!

O-Dog

Filed under: Personnel — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 3:38 pm February 4, 2010

There are some deals that you just feel bad about when they don’t happen, but for me, the Orlando Hudson deal wasn’t one of them. Not that I am the first to say this, but there are reasons that Hudson isn’t with the Dodgers, and there are reasons that the Dodgers acquired Ronnie Belliard last season.  Hudson was/is asking top shelf money,  and I think there are good reasons to believe he isn’t top shelf anymore.

I totally agree that the Nats have gaping holes at middle infield, but they have had them for a long time, and it isn’t an easy problem to solve. What is different now is that at least we have some prospects - Ian Desmond - who is in the neighborhood. After Desmond put on an encouraging showing at the end of last season, a lot of fans would probably settle for an Ian Desmond – Cristian Guzman middle infield. Clearly that isn’t what Mike Rizzo has in mind, but there is still time to work another deal, whether through trade or free agency. The worst we’re going to end up with is Desmond and Guzman. There are worse possibilities. Think Felipe Lopez and Jose Vidro.

I think it only makes sense to be upset about losing Hudson if you think the Nationals are at 90 wins this year, and signing him gets you to 93… and if your argument is that Hudson is a stop-gap until Desmond is ready, $9 million is an expensive stop-gap. I think there are a lot of acceptable ways for a 75-to-80 win team to fill the middle infield for a year, and most don’t cost $9 million.

I absolutely want to see the Nationals acquire a top-shelf middle infield. But I think there was very little upside with Hudson, and a lot of risk. Hudson was not Mister Right… He was Mister Right Now. If we could have landed him for what (we think) Rizzo was offering, it was a good deal. I like that Rizzo stuck to his guns.

Makes you a little teary-eyed for Alfonso Soriano, doesn’t it?

The Dawn of the Rizzo Era

There’s a lot to say about the Nationals fourteen games into the season. Unfortunately, a lot of it will sound like words from The Oracle (or Alan Greenspan) – truthful, but intentionally ambiguous:

What’s five minutes between friends? A good question. For Lastings Milledge, the ramifications of his tardiness were delayed, but for Elijah Dukes, he was asked to pay swiftly. Fortunately for the Nats, those events happened in the proper order; if Dukes’ punishment was followed by Milledge’s skate (in the short term), there would definitely be some problems regarding the appearance of equity. As it is, we may be seeing Rizzo assert his vision for the team… among them, that nobody is above the rules.

As much as it appeared that Dukes was giving back to the community on this Saturday morning, he was in fact, moonlighting. He was paid for his appearance at the Great Falls Little League. Benching him and fining him was the right thing to do.  Dukes has become a rather sympathetic character as of late, and it is tempting to want to cut him some slack,  but Thom Loverro urges that we not fall too deeply in love. What does this tell us about the organization? I don’t know. This is one of those cases where two points don’t make a line.

Produce or ride the bus. That would be the theme after half the bullpen traded their digs in DC for upstate New York late Sunday night. In some respects I think that the move was a little simplistic – the bullpen was put in a leaky rowboat by the poor fielding of the infield. But the beneficiaries of the move, particularly Garrett Mock and Jason Bergmann deserved to be in Washington in the first place, and in shuffle, two of Bowden’s projects, Wil Ledezma and Steven Shell, found their way out of the organization. It would have been a good move regardless of the circumstances. Timing the announcement after a third game blown in the ninth inning simply allowed Rizzo to bang his new drum a bit more loudly.

The Zims. Ryan Zimmerman has a new long-term contract. You would be hard-pressed to find an unhappy voice on this topic, except perhaps from a certain personal injury lawyer. If Bowden is the GM, this deal doesn’t happen… at least not now. While all of us fans see the wisdom of it, there’s a certain business sense to the move, too. As for the other Zim, JZim, N**2, Jordan Zimmermann, there are a lot of fans grumbling about the rain-delayed start of his Major League debut game. It is a shame that people were inconvenienced, but really, there was too much at stake to do anything other than what the Nats did. It was good for Zimmermann to get his full game in, and it was good from a public relations standpoint – at least for the vast majority of the fans who weren’t there. In a year, we’ll all remember his stellar start, and hardly a soul will remember that the actual  game didn’t start until 9:15.

More Rizzo fingerprints.

Indignant Manny. It is no coincidence that the Manny Acta we’re hearing at post-game press conferences has lost his teach, learn, roll-with-the-punches rhetoric, and replaced it with, well, Indignant Manny. After Sunday’s loss to the Marlins, I was talking with Mike Henderson of NationalsPride.com, and I mentioned to him that Manny’s original mandate has ended. Sure the Nats are a young team, but managing the Nationals is no longer about transforming a bunch of rookies into Major Leaguers. It is about learning to win. And this raises a question: Is Manny the guy to teach our team how to do that? Since the mandate has changed, so will his demeanor. Should Manny be worried about his job? No more or less than the other twenty-nine managers in Major League Baseball. But now all thirty are being asked to do the same thing: Win. Who do you suppose instigated this change? His boss, Mike Rizzo. That’s my guess, anyway.

We may be witnessing a transformation. As long and as slow as every one of those torturous Marlins games seemed, the change is actually occurring at a lightning pace. Players are being held accountable. Managers are being held accountable. The internal expectation is higher. What we’re seeing now is the demonstration of which members of the organization have more to give, and which are just spare parts.

… and this is exactly how it was always supposed to be. Stan Kasten’s plan was to build a professional organization from top to bottom. One that nurtured the growth of prospects and furthered the success of the Major League Team. Instead, what we got was a used car lot, with a segway-riding salesmen at the helm.

Will the Nats win more games this year?

Who knows. It is certainly going to be different with Mike Rizzo at the helm of the organization. One thing is for sure – almost certainly, we’ll feel better about the outcome… no matter what it is.

One last thing: Excellent game, John Lannan. You deserved to win.

Rash Decisions

First, let me say… I don’t do the armchair GM thing. There are tons of bloggers eminently more unqualified than I am to tell Mike Rizzo how to run the Nats. I see myself more as a psychic than a GM.

So yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of the Marlins has opened a rift into the psychic world, and have provided me the answer (which I already knew) as to how the Nats will solve their outfield problem.

To be fair, and to provide some empirical support for the results from the tea-leaf-reading, a few weeks back I was talking to Mike Henderson of NationalsPride.com, and I told him this very scenario. I honestly thought it would have played out in spring training, but between our strange economy and the still-slightly-muddy waters in the Nats front office, the True Course of Fate has yet to be revealed to Rizzo.

The Nats will trade Lastings Milledge for (almost anyone).

Almost anyone? Give me a break… the rift into the psychic world isn’t that wide that I have both pieces of this puzzle. It was just one game, and against the Marlins, to boot. How much psychic energy could be released in that contest? For heaven’s sake, ESPN barely knows the game took place!

Trading Milledge makes the most sense. Dunn… very funny. Kearns - there’s the matter of the King’s Ransom the Nats are paying him, and it is a walk year. He’s going to perform if he expects to play next year. Willingham is a young, and his failure (combined with the potential failure with Olsen) would mean that we gave away Bonifacio for nothing… so the Nats are “all in” with him. Dukes has the most upside and is still untradeable.

Who’s left? Ocho-Cinco.

This would solve a lot more problems than it would create. Dukes would have a permanent, play-everyday home in center. My guess is he shines. Kearns could play there to spell Dukes, Willingham can play either corner (and probably be close to as good as Milledge in center defensively). Willie Harris can play the outfield, too. The two problems you’re left with is who leads off, and does removing Milledge  from the team affect how Dukes (a childhood friend)relates to the world off the field.

Still unconvinced? Of those that one would conceiveably trade, which of them do you get the most for?

Milledge.

What happens if Dukes gets hurt? J-Max. Bernardina.

Will Milledge kill us when we face him? Of course. Trade him to the American League. You face him three games every three years.

To be honest, Milledge continues to do all the little things that drive me crazy. The revelation about being fined for being late for a team meeting is just one more. His comments about his work habits had me a little put-off, too.

… And I think he was given a walk this spring. He should have had to compete for a spot, just like everyone else. Perhaps Acta is crazy like a fox, showcasing Milledge as the shoo-in starting center fielder in anticipation of a trade. On the other hand, perhaps there was something in the water at Shea that makes the two of them particularly loyal to each other.

Boz was right in Nationals Journal today… it is too early for panic – it is only one game. But sometimes that one game gives us a little clarity about what needs to be done. This is how Order will be restored to the Nats Universe.

Am I sure? No. But psychic rifts help.