November 30, 2007

Farewell to Two of the Good Guys

WFAN out of New York is reporting (and Newsday confirms) that the Nats have sent OF Ryan Church and C Brian Schneider to the Mets for OF Lastings Milledge. This is easily the biggest deal the Nats have pulled off since acquiring Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner from the Reds in 2006.

Ryan Church has been the sacred cow of the Natosphere for almost as long as there's been a Natosphere. (Just look for Ryan Church within two words of "sacred cow," you'll find it.) Not too long ago I argued that Church was a better fit in centerfield than almost any of the free agent options. After all a CF with a .271/.348/.462 career line isn't a Hall-of-Famer, but it's nothing to sneeze at, either. For a team on a budget, which the Nats insist on being, that kind of production from center is downright valuable.

The problem is, the team/front office never seemed to see Ryan the way us basement-dwellers did. He was too fragile, too surly, not enough of a pure speed and defense guy to be a prototypical fly-catching fielder. When you lose time to Nook Logan and Brandon Watson you know it's just not your franchise. So, though we've always liked Church, there's a small part of us that's happy he's out of the organization. Of course, being crucified by the NY press for misplaying a flyball probably makes being subtly needled by the front office a positively enjoyable experience.

Officer Schneider just always struck us as one all right dude. Blue collar, lunch-pail, catch and throw, no hit backstop. The kind of catcher a struggling, scrappy team ought to have. And whatever proportion of credit or blame he deserves for the rollcoaster pitching of 2005-2007 he gets points for going out there almost every day and cleaning up the slop. Brian was never great, but he was never taking playing time from anyone better either. Hopefully working with a mostly veteran staff in NY will take some of the pressure off and let him get his stroke back. Just remember Brian, next time Pedro plunks somebody we're coming after you.

Of course, this leaves a sizable hole at catcher (Are You There, Jesus?), and doesn't really solve the CF issue (Milledge? Kearns? Pena? teh Nook? ::shudder::), but for now, we'll just say goodbye to two more of the original 2005 Nationals, and farewell and good luck to two of the good guys.

Welcome aboard, Lastings Milledge!

P.S. - The Mets blogs are almost universally up-in-arms, though in fairness they've been on the verge of up-in-armedness all offseason. Blowing a playoff spot on the last weekend of the season'll do that to you.


It's Lastings Milledge + 1. The Nats are on the
verge of re-signing lefty relief pitcher (and designated "man-planet") Ray King. The deal is a non-guaranteed minor league contract with an $850K payday if The Burger King makes the 25-man roster. His overall 2007 record was nothing to write home about but "Sugar" Ray was still brutal on lefties, to the tune of .187/.276/.347.

King has vowed to report to Spring Training in the best shape of his career. Perfectly spherical, perhaps? It could be just a coincidence that this news comes on the same day that Officer Schneider, chief of the
Skittle Police, was shipped off to the Big (Organically Grown) Apple, but I doubt it. In any case, Lastings may want to use that vaunted speed to guarantee he's first in line for the buffet. Lord knows you don't want to end up behind Ray and Dmitri.

November 21, 2007

The Dukes Hazard

Once again troubled (Devil) Rays OF Elijah Dukes is back in the hot stove gossip. Dukes is playing winter ball for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican League. Nats third base coach Tim Tolman is managing the Tigers. Manny Acta is from the Dominican, and has been back to visit since winter ball started. Even a novice DC conspiracy theorist could spin a pretty good yarn with just those facts. And basically, those facts are all we have. Jim Bowden was uncharacteristically unavailable for comment. (Passed out under a table or chained up in Kasten's basement? We report, you decide.)

Rocket Bill Ladson notes that the while the Nats have expressed interest in Dukes, they're looking to buy low on the scandal-plagued youngster. Dukes, you'll remember, had an on-going cell phone based disagreement with his estranged wife and doesn't seem to have met a teenager he hasn't impregnated. On the field his nice long vacation from the (Devil) Rays this season was just the cherry on top of a couple of past minor league suspensions. Long story short, Dukes has problems like the Titanic had leaks.

At this point I could go one of two ways. I could talk about how everyone deserves a second chance, and kids, especially talented, pampered athletes from less than stable backgrounds are a p
retty good bet to screw up at some point. I could say this 23-year old has plenty of time to turn his life around both on and off the field. I could note that Jim Bowden has a pretty good track record dispensing second chances and observe that our own lovable tub o' goo Dmitri Young is living proof that maybe somebody's life story shouldn't be reduced to the single worst thing they ever did. And I could say all those things with conviction, because I believe them. I just don't think they apply here.

I don't want Elijah Dukes to be a member of the Washington Nationals. I don't want him to put on a uniform and be held up as a representative of my team and my city. I don't want him to be a symbol of what the Nationals stand for or what DC-area children should aspire to. It's not often that character trumps talent in professional sports. But this is one time when it damn well should.

Some athletes, like Josh Hamilton, come right to the brink of squandering their prodigious talent before they figure it out. Others, like Young, have a good reputation marred by one unforgivable incident. And some guys, like Robert Fick, just do stupid things because, well, they're kinda stupid. Elijah Dukes is in another category. He's not Hamilton, who was mostly just hurting himself. He's not Dmitri Young, who had a 30-year track record of being a pretty okay guy to fall back on. And he's not Fick, who will forever be linked to one inexplicable dumbass on-field decision. Right now, Elijah Dukes is a danger to himself and a detriment to everyone he comes into contact with.

I hope Elijah Dukes gets his personal life straightened out, and goes on to a long and successful professional baseball career. And I hope he does it without ever donning the Curly W. On this Thanksgiving Eve I am thankful that, for the moment, Elijah Dukes plays for someone else.

November 7, 2007

Is It Spring Training Yet?

Jeez, I really didn't mean to let a month and change go by, but obviously it did. The Rockies had a nice long winning streak followed abruptly by a much shorter losing streak, Alex Rodriguez announced mid-Series that he is in fact the money-grubbing manwhore everyone assumed he was and the Red Sox nipped that nasty 2-year old curse in the bud. Meanwhile, Josh Whitesell has assumed the Larry Broadway Memorial "marginally talented first baseman who's destined never to sniff the big leagues" mantle, Justin Maxwell is making a strong push to be the everyday starting centerfielder for the Harrisburg Senators, Zimm broke his (Gold Glove) hand and the Nats have still, inexplicably, not cut ties with Robert Fick. I think that catches me up.

As usual, it's not that I have nothing to say, it's just that I have nothing to that hasn't already been said a half dozen times, with equal or greater snark. Besides, in case you haven't noticed most of the first generation Nats blogs have pretty much
died off, re-purposed or been turned into shadows of their former selves by now, leaving only the obnoxious, the prospect-y, the nautical and the vaguely Canadian. There's only so much to be said about a professional baseball team and frankly, letting a thousand flowers bloom requires a hell of a lot of weeding. I'm comfortable that Chris, Brian, MissC, Harper and various and sundry others do a fabulous job covering all the angles of all things Nats.

Fear not, we're not closing up shop, maybe just shuttering for the winter. I have neither the time nor the inclination to weigh in on every rumored 5-way trade that would send The Chief, Ryan Church, Kory Casto and Nancy Pelosi to Houston and somehow net us Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Pelfrey, Asdrubal Cabrera and young thinner Elvis in return.

Likewise, I am suffering extreme free agent centerfielder fatigue. At this point they're distinguishable only by the varying levels of revulsion their signing would generate within me. Torii Hunter/Aaron Rowand = HIGH; Andruw Jones/Mike Cameron = MEDIUM; Anyone else = LOW but WTF? While we're on the topic, let me just deal with the
Rocco Baldelli thing now. Rocco's not so much occasionally injured as he is occasionally healthy. I can only get behind this if the Nats are willing to go all in and bring back Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling in a blatant attempt to get the best possible group health insurance rate.

OK, that about covers it. I'll certainly check in again if the Nats land A-Rod. Hell, I can probably pull a paragraph together if they land Mike Lamb. In the meantime, Happy Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Chanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, 2008, MLK Day, President's Day and any indigenous celebrations I may have overlooked.