July 28, 2006

A Fan Divided Against Himself

Sometimes, when I fall silent for days (or weeks) at a time, it's simply because I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said more concisely or more eruditely by one of the many other top-notch bloggers listed off to my right. I'm continually amazed by the quality and quantity of the Nationals internet fan base, especially given that this team was so recently Canadian, and in Canada as I understand it, the exchange rate makes teh internets excruciating slow and translates every blog post into a Quebec liberation screed. (Only kidding OMG, don't guillotine me.)

Such is the case with the Alfonso Soriano situation. For the life of me, I can't think of anything original to say. Even the outrageous fringe positions (Sign him for 10 years at $120M!) have more or less been staked out. Besides, I am very much at war with myself on this issue. Like all sentient Nats fans I love watching Fonzie in action. An offensive powerhouse having a career year right before your eyes is an undeniably beautiful thing. At the same time Soriano's outfield defense has gone from atrocious to merely unpredictable. He still has a knack for making the easy catches look hard, but now he's making some of the hard catches too.

If I thought it were possible to sign Soriano to the kind of contract he's going to command (5 yr./$75M is beginning to look possible) without shorting our farm system and international player development, I would say do it in a heartbeat. Aside from Alfonso's measurable gifts he seems to be genuinely cheerful, hardworking and well-liked in the clubhouse. And I'm inclined to think his teammates enjoy those monstrous homers and 2 SB games as much as the fans do. Soriano's a fan magnet, and would probably become an even bigger draw if a long-term deal made him the face of the franchise, and gave him some incentive to make ties to the community.

Unfortunately, I think any deal for Soriano would be a resource drain for the Nationals. There has been much talk about how the Lerners, the "deep pocketed" new owners of myth and legend, ought to spend whatever it takes to re-sign Soriano as a good faith gesture to the fanbase. Excuse me, but didn't Ted Lerner & Sons just cut a check for $450M to major league baseball? And pump a few million more into the refurbished RFK? Didn't Stan Kasten make a commitment to beef up the farm system and scouting departments, starting with the hiring of Asst. GM Mike Rizzo away from the Diamondbacks?

Despite what we may hope as fans, I doubt that Ted Lerner's goal is to spend every last dime he has in his first month of his tenure as owner. Even for a wealthy family like the Lerners (and their many partners) four hundred and fifty million dollars is not chump change. No matter how it's structured, that kind of outlay has to put a serious kink in your short-term cash flow. I say this not to demonstrate that the Lerners can't afford to sign Alfonso. I think they could. But to do so they'd almost certainly have to deprioritize other things, like the long neglected player development system, or the much anticipated new stadium.

Let's not forget, the Nats are not just another team, they were wards of the state for almost half a decade. The team was systematically starved of revenue and resources, and its farm system was strip-mined. I've often lamented the fact that the minor league system that so recently produced guys like Jason Bay, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Chris Young and Grady Sizemore was completely dismantled on MLB's watch. But that's the hole the new owners are in. This franchise needs a huge infusion of cash into its infrastructure just to reach a level playing field with the other 29 teams, much less to compete with them for the top prospects and international free agents.

And, in a move akin to swimming an Olympic race while chained to a baby grand piano, the Nats are trying to make up all this ground with Jim Bowden at the helm. Frankly, that's why I can't decide which side of the Soriano debate I'm on. Trading him means trusting Trader Jim to get a good return for the best player in Nationals franchise history. Letting him walk requires faith that P.T. Bowden will use the resulting draft picks wisely and well. Even re-signing Soriano forces me to hope that Cap'n Leatherpants won't massively overpay for the shiniest bobble to pass through his toy box in quite sometime. To say that none of these options gives me the warm fuzzies is an understatement. I'm just going to sleep and drink until this situation resolves itself.

Trader Jim found himself momentarily out of the news when Brewers GM Doug Melvin hogged the spotlight by unloading OF Carlos Lee +2 on the Texas Rangers for that other Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. (Be honest, if you knew two guys named Lance, one of whom spelled it correctly, and the other who threw in an entirely superfluous Y, which would you guess was gay?)

But, true to his nature, JimBo rectified that right quick, trading 401 year-old lefty Mike Stanton to the San Francisco Giants for 19 year-old pitcher Shairon Martis. This is the second year in a row the Nats have signed Stanton and then swapped him for minor league pitching, and frankly I'm beginning to enjoy it. It would be worth it to sign him again next year just to go for three. And the fact that we unloaded him on the just-swept SF Midgets is icing. Time to shop Kevin Gryboski to the Cubs. The Farm Authority has the lowdown on Martis, and other intriguing prospect news.


JammingEcono said...

I don't really understand the sentiment on Bowden. Sure, he's made his missteps (Guillen, Spivey, Guzman, just to name a few). That said, I don't think you can fault him for his action this season.

1) The Wilk-for-Soriano deal, widely reviled in the blogosphere at the time, has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest imagination and has put us on the threshold of turning him into the beginnings of a real farm system. Does anyone really believe that Wilkerson, Sledge, and Gallaraga would have brought us anyone's top-level prospects in trade?

2) The Kearns-Lopez deal has a net plus. Sure, it depleted the bullpen, but we got two young regulars that will be under our control for mutiple seasons. It's not like protecting leads is going to make any difference in this lost season anyway.

3) Stanton for Shairon Martis. In the past 10 months, JimBo has turned Stanton into 3 prospects. Can't really complain there.

My point is that we really shouldn't be laying blame at Bowden's feet. The "baby grand piano" you refer to is not Bowden's leadership but rather MLB's ownership of the team. We didn't even have a full compliment of scouts! 'Nuff said.

Basil said...

A fan divided against himself? Well, this cannot stand!