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

We All Get a Little Pudge Around the Holidays

Filed under: Organization,Players — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 1:46 pm December 8, 2009

If it weren’t for Paul LoDuca, we would all be thrilled about the signing of Ivan Rodriguez.

Pudge isn’t LoDuca. Pudge (presumably) knows what his role is… I’m not sure LoDuca did.

This should be a no-brainer for Nats fans.  As much as we all love Wil Nieves, Pudge is in a different tier than Wil.

Pudge will be in the clubhouse as much (and maybe more) for what he knows and who he is, than for what he can do. In the most recent Nationals Journal posting, Chico Harlan quotes Jack McKeon about Pudge:

“What a leader he was,” McKeon said. “He not only leads by example, but he was really positive with the Latin players. He’s a guy that took charge. He took charge of that [2003] club. Good guy, comes to play, unselfish, does all the little things. He’s a winner. I heard about the move and I couldn’t wait to see Rizzo to say, ‘Damn, you got one of my favorite guys!’”

Later in our [Harlan and McKeon's] discussion, McKeon explained Rodriguez’s value in relation to the young pitchers he can potentially help.

Speaking about the Nationals, McKeon said, “You’re probably going to get a half a year quicker development from those young guys and that’s where he’ll really pay off. That’s where you’ll really like him.”

As for the salary – critics of the Nationals payroll over the years complain both that it is too low, and that the Nats are wasting their money. As for the wasting part, we can point fingers directly at Jim Bowden, who today said:

“Following in the footsteps of Paul LoDuca and Dmitri Young, another bad [signing] by the Nationals,”

quoted from Dan Steinberg’s D.C. Sports Bog

Seems to me, if anyone would know a bad signing in this world, it would be Jim Bowden…

On the other hand, if Bowden doesn’t like the move, how bad could it be?

If the Nationals get the kind of leadership from Pudge that he’s brought with him for his whole career, $6 million will be a bargain.

Wishful Thinking

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 10:43 pm April 10, 2009

Wil Nieves takes ball four, and the Nats win.

You’re right, they should never be in a position where that situation costs them a game… in a game where they load the bases three times with one out… and squeeze out only a single run.

But on the other hand, the Nats are loading the bases three times in a game… and battled back twice to tie the game.

This year is not last year. Some experience and poise are going to right this team.

One other thing… I have heard others say it… but I thought I would chime in. Rob Dibble is really growing on me. I liked Sutton, but listening to him (Sutton) was like listening to your favorite professor lecture. Dibble has the knowledge, roots for the team, criticizes freely… and the careful listener tonight heard him tease Carpenter about declaring a hit before the ball hit the ground. He would be fun to watch a game with. With Sutton, you were embarrassed if you weren’t taking notes.

Maybe he’ll keep Carpy honest.

One other other thing… Elijah Dukes is making a case for himself, don’t you think?

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence: Lerners Are Cheap

IntroBowden is incompetentAaron Crow Sidebar… Lerners are cheap…

Cheap is such a pejorative term, don’t you think?

And in this context, it defies definition. It all started with Ronnie Belliard’s bats, some FedEx letters and team expense reimbursements. Today it has morphed into a commentary on the Nats participation in the free agent market.

Let’s start with the small stuff first. Baseball is an old industry. Very few people work professionally in baseball, and when it comes to management, the there are probably less than 500 people in executive positions across the Major Leagues. To be qualified for one of these positions, you almost certainly come from one of three tracks: you already work in baseball in an executive capacity, you already work in another professional sport in an executive capacity, or you are being groomed internally to advance within an organization. Or, the fourth track, you could buy a baseball team.

The difference between the first three and the fourth is that people who come from the first three are steeped in the culture of the industry. There is a way that you do things in baseball. People who come from a real estate background will likely have a very different view of how one conducts business. Business people draw a distinction between the core knowledge and talents that one needs to develop real estate (or throw a curve ball) and the skills and talents you need to manage your accounts payable. To most business people payables should be the same whether they are FedEx for contracts and blueprints, or FedEx for scouting documents. I am not at all surprised that the Lerners would want to examine the way they procure items or pay expenses.

In a lot of ways, the Lerner’s acquisition of the Nationals was like a merger – of course, the industries couldn’t be more dissimilar – but in any merger, there are always going to be ruffled feathers and hurt feelings as the new parent company asserts its control over the organization. Complaints about payables is just one of the things that happens in a merger. It doesn’t mean that the Lerners are cheap. It just means that the Lerner’s way of doing business was not immediately compatible with the culture of Major League Baseball.

When you’re sitting in a quiet room, and you hear someone in the back of the room cough, it doesn’t mean that everyone there is going to get the flu. In the absense of sound, every little breath is magnified. So it is when the Natosphere waits to hear more about the thrifty ways of the Lerners, and the Nats trade veterans for league minimum players or minor leaguers. Trading veterans for prospects, signing journeymen free agents rather than stars, letting your number one draft pick walk over a difference of $500,000 - the Glass Half Empty crowd sees this as irrefutable proof that the Lerners are cheap… and by this, the critics mean, too cheap to field a respectable team.

Even Tom Boswell piled on today. And I don’t blame him, or anyone else for being upset about the outcome of this season – and there are good reasons to be concerned about the perception of the team by the fans. I am upset too. But the foundations for this year’s poor performance were laid in the offices of Major League Baseball and in Montreal (and San Juan). I don’t see how spending more money could have made the Nats any better or more entertaining to watch. Who could the Nats have signed as a free agent that would have made them better (or more entertaining)? We’ve been promised historically bad teams since 2005, and every year the Nats have overachieved – until this year. In fact, one could even make the argument that spending free agent money caused some of this year’s problems.

The Nats signed two free agent catchers – Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada – with the idea that Jesus Flores needed to play every day. The thought was that he should do that on the farm, where he could become familiar with the Nats pitching prospects, and get another year of seasoning in a less stressful environment. On the surface, that sounds like a wise and conservative way to grow your catcher of the future. But when both Lo Duca and Estrada were injured, Flores was called up, followed by Will Nieves, both Flores and Nieves played their way into the top of the depth chart, leaving Estrada to be released and Lo Duca playing any available position just to get ABs. And why did Lo Duca need plate appearances? Because if the Nats were going to recoup any of his $5 million in salary through trade, he had to play, even if there were better choices – either more talented, more healthy, or just youngsters with more long-term potential. Of course, injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns made it easy to find potential places to play Lo Duca. Add to that the 40 percent effort that Felipe Lopez gave the Nats, and the same motivations to get him playing time, and it was clear that attending a game during the Nats 2008 season was more like shopping at Big Lots than going to the ballpark.

Don’t think the fans didn’t notice. They did. And just like a 20 minute shopping excursion to Big Lots, when watching the Nats, most fans felt that it was 19 minutes too much.

And it was like that until July 31. And while things were better on August 1, it hardly mattered by then.

But that doesn’t make the Lerners cheap. If you add $10 million to your payroll, and it doesn’t generate any wins, should you spend that $10 million? Is there some other return on your investment?

I don’t know. Probably not, and it is one of those things that is unknowable. But the premise that the Nats are unwilling to spend on free agents has yet to be proven. One can point to the Aaron Crow situation and try to infer something about the Nats willingness to spend, but one could just as easily infer the Nats desire not to be railroaded into overpaying for draft choices.

Stan Kasten made the point back in 2006 that major free agent signings are the last step you take, to get the final piece of your championship team. It is hard to make the argument that the Nats are anywhere close to that point, as they teeter at the edge of a 100-loss season.

Are the Lerners cheap? I don’t know. Either do you.

Things I Got This Weekend

I am back in Anchorage after a weekend in Seattle. I went to Safeco Field for each of the three games, and here’s what I got:

  • I got a nasty sunburn on Sunday. Aparently Alaskans are not designed for temperate latitude sun.
  • I got to see the Nats sweep the Mariners. I came away from the first game thinking that it was mostly the luck of a poor pitcher, but my opinion has changed some. The Nats got some timely hitting in the second inning Friday night, and made the most of it… though I think the Nats don’t win that game without the DH (Pena singled in the second, pitcher would have bunted). Most of the moving parts worked well on Saturday and Sunday.
  • I got an Adrian Beltre Bobblehead.
  • I got Ryan Zimmerman’s autograph (and John Lannan, Tim Redding and Wil Nieves. Good thing I got Nieves, never know what is going to happen to him).
  • I was convinced (yet again) that Jesus Flores is the real deal.
  • I got to impress some Seattleites by predicting (at three different games) a Felipe Lopez groundout, 4-3, a Jose Vidro groundout, 4-3 and a Wily Mo Pena strikeout. How hard can any of those predictions be? In all three cases, they came up with runners on base.
  • I got to enjoy Safeco Field. All the things that people say about the place are true. Plus, when you walk around wearing Nats gear, they treat you like a guest. One of the hosts gave me her secret route out from the ballpark, which worked like a charm. Lots of people asked where I was from, and if I had come from DC to watch the games. Everyone was friendly and courteous. Reminded me of 1/(Citizens Bank Park).
  • I got to see JimBo on the field with his gal pal and another couple. He was wearing some ratty jeans, but his girlfriend looked nice. I didn’t say hello – I am not sure I want to be seen in public with him.

I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Seattle. But I am still conflicted about our boys. But I am starting to think that when people get healthy things may start to change. A healthy Kearns spells the end for Wily Mo. Dukes (despite his run-allowing error today) has locked up an outfield spot, though I think that he might be a better centerfielder than Milledge. A healthy Zim spells the end for Lopez – and by the way, I would love to hear from the SABRmetricians out there about how much of a difference there is defensively between Zim and his replacements. My non-scientific answer is, a ton.

Know what else I got this weekend? Some reason to hope that things are going to get better.