Nationals Baseball: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hurry up 2010

This decade sucked for this franchise. Yeah, I know the Nationals team doesn't have a decade to look back on, because like Athena they magically sprang out the forehead of Frank Howard to save the Anacostia from evil (Makes you wonder which orafice Screech came out of). But the Nationals/Expos franchise was in existence the entirity of the 2000s. And what a decade it was...

Dec 9th 1999 : Jeffrey Loria buys the Expos

Ok this is the 90s but forgive me if I go back 3 weeks to grab the goddamn trigger to the end of baseball in Montreal. The team had been dismantling before this, but that happens all the time. What doesn't happen all the time is teams being sold to a direct descendant of Satan. For example he would trade Ted Lilly for Hideki Irabu before the year was over. Only pure evil could do something like that.

April 2000 : Loria only signs to broadcast the Expos on radio... in French. (A deal to make these broadcasts only available in Laos fall through at the last minute.)

2000 : Public funding for a downtown Montreal park falls through. Montreal disappears from the map never to be seen again. (or continued to grow just fine economically, I forget which)

November 6, 2001 : MLB votes to contract by 2 teams while looking directly at Montreal and Minnesota. Why? Because Selig is a National Disgrace, remember? For those too young to remember, baseball owners wanted a way to flex their muscles over the player's union. So they voted for this and Selig hoped to sneak it through in 4 weeks. Maybe he though everyone would be on vacation? The Expos were dead men walking.

Dec 20th 2001 : MLB buys the Expos. In order for baseball to get the Expos so they could get rid of them, they pushed a deal for John Henry to buy the Red Sox with a higher offer on the table, they let Loria... well let's just read the Wikipedia line

Loria moved the entire Expos management and coaching staff, including manager Jeff Torborg, to Miami — leaving the Expos without personnel, scouting reports, and office equipment, including the team's computers.
Seriously? Why the hell is Selig still here on Earth and not back at his official job running the ironic punishment machine in hell? Minnesota courts though screw up the master plan stopping the league from evenly taking 2 teams from the equation.

September 2002 : Omar Minaya trades Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee for Bartolo Colon. For the defense, he thought the team would be gone. For the prosecution, reread the bold sentence.

2003: MLB decides Montreal will play 22 "home games" in Puerto Rico.

How does the man sleep at night? On a bed of dead puppies? The team does draw decently considering but still they were never going to move there so this was just Selig being a tease.

August 28th 2003 : Baseball decides it can't afford $50,000, otherwise known as A-Rod's Rolos budget, to call up minor leaguers. Really they just didn't want to take the chance the Expos might actually make the playoffs.

November 2004 : Baseball names Jim Bowden GM of the Washington franchise. Moving to DC can't be seen as a bad thing, but this decision surely was in retrospect. Bowden did not know how to build a minor league system (he would immediately lose two draft picks by signing Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman unecessarily early), and was mediocre in his wheeling and dealing. This might have been fine if he were the silent type - but he was a segway-riding, drunk-driving, wife-fighting, "dawg"-spouting, questionable-situation-finding mess. He seemed to show some competence when later wrangled by Kasten, but "competent when controlled" is hardly the comment you want given as your GM's best quality.

March 31, 2005 : Baseball strikes a deal with Peter Angelos so that the Orioles will handle television and radio rights to the Washington franchise. The Nationals are the only major league team that doesn't own their own broadcast rights which will cost them millions down the road. MASN gets off to a real slow start and most of area can't see Nats on TV reguarly until 2007 season.

April - May 2006 : Nationals start the season 12-25, basically ending any hope for fans a mere 2 months into the season. This was in stark contrast to the amazing first half of 2005, but in itself wasn't terrible. What was terrible was they then started 2007 9-25, and 2008 5-15, and 2009 17-46. This is more of a single place to remark about all the terrible baseball that the Nats have played from 2006 on marked by a "best" season where the Nats won 73 games and finished 16 games out of first and most recently back to back 59 win seasons.

March 30, 2008 : The Nats opened their new stadium to a less than enthusiastic "meh". It wasn't a failure along the lines of most other things on this list but a new stadium should "wow". This one surely didn't. We hoped for better. The struggles to get the damn thing built lasted forever as MLB dug in its heels that it wouldn't (and future owners wouldn't have to) pay nearly anything for the stadium and the DC government slowly but steadily gave in. Then the Lerners wouldn't pay rent on it. They eventually tried to jazz it up but with no real views of the monuments, no giant baseball, cherry trees that don't stand out, odd looking statues... it's only ever going to be ok. Ok is not worth $611 million.

February 2009 : Sports Illustrated uncovers that "Smiley" Gonzalez is really 3 years older than what the Nats thought. And his name is really Carlos Lugo. And the Nats' representatives in the Dominican might have been skimming bonus money. And that includes their GM. And there is no Santa Claus. I guess you could say this was a good thing since it hastened the demise of Jim Bowden. I guess.

April 2009 : Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman take the field with "Natinals" jerseys. Not in itself a horrible thing but just another in a long line of questionable little things the leadership did poorly in these first few years. Be it food issues at the stadium, issues getting season tickets, Screech, there always seemed to be something wrong both on and off the field.

There's been some hope that's all behind the team now. Next decade can't get here fast enough.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This mission just got a whole bunch more impossibler

I'm back from all my Druish celebrations and what do I find? Major news... For another NL East team.

Not that the Nats did nothing, they brought in useful... let's call them "high-level depth" players. Everyday Eddie, Everyweek Eric, & Just a couple a days a month Josh. Guys that can be plugged in a major league roster at times and not embarrass themselves in one aspect of the game or other. OK Eddie is better than that - but that's not really the point.

The point is, while the Nats continue to mostly work around the edges in the 09 offseason (as well they probably should - more on that in a second) the Mets went ahead and made a move to get better in bunches by signing Jason Bay. Now this is not a great signing by any means, but it's not the worst thing I've ever seen, and for the Mets, who are looking to win in the next two years or so (Beltran's contract ends in 2011, Reyes in 2011 too if they pick up the option), it's necessary. The reality is that it does make the Mets a better team next year and that's before any other moves they make and they are able to answer the big question - are they healthy or not.? If the Braves do anything with that outfield/1B situation the Nats are going to be staring down three teams much improved from last year before the first pitch is thrown.

Don't get confused. I'm not advocating the Nats going out there and forcing splashy signings onto this club that aren't smart. They've done well so far, maybe a second baseman or another starter (if they like the contract they can get) would be in order in the next few months. Anything more than that would require long term commitments to players looking to get overpaid by teams on the cusp of something. The Nats aren't in that list of teams and shouldn't be looking to make those types of moves.

There are two things I see as facts based on the past few months of baseball action on and off the field
  • The Nats will be a better team in 2010 than in 2009
  • So will arguably every other team in the NL East.
Don't expect next season to show that big improvement that we may usually expect based on the movement we've seen from the Nats. They could be a 73 theoretical win team next year that only wins 67 games.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Once every 5 days or so Eddie

Ok this is going a bit far.

39 year olds with 4.65 ERAs over the past 3 years are not wily veterans. They are last chance signings. The type of player you invite to Spring Training as a favor (hey Jeffrey Hammonds! Want a trip to Florida?) Where as Matt Capps was a decent gamble, a young reliever who had an off year last year but was dominant prior to that - most likely caused by overuse in 2006 and 2007. Guardado isn't. If the Nats truly feel they need that second FA bullpen arm - this guy ain't it.

Still - assuming it's a cheapy signing it would be a minor complaint. This has to have been a nice holiday season for Nats fans. I'll probably be out for a while. Merry Christmas! Enjoy your forced time off of work no matter how you spend it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For a few wins more

I hate people. Why do I hate people? Well, because people are stupid. Or at the very least they say stupid things and let stupid ideas perpetuate. Case in point, this idea that the Nationals shouldn't sign Jason Marquis because it will only make them a couple games better and that money would be better spent elsewhere.

This is the talk that cheap owners can't get enough of. If the public treats the money that goes into a baseball team like a dollar tree that can only be pruned so much the owners can at any time use that as an excuse not to spend money "We need that money to do 'X'. You want us to do 'X' don't you?" Right now 'X' is signing their next #1 draft pick (likely he of the awesome last name, Bryce Harper). Next year it could be re-signing Adam Dunn, or going after a stud starter. There's always going to be a big ticket item out there. If you let a cheap owner tell you that they can only do one thing at a time - they are only ever going to do one thing at a time.

The only thing of real import in any deal with an owner who is honestly putting money into the team with the hopes of making it better, is if it was a good deal or not. This was a good deal.

Not because Jason Marquis is a necessarily a good pitcher. The fancy stats don't lie. 4.5-5.0 K/9 is not great. 3.25-3.75 BB/9 is not great. BABIP is right on target in the high .280s low .290s. These are the numbers of an average pitcher, certainly not a great one, and maybe not even a good one. And these aren't just numbers from last year, these numbers have been repeated year after year.

The number that has changed drastically for Marquis, and will determine his future going foward, is his flyball percentage (and in turn his HRs given up.)

2006 - 40.0% FB, 1.62 HR/9
2007 - 33.2%, 1.03
2008 - 32.5%, 0.81
2009 - 27.4%, 0.63

(Can I take a moment here to note how damn perfect he would have been for the Mets and their spacious park? The Mets are stupid. I take back what I said before. I love stupid people)

Marquis has gone from one of the most severe flyball starters in the league in 2006, to one of the most severe groundball starters in the league in 2009. Given the rest of his blah stats, that's the difference between "He might not be long for this league" and "he might be an All-Star". And that's moving from St.Louis, through Chicago and into Denver. It has been an impressive change. Even if he regresses to his 07/08 numbers - those are still good enough to keep him tossing out those average innings. Let's not forget about those innings. At least 191 tossed in 5 out of the last 6 years. We all know the Nats' issues with relief pitching the past few years. That is in part because of the amount it had to be used. Good arms are worn out, bad arms are brought out more times than they should be. Reliable starting pitching can hide mediocre relief pitching depth.

For me there's no question why the Nats would make this deal. They get a durable dependable innings eating starter who is not old (turns 32 in late August) without much financial commitment in terms of dollars OR years. It's a smart move that shouldn't stop the Nats from making other smart moves. Are there better moves out there? There probably will be a couple, (though you never know what the market will do) but that doesn't take away that this itself is a good move. The question for me is why does Jason Marquis take this deal? Only 2 years - only 7.5 million a year?

All I can come up, and this is going out on an extreme limb, is that Marquis knows this contract makes him immediately attractive as trade bait. He's a durable pitcher, who's likely to do as well in Nationals Park (as opposed to what may happen if he were to roll the dice again in a more hitter friendly environment), for a team likely to not be in the playoff hunt. Come August you know his name will be brought up and Jason may be able to direct himself to another playoff team. Of course if that's the case, why not sign with one now? Afraid of getting left off another playoff roster?

Monday, December 21, 2009

See? All I have to do is complain.

I have powers...political powers!

Seems like the Nats are close to signing Jason Marquis. Without knowing the length or cost there can be no gut reaction, whether you love or hate the guy. Wait... I hear over WFAN - 2 years, 15 million... ok I like that.

I spent the last couple years waiting for Marquis to fail. He was getting beat up with the longball and looked to be a huge free agent bust after leaving St. Louis. Funny thing is something happened and that homerun issue went away, despite playing with home fields of Wrigley and Coors. He still gives up hits, doesn't strike out enough, and walks just a couple too many, but all in all he's turned himself into a respectable innings eater.

I'll check it out more later but if that's the deal, then its' a good one and things really ARE changing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Here's a question

The Nats are in line to maybe sign Matt Capps. Earlier they traded for Brian Bruney and signed Pudge Rodriguez. They express great interest in John Smoltz as well.

So a couple of relievers, a back up catcher, and a 5th starter? Did the Nats just miss the playoffs last year while I was asleep or something? This is a team that needs major improvements not tweaks. Let's see a story for a starter that feels like more than a negotiating ploy for him and his agent.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Harper explores the Nats Gift Guide

Ok... 212 possible choices! That's a lot of cra... I mean high-quality fashionable mlb sponsored merchandise! Yay! Hmm that's too many to look through, though. Let's set that recipient to "male". Wait... let me check... yep male. Ok 157. Now we can cut the pric....oh my god. What the hell!?

What the hell costs $9499?!? (and who's the genius that thinks that pricing it at $9500 would drive away potential buyers?)

Ah it's a crystal baseball bat . For Billy Crystal? Hey Hey! Or maybe this mysterious player. 10 to 1 that guy was a alien or time-traveler or something. Jesus - I could not go near that thing. I would just have to have someone throw me a pitch with a glass ball. Have to.

OK let's keep this budget friendly. Screw the fat cats on Wall Street. Natsbaseball is all about main street USA. Front porches and tire swings and kids playing choking games. $100 or less.

114 left. That's still alot. We can cut it down more - I am not much of a "collector". (though I am vaguely interested in what would be "collected" but not "displayed". An awful rendering of Nats Park, some sort of coin set in plastic perfect for... umm storing away? It even sits on a... storing stand I guess. Yeah - this is crap. I wouldn't want to display these things in my house. Kudos to you

Now I'm at 107. That only cut 7? Jesus, help me out here computer. I can do one more thing - choose my personality. Which one fits me better "All-Star"? Or perhaps "All-Star"? Ok I'm afraid to choose either of those because it must be some sort of test. The "clutch collector" would have to clash with the collector choice so that's out. I'm not a memorabilia maniac either. More of a lunatic of legacies. Let's choose the rest.

80. Damn. Let's knock out "Utility Player" (too Guzmanian) and "General Manager" (too Bowdenian). 65. This is getting tedious. Time for drastic cuts. I'm going to move the price from $20-$50 and knock off groundskeeper. I'm a manager or every-day player dammit.

16! That's more like it. Let's see what's first.... of course! HIDEOUS LIGHT SWITCH PLATES! How does it know I have terrible taste? must have been talking to my wife. A couple of ugly hats, some t-shirts. I don't need no more t-shirts. Bowls, clocks... I find none of this appealing.

Hmm, perhaps I'm looking at this in the wrong way. Maybe I made a mistake way early in the process. Let me make one little change... that did it!

Thanks computer! Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why the Halladay trade should worry Nats fans

If I were you, I'd be worried (assuming you are a Nats fan and not some crazy Phillies fan lurking around. If you are a Phillies fan and I were you, I'd be ecstatic and possibly covered in steak and cheese.)

This is more than simply a deal for a premier pitcher for a team looking to win a title. The Phillies are not a desperate team. They just went to back to back World Series. Their core players will all be 31 or younger next season. They had Cliff Lee on their roster for one more year, numerous other decent FA pitchers this year and particularly next year they could go after, and some highly sought after young pitchers already in their system. This was a team that already was going to win. This was a team that already was going to challenge for the pennant.

This is a move to keep the cycle going, the cycle of winning. Winning leads to more revenue which leads to more spending which leads to more winning. This is a lesson a team like Boston has learned very well. Boston is only 10th in population yet it is consistently has spent in the Top 5 of teams in terms of payroll. Consistent winning has brought consistent interest, which allowed Boston to generate consistent revenue. Boston's revelation (along with the Yankees being the Yankees) has turned the AL East into a 2 team show for the past decade.

This could easily happen to the NL East as well. The Mets can't spend like the Yankees, but they could (and have been) spend like a team in that next tier down. If Philly continues to win and creates a Boston situation, the Nats could be facing the same challenge every year that their "hated rival" Orioles face. An near impossible one.

A dominant team can and will slip up every couple of years. Injuries will happen, along with surprise player collapses, players not developing on time, even bad luck. Occasionally teams will underperform. A well-developed team with a moderate payroll can slip in during those opportunities. But the chances of two teams, both committed financially to winning, both run with a modicum of smarts, failing in the same year? That window opens like once a decade. Yes there is always the Wild Card, which should be there with more frequency, but again a team in a division like this is starting behind the 8-ball. They play more games against these power teams then teams in other divisions do. Their wins are harder.

There is hope, of course. The minute you make a couple bad decisions and/or your owner won't throw money at the problem the cycle can collapse. It takes doubly long to build up than to tear down. Look at Cleveland. Dominant in the Central from 1994 through 2001. All it took was two bad years and the cycle collapsed. Attendance plummeted, revenues crashed. You have to believe in this cycle fully. There can be no multi-year breaks to refresh the roster. You can't have bad years back to back. You need to be competitive nearly every season.

The Phillies are on the edge of something special. The base is set. If the Phillies can turn these next few years into something more; a title or two, a network, a national fan base and then commit to keeping it going, the Nats could find themselves staring in the face of a mountain to climb year after year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mama please let your babies grow up to be catchers

The Nats are dumb for signing Pudge. Let's agree to that.

You don't agree? Well fine. There's the back button - hit it, come back tomorrow.

Ok for the rest of you - the Nats are dumb. Two years for 6 million is too much for too long. Not terribly too much, not terribly too long, but it is both and that makes you dumb in my book despite whatever other semi-valid reasons you might have wanted Pudge.

But apparently not only are they dumb, the Nats are the market setters in dumb, because just a few days ago the Royals offered a contract to Jason Kendall. Two years, 6 million dollars. It's like an "anything you can do, I can do dumber" contest. When do Rizzo and Moore start shoving marshmallows up their noses? (Before we get out of hand - let me say I don't think the Nats are Royals dumb, just dumb for signing Pudge. And while not "ok", you have to live with it - teams are dumb sometimes. Just don't be BIG dumb, or dumb all the time. The Nats haven't been either of those.)

Pudge has been bad - but he still plays pretty good defense and has a tiny bit of pop in his bat. Kendall is basically at the point where he's an automatic out if you are a pitcher that can throw strikes. Ok maybe he'll knock a dribbler through the infield a couple times, but that's it. The man has hit 20 homers...since 2001. He is younger than Pudge but once you get past the mid30s, you're rolling the dice no matter if you are 36 or 40. Who's going to sign Charles Johnson for 2 years?

I tell you - if your kid can't hack it throwing southpaw, get him behind the plate. It's a sweet deal.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More on Pudge (or is that "Moron Pudge")?

Oh come on. THIS is the best picture you have of Zack Segovia? I'm not saying it isn't but if it is - you don't use it.

Also in the Post, sit down for this one, Boz is optimistic about the Nats. What are the chances of that? 93 percent? 96?

He makes the expected Boz move of fawning over Pudge despite the fact that when inquiring about Pudge an old man came out of a spooky house and said "Pudge? Why Pudge has been dead for 10 years." From the Spinmaster:

And, at 38, he can still play. Last year, ... The Astros allowed the second-fewest steals. Their catcher, until a mid-August trade, was Rodríguez. Even now, only the fastest dare to steal on him and 35 percent get thrown out. Also, Pudge is still a passable batter -- middle of the pack among catchers in homers (10) and RBI (47) last year.
Sounds good but what we need to know is (1) is second-fewest really something noteworthy (2) is 35% good? (3) Jesus - homers (in Houston & Texas) and RBI? What about his more telling stats?

(1) There is something here. Astros gave up 65 steals last year. While not Yadier Molina low (as Boswell imlpies in the full quote), it is in that next group a good 30-something steals below average. Teams also only attempted 94 steals against the Astros, again 2nd lowest in the majors, again not nearly Yadier good but well below average.

Of course this only matters based on the number of batters that COULD steal, the number of singles, walks, HBP. The Astros gave up the second number of hits (NATS #1, Woo!) and a moderate amount of walks (NATS #1, Woo!) and while they gave up a bunch of homers it wasn't a crazy amount. So my guess is yeah - the teams were respecting Pudge still. I guess... more on that in a minute.

(2) Is 35% good? Yes. Yes it is. The best close in on 40%, but the average is under 30% and the worst teams are under 25%. So 35% is not awesome, and Pudge probably won't hit that percentage this year, but even if he throws out 30% that's going to be in the top half of the league.

By the way - the Nats last year? 89 SBs, 38 CS, for a 30% CS rate. Pretty good actually, given the number of men that were standing on first last year... which brings me back to the "respect" point in part 1. Does anyone here think that teams weren't running over the Nats because they respected Josh Bard and Wil Nieves? Or do you think they didn't steal because they had no respect for the Nats pitching? Why steal second when the guy is likely to be driven home from first anyway? Two of the other "most respected" teams, Milwuakee and the New York Mets were among the worst pitching teams in the league as well. That's with the Brewers only throwing out 21% of all runners.

The Astros had horrible pitching last year. Not Nats bad but awful - both home and away. It's likely that that low steal number was in part because of that bad pitching.

So most likely the "respect" thing is overrated a bit BUT Pudge still is better than average at throwing these guys out.

(3) Out of 37 catchers with 250 PA or more, Pudge was 21st in average (blah), 24th in SLG (blah blah), and 35th in OBP (AH!). Not good, not good, and OMFG.

Of course I left out the most optimistic part of the column.

Yet the Nats merely signed him to be a $6 million sub who may play 70 games.

He's a sub. He's a sub. He's a sub. Just keep saying that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pudge wants 3000 hits

And I want a pony.

Smart money is on me.

No truth to the rumor that the Nats are giving up on the idea of walks entirely - letting Nick and Kearns go and bringing in Pudge. Now if they trade Willingham and Dunn...

Let us take this time, by the way, to celebrate the original "Pudge". No, not that Red Sox monster who eats kitten chowder (or so I've heard), I mean the first pro-football player William Heffelfinger. What a great name. And he has the fine coat of a Yale man. I wonder if he knew Laddie...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What it all means

I get it but I don't get it, but then again I do get it.

What I get:
The Nats, by going after Bruney and Pudge and maybe Smoltz, are obviously trying to get better for next season. Not necessarily playoff better, but respectable better. Bruney can provide a decent "know-what-you-are-getting" bullpen arm. Smoltz and Pudge may have one decent year left in them of back of the rotation / back-up starts while providing the all important "veteran presence".

Yes the focus of the team still has to be on 2012 not 2010. But using young players with minimal promise or bottom of the barrell veterans to stabilize the team had gotten them nowhere. Management understands the fans are terribly frustrated about going 20-140 every year and they want to give them something to cheer about. As long as we don't see a "we can't afford to sign this draft pick" situation this season, this doesn't necessarily mean the Nats overall focus has changed.

What I don't get:
But why these guys? And why for these costs? Bruney for their first round Rule V draft pick? Pudge for 2 years, 6 million (and putting one more pick in the draft before the Nats)? Pudge is super old. Smoltz is four years older. He has born in the Lyndon Johnson administration! He was drinking under Reagan!

There had to have been other cheaper and/or better options out there for the team to accomplish these goals. More wins for less money is the hallmark of a smart team. These moves, they're not the move of a smart team. At least one that is smart about on the field performance.

What I do get finally:
But it's not about talent. Not really. Bruney is about secuirty. Rizzo could have found someone better/cheaper than Bruney, but Rizzo knows Bruney. He wanted someone he could be sure would be ok in the pen, and he's sure with Bruney. Smoltz and Pudge are about marketing. These two are name guys, likely Hall of Famers. People want to see them play even if they aren't at the top of their game (or in the middle of their game, or upper bottom of their game for that matter). Maybe Miguel Olivo or Shawn Estes could get you a couple more wins but who goes to the park to see Miguel Olivo or Shawn Estes?

These aren't moves made to maximize wins, but interest. And if the coverage is any indicator it is working. One way or another people are interested, even if it is "gawking at a car crash" interested.

I'm moving

As long as MVN goes through its death throes (or at least for a week or so) I'll be double-posting my entries there and here at my old haunt.

Update your lives accordingly. Especially if you hate those damn autoplay ads. Like I do.

God I hate those things.