October 30, 2005

Artful Dodger

Well now, this is interesting. The Dodgers fired GM Paul DePodesta yesterday. So much for winning the NL West in your first season as general manager. DePodesta had three years left on a five-year contract he signed with much fanfare as a Moneyball-style Billy Beane protege. Unfortunately the Trolley Dodgers imploded this season, and DePodesta's tenuous relationship with owner Frank McCourt meant that he was on the hot seat all year.

What does all this mean for the Nationals. First, it proves that there are front offices more dysfunctional than ours. The whole McCourt-Lasorda-DePodesta-Tracy management parallelogram makes our Tony T.-Trader Jim-Cap'n Hook troika look like a well-oiled machine. Second, it opens up the slender possibility that Paul could be a candidate for the Nats full-time GM job. The Nats new owners (should they ever materialize) would have to be willing to change general managers mid-stream; and DePodesta would have to wait around while the ownership situation sorts itself out, but Paul's a local boy and that might carry some weight.

Worst case scenario, Paul DePodesta: new Phillies GM.

October 29, 2005

So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish

The free agent exodus continues. The Post reports that four more Nats filed for free agency. Headlining the latest wave: SP Esteban "Stubby" Loiaza, who is seeking roughly $3 mil a year more than the Nats are currently offering.

The also-rans are Tony "No Mas" Armas, Jr.; Carlos Baerga and Gary Bennett. All three will likely join Deivi Cruz, Preston Wilson and Joey Eischen on the outbound bus. These guys account for most of the dead weight on the Nats roster. (I don't count Loiaza or Eischen as dead weight but it's going to be tough to re-sign Stubby, and J.B. has fantasies of replacing Eischen with B.J. Ryan or Billy Wagner.)

The Nats have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents until November 10th. The team should use this time to A) Sign Stubby and B) Offer Preston a PB&J, a carton of milk, and a one-way ticket to Shea, where I'm sure Mets fans will be much more forgiving of his unique fielding style and massive whiffs.

October 28, 2005

We're Doomed

Today’s Movie Review – Doom

Matt Watson – 2 1/2 Baseballs

Every couple of years somebody puts out a space marine movie. Aliens is probably the best example of the genre and everyone since has been trying to live up to Sigourney Weaver and her band of merry marines. Doom certainly doesn’t threaten Aliens status on the top of the heap but it doesn’t go down without a fight. There’s minimal story and plot here but that’s not the point. The movie is designed to get you into the car and keep along for the ride.

After one of the cooler studio logo treatments our story opens up on Mars. Sometime in the not too distant future a portal linking Mars and Earth will be found underneath the Nevada desert. The Union Alliance Corporation or UAC for short is given the task of figuring out why it’s there and what happened on the other side. They create a research facility on Mars and that’s where the roller coaster ride begins.

Deep within the research station something is chasing a group of scientists. It’s something big and mean and it’s definitely not E.T.. The last surviving member of the group manages to get an SOS out and UAC sends in the cavalry. Our intrepid group of marines is your standard bunch, complete with butch nicknames. There’s “Sarge” the leader, played by The Rock. There’s “Reaper”, played by underrated character actor Karl Urban. You’ve got the token sleazy guy “Portman”, the religious fanatic “Goat”, the homeboys “Duke” and “Destroyer”, and the team wouldn't be complete without a rookie, here originally named “The Kid”. It’s their job to rescue the scientists and take back the facility.

What follows is standard space marine opera, complete with things that go bump in the dark and big guns that make even bigger bangs. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak does an adequate job at the helm. I was heartened to see that the research facility at least had a nice lobby. Of course the rest of the place is a maze of steam pipes and unlit corridors but it looks like a corporation could really own the place. There’s also what I call the obligatory hero shot when we see our marines in all their badass-ness. The Right Stuff contains the most memorable hero shot and it’s a given you’ll see one here. Doom introduces some new takes on technology particularly the nano wall and the portal. It shows a little bit of creativity by the screenwriter and the effects team.

Doom’s most successful set piece comes late in the film when the audience gets to ride in the first car of the roller coaster in true first person shooter style. For anyone who’s played Doom or Halo or any other of the myriad first person shooter games out there this is a treat. For anyone else it will probably make you a bit nauseous. Thankfully the point of view sequence is deftly worked into the plot so it doesn’t feel completely gratuitous.

According to rumors the Rock was originally offered the role of John “Reaper” Grimm but turned it down in favor of playing “Sarge” whom he thought was more interesting. He definitely made the right choice and he does a lot with the little material he’s given. Karl Urban continues his string of good performances, most recently Eomer in The Lord of the Rings saga, and Vaako in The Chronicles of Riddick. Rosamund Pike joins the fray as Grimm’s archaeologist sister who’s stationed at the facility. It was refreshing to see the heroine as a sister instead of a patched on love interest. The story isn’t exactly dripping with character development but the cast does a good job with the opportunities they have. We’re just going to ignore the pseudo-science. It’s pretty bad but within the frame of the film it’s not egregious.

Doom provides the audience with a couple of good scares, a couple of good fights, some cool technology and some tough space marines. The film moves along briskly and there’s enough good tension builders to keep the audience on their toes. While it’s not Shakespeare it does deliver and that’s exactly what you want the Semper Fi space marines to do.

Comings & Goings

The Post chronicles J.B.'s extension, including this fulsome praise from Tony T.:

"He's got a vision. He's got a plan, and he sticks with his plan. I think for all those reasons, and the fact that he's a very hardworking guy -- I'd stack him up with anybody in that GM's capacity -- he deserved this."

Now, being single-minded and adhering rigidly to a "plan" might be admirable qualities in a President, but in my GM's I prefer flexibility and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Like say for instance not jettisoning every minor league pitcher you can toss overboard, and not promoting every toolsy 5th-OF prospect you can get your hands on. But that's just me.

Meanwhile, as Tony was busy grafting his lips firmly to Trader Jim's anatomy, Brian Cashman re-upped for 3 more years with the Yanks, the Diamondbacks did something interesting by signing local boy Josh Byrnes, and the Red Sox took steps to mend fences with Theo Epstein. So Cashman, Byrnes, Epstein and Bowden are off the market. Guess which one the Nats got.

Elsewhere, St. Barry of Svrluga heralds the arrival of Damian "
Freddie" Jackson & Bernabel "Fidel" Castro, and notes the gloriously impending departure of Deivi "Penelope" Cruz and Preston "F****n" Wilson. Also filing for free agency: lefty reliever Joey Eischen, whom Bodes would like to replace with ex-Oriole B.J. Ryan. Yes, and Jim should check into the possibility of replacing Goooz with Derek Jeter while he's having opium fantasies.

Finally, it seems that the Nats and Esteban Loiaza are at least one year and $3 million/per apart on a contract. Paging
Victor Santos.

Are We the Astros?

Boz rallies the faithful and exhorts them to take heart from the White Sox-Astros series. Because if the teams with the 12th & 13th highest payrolls in baseball can play for the championship, why not us? It is Boz's usual rah-rah stuff, but I think he overlooked some of the salient comparisons. The Nats are, in fact, an Astros clone team.

Houston built their NL championship team around pitching and just enough offense to limp into the playoffs, which is the tack the Nats were on when they imploded. But the similarities are even more striking:

Aging 2nd baseman: Craig Biggio/Jose Vidro - of course, Biggio was healthy.
Shelved slugger: Jeff Bagwell/Vinny Castilla - remarkably similiar swings down the stretch.
Injured 1B/OF: Lance Berkman/Brad Wilkerson and/or Nick Johnson
Rookie OF: Willy Tavares/Ryan Church - Willy's got speed, Ryan's got power
Big 3: Clemens,Pettite,Oswalt/Hernandez, Patterson, Loiaza - we need a Backe
Anonymous backup C: Raul Chavez/Gary Bennett

It's eerie.

October 27, 2005

Stupid Web Tricks

Ok, not much to do with Nationals, but baseball.

And I was playing with it for Nats.

The Oracle of Baseball. Similar to the Oracle of Bacon at UVa (you know, the Kevin Bacon game), this lets you link any two baseball players.

I see Nate enjoying his last two days of freedom.

I'll Take Utility Infielders for $200, Alex

Newly extended GM Jim Bowden has jumped right in to the shallow end of the free agent pool. The Nats signed infielders Damian Jackson and Bernie Castro to one year contracts. Both players figure to improve the Nats team speed, though not necessarily the on-base percentage.

Jackson is a journeyman veteran who played 6 positions for the Padres in 2005, hitting .255 with a less than impressive .677 OPS. He did, however steal 15 bases in 17 attempts.

Castro made his MLB debut with the Orioles this season. The 26 year old played 24 games at 2B and hit .288 with a slightly above average .710 OPS. He stole 6 bases in 8 attempts.

What does this mean? Wave bye-bye to Deivi Cruz, Junior Spivey and maybe Carlos Baerga and Jamey Carroll too.

Time to Go

OK, the World Series is over. Congrats to the White Sox, they earned it, but I still haven't decided whether Game 4 was 9 innings of good pitching or 9 innings of bad hitting. Jerry Reinsdorf should be in a good mood; maybe now he'll drag himself down to DC and finish negotiating the stadium lease. And now that the World Series ban on major baseball announcements has expired, we can get serious about anticipating an ownership group.

On the home front, an announcement regarding Jim Bowden's six-month contract extension is expected in the next few days. There is some concern in the blogosphere that Bowden's retention spells the end of Cap'n Hook's tenure as manager. A decision on the future of the coaching staff is expected in mid-November (concurrent with an ownership decision?) Certainly Tavares/Bowden and Robinson have repeatedly been identified as warring camps, but with everyone essentially working on month-to-month contracts I don't see drastic change as all that likely.

The other possibility though, is that these personnel moves can be interpreted as clues to the identity of the Nats eventual owners. There have been suggestions that one or more ownership groups have pledged to retain Bowden (and possibly Tavares). If that's true, Bowden's extension and Robinson's dismissal could foreshadow MLB's decision. But deciphering all that involves the extensive reading of chicken entrails, and I'm not prepared to go there.

Federal Baseball and The Curly W take on a topic I have more or less ignored: Tony Tavares musing about messing around with single game ticket pricing for next year. Of course, the reason I didn't pay much attention is that the NTP crew are season ticket holders (Thanks Dave!) so individual game price fluctuations don't affect us.

While variable pricing and its bastard child package purchasing aren't new or unique, applying these policies to the Nats does come with some risk. One of the joys of the inaugural season was strolling up to the box office and purchasing a $7 outfield ticket to see the Nats play just about anyone. If those tickets suddenly become $10 when the Mets or Phillies are in town and $15 when the Yankees come to RFK you risk alienating Nats fans. Sure, visiting team fans will probably pay the premium, but do we really want to turn RFK into Camden Yards South, where visiting fans outnumber home fans at almost every game? The Nats don't have the kind of established fan base that will tolerate this kind of money-grubbing BS from a team that made $25 million last year playing in an dank hole of a stadium.

Brendan & Basil explore the subject in much greater detail, check them out.

Finally, the numerical whiz kids at Baseball Prospectus have identified the key to the Nats 2006 campaign. Everyone needs to stay healthy. Hope they didn't burn out their slide rules on that complex statistical analysis.

October 26, 2005

He's Tan, Rested & Ready

Bowden in '06! The Post reports that the Nationals are working on a short-term contract extension for sharp-dressed GM Jim Bowden. It seems a little sketchy that our team president, whose contract expires next week is negotiating an extension with our GM, whose contract expires next week, but the whole thing has to be approved by MLB anyway, so that's okay.

The contract extension would allow Bodes to get to work luring overpriced and/or undertalented free agents to RFK, but would not guarantee him a job once the new ownership group is announced. Say it with me now people: "Bodes in 'o6! 4 More Months! 4 More Months!"

On the Hallelujah! front, in the same article MLB President Bob DuPuy suggested for the first time that new owners might be named before the new stadium lease is finalized. Given that there was never any reason to impose this artificial deadline in the first place, MLB's flexibility is refreshing, if they stick to it.

October 25, 2005

Anybody got any tylenol?

So per our annual homecoming tradition my fraternity held a touch football game over the weekend. This game is always a fun time and this year we had fourteen people. Fourteen people who are now so sore they can't move. I consider myself to be in decent shape and I'm still hurting three days later.

I can't imagine what an NFL lineman feels like after a game. I realize they're in shape and they work on conditioning year round but you can't escape the fact that they're punishing themselves every game. Baseball is a little different but I think the catcher deserves a little credit for being a tough guy.


Slow news week, but I haven't quite been reduced to inventing pantomimes for Ozzie Guillen to use when summoning relievers out of the 'pen. A quick spin around the media dial:

In the Times, Thom Loverro implores the city to keep a close eye on stadium architects HOK, lest we end up with a carbon copy of the yawning mediocrity that is U.S. Cellular Field. Thom cites the train that runs along the top of the stadium in Houston as an example of local touches that give a stadium character. I'm all for making ballparks distinctive and unique to their cities, but I don't do cutesy. Unless we can get a replica Washington Monument to rise out of a strategically placed centerfield silo after every homer, limit the celebration to fireworks.

Jose Vidro tells Nationals.com that his knee is feeling better, and he might pass on surgery. If Vidro wants to wait and see how the knee responds to additional therapy that's his business, but if this is a case where he's eventually going to need to go under the knife he should get it over with, so he can start rehab and be ready to go in March. In other injury news Luis Ayala is scheduled to have surgery this Friday to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.

Also on Nationals.com, Bill Ladson proves once again that he will not be hindered by the absence of actual news. Insights from the latest Q&A: Preston Wilson probably won't be back, Cristian Guzman probably will; Vinny Castilla's job is in jeopardy and Keith Osik is still retired. (I sense the possibility for a running, SNL-like "and Franco is still dead" joke here.) Tune in next week when Bill reveals that declining seasonal temperatures will likely lead to increased home heating costs.

October 24, 2005

Reason No. 2 to Root for the Astros

Reason #1 is of course Jerry "I'm far too busy and important to get up off my fat ass and finish negotiating your stadium lease" Reinsdorf.

Reason #2 is the White Sox unofficial theme song, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
"That's manly. Journey is manly. Why is Journey not manly? I heard Joe Theismann say on the radio that Journey was his favorite group, and Theismann was pretty manly, wasn't he?"
--Pierzynski, when asked why they didn't choose a song that's more manly (MLB.com)

Legends of the Fall

No, this post will not be a paean to Scott Podsednik. (Though man alive, if you're going to save up your homers for the postseason, you can't do much better than Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth in the World Series.) Nor will it be a tribute to another of Dave & Watson's titanic semi-annual drinking binges. Rather a somewhat pedestrian update on the Nats' Arizona Fall League sluggers:

  • Brendan Harris continues to dominate AFL pitching. His .533 batting average leads the league, and his 1.337 OPS ain't too shabby neither. The knock on Harris has been his defense, but he has 0 errors in 11 games in Arizona, playing 2B, 3B and SS behind some very shaky pitching. If Jamey Carroll gets too expensive this offseason, Harris is one possible replacement part.
  • Larry Broadway's .368 average is second on the team, with an impressive 1.023 OPS. But Larry's problems have been well chronicled. He's a Nick Johnson clone on a team with no shortage of left-handed hitters, so he might just be putting on an excellent audition for other teams.
  • Ryan Zimmerman took a couple weeks off to recover from his MLB debut, but he's picked up right where he left off, hitting .353 in 4 games, including one 5-5 performance. Dutch took Tony Blanco's spot on the roster, and Tony left the team after hitting a respectable .286 in the AFL.

A tip 'o the NTP cap to the late Ted Bonda, the former Cleveland Indians owner who gave Cap'n Hook his first managing job back when he was just an Ensign. From the AP article:

"When Cleveland was in danger of losing the Indians in the 1970s, [Bonda] led a coalition of business owners who bought the club. The group lost revenue each year, but Bonda used his own money to keep the team in town."

Are you listening, Dread Pirate Smulyan? His own money.

A Redskins Moment

Yes I know, wrong sport. But I can't pass up an opportunity to abuse Washington's worst sports columnist, Mike Wise. Wise never met a bandwagon he didn't attempt to hijack for his own purposes. Today he uses the Skins 52-17 victory to declare that we are all bad people for criticizing Mark Brunell last season.

Apparently Brunell's teenage daughter was driven to tears by chants of "We Want Ramsey!" at FedEx Field last year. I myself was sometimes driven to tears by what happened after we got Ramsey, but that's beside the point. Brunell was god-awful last season. By any objective standard he was one of the worst starting QBs in the NFL. Benching him wasn't anything near as close a call as Joe Gibbs made it. It was a mercy demotion.

Brunell is playing much, much, ridiculously much better this season. I'm happy for him and for the team. But that doesn't mean I was wrong to boo him last year, or that I regret it now. There are very few opportunities in life to simply coast on past performance, and that's as it should be. Honest competition, in sports, business or politics, increases the odds that the best people will be put in key positions. If Mike Wise understood that, he would be able to celebrate Mark Brunell's resurgence without demonizing those who recognized his obvious decline. But then Mike Wise wouldn't be the hack columnist I love to hate.

October 20, 2005

XM pays off again

So I was listening to XM 175, which is MLB Home Plate, this afternoon. As I turned on my car this afternoon, the "The Show" with Kevin Kennedy and Rob Dibble was on. And the guest of the day was our very own Jim Bowden.

Now I tuned in a little late, so I didn't hear everything. The topic they were on was that of ownership. Jim was explaining that his take on the situation was that he anticipated an ownership announcement after the World Series, and that ownership team taking control quickly after that. Kevin and Rob then asked about the current situation. Jim explained that while one of the scouts had a long term contract, he didn't think it wise to do any other long term staff or management contracts since he anticipated that the new owner would want to do it their way. He then explained that it made the most sense for the Nationals organization to make it easy on the new owners to take control and put their own people into place.

Kevin and Rob, after the interview closed, noted that the Nationals had a great year, and did much better than anyone anticipated. They pointed out that Washington had "an amazing fan base", totalling the 2.7 million fans for the games, and that they anticipated it would only get better with the new stadium.

Nate and I talked on the phone after this, and I relayed this to him. My observations on the topic were the following:

1. From a business perspective, Jim is right. He's positioning the Nats new owner to be able to put people into place quickly, rather than displace/disturb/deal with existing deals for the internal staff.

2. I was pleased with the "national level" coverage. We focus so much on the Washington press, bloggers, etc, that sometimes it's nice to step back and look at the perspective of those who are looking at the bigger picture.

They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright

Nationals.com profiles 1B Larry Broadway. Basil has the in-depth, including a neat anatomical graphic. Larry's basic problem: he's a lefty 1B with the potential for freak injuries, and we already have one of those in Nick Johnson. Barring another injury Broadway will probably be up with the big club as a September call-up next season, but his long-term future with the team is uncertain.

It's possibile that Broadway could be a valuable left-handed bat off the bench in 2007 once Vinny Castilla's contract expires, freeing up a roster spot. According to Baseball America Larry has potential, and given Nicky's inability to play a complete season, he seems like a good guy to have around. He's certainly having a solid Fall League, hitting .375 with a 1.075 OPS.

Capitol Punishment has identified a more pressing concern: the need for potty parity in the new park. (Try saying that 5 times fast.) Personally, the sight of long lines at the womens room is one of the things I enjoy about professional sporting events, but I'm not opposed to equal justice under porcelain.

The Times article quotes GW professor John Banzhaf, "one of the nation's authorities on legal battles over access to public restrooms," which makes Andrew Zimbalist seem almost respectable. Chris Needham tags Banzhaf as a patchouli-scented rabble rouser, but he doesn't look the part. I'm more inclined to think that as a legal expert on toilet access you take your publicity where you can get it. Either that, or he's just bloviating.

October 19, 2005

A Day Late... and $100 Million Short

I guess Barry Svrluga is filling the time between Albert Pujols's mammoth home runs by checking in with the Nats. The Post comes in a day late with the story of scouting director Dana Brown's 1-year contract extension. The article is mostly a rehash of what Nationals Farm Authority has already covered in considerable detail, but one line stuck out:

"Major League Baseball, which owns the Nationals, has narrowed the field of potential new owners to three..."

This is the first time I've seen it suggested that the other 5 ownership groups are officially out of the running, leaving the Malek-Zients group, the Lerners, and the Dread Pirate Smulyan to duke it out for the top spot.

Speaking of Jeff, he's telling the Times that his experience in broadcasting will help him negotiate a fairer deal for the Nats with MASN and the O's. As much as I'd like to see this jackass and Angelos go at each other hammer & tongs, I'd rather he didn't do it as the owner of my team. Maybe the Malek-Zients group could hire him as a special media consultant.

Farther down in the article Andrew Zimbalist, an econ professor and "expert on the business of baseball" bloviates:

"Ownership is very close to irrelevant. Frankly, I don't think it matters a great deal. Someone who puts up $450 million on an asset will do their best to make it a successful proposition."

That's fine and dandy but it ignores the fact that sports franchises can be financially successful while still being mediocre or worse on the field. I'd rather have an owner who viewed the team as a status symbol and was willing to break even to field a winning club. Somehow I don't think Emmis Communications shareholders would be down with that philosophy.

October 18, 2005


Since I spent the day in a land use law seminar I'm going to poach... er, promote some of the other Nats bloggers to recap today's top stories:

Capitol Punishment has the Post beat covered. Linda Cropp pulls the stadium deal back from the brink, why chicks dig the long ball, and Bud Selig attempts to pick the Nats ownership groups out of a lineup.

Nationals Farm Authority digs deeper into Wogangate, muses about the farm teams going to the Boones, and sticks it to Omar Minaya. (If anyone named Bob is put in charge of the minor league system, it should be Bob Balaban.)

Over at
Federal Baseball Basil, back from a long business trip or a short white collar prison sentence, mutters incoherently for about 16 column inches, but manages to touch on everything. No wonder he gets a nicer website than we do.

Senior UnInvestigative Reporter Bill Ladson has a
Q&A on Nationals.com that basically amounts to: "We won't know anything until we get an owner." Way to collect that check, Bill.

October 17, 2005

Down Off the Farm

Maybe we won't have to wait for other teams to cherry-pick our staff. Nats GM (as of 4 pm EST) Jim Bowden gave walking papers to Director of Player Development Adam Wogan. Wogan, nominally the #3 baseball operations man behind J.B. and assistant GM Tony Siegle had been with the franchise since 2002. Maybe Omar Minaya will hire him and leave Scouting Director Dana Brown alone.

Wogan was in charge of the Nats farm system, the worst in baseball this year. Also on his watch (though really the responsibility of then-GM Minaya) the Expos traded away pitchers
Cliff Lee and Chris Young, and outfielders Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore. Hmmm... two young starting pitchers, a power-hitting LF and a speedy leadoff CF... sound like anything the Nats could use? Wogan's replacement won't be named until, of course, the Nats have an owner.

This suggests to me that Bowden's first choice is to hang around in DC. After all, it seems like bad form to fire someone two weeks before your contract expires then skip town. If nothing else, this should reassure those in the Nats blogosphere who have lately discovered a "
Big Yellow Taxi" type affection for J.B.

Late last night I heard the screen door slam,
And a big yellow taxi took away my old GM.

Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't like Bodes til he's all but gone.
They paved Southeast and put up a big ballpark.

The Spectre of Gentrification

I've been having a discussion with Brandon over at The Curly W about DC's political landscape and its relationship to the new stadium fiasco. You can read his most recent thoughts on the issue here. Brandon rightly notes that the kind of shenanigans going on now in the city council are essentially the norm. All cities experience significant political upheaval when major redevelopment is at issue. But as much as Washington, D.C. is like other urban areas it is equally unique. The city existed for more than 100 years as a ward of the U.S. Congress, that font of enlightened management. Even when limited Home Rule came to DC the city was constrained by numerous federal restrictions. Most recently Congress turned over most of the city's management functions to an independent Financial Control Board because the city government was in such disarray. Much of the credit for turning DC around has to go to Mayor Tony "Bowtie" Williams, but he's now exiting the scene.

A history of alternating abuse and neglect has left local politicians inherently suspicious of grand plans imposed by outsiders without local accountability, be they Congressional subcommittees or MLB owners. This is one reason I believe that local ownership is more important to the Nationals than your average sports franchise. Stadiums, with their large footprints, inherently limited use and intrinsic benefits to wealthy private owners are always controversial projects. The MCI Center, built almost entirely with Abe Pollin's money, and instrumental in the rebirth of Chinatown, was nevertheless a very controversial undertaking. The waves of upscale restaurants, retail outlets and residences that followed in MCI's wake have confirmed both supporters hopes and opponents fears for the project.

Brandon notes that Mount Vernon Square, Shaw and U Street are all development hot spots, and the southeast waterfront will develop with or without the new stadium. But the rebirth of Mount Vernon Square and Shaw would not have happened without the anchoring effect of the MCI Center and the new DC Convention Center. These large public projects attracted retailers, which allowed residential developers to market these neighborhoods as vibrant, amenity-rich communities. The Anacostia waterfront will be redeveloped, with guidance from the quasi-governmental
Anacostia Waterfront Corporation. The development will certainly have a different character without the new baseball stadium, but whether more community-friendly redevelopment will result is speculative at best.

Brandon repeats the persuasive arguments for building the new stadium at RFK. The site is served by more transportation options than any other locale in the city. But the same web of roads limits the redevelopment potential around the stadium. Where not bounded by freeways RFK is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. It would require massive dislocation to transform the area into the mixed-commercial zones typically favored to maximize stadium-related tax revenue. For all the hue and cry over uprooting longtime residents along the waterfront, any move to change the neighborhood mix around RFK would be ten times more disruptive.

The new stadium is not, and should never have been touted as, a cash-cow for the city. It should be considered a revenue-generating engine, and an indirect commuter tax. The tax money the city stands to make from new development around the waterfront stadium site far outstrips any realistic projections of direct stadium revenue. It is the obligation of the new mayor and the city council to see that these funds are put to use for the benefit of the many DC residents who will never profit directly from the Nat's new home.

October 16, 2005

Free as a Bowden

Jim Bowden is job-hunting, and it's not ESPN's Cold Pizza. J.B. has permission from the Nats to talk to the Arizona Diamondbacks about their G.M. vacancy. Clearly Bodes is anxious to be reunited with his all-time favorite pitcher, Claudio Vargas. It has also come to my attention that the D-Backs might have a vacancy at SS next season, with Royce Clayton being a free agent. Might I suggest a Bowden-Guzman package deal?

J.B. might also be a candidate for G.M. jobs in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Please, oh please let him go to the Phillies. I'll even throw in Kenny Kelly to make it happen.

Arizona in the Fall

The Nats hitters are making some strides in the Arizona Fall League. Here's a look at their stats:
Unfortunately, our pitchers look atrocious. If you must look at their stats, you can find them here. (Roy Corcoran, Chris Schroeder and David Maust are our pitchers.)

October 15, 2005

When No News Was Good News

For weeks now we've heard nothing substantive about the Nats off-field issues. Nothing about ownership, nothing about the new stadium, nothing about the future of RFK (other than Boz's Bob Villa impersonation). In retrospect, we should have been grateful for the silence. Because today all hell broke loose.

Post has a front-page article on the D.C. Council's plans to reopen the stadium financing agreement. Strictly speaking, the only amendments at issue are technical corrections to the funding mix from the business tax, utilities tax and special business district. But once the financing plan comes back before the council, all bets are off.

Kwame Brown wants to reopen the public funding question. Linda Cropp is refloating the idea of building the new stadium next to RFK. Vincent Orange wants
assurances that the Nats will have local ownership. David Catania, Marion Barry and Adrian Fenty would just as soon kill the whole deal altogether. And Tony Bowtie is in China on business. To say that this has the potential to get ugly, messy and protracted is like saying Custer was a bit overmatched at Little Big Horn.

Meanwhile, Bud continues to fiddle while the Nats burn. An anonymous source
reports (hopefully not to Judith Miller) that two local groups and the Dread Lord Smulyan are the current "frontrunners" in the ownership derby. The Fred Malek-Jeffrey Zients group has substantial local ties, lobbied hard to return baseball to DC and, perhaps least important, has the endorsement of Mayor "Lame Duck" Williams. The Lerner family has deep pockets, deep roots in the community, and the least complicated ownership structure. (They could also arrange a corporate partnership with Lowe's and dramatically increase the music quality at RFK.)

The Dread Lord Smulyan, of course, remains in the hunt for two reasons: He's the designated representative of the
Vince Naimoli school of franchise ownership; and he's holding the deadman switch that triggers the bomb attached to Ozzie Guillen. (I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that the slogan on the White Sox homepage is "Win. Or Die Trying." Priceless.)

October 14, 2005


Tom Boswell has a column in today's Post about the 1996 renovation of Busch Stadium that transformed it from a bland, dumpy 1960s-style multipurpose stadium into a bland, dumpy baseball stadium with some individual charm and cheesy throwback character.

I'd love to let you read the column, but WaPo.com has mislinked it. The central thrust of the piece: "Hey new owners! Invest $25 mil and give RFK its own signature cheesy quirks." Examples: outfield bleacher seats, picnic areas, hand-operated wooden scoreboards and a new mascot, Robby the RFK Rat. (OK, I made that last one up, but it fits with the theme.)

One major roadblock, our co-tenants DC United, who might object to putting too many baseball-specific features in their soccer stadium. The other: make RFK habitable, and the DC city council will definitely start thinking, "New stadium? We don' need no stinkin' new stadium." Then are only hope is to hold out until RFK becomes such a decrepit hole that it's actually fashionably retro again. You know, hobo chic. God help us.

October 13, 2005

Deconstructing Tony

Bill Ladson over at Nationals.com turned the slightly less than white hot spotlight on Nats President-for-Life Tony Tavares, who looks a little like an aging John Goodman. Below are excerpts from the Q&A, with my commentary in italics:

You mentioned player personnel. Can you elaborate on it?

Tavares: Sure. I feel that we just have to get better.
Warm up the analyst chair, Tony is auditioning for Cold Pizza.

The worse thing in the world is when you are paying for players at premium prices and they don't perform for you. That's true failure at that point. We have to avoid it.
*Cough... Vinny, Goooz... cough, cough*

MLB.com: We often wondered why the Nationals didn't practice before day games.

I wonder that, too. It's something that will not be accepted going forward, I can tell you that. When I say we didn't work hard enough, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Too many times, we didn't take batting practice. If you look at our record on Sundays, it's indicative of our success. I just don't think we prepare as well.
What Tony means of course is that we don't play well hungover. And Tom McGraw is worthless.

The team still doesn't have ownership. When do you think the announcement will be made?

I don't know. I wish I did know. In a lot of people's view, the sooner the better. There have been decisions made that said we will not get ownership selected until the [stadium] lease is done. We have been working diligently to get that done, but it takes two to tango. We just can't seem to get the city's attention on this issue.
The city council saw this Smulyan thing coming a mile away, and now they're ducking our phone calls. And Jerry Reinsdorf is an ass.

MLB.com: Do you want Bowden back with the team?

Tavares: If I come back, I'm definitely offering a job to Jim Bowden.
He said a job, he didn't say what job. And Screech is supposed to get bigger next year.

October 12, 2005

The Glass Half Full

It's a slight understatement to say that I am cynical by nature. I firmly believe that MLB will screw the Nats by installing a failed ex-owner at the head of the organization. I believe that the DC city council will screw the team by trying to score political points off the stadium financing deal. And most importantly I believe this is all part of a larger cosmic scheme to make me just a little bit less happy. But...

Even with all that I look around the division and don't see anyone in dramatically better shape than our Nats. A quick, uncharacteristically optimistic look at our foes offseason woes:

Atlanta: The Braves win the division, the Braves lose in the playoffs. Lather, rinse, repeat. Besides, at 9-10 we played the best team in the division almost even. And the Braves might be without Rafael Furcal at SS next season.

Florida: No money, no manager, no new stadium. Sounds almost familiar, no? The Fish are losing a top pitcher in A.J. Burnett, and might lose leadoff hitter Juan Pierre and slugging 1B Carlos Delgado. Mike Lowell, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer... DEAD! 'Nuff said.

New York: The Mets seem to consistently do less with more than any team outside of the Bronx. I'm optimistic the trend will continue, although the departure of Mike Piazza, his Playmate wife and his spaghetti arm might actually be good for the team.

Philadelphia: Funny how the NL East seems to be littered with perennial underachievers. The Phils need a new GM, and have to figure out how to clear the billion-dollar logjam at 1B that is Jim Thome. Really puts our $3 million Vinny Castilla problem in perspective.

October 11, 2005

Prospect Watch

Another 2005 draftee comes into the fold. The Nats signed their 4th round pick, Maryland OF Justin Maxwell. Maxwell was Washington's second overall selection, our 2nd and 3rd round picks having left as compensation for signing Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman. Nats Farm Authority has the lowdown on Maxwell, as well as a running tab of how our prospects are faring in the Arizona Fall League.

Sex & Violence: Offseason Filler Edition

The Red Sox, Yankees and Braves have been vanquished from the playoffs, effectively eliminating all the compelling post-season storylines for us east coast types. To fill valuable column inches, the Triple Play crew presents our inaugural offseason movie review, the first of however many we have to do before MLB announces an owner for the Nats.

Today's review:
A History of Violence

Matt Watson
- 3 Baseballs

The opening scene in A History of Violence sets the tone from the very start. We see two very bad men and the very bad things they’re capable of. We don’t know anything about them, other than the fact that you don’t want to run into them. This is immediately juxtaposed with our introduction to the Stall family and their idyllic country life and with that stark comparison the tone is set for the rest of the film.

Viggo Mortenson plays Tom Stall, a quiet, small town, family man. He runs the local diner, knows all the patrons by name, and seems like a good decent man. Tom’s wife Edie, played by Maria Bello, shares his unassuming country life along with their teenage son (Ashton Holmes) and their young daughter (Heidi Hayes). Their existence is painted like a Norman Rockwell painting, all warm hues and kindly characters. There’s a little spice to the mix as seen by Maria Bello’s turn in her high school cheerleader outfit, and their son is having trouble with the local bully but other than that things are almost perfect for the Stalls.

That of course has to change and when our two very bad men from the opening scene come calling at the diner all hell breaks loose. When the lives of his employees and customers are threatened, Tom acts quickly and decisively and the results are deadly.

With all the publicity from the incident Tom surfaces on the radar of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), another very bad man from Philadelphia. He’s got an intimidating black sedan, two body guards, a scarred face, and a belief that he and Tom share a past. Is Tom who he says he is? Does he have a secret that he’s been hiding for twenty years? And as Fogarty says, why is Tom so good at killing people?

The movie has some very good scenes, particularly the ones with Ed Harris and Ashton Holmes. There is also a wonderful cameo by William Hurt that is worth the price of admission alone. Occasionally the dialogue is unintentionally funny but the film as a whole moves along and there are several good tension builders that keep the audience hooked.

Director David Cronenberg does a very good job of playing the idea of what defines a man. What counts more, our present or our past? Can we be forgiven for our sins or are they going to haunt us forever? For Tom Stall these are questions that have to be answered and the audience is curious too. We play witness to Edie’s struggle as her entire world flips upside down. We play witness to Tom’s struggle to prove he is the man his wife married. In the end we find out Tom is both. There are two sides to every person and sometimes they are forced to use one to save the other. If Tom wasn’t the man he was he and his customers would have never made it out of the diner alive. If Tom wasn’t the man he was Tom’s son might not have found out what type of man he is. The audience has to ask what counts more, a history of violence or a future of possibility.

Nate responds: 2 baseballs

Much of the preliminary publicity surrounding A History of Violence has focused on what reviewers have labeled "gratuitous" sex and violence. But complaints about excessive explicit imagery are more properly understood as criticisms of badly plotted sex and violence. Quentin Tarantino has made an entire career out of taking sex and violence beyond their logical extremes, but to attack any of it as gratuitous is to misunderstand his movies.

In this film however, some of the explicit elements are gratuitous; not because they are unnecessary, but because they become a sloppy shorthand for absent character development. A History of Violence was adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, and retains many of that genre's signature elements. Edie Stall is every man's fantasy as the devoted wife and mother who is still willing and able to wear her high school cheerleading uniform for a night of raunchy sex with hubby. The Stall's son Jack is a perfect stand-in for your average graphic novel reader, the sarcastic, sensitive high schooler pushed to the breaking point by a bully so generic it's a wonder he wasn't named Biff.

Ideally, the central conflict of the movie would be the tension of a family forced to confront and find a way to relate to the man they never really knew. But these characters are too one-demensional to allow for that kind of growth. The sexy wife, the sarcastic teenager and the cute daughter are archetypes, and archetypes don't do change. Instead, what we get is essentially two movies welded at the middle, the idyllic Stall family meets the post-modern Stall family, a homicidal Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

That said, A History of Violence contains some engaging performances and entertaining set-pieces, not the least Jack Stall's final showdown with his high school tormentor and William Hurt's scene stealing performance as a Philadelphia mobster. The film had the potential to be a thought-provoking meditation on past and responsibility, but David Cronenberg failed to get behind the graphic novel theatrics and into the hearts of the characters.

October 10, 2005

The business side...

So coverage of the money to be made on baseball is on people's minds today.

Somehow, isn't it just weird that MLB made more money than anticipated, and the city less? My favorite quote is the one saying that better TV coverage will show a drop in attendance. Now that's just silly. On top of that, they complain that not enough people drove (45% took metro).... didn't they push us to take Metro? Wasn't that all we heard?

Oh, and we're getting screwed on the new stadium too. Assuming you're an average fan, of course. Those luxury boxes sound nice. But our seats will be inches smaller.

God dammit this kind of shit pisses me off. As a business owner, I just look at something like the Nationals and wonder what kind of greed causes this stuff. You know, it's possible to be honest and still make a good living.

A Tale of Two Stadiums

The Money Pit

What if they held a baseball game and nobody came? Answer: As long as the tickets were paid for in advance MLB couldn't care less. The District, on the other hand, loses out on money from parking, memorabilia and concessions. The Post says the no-shows look to cost the city roughly $500,000 of it's $10.5 million estimated tax revenue. Meanwhile, MLB is set for a well-documented windfall, with the Nats $25 million profit finishing $5 million above even mid-season projections.

My take on this is that it's just one more reason for the city not to be bullied into a bad lease agreement by MLB. MLB is making much more money on the current arrangement than the city, especially considering the $18.5 million DC spent to renovate RFK last winter. Any lease for the new stadium is going to put the eventual owners in an even more comfortable position, considering they aren't contributing nickel one to land acquisition or construction costs. So the Sports & Entertainment Commission and the city council should hold out for a good deal for the city in terms of dedicated tax revenue and local ownership.

The other potentially bad sign noted in the Post article was the high rate of no-shows at Nats games. On average 33,728 tickets were sold for each home game, but more than 25% of those were never used. The industry standard for non-attendance is 15-20%. On one hand, I'm not particularly surprised by this. A lot of those tickets figured to be corporate-owned, given out as perks to staff and clients. Over 81 games it's reasonable to expect that not every ticket to every game would be used. But 25% is an awfully high number, and I think it should be cause for concern, particularly if the Nats get off to a slow start next year, once the magic of the "inaugural season" has worn off. Slipping attendance is a ready-made excuse for an out-of-town owner with shareholder commitments to start doing the relocation/contraction dance. And if you think MLB wouldn't give Jeff Smulyan the team, let him run it into contraction and then give him the Reds, you haven't been paying attention.

Meanwhile, Across Town...

Washington City Paper busts out our first inside peek at the design of the new stadium. Capitol Punishment has the depressing in-depth analysis. The synopsis: Those of us in the cheap (or moderately-priced) seats, probably ought not be in such a hurry to vacate RFK. It may be a dingy, cavernous old relic but it has wide seats, good leg room and very good sightlines to the field (especially from Sec. 313). The new stadium might have all the bells and whistles $535 million can buy, but it won't be the proletarian palace that is The Bobby. And parking's gonna suck.

October 6, 2005

Justice Delayed... Again

Let's run down the list... spring training, June 1st, the all-star break, August 1st, before the playoffs... and now apparently, Thanksgiving. MLB's chief negotiator (and White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf says the sale of the Nationals won't be completed until November. The reason? Reinsdorf is busy attending to White Sox related business.

Reinsdorf: "There will probably have to be a time when I need to be in Washington for a day or two to get this done and I won't have time as long as [the White Sox] are in this." What, Reinsdorf has to be on hand so he can tell Ozzie Guillen when to pinch hit for Joe Crede? He's the owner, not the bench coach.

Lest you think the endless delay in naming new owners is MLB's fault, Reinsdorf wants you to know that the real culprit is the DC city council. The council has truculently refused to hand over the keys to the kingdom (i.e. the new stadium lease). I was no particular fan of the city's initial hemming and hawing over the stadium deal, but now I think they're entirely justified in holding on to their final piece of leverage until MLB names an ownership group with strong local ties and a commitment to the city. Not Smulyan!

In Other Obstructionist News

Comcast received it's second consecutive judicial bitch slap from the MoCo courts, when their amended lawsuit against MASN and the B'Orioles was dismissed again. Apparently Comcast's lawyers couldn't formulate a decent complaint even with two bites at the apple. An appeal is forthcoming.

According to the Times, land acquisition for the new stadium will begin this month, although roughly half the property will have to be taken by eminent domain, adding time and expense to the process. And, surprise, parking for the new stadium is already a problem.

October 5, 2005

Arbitrary Decisions

The following Nats are eligible for salary arbitration this winter:

  • Luis Ayala, RHP
  • Jamey Carroll, IF
  • Marlon Byrd, OF
  • Alex Escobar, OF
  • Nick Johnson, 1B
  • John Patterson, RHP
  • Brian Schneider, C
  • Junior Spivey, 2B
  • T.J. Tucker, RHP
  • Brad Wilkerson, OF

The important thing to remember about arbitration is that nobody's salary ever decreases. Putting the decision before an arbitrator always results in a raise, sometimes a substantial one. With that in mind, most of these decisions are no-brainers. Yes to Ayala, Carroll, Byrd, Johnson, Patterson, and Schneider. No to Alex Escobar. Then comes decision time.

Junior Spivey: Junior made $2.1 million this year, and as noted above, that number won't go down in arbitration. But he is a starter-quality 2B, and with Jose Vidro's health questionable, he'd be a good guy to have around. Plus, he's probably tradeable. Yes to arbitration.

T.J. Tucker: T.J. made $657,000 this year, and probably won't merit much of an increase between being injured and posting a 6.39 ERA in 13 games. Basically it comes down to T.J. vs. Travis Hughes. It would be nice to keep both, but probably a no for arbitration.

Brad Wilkerson: The big question. A raise from his $3 million this year is a certainty. His power numbers slumped hard this year, but his .248 average is disturbingly close to his career average of .256. If you're going to bat .250 from a corner outfield position you need to swat homers like Adam Dunn, and Wilkie don't. It pains me to say it, but with Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd in the fold, Wilkerson might be most valuable as trade bait to bring in a starting pitcher.

Boz Hates Bud

Okay, that's a little harsh. But he does contrast the behavior of the Nats players and fans with that of our "owners". Can't we just call them overlords? The bottom line, once again: No Smulyan!

Season in Review

Today the Post allows us to relive the season game-by-game, albeit in highly encapsulated form. This is probably one of those things that's better in the print edition. I'll have to check on that.

October 4, 2005

The sentimental crap.

So Nate is right.. The sentimental crap is my department.

Sunday was a great experience. While the game was a loss, I was happy the fans were good spirited. Even the Philly fans we were sparring with were pleasant this time. The standing ovation at the end capped a great year.

I did my own stats for the year. I attended 20 home games this year, including both the home opener and the last game of the season. The Nats were 9-11 while I was in attendance.

For me, the baseball season is over. Besides a casual desire to see the Red Sox out, I'm done thinking about 2005. '06 is just around the corner. First order of priority - this team needs an owner.

Now the big question for the off season - will the three of us venture into non-baseball territory now that the season is over?

Warm Up the Stove

Yes, I know there are still playoffs going on. No, I don't care. As far as I'm concerned the best possible outcome if for the Yankees and Red Sox both to be eliminated in the first round, thereby sending the northeastern United States into a dark nuclear winter of the soul from which it will not emerge until the first time the Knicks play the Celtics.

The Nats opened their off-season by shuffling the 40-man roster to protect some prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. It's complicated, so I'll just report that C Keith "Coach" Osik, P John "The Llama" Halama and RP Antonio Osuna got the ax. Remember Osuna? No, of course you don't. He got into all of four games before going on the DL with a bad shoulder. He's the Terrmel Sledge of the pitching staff. To fill those 3 roster spots the Nats selected IF Kory Casto, OF Frank Diaz and SP Armando Galarraga for the 40-man roster.

Next up? Deciding which of our own players to keep. The following Nats will be free agents this winter, the ones we ought to think about keeping are in blue:

  • Tony Armas Jr., RHP
  • Carlos Baerga, PH-IF
  • Gary Bennett, C
  • Hector Carrasco, RHP
  • Deivi Cruz, IF
  • Joey Eischen, LHP
  • Esteban Loaiza, RHP
  • Preston Wilson, OF

Tomorrow I'll get into the trickier proposition of which of our arbitration-eligible players we might think about jettisoning.

Of course, this would all be much easier if the Nats had an owner, knew what their budget was going to be, and knew who would be making the decisions. But where's the fun in that?

October 3, 2005

New Habits Die Hard

So I rolled out of work at 7:30 and halfway home I turned on 104.1 to catch the game. Only 142 days till spring training starts.

Odds & Ends

I'm going to dispense with the season recap. That sentimental crap is more Dave's department anyway. With the season over, Nats players are fleeing the city in droves and going to where ever it is that baseball players live in the winter. I'm equally disappointed that we won't get to see Jose Guillen go spikes up into some kid's snowman and that I won't get an invite to the after-parties in Livan's 5-bedroom, 2-level suite at the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton.

Apparently, Goooz was the only Nat to buy property, which just shows how sure he is that he'll be around next year. Either that, or D.C. is a better winter home than Minneapolis. And why am I only now finding out that Jamey Carroll's wife is an executive at The Gap? Think of all the missed cross-promotional opportunities: Sarah Jessica Parker bobblehead night; Jamey's signature line of bionic man khakis. "Feel like a Six Million Dollar Man, for just $29.99." Ahhh, well... wait till next year.

October 2, 2005

Thank You

To all the Nationals players, coaches, staff, beat writers, bloggers and fans: Thanks for a great season! (Except for Alex, Zach and Tony... you guys suck.)