August 29, 2006

Dave Takes On: Bitterness

So Nate wouldn't even jump in to help me on this, because the bitterness has just reached an all time high.

Watching the end of the season come up on us is proving to be a tough road for the Natosphere. Ball Wonk has gone quiet again, Chris at Capitol Punishment comments on this craphole of a team, Curly W has Just. No. Hope., Basil at Federal Baseball points out that this team is going nowhere, and the Nats Blog notes 2006 is very much dead.

Nate didn't want to even comment -- his bitterness seems to know no bounds. We lost Watson on baseball a couple of months ago, I think.

As we come up on Labor Day weekend, and I was reviewing how many games I had left in me, I had to say I was trying to get in as many trips to the ballpark as I can. I've been plotting getting my hands on a new red-alternate jersey. I put as many games on the TV as I can, both day and night.

I think as this season ends this may be the last time we're able to say this, but having baseball is still better than not having baseball. Baseball remains the best social sport of the lot -- best for watching live, best for sports bars, best for watching with friends at home, and even best for watching alone.

Sure, we're not in playoff contention. But as I watch Zimm hit his triple tonight in the 5th, and drive in two, isn't it still fun? The little things make it. Let me remind my friend Nate of a comment he made back in April:"I suspect this is going to be the season that I really learn to appreciate those intangibles that Dave talks about: a warm summer evening spent outdoors with friends, warm beer sold by a vendor in the 7th inning, catching up with our fellow season ticket holders in Section 313, a well-timed heckle in a momentarily silent stadium, the deep conversations about the hygiene, parentage, and ultimate eschatological fate of Phillies fans"

I understand where the bitterness comes from. There is a lot of emotional investment in a team. You want to be associated with a winner. We know we're not. (Still better than living in Kansas City, that's for sure). But you know what? We have one of the hottest players in the league hitting homers in our giant canyon. We have a rookie who is playing every night like he's been playing for years. This is fun to watch, folks!

You can wallow in self-dispair, or you can just have some fun with it. You're already invested -- why make it miserable?

I'm trying to get together friends to go with me on Saturday (Watson and Nate are both previously obligated), and wouldn't be anywhere else on my birthday (Tuesday) than the ballpark. The beer is cold and I know I'll miss it when it's gone in October.

August 28, 2006

Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes

A top to bottom Nats injury round-up:

  • HEAD - That'd be Nick Johnson, who suffered a cervical strain following a collision with Braves thug OF Jeff Francoeur. I've just about had it with the French. Frankly, we've been carrying these cheese-eating surrender monkeys since the late 18th century, and this is the last straw. Freedom Fries for all! And while we're on the topic, why is it that "cervical" refers both to the spine, and to the ummm... well... you know? Caused me several seconds of intense confusion, that did.

  • SHOULDERS - Poor Alex Escobar will be having surgery to repair a torn labrum in the right shoulder he dislocated in the ninth inning of Friday night's game against the aforementioned punk*ss "Braves." Again, oddly enough, Jeff Francoeur was right in the middle of the action. Throwing behind runners, Jeff? Is that how this is gonna have to be? Ayight then. It's on like Donkey Kong, Frenchie. Also, Triple-A 1B Larry Broadway suffered a seperated shoulder a few days earlier, effectively ending his season as well. Coincidence? I think not. Not until we know for certain where Jeff Francoeur was at the time.

  • KNEES - Not much to report in the significant knee injury category, but Jose Vidro's still got knees, and they still suck. I think it's safe to say that Jose Vidro's knees have gone completely Snakes on a Plane, taking roughly $15M of our payroll money with them. And, because some has to say it, "That's it. I have had it! I am tired of Jose Vidro's muthafeckin' knees on this muthafeckin team!!1!1!!"

  • TOES - Yep, our closer was felled by inferior foot care. Check out NIH's harrowing account of one man's battle with the enemy (toenail) within. Can't wait to see what personal insights the Natmosphere's resident injury guru has to share when Chris Schroeder develops a goiter and begins talking like Rue McClanahan.

August 26, 2006

Esco-Barring an Injury

I'm done making fun of Alex "Pablo" Escobar. I genuinely feel bad for the guy and it's just not funny any more. Escobar's career track has gone from sad to comic and now settled firmly on pathetic. The man just cannot stay healthy. It's like he's allergic to not being injured.

In case you missed it, Alex separated his right shoulder diving back into first base in the late innings of yesterday's shocking non-loss to Atlanta. After singling up the middle Escobar was leading off first when Brian Schneider hit a rocket directly at Braves RF Jeff Francouer. Francouer threw to first to double off Escobar. Alex lunged awkwardly back and jammed his right arm against the bag, dislocating his shoulder. Premlinary reports put the recovery time at 4-6 weeks, effectively ending Escobar's season.

And Alex was finally having a good season. Despite being only sporadically healthy, he put up a .356/.394/.575 line, far and away the best of his career. He was the Nats de facto starting centerfielder and a real asset in the bottom half of the lineup. He will be missed. Escobar's latest injury means Ryan Church is a starting outfielder again, which is good. It also means that our fourth outfielder is now Marbertyle Anderfickard, which is bad.

The other significant tragi-comic injury news out of last night's game concerns Chad Cordero. The Chief was unable to toe the rubber (pun intended) last night because of a flare-up in his ingrown toenail. I really, really, really don't want to delve into the details of this injury (I rely on NIH for things like that) but given the voluminous amounts of free time that any Nats closer has this season, why can't Chad keep his nails trimmed? Maybe he should have been doing that instead of lighting off fireworks with Tex. The upshot? Rookie Saul Rivera got his first career save, in slightly too dramatic fashion. Talk about having a Road to Damascus experience.

Elsewhere on the Hallelujah! front, the team, probably during one of Trader Jim's binge-drinking blackouts, managed to excise Damian Jackson from the roster. I was no great fan of the Damian Jackson signing, but my complaints focused on the fact that Jackson would inevitably steal a roster spot from Jamey Carroll, Brendan Harris or Rick Short (or all 3, as it turned out.) I could never have predicted he'd go all Snakes on a Plane, both as player and as a person. Good riddance.

August 25, 2006

Close Encounters of the Slithering Kind

Snakes on a Plane

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 Stars

Take a simple premise, a good cast, some good dialog, a scary villain and you have the ingredients for a good movie. Turn that scary villain into two hundred bloodthirsty snakes and add a heaping dose of Samuel L. Jackson and you have Snakes on a Plane. That movie recipe goes from merely good, to being absolutely fantastic.

The simple premise is just that, simple. The LA mob has murdered a vacationing lawyer and the FBI has a witness (Nathan Phillips). That witness must be brought to LA from Hawaii to testify. How do you get from Hawaii to LA? You take a plane. No complicated storylines, no need to expand on a back story, just enough info to get moving.

Now that the premise is up and running, we get to meet the rest of the cast. Along with our FBI agent and our witness we have the flight crew and passengers for South Pacific Air flight 121. Julianna Margulies plays Claire, the head flight attendant who happens to be on her last flight. We have David Koechner (who fans will recognize from Anchorman) as the chauvinist co-pilot. They’re joined by the token sexy flight attendant, the token effeminate male attendant, and the token older past-her-prime flight attendant. We also have on board a famous rapper and his two bodyguards, a ditzy women and her pet chihuahua, a stuck up British businessman, a professional kick boxer, a mother and her newborn, a man who’s scared to fly and his new wife, two young brothers flying alone for the first time, and a young stoner couple.

If you’re wondering why I listed all those people, it’s because they actually add something to the movie. Snakes on a Plane is not exactly an ensemble movie, but it utilizes each person to the fullest. This movie has more character development for the throw away characters than the entire three hours of Dead Man’s Chest. This isn’t a bunch of faceless passengers meekly sitting in their seats waiting for something to happen. This is a living breathing mob that manages to display everything that is good and bad about humanity. And that’s all outside the scope of the main plot.

Seeing as he can’t kill the witness while he’s in FBI custody the mob boss decides to release hundreds of venomous snakes on the place to do the job for him. Just to make sure the snakes do their part the entire plane is saturated with pheromones designed to turn the snakes into bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, vampires. The results are scary, gory, pick your feet up off the floor encounters of the slithering kind and it’s a riot. The movie is already unbelievable and it knows that so pushing things over the top only adds to the fun. The snakes are ridiculous, the fights are comical, and the finale is absolutely a blast.

All of this would be for naught, if it wasn’t for the presence of Samuel L. Jackson. At this point in his career he can hold a film together just by the force of his personality. When he tells the passengers to listen to him because he’s the only hope they have everyone in the theater believes him. He’s one of the few actors that can maintain his action hero status with the audience while still being accessible as a character. He only yells when he has too, he’d rather talk it out than fight, and he intimidates with his eyes rather than his gun. Not only does this make enable him to develop a rapport with the other characters but when he goes into full throttle bad ass mode it’s all the more impressive. New Line was originally going to produce this film as a PG-13 vehicle but thanks to the overwhelming internet-based fan pressure they opted for the full bore R rating. They made the correct choice, if only to let Jackson drop one of the best one-liner’s in quite awhile.

Over the last ten years creating action movies has become an rigid exercise in bigger explosions, bigger guns, and bigger destruction, often at the expense of the actual plot and characters. This trend has been encouraged by Hollywood, specifically because of their need for summer blockbuster for revenue. Snakes on a Plane avoids that idea and feels more like a throwback to the B-movie monster films of the 50’s. Instead of the effects being the point, filmmakers are beginning to use the technology to underscore the stories. This shift in thinking is starting to produce some fantastic movies, including Snakes on a Plane.

August 23, 2006

Sit Down Already

I realize that DC is still a relatively young baseball town (at least if you ignore the last 70 years). There's a good number of knowledgable baseball die-hards that attend each game, but they can't make up for the cluelessness of your standard summertime fair-weather fan. Once again, a short list on ballpark etiquette.

1) You decided to come to the game and pay for a seat, How's about you sit in it? And I mean the seat you purchased, not a better seat that seems to be open. Also, once you're there, stay there. Don't come in during the middle of an inning where your make your entire row stand up to let you in, sit down for 30 seconds, and then get up again to go get a hotdog. We'd much rather watch the game than watch you try to kick over as many beers as possible. If you have to get up, wait until the inning is over, or at least a stoppage in play. Same goes for you coming back.

2) We want you to bring your kids to the ballpark. Baseball needs young fans and they're fun to have in the stands. That doesn't mean the ballpark is a substitute for daycare. If you know your two year old has trouble sitting still for 5 minutes at a time and enjoys shrieking at the top of his lungs please don't bring him. Wait until he can actually comprehend what's going on.

3) Corollary to number two, if you are a grown man who catches a ball in the stands that has zero significance (i.e, wasn't a milestone homerun), please find a child near you and give them the ball. You get to be a hero to the kid and you still have a great story to tell. Same goes with T-shirts.

4) If you go into a bar, it's customary to tip the bartenders. That goes for stadium vendors as well. That extra $1 tip won't kill you and it's the right thing to do. Matter of fact, you should tip all the vendors that bring anything to you, even the lemonade guy.

5) If the game is 14-0 with the Nats WINNING in the bottom of the 7th and the game is a foregone conclusion, feel free to start the wave. If either A) the Nats are losing or B) the game is still even remotely in contention don't start the wave. If someone else starts the wave, don't encourage it. It's disrespectful to the players and annoying to those of us that want to see the game.

We're all stuck at RFK for few more years so anything that can help make it a good experience should be embraced. Now if only we can figure out a way to keep out Philly fans . . .

August 21, 2006

Ventin' Ain't Easy

On this, the ocassion of Nats Triple Play's historic 309th post, I would like to share with you, dear reader, my thoughts on the state of the team. The team sucks.

But they don't suck in traditional, predictable Kansas City/Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay fashion. Oh no, not our Nationals. They suck in ulcer-inducing, teeth-gnashingly original ways. In the rare instance where one of our cast-off collection of has-been and never-will-be pitchers manages a decent outing, the offense takes the night off, apparently laboring under the misapprehension that the game will eventually end in a scoreless tie.

On the much more frequent days when our starting pitching implodes to the tune of 42 runs in the first 2/3 inning the hitters, freed from all pressure, will invariably mount a stirring 41-run comeback that falls just short in the 9th inning as our last batter watches a 2-strike changeup sail over the outside corner of the plate.

The only legitimate power hitter on the team has a Memento-worthy mental block that forces him to hit in the one spot in the lineup guaranteed to generate the fewest RBIs. And he plays the outfield because, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, left field is his worst position except all those other positions that he's tried from time to time. And despite being on pace to hit 50 home runs and steal 40 bases the front office couldn't even teach him to play trade bait effectively.

Forget a fire sale, this team ought to be completely dissasembled, the rubble plowed under and RFK Stadium sown with pretzel salt. I'd say the plan for the offseason should be to unload every player whose last name doesn't end in -immerman, but what would be the point? Washington is apparently the franchise where previously healthy players come to collapse and once-promising prospects pass through on their way to a fulfilling career as assistant regional manager at Steak n Shake.

Meanwhile, the Team President vows to build for the future with players acquired by the Village People's love child. The same paragon of competence who built a roster composed of 5 first basemen, 6 second basemen, 1 shortstop, 1 third baseman and 1 catcher. The guy who looked at Daryle Ward, Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson and saw an outfield. A man so acursed that even his good trades end up worthless.

On any other team, the exhange of two middle relievers for two 26 year-old position players would be unqualified grand theft. Only in Washington would one of those two leave his heart, and his bat, in Cincinnati. And only for the Nats would finding out that the other one brought his glove with him amount to a bad thing.

And you know what's great? Next season figures to be even worse, after the one marketable star departs, to be replaced by two mediocre pitching retreads and whatever else the general manager can trade his 45-minute AA sobriety chip for at the annual winter swapmeet.

Meanwhile, the lovely iconic new riverside stadium, opening April 2011, for the low low price of $2.7 billion, will be accessible only by camel caravan across miles of burning dilapidated asphalt; and the affordable seats will come equipped with oxygen masks in the event of a sudden decrease in atmospheric pressure.

But for all that, RFK's still a comfortable, easily accessible craphole, the beer's cold, the Hard Times chili nachos are hot, and the brisket is still unmatched in all the land. Tickets are cheap and plentiful. The players, despite sporadic god-awfulness, are still trying, and Ryan Zimmerman better damn well win NL Rookie of the Year or there will be consequences and reprecussions. And only 6 months until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

August 15, 2006

Dave & Nate Take On: Magic 8 Ball of Destiny

With nothing left to talk about this season, (Billy Traber vs. Jason Bergmann. Discuss...) Nate and Dave are ready to fast forward to the off-season. No playoff race for us. No Wildcard race, no NL East race. Not much good to talk about at all…

So we here at NTP want to be among the first to make some bad predictions and discuss. We also like the format we tried out last time, and wanted to try again.

“Dave Says”: I’ll kick this off. Deftly avoiding the Soriano discussion to start (we’ll come back to that), I’m going to focus my first prediction on pitching. I’m optimistic enough to think that Patterson will be back, and be the team ace. Armas is a maybe, but I don’t see Ortiz or Astacio. Traber will be with us, and I also expect to see Ayala back with young Mike O’Connor. With Frank gone (see how I slipped that prediction in), I also expect Zach Day to stick around. I also bet that Drese will not be back. Trader Jim will likely blow up what little starting rotation we have. Nate?

“Nate Says”: Pitching, huh? You sure you want to tackle pitching first? No thoughts on the ultimate fate (spiritual or physical) of Damian “The Esophagus” Jackson? Ok, then. Best case scenario: Patterson comes back healthy, slots in as the ace of the staff. I think Ortiz sticks around, he’s shown enough consistency to warrant a job and he’ll likely be cheapish. (If not we offer him arbitration and unload him for draft picks.) Astacio and Armas are likely gone. Hopefully Brian Lawrence can contribute as some point during the season. I expect the 5th starter role to be filled by O’Connor, Shawn Hill or someone like that. Frankly we have other things to worry about. The Nats have plenty of fifth starters. It’s the 1-4 slots that need work

“Dave Says”: Pitching does seem like it’s key to everything else. It’s also a wide open field, and either of our guesses is probably right. I think only Patterson is the only sure thing we could possible agree on. Playing off our previous conversation, I bet Ortiz is worth more as picks than as a pitcher. All this hand waving probably doesn’t result in anything. I doubt we’ll do significant pickups to the staff besides draft picks. I expect this team’s rotation to suck as much as it does this year. You’ll note I did slip in Frank. Frank won’t be back. I think we’ll have our biggest splash with a new manager rather than any major moves in the bullpen. Any candidates you see in our future?

“Nate Says”: I expect this offseason to be a final reckoning for either Trader Jim or Frank, but I have no special insight on who will stay and who will go. I’d be very surprised to see them both go, and it’s next to impossible that both will stay. If Frank goes there are certainly no shortage of replacement options. Start with Lou Pinella and work your way down to guys like Davy Lopes and Tony Beasley in our own dugout. And of course there’s the recently de-hired Special Assistant to Trader Jim, Davey Johnson. Meh, managing is not what’s holding this team back. Though it’s certainly not helping. Let’s talk outfielders.

Safe to say that Austin Kearns has rightfield nailed down. Some platoon of Escobar/Church/Byrd could be cheap and effective in center. I don’t think any of the three has proven that they could handle the gig full-time. What about left? Assuming, for this discussion, that Fonzie isn’t our Opening Day LF next season, which direction do you go? A big free agent bat like Carlos Lee or Vernon Wells? A 1-2 year stopgap (David Dellucci, Jay Payton-type) free agent? Or save money by promoting from within? I think we agree that the 2007 Nats aren’t going to be competitive, so why not give every OF in the organization a tryout, see if anyone sticks. Can’t be any worse than Michael Tucker.

“Dave Says”: If you didn’t sign Fonzie, you’re not doing another free agent. It’s Fonzie or bust for LF in terms of big names. With Livo gone, I actually am of the thought that they will try to sign Fonzie. It’s your one big draw for 2007 in terms of game excitement, and putting bodies in the seats is still a goal. You have to deliver something to keep the fans happy. So we either get Fonzie, or whatever we can get cheap. Moving around the bases then, we know 3B is fixed. I don’t see Vidro back with us on 2B, and I’m ok with that. I don’t mind giving Marlon Anderson the job anyway. Nicky is at 1B again. But the key question back at you Nate – will we see Guzmania in 2007, or is FLop the way of the future?

“Nate Says”: The money we saved on Livan will have to be spent on a replacement free agent pitcher. Unless you’re keen to trot Jason “Harvey” Bergmann out there every 5th day. If Vidro isn’t coming back, and I’d say that’s a pretty big if considering the amount of money left on his contract, then the infield solution is easy: Guzman at short, FLop at 2B and Marlon A. goes back to doing what he does best, utility infielder. If Vidro stays he has to be the starter at second, he’s got too much veteran-y goodness to ride the pine for $8M. I would actually throw it open to a spring training competition between Gooz and FLop for shortstop. Lopez has the better bat, Cristian has the better glove. But mostly, talking about this crap just makes my head hurt. We’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The team sucks now and all indications are it’s going to suck even worse next year, Fonzie or no Fonzie. Thank God football season is gearing up. Go Skins!

Follow up to our first Take On

This link came across the NTP news desk.

It's an interesting follow up to our first Take On, as maybe there was a plan, it just isn't Bowden's. Maybe the thinking comes from a higher up source.

Beer, beer, and beer

Also from the NTP news desk, there be beer at RFK. In section 313, we're happy that there is quite a selection both right behind us, and available via cash and charge at the Burrito Brothers stand. This can help you find more.

That is all, for now.

August 12, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy...

... and they used to be us.

Honestly, that's just insulting. I know we're the worst team in the NL East. I know the Mets have the division wrapped up, and don't really need to win these next few games. But none of that is any excuse for the Mets trotting out Michael Tucker to play LF at RFK last night. Now, loyal readers of this blog (both of you) know how I feel about Michael Tucker. I'm sure he's a swell fella, loves animals and small children, plays a mean classical banjo. But once you've been cut by the Nats in Spring Training, that's it, you're done, your career as a professional base ball man is over. If you count Inning-Endy Chavez and Mike "Girl-Burner" DiFelice (and you shouldn't) that makes for three Nats cast-offs on the likely 2006 NL Championship team. Omar Minaya's goal is obvious: TRADE 4 VIDRO!!!11!!1!

But none of that should distract attention from a truly stellar outing by reclaimed pitching prospect Billy Traber. Billy threw one bad pitch, and if Paul Lo Duca hadn't whacked that gopher ball like he had money on the game (Ba-dump Bump!) Traber would have had himself 7 innings of shutout 4-hit ball. So on a great night for baseball at RFK Dave and I had the distinct pleasure of shushing several thousand Mets fans. Life is good.

Livan on Borrowed Time

I should have known it then, when he handed me the towel. As we bonded over that scrap of red terrycloth on a sunny Sunday afternoon I should have realized my time with Livan was drawing to a close. And now my fondest memory of RFK's grand re-opening weekend is tinged with regret. I should have seen what was coming; I should have said goodbye. Adios, Livan. And thanks for the rally towel.

Coming Up

Stay tuned for the next installment of Dave & Nate Take On, when the patented Triple Play Magic 8-Ball gives us glimpses of 2007. Sure, it won't be as comprehensive or detailed as Banks of the Anacostia's look ahead, but hey, at least we're not advocating keeping Damian Jackson.

August 4, 2006

See You in September!

WaPo is reporting that evil cable monopoly Comcast will carry evil Angelos-owned sports network MASN in the Washington-Baltimore market beginning September 1st. Meaning that in less than a month my sports bar tab will decrease exponentially. Wahoo!

Terms of the deal aren't immediately available, but this has to be seen as a significant victory for MASN and Angelos. And of course, for fans under the opressive thumb of Comcast. Just a Nats Fan has been tracking the Comcast-MASN dispute since Day 1, and is the place for a complete recap of events leading up to today's announcement.

August 3, 2006

Dave & Nate Take On: Bowden on the Brink

In our free time, usually over beers, Nate and Dave like to discuss the intricacies of deals. This whole Soriano business has provided a lot to talk about. It’s been covered extensively by all our friends in the Natosphere. But the catalyst for this particular discussion was a pre-trade deadline article on Armchair GM. Thanks to S.O.L. over at the Gameday Chat for providing the intial link.

First, go read the article: The New Economics of the MLB Trade Market. Go on, we’ll be here when you get back. (The fictional conversation between Bodes and Stan is great). There is a significant point to be made about the changing dynamics of the market. The market for Soriano on July 31 was very different from the one in December. And the offseason market for him will be very different again.

But more importantly, we want to examine the concept of an overall strategy. Is it possible to evaluate the available evidence and think Bowden was playing a strategy?

“Dave Says”: I think Bowden is working a plan here. In December, he knew the ownership was coming, even if he didn’t know who it would be. He also had to know that long term growth was the only strategy that worked for the team. Did he know Soriano would be this hot? No. But I think he knew he would be good trade bait, and thus his worst case after a one year deal is that he ends up with great draft picks at the end of the process. You don’t get that with Wilkerson and Sledge at the end of 2006, so this is a trade up for 2007. When we all looked at the Soriano trade, we looked at the players involved – not what happens when Soriano moves on at the end of the one year deal. That seems to be the much more critical perspective.

Of course, if Soriano sticks around, maybe you can build a team around him. I think this is playing more to the casual fans than an actual realistic end result, but it’s fun to say. Again, you win either way. Lose him and you get picks. Keep him and you can (maybe) build a team around him. Either result is good, and better than keeping Wilkerson or Sledge at the beginning.

“Nate Says”: I’d be much less concerned about the future of this franchise if I thought Bowden was half so smart. If I could believe that he sat in his hotel room in Dallas last winter and said, “Wilkerson for Soriano? Worst case scenario, I walk away with two first round draft picks. Let’s do it!” then you could convince me that this was all part of some master plan keep the most popular player on the team for a few extra months and rebuild the farm system with high draft picks. But I just don’t buy it.

Trader Jim wasn’t looking at Soriano as a long-term building block. He didn’t even know if he’d be the GM for the long term. In Soriano he found the biggest, splashiest deal available, and he made it. If he’d been serious about a vision for the future of the franchise, he would have needed Soriano’s buy-in, and that would mean at least had talking to the guy about a position-switch that Soriano had earlier flatly refused.

“Dave Says”: Nate brings up the point of needing Soriano’s buy in. Do you really? It all depends on your comfort level being an ass, frankly. (And this is apparently something I know a thing or two about). You’re Bowden. You’re thinking about forcing a square peg into a round hole. You can plan for Soriano to be unhappy and not care. You know you can force him onto the Disqualified List. According to my interpretation of the Basic Agreement (which Nate referenced way back in March), you still get your draft picks at the end of the year. Essentially, $10 million for your draft picks, and 2006 be damned.

As we know, it didn’t turn out this way, and what happened was just slightly better. Bowden could essentially be spending $10 million to stockpile draft picks, knowing he’ll be released from Soriano's contract after a year. You also have to admit, this plays to his splash moves personality. If this scenario had happened, he’d be the talk of baseball about how bold he was.

“Nate Says:” Sure, you don’t need Soriano’s cooperation if you trade for him for the sole purpose of collecting the draft picks at the end of the season. But $10 million, two serviceable big-leaguers (Wilkie and Sledge) and an entire baseball season flushed down the tubes is an awfully high price to pay for two draft picks, even first rounders. I can buy that Bowden was prepared to put Alfonso on the DQ list, eat the money and take the 2007 picks. And I agree, doing so would certainly have made him the talk of baseball, but it’s a terrible strategy.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that Soriano doesn’t outright boycott, but he gives considerably less than 100% in his knew outfield position, swings for the fences in every at-bat, and generally tries to avoid playing himself into an injury before free agency kicks in. If that happens Bowden is saddled with a $10 million clubhouse cancer. He has no chance of getting value in a deadline deal, and Soriano’s negative presence tanks the season as surely as his absence would have done. It’s to Alfonso’s credit that it didn’t turn out that way, and that he’s played up to a level where signing him long-term becomes a defensible move. But none of it smacks of a Bowden “master plan” to maximize Soriano’s value one way or another.

“Dave Says”: Of course, that would have been worst case scenario. It’s realistic to believe that Bowden focused on the positives (he is a spin guy, after all), and he only had cursory thought to this worst case scenario. I think I’m more of an ass than him – just pointing out it’s possible.

I think Bowden actually simply assumed he could make it all work, and had acknowledged the worst case wasn’t likely to happen, and wasn’t so bad for the Nats. (We certainly had plenty of options for outfielders and second basemen). Soriano was going into his free agency. He needed to shine to get his best deal. His agent would have been reminding him of that the entire time, and that being a clubhouse cancer would be bad for business going into those negotiations. Bowden would know this, and would weigh the possibilities of it turning out that way rather than the negative you outline, Nate.

Bowden sees this:
· Worse for Soriano to be benched than would it be for the Nationals in 2006.
· Worse for Soriano to have a bad year than would it be for the Nationals in 2006.
· More upside for 2007 for possession of Soriano than for possession of Wilkie and Sledge, with minimum being the draft picks.
· More upside midseason for Nationals with possession of big bat.

That makes the trade good at the time, as he can play hard ball – without talking to Soriano – since he thinks the scenarios are all more in his favor than Fonzie’s. Now, in December, he foresees two possibilities for 2006.
· (Unlikely) scenario of Nationals in Pennant / Wildcard race
· (Likely) scenario of Nationals not in race, with buyers out there

In either scenario, possession of Soriano is better than Wilkie and Sledge. Discussing the “in the race” scenario yields only sadness, so let’s cut to the trade deadline based on what happened. Bowden is planning his moves. Based on the situation, he’s not in the races, and thus looking to shop what he has. Again, he knows that possession of Soriano nets a minimum of the draft picks. Thus, any trade needs to be better than those draft picks – and that is his price. He sets his price, shoots his mouth off to get the market spinning, and away he goes. No one buys. I don’t believe what happened was a botch of the deal. I think he set his price, which was higher than his view of the value of the draft picks, and the result was that no one was buying. I think there is even evidence of this.

“Nate Says:” This is where we run aground, because no one other than the GMs know what prospects were really on the table for Soriano. Guys like Santana/Aybar or Baker/Kubel don’t blow me away, but there may have been better players available that we just never heard about. Likewise, we won’t know which draft picks, if any, we get back for Soriano until late this year, which is also the earliest we could really start to evaluate the talent available in the 2007 draft. So in terms of evaluating the available deadline deals vs. draft picks our informed speculation dissolves into wild-ass guessing.

Sure Bowden will say that he set his minimum price and no one was willing to meet it, but what else is he going to say? “Gee, looks like I wildly overestimated the market and shot myself in the foot.” Doesn’t sound like our beloved P.T. Bowden, or any other GM who values his job for that matter. But I’m straying a bit far from the point.

The question is not whether Bowden recognized the golden goose once it crapped on him. At issue is whether JimBo approached the Soriano trade with foresight, and made the deal with a reasonable expectation of this outcome. If he did, GREAT, he’s at least a slightly above average general manager. If he didn’t he’s just a guy who caught a break and managed not to screw it up. To me he still looks more like Mr. Lucky than the Amazing Kreskin.

“Dave Says”: You’re right – we’ve hit the point where we’ll never know. Of course he’ll say he had foresight – who wouldn’t? The question is to you think it happened this way? I don’t think he’s the Amazing Kreskin (good pull), but I’m willing to place the guy a little higher than just Mr. Lucky. I think he had several plans in mind – and this was one of them. Not optimal, but not necessarily a bad choice.

Okay folks, now you know where we stand. What say you? Jim Bowden: Misunderestimated Genius or Lucky Pierre?