July 31, 2007

Heading to the game

Not to take away from Nate, but the boys from NTP are setting up shop in section 313 tonight, and if you're around, say hi. We promise to attempt to deliver at least one snarky or comedic comment.

Look for the jerseys halfway back.

Drop Deadline

It's looking more and more like the trade deadline will come and go without any moves from the Nationals front office, and I'm getting more and more okay with that. With Belliard and Young under long-term contracts the team's most attractive trading chips are reliever Jon Rauch, closer Chad Cordero and outfielder Ryan Church. All are young (or young-ish) none are on the cusp of free agency, and only the Chief makes anything like big money.

The Nationals are not the San Francisco Giants. They don't have a pressing need to get younger for the sake of getting younger. Trading guys in their mid-to-late 20s for guys in their early 20s just because the latter are prospects is every bit as dumb as holding on to guys in their mid-to-late 30s just because they are established vets. (Hi Dmitri!) The whole point of the operation has to be to get better. Judging by the deadline deals completed so far, if your name isn't Mark Teixeira, you're not netting big league ready prospects in a trade. If the Nats aren't being offered prospects with higher ceilings than the guys we already have, then no move is the right move.

A Big, Fat Payday

I guess Trader Jim is under the impression that July 31st, in addition to being the non-waiver trade deadline, is the "sign all your hefty infielders to multi-year contract extensions" deadline. Apparently Trader Jim is also under the impression that the National League will be adopting the DH next season. But believe it or not, that's the end of the snarky cynicism for this post. The knee-jerk reaction will be to say that this is another Bonehead Bowden move, Cristian Guzman Redux. I just can't get behind that this time.

I don't hate this contract. I don't love it either; 1-yr/$4M or 2-yrs/$6M and I'd like it a whole lot more. Still, the longer I think about it, the less terrible it seems. And here are those thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Dmitri was a scrap heap find, but that's not the same thing as saying he was a scrap heap player. We got him at a discount because he had personal and professional issues, but the available evidence suggests he's worked through those. And if you can tie some of his physical decline to his previously untreated diabetes, then maybe this bounce back season isn't an isolated one year wonder.

  • Someone has to play first base for the rest of the season and (possibly) into next year. Look, I know this team ain't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean I want to see Robert Fick trotting out to the 3-spot every day. Nick Johnson appears determined to challenge John Patterson's record for longest rehab, and Dmitri's not exactly blocking a hot young 1B down on the farm. If Johnson is done, then someone has to replace him anyway. And for all the talk of diamonds in the rough finding someone to replace Nick's stats (which is essentially what Da Meat Hook has done) is not a proposition best left to free agency dumpster diving.

  • What were the alternatives? The trade market appears deader than a joint Fred Malek-Michael Vick kennel club. The Mark Teixeira deal (if finalized) made a splash, but tell me who the Twins got for Luis Castillo, or what Kyle Lohse netted the Reds. Next to nothing. If it was hard to get value for Alfonso Soriano, imagine how next to impossible it is to get anything for Dmitri Young. Yet in arbitration Young may well have commanded a one year contract above $5M. (As a point of reference Felipe Lopez's stinker of an '07 will probably still net him an arbitration award in the $5-6M range. Ain't baseball grand?)

  • It's not like the Nationals don't have the money. Bumping the payroll up by $4.5M a season over the next two years ought to be a drop in the bucket of salary increases. Of course, this one is conditional. If the team uses this signing as a dodge to avoid the free agent market then yes, it's torches and pitchforks time for our skinflint overlords. But I'll allow for the benefit of the doubt on this one.
I understand and respect all of Needham's concerns. But it's all speculative at this point. If Dmitri doesn't need to replace Nick, can't play a passable left field and the team ends up with a $5M pinch hitter then yes, terrible signing. But still not a crippling one. Even if Young's contract turns out to be a mistake it's not the kind of flexibility killing move that will haunt the franchise for a decade. (I'm looking at you, Todd Helton's contract.) At worst it's a waste of money that should have been spent elsewhere. And if that happens, ownership should pony up the replacement cash and hold Bowden and Kasten responsible. But that reckoning is over the horizon today. Instead, I present Nats Triple Play's first ever LOLDmitri:

July 26, 2007

I feel the pain

Oh, lord.

This is how it becomes painful. I was ok with the thought of losing the game going in to the ninth. It happens -- you lose some. But a rally by the Nats made my hopes rise.

And we go to the bottom of the ninth.... and Jimmy Rollins hits what should be a tough-to-run-but-doable catch in the outfield. Instead, Langerhans and Church just run into one another -- then can't relay to Lopez. Rollins manages to round the bases and tie the game back up. Church had it in his glove, but hits Langerhans. Nate, I'm not seeing your Langerhanscendentalism.

This is the same problem I had on that fateful Saturday. This just seems like sloppy play.

Nats lose 7-5 in the 14th.

July 25, 2007

Too funny not to comment

Doing my morning roundup of news, blogs, and stupidity, I found this quote in the comments of this story:

"If the Nats trade Zimmerman they would be absolute morons and I'd immediately sell all my Nats hats and stuff.

I hope they keep Young, I like him, and I hope they trade Ryan Church for anything. A minor leaguer, a pizza, a pile of sticks, whatever"

I say we get a pile of sticks. Not because I think we should trade Church, but because it's one of those brilliant ideas I can only think of after four beers. Kudos to Andrew W for thinking of it without that much beer.

July 23, 2007

Good for Ronnie; Bad for FLop?

The Post is reporting that Ronnie Belliard has signed a 2-year extension that will keep him with the Nationals through the 2009 season. Terms, per Barry's "major league source" are: $1.6M for 2008, $1.9M for 2009, grand total of $3.5M for the life of the deal. It's a healthy raise over the $850,000 Ronnie's making this year, but not at all out of line for a top utility infielder and sometime starting second baseman.

Everything I said about Belliard when he came on board last spring still holds true. He's versatile, dependable and a steadying presence in the field or off the bench. He's been the Nats best pinch hitter and a better than average fill-in at second base. Jim Bowden excels at identifying diamonds in the rough, but nothing says the Nats have to turn over half the roster every offseason. Keeping Belliard in the fold gives the Nats middle infield flexibility, and between GUZMANIA's injury history and Felipe's struggles, that's a good thing.

The $64,000 question of course, is what did the Nats pass up on the trade market by retaining Ronnie? My gut instinct says "not much" but that's based on nothing at all. It's been a very quiet trade market so far this season, and all indications are that nobody's looking to give up prospects for quick fix infield help. It's possible that Ronnie could still be traded, even with this extension, and the larger contract makes it more likely that he'll pass through post deadline waivers, so there may yet be another shoe to drop.

In the meantime, settle in Ronnie, it's nice to have you around for two more years, or some fraction thereof.

UPDATE: Generally positive feedback from our colleagues at Capitol Punishment and Federal Baseball. Typically measured response from Just a Nats Fan. And this comment pretty much sums it all up: "
There are far worse ways for an MLB GM to spend 3.5 mil."


It's hard to take real pleasure from being a Nats fan this season. Even when they pull out a game or a series it's a little like watching a 3-legged dog learn to walk. Sure it's heartwarming and even inspirational in it's way, but you know that puppy ain't winning Westminster.

What does satisfy is the reaction of other fans when their team loses to the Nats. Our franchise seems to have become, at this point in the season, a bellwether for determining if other clubs are contenders or pretenders. Drop a series to the Nationals? The Washington Nationals? May as well fold the tent, trade the veterans and start planning for next season. Settle for a split? TR4DE FOUR MANNY!!1! pronto! Win? Okay, well that's a nice launching pad for the next series against [insert real baseball team here].

For examples of the phenomenon in action just look here and here. We seem to have put a fork in the Astros' season and sowed some serious seeds of doubt in those playoff pretenders in Denver. There are healthy doses of "Jason Bergmann?!?!" and " WHO the FECK is MIKE BACSICK?!?!"

Ahhh... refreshing.

July 21, 2007

A weekend

My wife and I went to the ballpark on Friday night. We elected to go just the two of us -- it seemed like a beautiful night to spend at RFK. We were right.

The game was a good one; we were really just enjoying the night and wanted to be outside. The ballpark did the job for that. Ah, the magic of a summer night.

It's also worth noting that Fox did us quite the disservice this weekend. The Saturday game was intended to be our one nationally televised game. By choosing not to air the game, MASN wasn't able to air it either. Thus, no TV broadcast. Shame on everyone for not working that out.

July 20, 2007

Better to be Terrible Than Bad

If this post comes off rambling, disjointed and incoherent then Congratulations! you're in the right place. But seriously, I have a little bit to say about a lot of topics, and haven't marshaled the energy to put together an honest-to-God comprehensive post in many moons (or, some would say, ever.) So here we go, stream o' conciousness-style:

The just completed Astros series is a useful object lesson in the wisdom of just writing off a season every decade or so in the name of building from the ground up. I'm no cheerleader for "The Plan", that job is most assuredly spoken for. Hell, there's a whole cheerleading squad shaping up. But I will say this for the front office, they were nothing but upfront with their intentions for this season and, so far as I can tell from my perch in Section 313, they've been very consistent in adhering to the program.

Would you rather be an Astros fan? Or a Pirates fan? Or (God forbid) a Philles fan. It's incredibly easy to put $60 - 80 million dollars worth of mediocrity on a major league baseball field. The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise stands as evidence that you can sustain bad low budget teams for a decade or more. (Quick, name the P-Rats All-Star representative.) The Orioles are proof positive that you can do the exact same thing for twice the money. (Who's the Os top hitting prospect? No, Matt Wieters hasn't signed yet.) So the Washington Nationals aren't a good baseball team, that's a given. Universal assent to that proposition has been sought and granted. But they're not historically terrible either. In a league with the Devil Rays, Reds, Astros and Rangers, the Nationals aren't even the most interesting bad team going. There's relatively little drama in a bad team scraping by on the verge of mediocrity.

The alternative is to be the Astros. They (and many others) thought they'd be players in the incredibly weak NL Central this season. Whoops! not so much. And that's with Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, cheap hit king Craig Biggio and a park where Brandon Watson hit a home run. Now they're spinning their wheels 1/2 game better than the Nats and wondering what parts to jettison come July 31st. It's much better to be in Washington, resigned to rebuilding Year One of 3 or 4, than to be in Pittsburgh, contemplating Year 9 of infinity.

Speaking of Which...

I'm beginning to come around to the don't trade Dmitri and Ronnie school of thought. Hear me out, because there are caveats aplenty. The farm system still needs all the help it can get, and then some. Even with a series of good drafts (which we don't know if we have yet) the minor leagues are so barren that our best team is probably the GCL Nationals, a team full of high schoolers and Dominican teenagers. But even with that said, there's no point in bringing in 20, 21, 22-year olds just to bring them in. Young players are inherently valuable for a number of reasons (developmental potential, club control) but they're not better just by virtue of being younger.

Young and Belliard are, right now, better than hundreds of guys in A-ball will ever be. Next season they'll still be better than hundreds if not thousands of guys in professional baseball. And they're not exactly surplus, they are the offensively superior half of the starting infield. I understand the hue and cry for prospects, and the desperate need to restock the farm system. (As an aside, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Chris Young would look pretty good in the ol' Curly W, damn you Bud Selig.) But the point is to stock the farm system with good players, not just new players.

Nobody's surrendering premium prospects for a DH/1B having a career year at the age of 33 or a 32-year old 2B/utility infielder. Dmitri's a nice player, but he's no Alfonso Soriano and we all remember how that turned out. But that's not what I'm talking about. It ought to go without saying that getting something for Young or Belliard implies getting something of value, but sometimes I think that gets washed out in the "They have to trade him" drumbeat. And though it pains me to say it, I trust Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo and Stan Kasten to get something of value for Young and Belliard, or sit on their hands if they can't make a deal. If they go, I'll be happy and root for the youngsters. If they stay I'll be happy and root for a batting title. It's a rare no-lose proposition for a Nats fan.

A Religious Conversion of Sorts

GUZMANIA! is, by all reports, on the shelf for the season. So I've been hunting around for a new mildly unhealthy Nats-related obsession. And I believe I've settled on LANGERHANSCENDENTALISM!, hereafter abbreviated LHS! (You may have noticed that I have a penchant for latching on to players at the nadir of their season or career. It's called getting in on the ground floor.)

I can't really explain my interest in the Nats sometime centerfielder except to say that Langerhans is the embodiment of American Transcendentalism. His talent is not empirically verifiable. It does not lend itself to averages, percentages or the cold logic of hits, runs and RBIs. His value must be experienced first hand. The flat out running catch, the serendipitous 3-run dinger, the incredulous backward K.

Rumor has it that Manny will finish out the season with an Escobar-Church-Kearns outfield. On the plus side this should put an end to the heretical Nook Logan movement. In the minus column it will consign LHS! to the dreaded role of 4th OF/defensive sub. We all know Langerhans can fulfill this role. But it's a dreadful waste of his God-given talents. LHS! is the ballhawk that Logan and Brandon Watson were rumored to be. And you must admit the guy has a knack for multi-RBI homers. So come to RFK and watch LHS! in action. If you squint, the Anacostia looks almost like Walden Pond.

July 10, 2007

The Grim Reaper has Bleacher Seats

So I watched the Home Run Derby last night and it looked like a beautiful day out in San Francisco. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. That's great if you're a tourist walking the streets but I swear it was going to mean the death of some of the kids in the outfield.

Every year at the Derby the outfield is crowded with young kids who catch the fly balls that don't make it out of the park. I figure they're the kids of team executives, players, coaches, or whichever big wigs have that kind of access. It's always funny to see forty kids all try to pick up the same ground ball. That wasn't the case yesterday.

The sun was beaming down so brightly that the kids couldn't follow the ball. And because AT&T park has that deep right center field there were a lot of moon shots that didn't make it over the fence. These kids are staring blindly up into space while hundred mile-per-hour meteorites are dropping out of the sky. At one point a ball missed someone's little girl by about two feet. MLB and the national disgrace are damn lucky nobody got hurt yesterday. Even the announcers mentioned it.

I can hear Chris Berman now ". . . and the ball goes back, back, back, back and oh no that ball just flattened little Timmy!"

July 2, 2007

Halfway to Nowhere

Midseason. A time for reflection. A time for taking stock. Perhaps time for a vacation. Looking back over a half season highlighted by Da Meat Hook's All-Star turn, and lowlighted by darn near everything else, it's report card time. And after careful consideration, the crack research staff here at Nats Triple Play is ready to grade the first half:

Player Acquisition: B-

The offseason brought us Dmitri, Ronnie Belliard, Jesus Colome, Jason Simontacchi and Mike Bacsik, all of whom have contributed to keeping the
Titanic of franchises from becoming the Posiedon of franchises. But that's damning with faint praise, isn't it? Achieving the same level of craptacularity for less money is nice for the Lerners, and it gives rise to good "back from the scrap heap" stories, but have any of these guys actually improved the team in any measurable way? Even Meat Hook is, at best, a placeholder for Nick Johnson, may he rest in pieces.

On-field Performance: D+

Plan or no plan, 33-48 is nothing to be proud of; and it's been an ugly 33 wins. The "
good" players have been mediocre. The mediocre players have been terrible. And the terrible players just won't take a f***ing hint and go away. The pitching staff is held together by duct tape, bailing wire and whichever pitcher's 2004 shoulder surgery seems to be finally healed up this week. The "staff ace" fled to Canadia to avoid the draft or something and our best pitcher has more doctors on retainer than Cedars-Sinai.

Off-field Performance: A

No suspensions, not even any ejections fer chrissakes. No arrests, no acquisitions of alleged baby seal clubbers. Even the guys with
checkered pasts have been Eagle Scouts under the new Manny-gerial regime. Frankly, it's a little dull. We miss Jose Guillen.

Second Half Outlook: F

Blow it up, burn it down, sow the ruins with salt. Seriously, if you thought this team was bad, subtract Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard from the starting lineup and think again. We're talking about two months of starting Robert Fick
and Bernie Castro, together, every day. Think about that power outage. The pitching staff is a crap shoot, right? Factor out Micah Bowie and The Chief. The challenge for July, August and September 2007 isn't going to be improving on the first half record, it's going to be scoring more than two runs a game while giving up less than seven.

: Incomplete

We've spilled
quite enough ink on this subject. Man, it was fun while it lasted. And despite what Harper thinks, you will be able to look back and pin the total collapse of the Nats season on Josh Barfield giving Cristian that broken handjob. (Take that, Google search engine!) It's the Trickle Down theory. No rested, renewed Guz slapping out doubles at the top of the lineup means no productive outs for the RZA and no RBIs for Meat Hook. Voodoo Guzmanomics? I think not.

Speaking of
GUZMANIA!, it has come to our attention that another blog has taken up the cause. This is all well and good. The missionary zeal of the One Tru Faith knows no bounds. But nestled deep in the bowels of the NTP bunker, we take a certain amount of pride in having unleashed GUZMANIA! upon the world after a drunken scrabble game went horribly awry one evening. In the months and years since, we have nurtured our Guzmanic beliefs through many ordeals and crises of faith.

So, Kyle and (j)on,
welcome to the club. There are punch and cookies enough for all after the meetings.