July 30, 2008

FLoperation: Trade Bait

aka "Take My Roster, Please!"

As the trade deadline draws near, there appear to be very few buzzards circling the desicated carcass that is the 2008 Washington Nationals. With a 25-man roster that would shame many AAA clubs, that's hardly surprising, but it does pose an unusual challenge for embattled GM Jim Bowden.

Obtaining the best deal for a top-flight player like Alfonso Soriano is one type of test. Identifying a promising minor leaguer to exchange for a Marlon Anderson/Daryle Ward-type role player is another. But pawning off your overpriced crap on another team may be the truest measure of a general manager's skill.

In that regard, Nationals fans have some cause for hope. Free agent signings and contract extensions may not be Trader Jim's forte (witness the nickname) but getting the Seattle Mariners to take on Jose Vidro (and his contract!) in return for Chris Snelling and ¡Fruto! was an undisputed masterwork of general managing. Sure, neither amounted to anything more than Langerhanscendetalism! (and, eventually, Wily Mo Penamonium!) but that's not the point.

JimBo successfully identified a GM who had convinced himself that our overpriced crap was the key to his season, and pulled the trigger. Doing that once is luck, but if he can do it again with Felipe Lopez, Paul LoDuca, Odalis Perez or, Deo volente, all three... well folks, that's a skill, and not one to be taken lightly.

Of course, that's an optimistic scenario. Overpriced crap doesn't usually generate a sellers market; and it's entirely possible that all three of the terrible triumverate will be on the roster August 1st. But the next 24 hours will be a good test for our GM, whose leash seems to be growing shorter by the day.

July 28, 2008

Fat, Diabetic and on the DL is No Way to Go Through Life

Flyin' Meat courtesy of: Nick Wass/AP
Get well soon, Meathook.

Even though you're too sick to fly, did you know that railroads can move 1 ton of freight (or infielder) 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel?!?

July 24, 2008

This One You Can Blame on Bowden

If Chad Cordero decides to tell the Washington Nationals to go take a long walk off a short pier this offseason it won't be difficult to assign at least part of the blame. When it comes to discussing player performance and compensation, Jim Bowden just shouldn't. The personality quirks that make him entertaining (or embarrassing) as a GM/Carnival barker also suggest that he should be fitted with one of those electro-shock dog collars when discussing team business on the record.

Of course non-tendering The Chief is the right thing to do. Any other course of action would amount to professional malpractice. (NFA, as always, has the definitive run-down here.) The team shouldn't pay, and Chad shouldn't expect, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6M for a season of rehab. A 2-year deal, with low base salaries and high incentives, would protect both parties, and that's likely the deal that Cordero will get.

Whether he gets that deal in DC remains an open question. I doubt JimBo's impromptu interview/announcement was the first that Chad and/or his agent heard about this proposed course of action. (UPDATE #2: But I've been wrong before. What an ass.) All else aside, it is a rather slapdash, informal way to make a pretty big announcement about a guy who had been the face (or at least the hat) of the franchise. And it fits the pattern of announcements or activities that suggest the filter between Trader Jim's brain and his mouth is pretty well shot, assuming it ever existed in the first place.

I don't buy that this is a big story, or a major slap in the face to Chad, (but see UPDATE #2.) If the non-tender had been announced in the offseason, and we'd been told that it had been planned for months, plenty of people would have screamed bloody murder that JimBo sat on this important information. What it is, however, is another unnecessary bit of negative publicity that could have been easily avoided. At a minimum the announcement should have been made formally, rather than blurted out on a drive-time radio program that ranks Nats news right above rugby scores in order of importance.

But for all the people who complain about the stubborn message discipline of the Lerners, or the opaque, endlessly qualified Stan-speak, let this be a reminder. The candor for which we all clamor is not always a virtue. Nats Journal has the latest from Trader Jim, and again, it seems obvious that the problem is with the timing and the medium, not the underlying message.

UPDATE #1: On the other hand, anything that wakes the Distinguished Senator from his deep and dreamless slumber must be news.

July 23, 2008

C'Mere An' Let Me 'Splain You Sumthin'

Summer vacation be damned. Ring the bell, school's back in session. The approved texts for this course are Cot's Baseball Contracts and Baseball Reference (though The Baseball Cube is an acceptable alternative, if you prefer.)

Today's Lesson: Cristian Guzman's Market-Value Deal

If you can stand between second base and third base holding a glove, you will be overpaid. Cristian Guzman will earn $16M dollars over the next two years, $8M per season. His career line is a thoroughly mediocre .267/.305/.382 good for an OPS+ of 78 (100 being theoretically average for an MLB player.) That sounds bad, and it is, but it's also in the neighborhood of a bunch of other major league shortstops. For example:

  • Dodgers SS Rafael Furcal is in the final year of a 3 yr/$39M contract, and is having a career season, except for the fact that he's only played half of it. Still, his next contract figures to improve on the $13M per season he's making now. His career OPS+ of 96 makes him the cream of the FA crop.
  • Khalil Greene of the Padres will make $6.5M next season, a good value for his 95 OPS+, and he's twice the fielder Guzman is, but his OBP makes Cristian look like Luis Castillo. He'd be an upgrade, notwithstanding we have nothing the Padres want.
  • The Red Sox are probably regretting Julio Lugo's $9M per season contract, given his career 88 OPS+ and the two years remaining on the deal. If John Henry wants to eat $18M, there's always Jed Lowrie.
  • Former Expo Orlando Cabrera is making $9M this season in his one (and likely only) year with the White Sox. With an 86 career OPS+ he's no Furcal, but he'll be the second best FA shortstop on the market this winter and it's hard to see him getting a total contract that's less than Guzie's $16M.
  • Finally, Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh P-Rats is the proud owner of a career OPS+ of 79, and a $7.25M salary in '09 (with an $8.4M club option for 2010.) Apparently, Picksburg is a good town in which to be a scrappy middle infielder. There's no chance in hell the Buccos exercise that option though, setting up Cap'n Jack to be the class of the 2010 SS free agent class.

Several of these fellas ace Guzie with the glove, but this isn't what you'd call a roster of perennial All-Stars. These are pretty solidly middle-of-the-pack veteran shortstops. And Cristian's contract slots right in. No hometown discount, perhaps, but nothing to place it in the Barry Zito/Andruw Jones pantheon o' terrible deals either. Two years and $16M buys time for Smiley Gonzalez or _______________ fill-in-the blank (students answering Ian Desmond will be sent back to remedial prospect evaluation) to develop, without becoming an impediment.

There's been some chatter from the back of the class that Guzman is "injury prone" and inevitably into his post-age 30 decline phase. The injury prone label comes from having missed all of 2006 following shoulder surgery and just over half of 2007 courtesy of Josh Barfield's stupid, oversized head. But there's some contradictory logic at work here. Neither of Guzie's injuries is chronic or prone to recurrence, and his rehab time actually subtracts from the everyday grind of being a major leaguer.

The 2006 shoulder repair (coupled with post-2005 laser eye surgery) fixed an existing condition and probably made Cristian a better hitter and fielder. (If it didn't, why would he do it?) The torn thumb ligaments in 2007 are just an occupational hazard of applying the tag to the helmet of a man whose head is like an orange on a toothpick. Apart from that, Guzman has averaged 140 games per full season, and has played in 97 of 100 games this year. Not exactly a JD Drew-type. As for being in the traditional "decline period", well Cristian's got a year and a half less wear-and-tear than your average thirty year old MLB shortstop, so he should probably hold up well enough for two more seasons.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: You don't like the Guzman contract? Fine, do it better. Assume Cristian leaves in 2008, either via trade or free agency. Unleash your inner GM and pick a replacement shortstop. Keep in mind that your choice must be A) Available (no Jeter or Hanley Ramirez), B) Better (Show your work! Otherwise, what's the point?) and C) Cheaper (Or at least in the ballpark. Even inner GMs have to work with their real ownership.) No copying off your neighbor, and no skimming bonus money from Dominican rookies. Any deals submitted in the comments or via email may be publicly graded in the next edition of Ask An Idiot Blogger.

July 22, 2008

Your 2009 Nationals Infield is Set

A Guzman is forever.

GUZMANIA! knows no bounds! The 2-year extension is complete, keeping our resident All-Star and mud-baller in town through the 2010 season. Guzie is well positioned to become the last original National. And more importantly, my jersey gains an additional 24 months of shelf life. Score.
UPDATE: $8M per season. Cristian owes me a new jersey.

In less expected news:

Big Wookiee to 'Zona for 2B Emilio Bonifacio

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

H/T to MissChatter for breaking the story. The Rizzo pipleline that brought us such luminaries as Matt Chico and Garrett Mock has been fired up one more time. Big Jon will be doing hard time in Phoenix, most likely as a setup guy for Brandon Lyon in the DBacks injury-plagued bullpen. It is with a heavy heart that NTP bids farewell to the most recognizable National. The 9th inning just got a whole lot more interesting.

Bonifacio, at least initially, is not an inspiring return. The 23-year old is a career .283/.338/.360 hitter in 6 minor league seasons, but is perhaps better known for his blazing speed and slick glove. Emilio was ranked as Arizona's sixth best prospect before the 2008 season by Baseball America. He likely immediately becomes the Nats best middle infield prospect, and a probable replacement for FLop at second next season.

This move, coupled with the Guzman extension and the loss of Rauch will have ripples across the roster, and I'll likely have a few more thoughts on how thing shake out after an impromptu GUZMANIA-inspired happy hour.

July 18, 2008

The Beginning of the End

Wily Mo Pena-Mo-nium's anticipated trip to the DL is a reality, and the team has recalled human doorstop Erik Johnny Estrada from his rehab assignment. With that, here are the position players on the Active Roster as the Nats open the "second half" of the season in Atlanta tonight:


23 Johnny Estrada

3 Jesus Flores

16 Paul Lo Duca

53 Wil Nieves


10 Ronnie Belliard

5 Kory Casto

15 Cristian Guzman

2 Felipe Lopez

4 Pete Orr

21 Dmitri Young


1 Willie Harris

25 Austin Kearns

29 Ryan Langerhans

Too many "catchers"! Too few outfielders!!! Even if you count Casto and Orr as corner outfield utility guys, we're one or two bad hammies away from seeing the "LF Dmitri Young Experiment" put into action before our weeping, paper bag-covered eyes!!1!

Four Things to Watch for in the Second Half: lightning bugs, four-leaf clovers, loose change, September 28th.

But hey, because misery loves company (and makes a mean cocktail) be sure to check out Misschatter's BotB Extravaganza!

July 16, 2008

All-Star Thoughts

I spent most of my Tuesday night and some of my Wednesday morning watching the All-Star game. The plan was I would tivo the first hour of the game and them watch from the beginning so I could skip all the commercials. By about 1:00am I had burned through all my buffer and I was watching real time. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • First off, I had quite a few personal rooting interests in this game. I play fantasy baseball with Dave and Nate and this year I have a whopping NINE all-stars on my team. It would have been ten if I had held on to Joe Crede. Despite all that talent, I'm in 9th place in a 10 team league at the break. This leads me to Uggla, my starting second baseman.

  • Uggla just looked lost out there. He's the only all-star to ever record three errors in the midsummer classic, two of them to start the tenth inning. To be fair that third error really wasn't his fault. The ball took a very wicked hop and he kept it in front of him. I've heard of golfers getting a case of the yips but I've never seen it happen to a ball-player before. I really hope this doesn't put him in the tank for the second half of the season.

  • Despite Uggla's troubles, there was some spectacular defense in this game. When the AL loaded the bases in the tenth with nobody out the NL, specifically Rockies' pitcher Aaron Cook, managed to get not one but two infield grounders to get the force out at home. Major props to our own Cristian Guzman for one of those outs. Gooz was playing out of position at 3rd base for the first time in his major league career. Also some love for Miguel Tejada who made a great scoop and throw to first to get the final out to end the tenth. Nate McLouth's outfield assist in the 11th was another defensive gem.

  • I love that both coaches had to empty their benches. I always get a little extra thrill when the guys from my team get in the game and seeing as this is supposed to be for the fans I think everyone should play. The fact that they used every pitcher was even better. Part of me wanted to go to sleep but another part of me wanted to see Evan Longoria come out to pitch the 16th.

  • Finally, I think the winning league/home field advantage in the World Series result has to be scrapped. It was a nice idea to try and get some impact behind the All-Star Game but it failed miserably. Home field advantage should go to the team with the best record, period. What is arguably the biggest advantage in sports should not be decided by the running ability of the third string catcher in the bottom of the 15th inning.

  • July 13, 2008

    The Best Shortstop $1.4M Can Buy?

    According to SI.com, the FBI/MLB investigation into Jim Bowden and Jose Rijo is centered on the 2006 signing of then 16-year old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez, and the attending $1.4M signing bonus. Another raft of unnamed sources suggest that Bowden and/or Rijo and others may have skimmed some of the signing bonus money to line their own pockets.

    Former Nats WaPo beat writer Barry Svrluga did a must-read series on baseball in the Dominican Republic in late 2006. He described a system where major league teams are held captive by sometimes unscrupulous coach/agents known as buscones. The buscones are the conduit through which talented young Dominican ballplayers reach the minor leagues. In return they collect up to 50% of the players' signing bonuses and kickbacks to coaches, agents and academy directors, if not commonplace, are hardly shocking. The Gonzalez signing was Washington's first major foray into this marketplace and a highly publicized feather in the cap of the front office.

    Even given the widely acknowledged quasi-corruption in the Dominican play acquisition system, the theory outlined in the SI piece suffers from at least one serious problem: Esmailyn Gonzalez and his parents say that he received every dime he was owed under the contract. From the article:

    [Gonzalez] says he received the entire sum he signed for. He also tells SI.com that he paid his buscon, Basilio Vizcaino, and his agent, Rob Plummer, their due percentages and that he has not been cheated out of any money. "Gracias a Dios [Thanks be to God], that didn't happen to me. The people I trusted didn't cheat me."[...] Gonzalez's mother, Ana Mercedes Marte, says she received the full amount of the bonus in Dominican pesos and remembers people stopping by their house to collect their money for their role in coaching her son.

    There are certainly ways to spin the above quotes. The Gonzalez family is relatively poor and uneducated. Would they even notice the absence of part of the bonus money, considering the acknowledged payouts and the conversion from US dollars to Dominican pesos? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, when the subject of the article flatly contradicts the premise of the article, that's hardly building from a rock-solid journalistic or legal foundation.

    I have a few other quibbles with the piece. The author suggests that the Nats overpaid for Smiley, and justified that excess by overhyping him as a 5-tool player. In support the article quotes an anonymous executive from another club, who says Gonzalez "doesn't run all that well, [and] has an average arm." A player evaluation dispute? Stop the presses! And did the Nats overpay? Sure they did, and they all but said so at the time. The Gonzalez signing was about sending a message to the buscones as much as it was about acquiring the next great Dominican shortstop. A little context and historical perspective would go a long way.

    For example: The overpaid, overhyped Esmailyn Gonzalez had a league average OPS in 33 games with the Gulf Coast League Nationals as a 17 year old last season. In 15 GCL games this season he's hitting 397/462/552, out OPSing the league by more than 300 points. And he's 8-11 in stolen bases on his young career.

    Finally, the article recounts a meeting at "the exclusive Capital Grille steakhouse in Washington, D.C.". I've been to the Capital Grille and if I've been there, it ain't terribly exclusive.

    This is not a defense of Jim Bowden or Jose Rijo. If they, or anyone else, skimmed so much as a dollar of this kid's money, they deserve whatever terrible deserts they get. This is a critique of sloppy journalism, which is even less forgivable when the issues involved are hardly matters of life and death. Anonymous sources and insufficient context make for bad reporting. Bad reporting forces me into the position of having to defend Jim Bowden. And I hate defending Jim Bowden.

    July 11, 2008

    I Hate Defending Jim Bowden

    I am not a Jim Bowden fan. I firmly believe that the few things he does well are outweighed by the many, many things he does poorly. Yet I find myself sometimes defending Jim Bowden only because so many of his detractors refuse to settle for highlighting his reasonably damning record, and launch into fits of hyperbole that border on the invocation of Godwin's Law.

    I hate defending Jim Bowden, but I also hate anonymous sources in sports journalism. ESPN is reporting that Bowden and Assistant GM Jose Rijo are being investigated by the FBI and MLB for activities connected with the signing of international free agents. The only sourced quotes in the entire piece come from Jim Bowden. I freely admit that there are issues and circumstances where granting anonymity to sources sheds light on issues of national concern and advances public discourse. I just happen to believe that ESPN doesn't cover those issues, even on the front page.

    If Jim Bowden is involved in a kickback scheme with scouts, agents and international players then he's an awful person and deserves to be fired. But that really has nothing to do with any other aspect of his job. The gap between being a pompous, irritating, generally bad GM and being a felon is larger than the gap between being an amateur sports blogger and a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist. If Bowden were to be mixed-up in criminal activity then he should be axed immediately, even if he was a Billy Beane-like dealmaker and all-around swell feller.

    Modified from M. Layton/Getty Images

    In the meantime, until someone is willing to put a name and an accusation together in the public record let's all please step back from the precipice and ease up on the hyperventilating. The truth will out soon enough. In the meantime, brother can you spare a first baseman?

    UPDATE: Pretty strong denial from JimBo and JoRijo. Doesn't sound like there's going to any gray area here when things shake out.

    July 9, 2008

    Ask an Idiot Blogger

    From Marc Fisher's WaPo blog post about the Nationals' abyssmal TV ratings, comes the following claim:

    "[A]fter 33 years without baseball, the sport is a mystery or meaningless to a huge number of people in this region."

    Seeing as how a huge number of people in this region are originally from other regions, including many from regions that have long and robust baseball traditions, I have a hard time believing that it was just the long absence of a major league team from DC that rendered the local populace so ill-informed. Nevertheless, NTP is willing to step up and fill your knowledge hole, with a new occasional feature we're calling "Ask an Idiot Blogger".

    As our tagline declares, there are three of us, we're idiots, and we're prepared, when necessary, to share our opinions on baseball and life in Washington, DC. Whether it's basic baseball, like "Why can't that nice man take his stick with him when he runs around touching the white squares?" or something more Nats-centric, as in "Under what system for assessing intrinsic value is Paul LoDuca worth $5 bucks, let alone $5 million?" you ask, we'll answer.

    But NTP has always prided itself on being more (or less) than just a baseball blog, so feel free to broaden your sphere of inquiry. Dave is a gadgeteer and business traveller extraordinaire, so he can field all your travel, leisure and technology questions. Watson is the resident media guru and gourmand, so he's got that covered. I'm more of a big picture guy, so if you've ever really wanted an honest answer to the eternal question "Why does God hate me?" hit me up.

    Contact info is available under Nate's profile off to the right, and your question will be routed to the appropriate NTPer for research and a public response whenever we get around to it. At a bare minimum, we promise to be more informative than Bill Ladson's latest mailbag. To get the ball rolling:

    Q: "Why can't that nice man take his stick with him when he runs around touching the white squares?"

    A: "He has been informed by his PO that it would be considered a violation of the terms of his parole."

    See how easy that is?

    July 7, 2008

    Dennis Franz: Calvin Klein model

    VINDICATION! I couldn't be any happier for me Cristian! It's been a long, loooong 4 years, but my steadfast faith in the undeniable power of GUZMANIA! has been richly rewarded. Yes, SS Cristian Guzman is the 2008 All-Star representative of the worst team in major league baseball. I may plotz.

    Tip o' the cap to Basil's comment for the title and the graphic.

    July 2, 2008

    Tonight's the Night!

    No, not like that. (Not like that, either.) But tonight IS the last night you can vote to get Cristian Guzman on to the 2008 NL All-Star Team!

    Sure, he's not having a powerhouse offensive season like Hanley Ramirez. And he hasn't rebounded from scandal like Miguel Tejada. And he's not a "good defensive shortstop" as that phrase is commonly understood. But darn it all, somebody's got to represent the Nationals at the All-Star Game.

    So it's either Guzie or Jon Rauch. Folks, I've been to Yankee Stadium and I'm here to tell you: Big Jon simply will not fit in Yankee Stadium. That ballpark is a relic of a simpler time, when Americans were smaller and folks of Rauch's stature were mocked as circus freaks until they snapped, rampaged through whatever hick town the carnival happened to be passing through, and were ultimately put down by the local authorities. Come on, you've seen King Kong (the good one, not the Jack Black version.) You know Jon Rauch on the loose in New York City can only end badly. Do you want Jesus Colome closing out games in the second half of the season? Do you?

    Guzman in '08: If You Were on the All-Star Ballot, He'd Vote For You!

    Image from Getty Images