December 31, 2007

Sales Pitch

The Nationals offseason has produced an offensive influx (offensive in more ways than one). However, Stan & Jim's Home for the Criminally Talented has done next to nothing to improve a very bad starting pitching staff. Due respect to Tyler Clippard, Bobby Brownlie, Jason Stanford and Dennis Tankersley, but none of those guys is a difference maker on the mound.

To be sure, there is reason to hope that holdovers John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann will improve with better health and youngsters like Matt Chico, and John Lannan (American Hero) will benefit from their major league experience, but let's be honest, any team that's counting on Tim Redding as a mid-rotation innings-eater is a team with room for improvement.

There are a number of free agent starting pitchers still on the market on the cusp of the New Year. Some are likely to be too expensive for Uncle Teddy's accountants, others too far past their prime and some were just never that good to begin with. The remainder are injury risks or career minor leaguers. You know, like the rest of our starting staff. With that in mind, here are the official NTP Best Bets to occupy the 2008 Jason Simontacchi Memorial Wasted Roster Spot:

  • Bartolo Colon - Bartolo makes ¡Livan! look like Jamey Carroll. He'll be 35 next season, pitched just 155.2 innings over the last two seasons and looked terrible doing it. He's also the only free agent Cy Young winner not given a starring role in the Mitchell Report. If he's recovered from myriad elbow, back and shoulder problems his talent is undeniable. Plus, there's a cosmic justice angle to bringing back the pitcher whose 117 innings in 2002 cost the franchise Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.
  • Jason Jennings - Jennings is just one season removed from being one of the hottest young pitchers in baseball, but man, what a terrible season. Elbow problems sidelined Jennings after 99 innings and a 6.45 ERA. Still, in 2006 Jason posted a 3.78 ERA (130 ERA+) in Colorado's Flying Circus, and he'll be just 30 at mid-season. Like Colon, if he's healthy the talent will shine through.
  • Freddy Garcia - Freddy is probably on the long-term recovery plan, meaning he might require a 2-year deal to see any return on the investment. On the other hand, he can probably be 60-day DL'ed at the first opportunity, meaning that he won't be occupying a roster spot while he rehabs. Before Philly ruined him Garcia pitched 200+ innings in 7 of the previous 8 seasons.
  • Josh Towers - I dunno, just to piss off Peter Angelos? FWIW, Lookout Landing considers Towers the functional equivalent of Carlos Silva. So he's got that going for him.
  • Wade Miller - Miller makes John Patterson look like ¡Livan! Over the past four seasons he's pitched 89, 91, 22 and 14 innings, respectively. The 31-year old does have a career 110 ERA+ though... Consider him an adequate fill-in for J-Pattsy's DL spot if Patterson is miraculously healthy this season.
  • Eric Milton - Technically Milton isn't really one of Jim Bowden's boys, but he is an ex-Red, so anything is possible.
Honorary, "We're Getting the Band back Together!" signings. Would these guys add much to the 2008 Nats? Probably not. Would they help you party like it's 2005? Hell yeah!
  • Livan Hernandez - probably costs too much for too many years, plus ¡Livan!, Ray King, Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard on the same roster probably exceeds Uncle Teddy's post-game buffet budget. But wouldn't it be fun to recreate Opening Night 2005? Maybe the Braves'll sign Lance Cormier so we can boo him all over again! Good times, good times.
  • Tomo Ohka - Time to undo the bad juju surrounding that Junior Spivey trade. Plus, we didn't get nearly enough mileage out of the Tomo Ohka Song.
  • Tony Armas - C'mon, you know you want to. After all, this could be the season he puts it all together. He's only 29. And remember his dad, wasn't he... adequate?
  • Brian Lawrence - He was on the Nats. Swear to God! For like 30 seconds after they traded Vinny Castilla to San Diego. Wasn't that awesome when somebody traded for Vinny Castilla? Good times, good times.
  • Darrell Rasner - Damn you, Jim Bowden! Why must you torment me? Speaking of Darrell Rasner, it might be worth it to turn the tables on the Yanks and take a flyer on recently released SP Matt DeSalvo.

December 21, 2007

A Visit From Jim Bowden

In the days before Christmas, all through the clubhouse
Ray King was stirring gravy to go with his roast grouse.
The mitts were all hung in the lockers with care,
In hopes that Spring Training soon would be there.

The players were snug in their off-season homes,
Surely giving no thought to some dumb blogger's poems;
And Stan in his hardhat, Manny in his cap,
Had just settled in for a well-deserved nap;

When from the front office there arose such a noise,
Uncle Teddy was called and in turn called his boys.
Stan heard the commotion, saw the mad influx,
Were they being burgled, a Watergate redux?

The moon on the breast of the fresh outfield grass
Made a near-perfect backdrop for what came to pass,
For what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a fist-bumping huckster, half tanked on near beer,
Clad in a tracksuit, so lively and trim,
It could be none other than ol' Trader Jim.

Like a hopped up Ben Johnson the players they came,
As he danced, drank and called them by almost right names:
Now, L-Millz! now, Dukes, Pena and other Guzman!
On, Willie! on Kearnsy! Why not Meat Hook too, mon!
From left field to right field! From infield to wall!
What do you mean that I can't play them all?!

As players at the Mitchell Report shrug,
And when faced with a test, just find a new drug,
So on to the roster the outfielders flew,
With a sleigh full of baggage, as JimBo well knew.

In a twinkling, Stan heard, with no hint of contrition
Of the faults and the foibles of each new addition.
Scarce had he recovered, nor even sat down,
When Trader Jim lept through the door with a bound.

He was dressed all in leather from waistband to toe,
And those leather pants glistened with new melted snow.
He had scouting reports and an air of intrigue,
In his hand was a roster - California Penal League.

His eyes - how they sparkled! his dimples how merry!
It was quite clear to all he'd found Manny's cooking sherry!
His phone was ablaze, the fire department was summoned
From stockpiling orphaned players just like Mr. Drummond.

Adjusting his breeches he flashed a tight smile,
There was more talent here than he'd had in a while.
Were they all angels? Most certainly not,
But when you're in fourth place, why not take a shot?

The Edge was too cocky, other Guzman too green,
Could Wily Mo hack it, was Dukes just too mean?
Kearns had worlds of potential but little to show,
Harris nothing but fast, Meat Hook just too darn slow.

JimBo addressed no concerns, but continued his work,
He filled out the roster with Lo Duca, that jerk,
About which Stan said, when given the chance,
In the future, I'm vetting these things in advance.

Then Jim sprang to his sleigh, to the team gave a holler,
I can get Eric Milton for six million dollars!
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
WooHoo, Spring Break!, WooHoo and good-night!”

Wishing Nats fans far and near a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year! - Nate, Dave & Matt

December 17, 2007

The Smoking Gun

What did Stan Kasten know and when did he know it? President Stan took time out from his busy schedule manufacturing life-size, functioning Scott Boras voodoo dolls to make some generic comments about the Mitchell Report. Kasten declined to specifically address questions about catcher Paul Lo Duca, but he did say that clubs were not given advance notice of players to be named in the Report. Lo Duca was signed to a 1-year, $5M deal just days before George Mitchell made his findings public.

I have no problem believing that the Nats didn't get a sneak peek at the Report. What I find harder to believe is that Stan Kasten, savvy baseball man that he is, had no idea that Lo Duca might be a candidate for inclusion in the report. Kasten, Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone have decades of combined major league experience. One thing the Mitchell Report made abundantly clear is that baseball's front offices were not oblivious to steroid use in their clubhouses. They may not have appreciated the depth or breadth of the issue, but particularly with respect to Lo Duca, steroid use was factored into the cost of doing business. (Mitchell Report, pp 208-211.)

In October 2003 the Dodgers management was (at least internally) openly discussing the impact of steroids on Lo Duca's trade value:

Steroids aren’t being used anymore on him. Big part of this.
Might have some value to trade . . . Florida might have interest. . . . Got off the steroids . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives.. . . Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That’s his makeup. Comes to play.
At that same time Mike Rizzo was the Scouting Director for the Dodgers NL West rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks, a position he would remain in until coming to Washington. Jim Bowden's ten years as GM of the Cincinnati Reds was coming to an end and Stan Kasten was concluding his immensely successful tenure as President of the Atlanta Braves franchise. Bob Boone, a former special adviser to Bowden in Cincinnati, had two sons playing in the major leagues. I doubt that any of these men heard anything specific about Paul Lo Duca's alleged steroid use, but they were all in position to hear rumors, allegations and insinuations of steroid use from players and clubhouse personnel who would know.

All of which leaves us where? We know that Lo Duca's contract was finalized and his introductory press conference scheduled just days before the release of the Mitchell Report, along with contracts for players like Andy Pettite and Eric Gange, and at the same time Miguel Tejada was traded Baltimore to Houston. We can be fairly sure that Lo Duca's name was not leaked, since it did not appear in any of the pre-report speculation. We know that Lo Duca has made no public response to the Report, though he has apparently spoken to the Nats.

According to Bill Ladson we also know that Kasten "
wished... he had known about the allegations during [Lo Duca's] contract negotiations" though he doesn't say what, if anything the team would have done differently. Finally, and sadly we know that in all probability there is nothing to be done about it now, as Lo Duca's contract is guaranteed and unlikely to be voidable on the basis of mere allegations of past steroid use.

Technically Speaking

Speaking of massive failures in vetting, Elijah Dukes is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. If you want to try to put a positive spin on things, A) this all went down before he became a National, so it was probably factored into the "one strike and you're out" discussion, and B) maybe this shows that the death threats Elijah sent to his ex-wife weren't personal, they're just the way he ends every relationship. Ye Gods.

The latest domestic violence charge filed against Dukes was dismissed this morning when the complainant failed to appear in court.

Suddenly the serial acquisition of Garrett Guzman, Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak begins to make a little more sense. At this point Dukes just cannot be considered a sure-fire contributor to the 2008 Nationals. I miss Glenn Gibson a little more each day. As always, Bugs & Cranks is good for a slightly more sympathetic take (though David, I'm pretty sure you can still send text messages from the DR to the good ol' US of A, particularly if you're on a family share plan. And Elijah has to be on a family share plan, right?)

December 14, 2007

'Roids Are All the Rage

Now that I've had time to review and consider the Mitchell Report, I can safely say that Paul Lo Duca is a slightly bigger d@#&!&bag than I initially thought. That's about it in terms of grand conclusions. Lots of names I expected, lots that I didn't (Nook?!?) and a few noteworthy absences. I have no doubt that a ton of players who used got away clean, and it's equally likely that a few players in the report were named in error. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of the "Steroid Era" but baseball, and life, goes on.

I expect the reverberations of the Mitchell Report to have little impact on the Nationals, mostly because the only current Nat named is a stop-gap catcher on the downside of his career signed to a one-year deal. As for Nook Logan, did his appearance on the list hasten his departure from the club? Possibly, though I doubt we'll ever know for sure. It will almost certainly make it harder for him to latch on with another club. That's a shame, but hardly a tragedy.

Auditioning to replace Nook as the speedy no-hit 5th outfielder will be Willie Harris, most recently an ex-Brave. Harris will be competing with Ryan Langerhans, NTP-favorite Garrett Guzman and newly signed Rob Mackowiak for the coveted role of lefty bench outfielder. While it's nice to have healthy competition not involving career minor leaguers Trader Jim does seem to be back to his old tricks, snagging every toolsy outfielder in sight. At least we know they're all clean.*

*For now.

December 12, 2007

Logan Cleared for Takeoff

As the deadline to offer contracts approaches Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times has word that the Nationals will not resign OF Nook Logan and SP Mike O'Connor. Nook was destined to be the odd man out in the game of musical outfielders following the spree of acquisitions at the Winter Meetings. Nook will most likely try to latch on as a 4th or 5th outfielder on another National League club.

O'Connor, a GW alum, struggled to recover from offseason elbow surgery before the 2007 season and never really got his groove back in the minors, managing an abysmal 7.07 ERA in Double A ball. Cutting ties with O'Connor is just more evidence of the Nats improved pitching depth, as Matt Chico, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler all have more upside as lefty starters than Irish Mike, who will be fondly remembered
for posting a 4.80 ERA over 105 innings as part of the patchwork 2006 rotation.

Three pitchers agreed to one-year deals, thereby avoiding arbitration: setup man Luis "El Guapo" Ayala, rehabbing righty reliever Ryan Wagner and perennial injury risk SP John Patterson. All the other arb-eligible Nats, including INF Felipe Lopez, will apparently be offered contracts. No real surprise there. Lopez, Tim Redding, Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome and Chad Cordero aren't going to strain the budget. Only FLop and The Chief figure to make more than a couple million in arbitration.

Cutting loose Nook and Irish Mike frees up two more spots on the 40-man roster, spots that might be used to sign players non-tendered by other clubs. Here's the official press release.

December 10, 2007

The Five Million Dollar Man

"Hey Jerky, my city's professional baseball club can beat up your city's professional baseball club. How do you like them apples?" Other than that I can't think of much upside to adding Paul Lo Duca to the roster. More time for Jesus Flores to "develop", I suppose, though given Lo Duca's reputation for relating to rookies I have a hard time seeing him being the world's best mentor.

Paulie's 1-year, $5M deal will make him one of the highest-paid players on the 2008 Nats. The fact that he's a total farkin' d@#&!&bag will hopefully make him one of the shortest-tenured 2008 Nats. Veteran catchers on one year deals are always good candidates to be flipped at the trade deadline. In the meantime let's be sure that all the hip DC night spots have Lo Duca's picture on their wall o' shame.

December 7, 2007

Roster BINGO

Austin Kearns Matt Whitney Josh Whitesell Elijah Dukes Ryan Langerhans
Aaron Boone Ryan Zimmerman Felipe Lopez Roger Bernadina
Justin Maxwell
Jesus Flores Kory Casto Dmitri Young Lastings Milledge Wily Mo Pena
Nook Logan Ronnie Belliard Garrett Guzman Nick Johnson
Cristian Guzman

The grid above contains the names of the twenty position players currently on the Nationals 40-man roster. All position players on the roster are represented. See if you can draw one straight line (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) through any four who will be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day 2008.

Since BINGO is technically played on a 5 x 5 square grid, feel free to use the backup catcher as a floating free space at the bottom of any column. Who knows, this may be exactly how Trader Jim and Manny make roster decisions. Enjoy!

December 6, 2007


With their second round pick in the today's Rule 5 draft the Nationals selected OF Garrett Guzman from the Minnesota system. This is an excellent selection on a number of levels:

  • First, Trader Jim clearly noticed the distinct lack of GUZMANIA! on last year's squad. If history has taught us anything, it's that you can never have too much money or too much GUZMANIA! Uncle Teddy is well on his way to taking care of both.
  • Second, mugging the Twins is always a good thing. Sure they got Harmon Killebrew and decades of Washington baseball history. But we got Levale Speigner, Justin Jones and Garrett Guzman. What can I say, the wheels of cosmic justice turn slowly.
  • Third, Guzman's a decent choice as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Plus he's a lefty, a handedness sorely lacking on the roster with the departure of Church and Schneider. Guzman figues to compete with Ryan Langerhans for a roster spot, setting up a potentially cataclysmic GUZMANIA! vs. LANGERHANSCENDENTALISM! showdown.
From Baseball America's Rule 5 preview:

[T]he undersized lefthanded hitter profiles as arguably the best fourth outfielder candidate on the Rule 5 eligible list, drawing comparisons to Orlando Palmeiro. While Palmeiro was a bit better runner and defender, Guzman offers more power and offensive upside. Guzman, who batted .312/.359/.453 at Double-A New Britain in 2007, has solid gap power and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield, though he profiles best in left.
  • Fourth, and frankly most importantly, this doubles the odds that my Guzman jersey (purchased at retail price in 2005) will remain relevant for another season and outlast both Dave's Wilkerson frock and Watson's Nick Johnson memorial jersey.
Nationals Farm Authority, per usual, has the complete Rule 5 rundown.

December 3, 2007

Putting Up (With) Our Dukes

You gotta give Jim Bowden this: He is the bull terrier of GMs. Once he gets hold of a player he just will not let go. First Wily Mo Pena, then Lastings Milledge, now Rays OF Elijah Dukes. Bowden acquired Dukes from Tampa this afternoon in exchange for a player to be named later (PTBNL). [EDIT: PTBNL is Vermont LHP Glenn Gibson. Ouch, that's a little too much to pay.]

I've written a bit about Dukes before and my initial reaction to this deal can be summed up thusly. But what's done is done. Not wanting Elijah Dukes on the team will not make him go away. And this is the quintessential "something for nothing" transaction. [EDIT: Not quite nothing. Gibson has good command of all his pitches. He's a talent. I'm liking this deal a lot less.] From a purely baseball perspective, it would be irresponsible not to do this deal. Of course, acquiring Elijah Dukes isn't a purely baseball transaction. Suffice it to say Dukes' issues make Lasting Milledge's incidents seem puckish and endearing by comparison.

Dukes' travails have been well-chronicled, and I'm not going to rehash them here. To me they demonstrate a pattern of irresponsible and dangerous behavior both on and off the field. But people can change, and maybe this will be the wake-up call Dukes needs. That's a hope, not a rationalization.

His talent is undeniable. Dukes wrecked minor league pitching, hitting .293/.401!/.488 as a 22-year old in AAA and posting a career .284/.364/.484 line over 4 minor league seasons. He struggled at the plate (and other places) in 2007, slumping to .190/.318/.391 in 52 games before being suspended from the team. He's a legitimate outfield defender as well. Teamed with Milledge, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, Dukes gives the Nationals four big league outfielders under the age of twenty seven.

As an objective observer this deal is another steal for Bowden and company. [EDIT: A win, but not a mugging, and under the circumstances it should have been a mugging.] However lopsided it ends up, it's a deal that makes sense for both teams. Dukes absolutely had to have a change of scenery, he was done in Tampa Bay. And the Nationals need young talent, the kind that doesn't come cheap unless it has a "damaged goods" sticker firmly attached. So, in the abstract it's a win-win.

As a Nats fan this is the kind of deal where I just hold my nose and pray for the best, both for Elijah Dukes and for the Washington Nationals. Caveat emptor, you get what you pay for and all that.

December 1, 2007


You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That's only important because first impressions can be so difficult to shake. Get labeled or stereotyped and that tag becomes the shorthand for your entire life experience. It happens to everybody at one time or another, but it's guaranteed to happen to celebrities. The media and the public need a hook, a quick handle, the Cliffs Notes version. The trashy starlet, the crooked politician, the gifted, guarded, misunderstood athlete. The patterns are repeated until they achieve archetypal status. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to fully immerse themselves in the minutia of another person's history and character. It's just isn't practical.

But first impressions can lie. They can occur at uncharacteristic moments. They can capture outdated information and seal it in amber. Or they can be a snapshot of something that just isn't what it appears to be. In these cases the dichotomy between perception and reality creates an information gap. The idea that information gaps can be exploited to create competitive advantages was the central premise of Michael Lewis's Moneyball. The Moneyball philosophy has come to stand for the potential to exploiting undervalued baseball skills like plate discipline and defense. But long before Michael Lewis and Billy Beane, Jim Bowden was busily mining the character gap.

Kevin Mitchell
might be the prototypical Jim Bowden acquisition. Mitchell was one of the first players Bowden acquired when he took over as Reds GM in 1992. Overall, Bowden traded for the talented, troubled slugger not once but twice, and was rewarded with three successful partial seasons from the alleged pet-decapitator, highlighted by his .326/.429/.681 line with 30 HRs and 77 RBI in the strike shortened 1994 season.

Since becoming one of the game's youngest GM's 15 years ago Bowden has functioned as something of a statue of liberty for baseball's head cases, collecting everyone from the plainly misunderstood to the clearly anti-social, almost always at a discount. From supposed clubhouse cancers like Jose Guillen to guys who had one ill-timed brush with scandal like Ronnie Belliard. From Dmitri Young, who would probably have been out of baseball but for Bowden, to his latest acquisition, an "immature", "underachieving" 22-year old outfielder. In all these cases, and many others, perceived character flaws diminished the value of actual talent.

With that said, not every ballplayer is a candidate for Bowden's brand of redemption. By and large he tracks guys with one isolated blemish on their record, or players whose recent misbehavior overshadows an otherwise unobjectionable career. But most importantly, as with any rehab, the players involved have to want that second chance. It would take more than just a change of scenery and a clean slate to rejuvenate an unrepentant Barry Bonds or a recidivist Elijah Dukes.

First impressions can attach to GMs too. When Jim Bowden first arrived in DC he was widely viewed as a leather pants-clad huckster, a track suit wearing, fist-bumping carnival barker. His style of deal-making was considered akin to the obnoxious drunk kid at Spring Break whose idea of trying to score is standing on his balcony hollering at every girl on the beach. This fine publication was not immune to mocking all that seeming sound and fury, signifying nothing. Of course, Bowden brought some of it on himself. He did wear leather pants and track suits, and he was known to remark from time to time that his phone was en fuego. Which just goes to show that even first impressions that contain a grain of truth can be quite misleading.

In the years since taking the helm of the Nationals just before the start of the 2005 season Jim Bowden has made some fine moves, and in the process gotten the better of a few other people who do this GM thing for a living. Have all his moves worked out? No, nobody bats 1.000, or even .800. Nevertheless the scales that measure his relatively brief Washington tenure are slowly but surely tipping decidedly in Jim Bowden's favor. Through a combination of luck, design and necessity he has managed to exploit what appears to be one of the few remaining talent evaluation imbalances in baseball. Kudos, Trader Jim. Keep up the good work.