March 30, 2006

Adios, Peeg-Fauquier

So Ryan Church lost his job to Daryle Ward? That's just sad. One thing this organization has is hefty, lefty first basemen. We really needed another one? Sure, nominally Ward can play the outfield, but he "fields" the same way Matt LeCroy "catches" and we've all seen the tragi-comic results of that experiment. (By the by, if one of your stated goals for the offseason is to "improve team speed, " how the hell do you get there by signing LeCroy and Ward?) But I digress...

The one ray of sunshine in today's final roster moves? The unconditional release of Michael "P.F." Tucker, who will have to contribute his veteran-y goodness and .234 batting average to someone else's team this season. If you're keeping score at home that's one (1) correct roster move on the season from Bow-Diddley.

C Alberto "The Soriano Wrangler" Castillo and RPs Kevin Gryboski and Travis Hughes were awarded tickets on that train they call the City of New Orleans to bring the active roster down to 25.

Next stop, Orange-Bird hunting at RFK!

March 29, 2006

What's In A Name?

With Ball-Wonk and The Curly W already weighing in on Ryan's Church lamentable demotion I didn't have much to add that they haven't already covered. However, Brandon Watson's promotion to center field does leave me with an interesting problem.

Do I have to get a B-Dub jersey? I've gone by Watson since middle school and I'm wondering what my obligations are. That jersey isn't going to be cheap. I went through something similar when the Redskins signed tailback Kenny Watson but while I'm a devout Redskins fan I don't have tickets so I didn't feel the need to get Kenny's jersey. Also Kenny was a third string player, not a starter. I briefly contemplated getting a Matt Watson Oakland A's jersey as well, but that thought only lasted while they were in town last year.

So do I get the jersey? What if B-dub doesn't keep the job? And what's up with double zero?

March 26, 2006

Minor Issues

Say what you want about the Alfonso Soriano fiasco (and by now we all have, twice) but it gave sports writers and Nats bloggers something to talk about. Now that the A-Sor issue has been momentarily resolved, what's next?

Apparently the topic du jour is the minor leagues. I'm still not conviced that the front office doesn't hand out a weekly topic sheet to the media (Tuesday - Vidro's knee; Wednesday - Guillen's wrist; Thursday - Church's soul patch; Friday - TBD but feel free to write about Bowden's fashion sense.) In any case, both and WaPo have inside looks at the Nats farm system. The official happy-talk overview of the team's minor league talent can be found here, while the Post takes a not exactly hard-hitting look at the changes to the farm system staff. Of course, the Natsosphere is blessed with its own source of insight and analysis, the Nationals Farm Authority guys. Always check with them first.

A lot of the problems facing the 2006 Washington Nationals are directly attributable to "Crazy Omar's Montreal Fire Sale", when everybody expected Les Expos to be contracted out of existence and then-GM Omar Minaya gutted the farm system:

  • No leadoff hitting CF? That's because Grady Sizemore is racking up the hits in Cleveland.
  • No starting pitching? Say hello to the Cleveland's Cliff Lee and San Diego's Chris Young, former Expos farm-hands.
  • Update: NFA's Scott reminded me that 2005 All-Star OF Jason Bay was another casualty of Les Expos clearance event. If you're keeping score at home, that's 2/3 of an outfield and 2/5 of a starting rotation, all under the age of 29.

So Omar Minaya sold off our platinum prospects for peanuts. But that only crippled our farm system. Killing it was Jim Bowden's job:

None of those guys is an All-Star in the making, but all of them might turn out to be at least major league utility/bench/bullpen players. And what do we have to show for it? A 1-year rental 2B turned disgruntled LF, a back-up 1B, a consistently injured AAAA outfielder, and Jose Guillen, who might be playing himself onto the DL as we speak.

There's no question that the farm system was a mess when the team relocated from Montreal to DC. But putting Bowden in charge was the worst move possible. He did the same thing he always does when he finds himself in a hole. He kept digging.

March 23, 2006

Now, Back to Loathing Bowden

Well, thank goodness that's over. Finding myself siding with Trader Jim is not the kind of irony I need in my life. Soriano has now trotted out to left for two consectutive games, and he's already a better outfielder than Manny Ramirez. Now I can go back to focusing on the real problem with this franchise, GM Jim "Fire" Bowden.

I admire Soriano for swallowing his pride, doing what was best for the team, and making a move he manifestly and adamantly didn't want to make. I'm legitimately looking forward to having him in the lineup this season, though I still hope a general manager other than Bowden can move him at the trade deadline for some good minor league prospects. In the meantime, best of luck A-Sor, I promise you won't hear a boo out of me this season (at least until your hack-happy .284 OBP finally pushes me over the edge.)

The problem here, of course, is the potential to spin this so that Jim Bowden comes out of this looking like a genius. Bowden: "The Man Who Tamed Soriano!" Bowden: "Defender of Management Perogatives!" Bowden: "Man With the Golden Leatherpants!" What rookie baseball owner wouldn't want a hard-charging executive stooge like Bowden riding herd on those pesky "employees"? A competent one, but that might be too much to hope for.

While it was almost certainly $10 million dollars and the lure of impending free agency that induced A-Sor to end his sit-in, you better believe that Bowden wants (and needs) the credit. Nothing more than pure dumb luck rescued "Fire" Bowden this time. Let's hope the (hypothetical) new owner recognizes that before he has to experience JimBo's management style first-hand.

March 20, 2006

The Soriano Saga Continues...

It would appear that A-Sor has opted not to cowboy up. On the heels of Dave Shenin's first-rate recap of the Soriano fiasco comes a report from Nats beat writer Bill Ladson that Alfonso refused to take the field at the start of tonight's Nats-Dodgers game. Soriano was slated to bat leadoff and play leftfield. (Why in God's name he was batting at the top of the order is a question for another time...)

The Nationals will give A-Sor one more chance to get with the program Wednesday afternoon against the Cardinals. If he again refuses to play the outfield, the team could hang a T.O. on him. Soriano could be placed on the "disqualified list" which I've never heard of and frankly sounds a little bit like double-secret probation. The Business of Baseball has a throughly unhelpful definition of the disqualified list, and it is mentioned several times in the 2003-2006 Basic Agreement (search the PDF for 'disqualified'.)

Essentially it's a place to put recalcitrant pain-in-the-ass prima donnas who won't admit that they're lousy infielders. If Albert Belle had been a shortstop he would have made the list every year. Players on the disqualified list don't draw their salary, but I can't remember it ever being used and it probably comes with a grievance procedure that makes the stadium negotiatons look like a Rotary Club luncheon. So don't expect to see that $10 million in the form of a "Michael Tucker Platinum Bobblehead Night" anytime soon.

I hate that this forces me to side with Jim Bowden. I hate it. But just like picking sides in the MLB-DC City Council feud, you just have to swallow hard and back the least reprehensible side. Like the city council, Bowden made a terrible initial deal, and has been desperately trying to improve it ever since. Like MLB, Soriano figures he holds all the cards and has been trying to strong-arm his way to his preferred outcome. But this time the contract favors the Nats.

I'm sure Don Fehr will make a half-hearted argument on Soriano's behalf, but the players' union has bigger worries these days than one disgruntled nominal second baseman. The Barry Bonds steroid circus may end up being worse for Soriano than for Bonds. The union needs to make nice with the owners for at least a while to keep a lid on the current medicinal mess, and A-Sor is nobody's poster-boy for employee rights.

Bottom line? I miss Wilkie...

The Soriano Saga

Excellent piece in today's WaPo that fills in the backstory on the Alfonso Soriano deal. It's a must-read for anyone not familiar with Soriano's history and the machinations surrounding the deal that sent him from Texas to DC. It's also the rare story that makes everyone involved look simultaneously sympathetic and incompetent.

Trader Jim gets justifiably flayed for his desperation to make a "splashy" deal at any cost. The Rangers screwed us by refusing permission for the Nats to speak to Soriano before the trade, but that should have been a huge red flag. It seems everyone involved, including Cap'n Hook, was seduced by Alfonso's undeniable offensive gifts.

Those same gifts have made Soriano indifferent to the fact that he's just a bad infielder. There's anecdotal evidence from his days in New York that he might be a very good outfielder. But conflicting reports from Texas suggest that Alf has concentration problems... and the last thing we need is a narcoleptic patrolling the canyons at RFK.

Who's to blame here? Everyone, with a slight edge going against the Nats because they ignored volumes of evidence that A-Sor was openly hostile to the idea of changing positions. Nevertheless, Alfonso has to move to the outfield. Having Alfonso replace Cristian Guzman at shortstop is a superficially attractive idea, because it allows us to jettison The Royce Clayton Experiment, but at this stage of his career Soriano has about as much experience at short as he does in left. And if he's a bad second baseman, there's no reason to think he won't be a worse shortstop.

I do feel bad for Soriano, he was by all accounts happy in Texas. (Who wouldn't be happy hitting in that park?) But I don't feel bad enough to excuse him from buckling down, cashing his $10M paycheck, and suffering through one season in the outfield before heading back to the American League to DH and boot routine grounders. It's time to cowboy up, A-Sor. If Michael Tucker heads north with a starting job, you will be held to account.

March 17, 2006

Just when you thought the wheels might fall off...

With Nate crying into green beer over Guzmania's problems, the WBC claims one of our own.

Ayala is out.

"and will miss the entire 2006 season."

Yeah, this WBC was a brilliant idea.

March 16, 2006

Gratias Tibi Ago, Domine

Alas! Alack! Alas and alack! GUZMANIA! has gone off the tracks! Cristian Guzman's injury is proof that while God may answer the heartfelt prayers of millions, he does it in his own sweet time. So to all of you who prayed for Cristian to suffer a serious injury long about June of last year... thanks a lot!

I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin's work on The West Wing (not to be confused with the current mindless schlock that's running out the clock for the series.) One of my favorite episodes is Two Cathedrals, from the 2nd season. There's a soliloquy, partly in Latin, toward the end of the episode that I find particularly relevant to our current situation:

You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God...
haec credam a deo pio, a deo justo, a deo scito?
cruciatus in crucem!
tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui; officium perfeci.
cruciatus in crucem -- eas in crucem!

You get Clayton.

March 15, 2006

What is Success?

And in the spirit of asking dumb questions, as the excitement over the stadium calms down and everyone has their comment out there...

Before the season starts, what do we consider success? What is a good year?

Last year, Watson, Nate and I came to the conclusion that we thought a good year would be .500. (And what the hell, we got it). We haven't even discussed it yet this year, but I thought I would throw out the question again.

What is a good season for us?

As I've mentioned before, I just love being at the ball park, so I think one of my gauges of success will be if I make it to 15 games, have a Chipwich at at least 7, and make it to Coyote Ugly once after a game. (Bonus points if they let me wear my jersey inside -- I've been turned away before. Apparently, 3 white/transparent guys in Nats Jerseys is potential gang-wear). I made it to 20 last year, so I'm being a little conservative. Success will also be beating the Orioles on Jun 24 at Camden Yards, since the NTP crew will be there, although I have to put this in optional.

But in the team sense, what will success mean? I think we're looking at a team that isn't as strong as last years -- that seems to be my impression, and while Nate can probably pull out numbers to support or deny this claim, that seems right to me. So based on that, .500 seems like it won't happen? Is a losing team success for us? Is it a reach for 79-81?

Is declaring an owner part of our success package? Will that make us happy? Does it have to be a particular owner, or just "any" owner at this point?

I've been trying to come up with my own answer, and I'm not sure. You don't want to go into a season saying "a less than 500 season is a winner" (because it's not), but I also don't want to set the bar so high as to be totally disappointed.

So I think I'm going to try something else. Rather than judge it by total wins/losses (which I think will just serve to depress me), I present....

Dave's (Personal) List of Success.

For the team....

1. During the season, at least one 6 game winning streak.
2. Not to be mathematically eliminated before Sept 5 (which does happen to be my birthday).
3. Nick Johnson to only be on the DL at total of 20 days or less.
4. Chad Cordero has 20 saves or more. Being conservative, but trying!
5. John Patterson has a record that includes 12 wins. Hoping for run support, this is more than last year
6. Guzmania delivers a Batting Average better than .260, and hits 30 dingers. I'm trying to recreate 2004 for him. If he hits Nate's predictions, so much the better.
7. Zimmerman delivers, and we see a solid ball player.

and for myself...

8. Attendance at 15 games.
9. Chipwich's at at least 5 games.
10. One entry into Coyote Ugly after a game
11. One night of total stupidity at the ball park, involving not driving and a lot of beer.
12. A win on Jun 24, just to have some personal gratification on beating the Orioles while at Camden Yards decked out in Nats gear.

Who else has something? Are we really looking at a depressing sub-.500 year (and thus should take comfort in little things like those above), or am I setting the bar too low?

March 14, 2006

I'd Walk 607 Feet for a New Stadium

First, Lease Day. Now, Stadium Day. Next, Owner Day? (Followed shortly, one hopes, by Tar-and-Feather Jim Bowden Day.) But today... today was a day to celebrate mediocre architecture. I'm sorry, I know this is good news, but I'm underwhelmed. It's exactly what I was expecting. Click here for WaPo's virtual tour of the animated mock-ups of the theoretical stadium.

Miss Chatter was all over this story. I continue to be amazed by the industry and ingenuity of the Nats Blogosphere, whose members have obtained press credentials, interviewed leading authors and slashed Jim Bowden's tires. (Ok, not the last one, but a guy can dream.) Other Natmosphere reactions here, here, here, here and here, but not here.

My take: There are a few nice touches... the asymetrical outfield, the grand staircase leading into the stadium, the relationship between the rounded stadium exterior and the sharply-angled team offices. There are a few serious issues... the stratospheric upper decks, the cliched outfield restaurant that Capitol Punishment considers an homage to the 1960's National Park Service aesthetic, the freakin' PARKING GARAGE beyond the outfield! (The first time someone's windshield gets busted, expect a new round of steroid testing.) But overall, the impression is just blah. It's not strikingly ugly. It's safe, it's functional, it's definitely from the same people who brought you the Washington Convention Center.

But really, all that is nitpicking. Any new home buyer can testify that $611 million don't go as far as it ought to in the D.C.-area, and this is what it buys when you have no owner, no single unified vision, and no one to foot the bill for the limestone, glass, architectural flourishes and gold-plated bidets needed to make an iconic stadium. MLB and the city missed an opportunity to craft something great, but I'm confident that 41,000 bleacher bouncin' fans on a summer night can make up for that.

March 12, 2006

Broadway is Dark Tonight

The federal Receding Hairline Mapping Project just got a three year funding commitment. Nick Johnson signed a 3-year, $16.5M contract extension that could keep him around until the new stadium opens. Congratulations to Nick the Stick, who does everything you could ask of a big league player except stay healthy. Last year's bruised foot was the textbook definition of a freak injury, but it came on the heels (pun intended) of a broken cheekbone, a strained back, a fractured hand and a slew of other injuries. Still, as the WaPo article notes, $5.5M/year could end up being a steal for a player with Nick's skills. Those of you with surplus good karma are implored to send some Nicky's way. Four consecutive healthy seasons isn't too much to ask, right?

The big loser here is minor league 1B Larry Broadway, who was optioned out of big league camp earlier this week. Broadway is a lot like Nick the Stick, a big lefty first baseman with decent power and a history of injuries. Now that Nick is committed to DC for the forseeable future, Larry has become redundant. Obviously, no franchise really needs two injury-prone lefty corner infielders, but Nats Farm Authority makes a good argument for keeping him around, at least until that Larry Broadway for Jake Peavy deal comes together.

Jim Bowden, fresh off his own contract extension, has apparently decided which Nats he would build around, if given the opportunity. With Johnson and Brian Schneider signed to long-term deals, Trader Jim is turning his attention to injured right fielder Jose Guillen and petulant won't-be left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Neither of these guys deserves a long-term deal from the Nats, and the possibility that either or both might get one is just one more reason that Jim Bowden should be shown the door the day after new ownership is announced, regardless of how disruptive it might be to the franchise.

Speaking of new ownership, check out Capitol Punishment for Fred Malek's homestyle BBQ recipe. Remember kids, if Fred Malek ever invites you to a tailgate party, Just Say No.

Spring Training Update: J-Patt still looks good; Livan still looks fat, and Ramon Ortiz still sucks.

March 8, 2006

A Foundation to Build On

As good news goes, it doesn't quite rival the collapse of global communism... or even the invention of stain-resistant khakis. (Don't you hate pants?) But on the sliding scale Nationals fans use to judge progess, this qualifies as a bona fide red-letter day. The D.C. City Council reaffirmed the stadium lease agreement signed by Major League Baseball earlier this week.

In years to come, this entire process ought to be taught in graduate schools as a case study in how not to negotiate major public works projects. Having said that, I'm extending a sincere "Thank You" to the city council. The mayor and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission negotiated a terrible deal for the city when Les Expos were originally shopping for a new home. It may have been the only deal that would have landed the Nationals at RFK, but it put the city over a barrel on any number of issues. The council wasn't a party to those inital negotiations, and 3 members of the council that approved the relocation agreement were lame-ducks about to be replaced by anti-baseball politicians.

All of which is to say that the city council could have torpedoed the new stadium, blamed Mayor Williams and Bud Selig for negotiating a lousy deal, and strolled off into the sunset without suffering any serious political damage with D.C. voters. Instead, they hung in, tried to improve the agreement at the margins (and provide a little political cover) and, in the end made a tough vote in favor of a project that was never terribly popular with a majority of D.C. residents.

So here's to the D.C. City Council, a model of effective dysfunctionality. And here's to Nats Triple Play's season ticket investment paying off in front row seats at the new Marion Barry Memorial Stadium in the spring of 2008 (or 2009.)

UPDATE: Fairfax County Nats fans will be able to see MASN on Cox Cable this season! Pity those of us remaining under the oppressive thumb of Comcast.

March 3, 2006

The season is almost here . . .

With the Oscars just around the corner and Spring Training getting underway it’s time for every Nationals fan out there to get themselves back into fighting shape for the season. You have to be mentally ready for the ups and downs of a season. If you’re not prepared for months of injuries, losing streaks, open auditions for a fifth starter, and the never ending saga of second base it’s going to be very hard to enjoy this year. In order to prepare for the brutality of the long MLB season the three of us here at NTP highly suggest you follow our time tested methods for gearing up for the season. Without any further ado, we present the Baseball Movie List. Each of these films has been carefully selected to enhance your season enjoyment.

1) Our first selection is Major League. This first offering is designed to ease you back into the game of baseball. We know you’ve been binging on Football all winter and it’s important that you start slowly. Major League doesn’t take itself to seriously, something that’s truly important for all Nationals fans. The movie follows a team of miscreant baseball has-beens and never-will-bes as they rise above their own mediocrity to try and clinch the divisional pennant. They’re challenged at every step of the way by a cast-iron bitch of an owner who desperately wants to move the team to Miami. There are three important things to come away with. First, if a group of ragtag castoffs and past their prime veterans can overcome their differences off the field to focus on winning, magic can happen. Second, it always helps to have a slightly crazy manager who occasionally makes a move that makes absolutely zero sense. And thirdly, you should come away with these one-liners memorized. Their use at a ball game is mandatory.

  • “Yo, bartender, Jobu needs a refill.”

  • “Too high, too high. It wasn’t too high, it was too hard. Too high, too hard, who gives a shit, it's gone”

  • “Just a bit outside”

  • bonus points for “How’s your wife and my kids”

2) The second film on our training regimen is the great minor league epic, Bull Durham. This was Kevin Costner’s first celluloid journey into baseball. Bull Durham follows two minor leaguers, the up-and-coming fire-baller Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh and the aging veteran Crash Davis. Crash has one last shot at baseball and it’s mentoring the brash control shy Nuke who, as Crash says, “couldn't hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat.” Bull Durham serves as a good second course because it combines the free spirit of Major League with the spiritual side of baseball. It helps to be reminded that while baseball it a game, it provides more than just amusement. As Annie quotes Walt Whitman, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us." That sentiment will be very comforting to think of in the middle of the Yankees series when Frank gets ejected arguing about Soriano’s missed tag on Johnny Damon. Hopefully whomever the Nats voice is will offer up “and frankly, sports fans, he used a word that's a no-no with umpires.” Bull Durham is full of lots of great quotes too, all of which are mandatory at the ball game.

3) Our third film is Costner’s other great baseball drama. For the record, anybody who thought of "For the Love of the Game" just now should be shot. We are of course talking about Field of Dreams. Another look at the spiritual side of baseball, Field of Dreams underscores the tremendous connection to the past that baseball offers us. The great James Earl Jones points out that generation to generation “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” This is particularly important to Nationals fans. Washington was once the home of a great baseball slogan “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”. That slogan which was once good could be good again, although we’re in the N.L. now. Also important are the mysterious words “If you build it, they will come”. In the movie this is coming from a cornfield, but in our reality this is coming from Tony Williams and he’s talking about tax dollars.

4) Fourth on our carefully crafted plan is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This is an optional assignment but the serious fan should partake. However, this should be considered a must for any fan planning on attending a day game. Of particular interest are the scenes at Wrigley Field. It’s always funny to bust out “You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym”.

5) The Natural is our fifth selection. This is hands down the greatest baseball movie of all time. Enough said.

6) And finally, to truly prepare a Nationals fan for the season we cap off our list with Apocalypse Now. Sure it’s a war movie that has zero baseball in it, but this bizarre journey into the soul of a madman is the closest we can come to approximating the off-season. It’s important that we all recover from the last five months if we’re going to get the most enjoyment out of the upcoming season. On second thought, maybe we should make this one first on the list.

March 2, 2006

A Victory for Climate Change

Thursday's Spring Training opener was bad for the Nationals, but good for the environment. As we all know, "there is statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature." So anything that's good for the Pirates is good for the global climate. And this game was very, very good for the Pirates.

But on to selectively happier news. GUZMANIA 2006! rolls on, as Cristian Guzman contributed 1 of the Nats 11 hits and reached base a second time on an error. Brandon Watson rebounded from his poor showing yesterday, going 2 for 2 with a walk in four innings of work. That's exactly the kind or performance he needs to send A-Sor to the trading block and Michael Tucker to the unemployment line.

March 1, 2006

What Drives You?

Hmmm... a pre-preseason exhibition game against a team owned by a Korean car company? Sure, why not? Anything to avoid talking about Jim Bowden, Bud Selig, Marion Barry or Alfonso Soriano.

Hitters were clearly ahead of the pitchers here. J-Patt gave up 2 runs in 1 inning, The Chief gave up 4 in 1/3 of an inning, and some guy named Mike Bacsik picked up the win by only giving up 2 runs in 3 innings pitched. But hey, our offense was clearly improved... maybe the Mets and Braves will sign a boatload of minor-league caliber Korean pitchers to fill out their rotations. John Smoltz or Swang-Ha Lee? C'mon, go with the Koreans, annoy Cap'n Hook.

Cristian Guzman launched the GUZMANIA 2006! campaign in fine fashion, going 2-2 with an RBI. Unloved OF Ryan Church went 2-3 with an RBI, while alleged CF Brandon Watson recorded an 0'fer. Quasi-catcher Matt "Roach Motel" LeCroy waddled his way to a 3-RBI single and Alex Escobar launched his traditional one spring training home run before landing on the DL for the year.