February 29, 2008

The Double Eagle!

Eat your heart out, Richard Simmons.

Every once in a while, almost by accident, actual news leaks out of Spring Training. Such was the case this afternoon in Viera. In the midst of an entirely forgettable 4-1 loss to the Miami Swordfish, or whatever the hell they're going to be called when they play in the wreckage of the Orange Bowl, absorbing the noxious remnants of The U, Barry Svrluga dropped some knowledge on us: Screech has a twin! A veritable Double Eagle!

Now this raises all sorts of interesting questions. Was Screech II, who apparently makes a year-round home in Central Florida, given up at laying and raised by an unholy union of
Billy the Marlin and Raymond? Is he an evil twin, the kind that trips little children and gives fans "the wing" when his handler isn't looking?

Most importantly, did
Screech's Best Friend know about this and keep it from the rest of us? What did SBF know and when did he know it? And if he didn't know, can he really be Screech's best friend? I expect Congressmen Waxman and Davis to be all over this any minute now.

February 27, 2008

Stuck in the Middle With Who?

"The Boone" does not abide. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Bret Boone... blah, blah, bah... struggles with alcoholism... yada, yada, yada... life back on track... (good for him)... refers to himself in the third person... WHA?

Via DC Sports Bog: "Don't call me Bret. Call me 'The Boone.'''

Oh. Hell. No.

Maybe, maybe you can get away with that as a 32 year-old All Star, slugging 37 dingers, knocking in 141 and possibly using something a wee bit more performance-enhancing than a case of Milwaukee's Best. You cannot pull that as a 38 year-old struggling to make a middling team as a back-up second baseman.

Just so we're clear, you're name is Bret. Or Toast, whichever you prefer. But you cannot be "The Boone" because we already had two other Boones before you got here, and we'll still have them when you're gone.

February 25, 2008

When Do We Eat?

Mark Fisher posted an update in his WaPo blog about the eats at the new ballpark. I could not be happier. By the end of last season I was so sick of the food at RFK that I started eating at home before the game just to avoid the decision between another lukewarm italian sausage or the chicken finger platter.

I'm thrilled to hear that Ben's Chili Bowl will have an outpost at the new park. I'm sure the line for half-smokes will be the longest in the park but that's as it should be.

Nate will be grateful to hear that Hard Times Cafe is back. I can't remember the name of the crappy chili dog place on the terrace but I'm glad it's gone. I know Chili Mac is an Ohio thing but it's pretty damn good at the ballpark.

Dave will be happy about Gifford's ice cream 'cause Dave likes ice cream.

As Lou Brown said in Major League, "Starting to come together Pepper, starting to come together".

February 24, 2008

News You Can Lose

We've got two starting first baseman?! Wily Mo can hit BP fastballs into Low Earth Orbit!! Bret Boone somehow hopped the fence into big league camp!?! Ryan Zimmerman remains unsigned?!?! Dogs and Cats living together!?!! Mass hysteria!!!!

Welcome to a Very Special Sunday Edition of Stories That Have Been Done to Death. In honor of the presidential campaign season we're going to do this John McLaughlin-style. I'm going to tell you what the issues are, then I'm going to tell you the answers. I may pretend to listen to your input, but I'm actually mentally doing the grocery list. Away we go!

Issue #1: Covering your bases. Yes, Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young both play first base, and only first base. Yes, only one of them can "start." Yes, they're both making roughly $5M a year for the next 2-3 years. So what? NJ is the younger, better all-around player, and it ain't close. But he's as durable as a Faberge Egg. If JimBo trades Meat Hook and Nicky's leg falls off, he looks like an idiot.

DaMeat is the reigning NL Comeback Player, a certified PCI (Positive Clubhouse Influence) and the Designated Tutor for troubled phenom Elijah Dukes. But if JimBo trades Nick and Dmitri dips from his 2007 line (320/378/491, 129 OPS+) to something closer to his career averages (292/349/477, 114 OPS+) while NJ puts up an average Johnsonite season (125 OPS+) JimBo looks like an idiot. Answer: Both stay, Nick starts if healthy and Dmitri has extra time to teach Elijah the finer points of Baseball Sudoku.

Issue #2: New Model Outfield. Is Pena-Milledge-Dukes the wave of the future? Whither Kearns? See issue one above. Four quality players for three spots is a goal, not a concern. Like Nicky, Austin's defense gives him the edge, at least at the outset. Elijah gets time to acclimated to a new team and a new league, without the weight of expectations. Who would you rather see coming off the bench as a PH/defensive sub, Dukes or Langerhans? Answer: 'Nuff said. Wily Mo Power, the 'Edge and Kearns get the start.

Issue #3: Methuselah on the infield. Bret Boone made a surprise leap to the big league camp. Why? Because he didn't totally suck and if you're honestly evaluating a 38 year-old for a roster spot it makes more sense to do it against major league caliber competition. The big loser here is not Felipe Lopez (aka the only SS in camp not named Guzman.) The big loser is Ronnie Belliard. If Boone performs well, Belly is trade bait. Second biggest loser is Willie Harris, but he wasn't making the cut anyway. Answer: FLop at second, Guzie at short, Belliard off the bench, B. Boone off the roster.

Issue #4: 3, 2, 1... Contract.
No 6-year deal forthcoming for the Fielding Dutchman? Cap. Pun. runs the numbers. Here's the dirty little secret: Zimm ain't that good yet. His stats declined noticeably in his second full season, and say what you want about park factors, lineup protection and the value of his glove, but Ryan is no David Wright. Not yet anyway. Do you really want to be handing out 4 or 5 year extensions to a slugger rehabbing a wrist injury? Down that road lies Scott Rolen. Answer: Calm down. Before Zimm hits arbitration next spring he'll have a deal that buys out a least one year of free agency.


February 21, 2008

Bang? Zoom!

I know I'm late to the party on this. Nationals Enquirer and Capitol Punishment have weighed in Trader Jim's preferred mode of Spring Training transportation. But so what. You're here so you're entitled to my opinion.

That. Is. Awesome!

Jim Bowden rides a pimped out Nats Segway. Exactly what is not freaking sweet about that? Sure he'll get made fun of, until he pimp slaps Omar Minaya out of one of the best young outfielders in the game while doing donuts on the infield. The bloggers will mock, but JimBo'll just put the Seg on autopilot while he whips out his cellie and fleeces Krivsky out of two everyday players in exchange for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Brendan Harris, Royce Clayton and Darryl Thompson. While you're busy not taking him seriously, he's busy building one of the better young farm systems in the game, all while motoring smoothly from Point A to Point B.

My GM is better than yours. And he drives a pimped-out Segway. You got served.

February 19, 2008

Now Leading Off...

Forget public financing of presidential campaigns, there ought to be a little box on your tax return you can check off and have the government donate money to Baseball-Reference.com. Their latest gadget is a tool that displays all the splits for a given batting slot on a team in any given year. Want to know how the Yankee cleanup hitters did in 2005? No problem. (Why did Rueben Sierra ever bat cleanup on that team?)

That's an easy example of telling you something you already knew: guys who bat 4th for the Yankees are good. Here's a more interesting question: Who was the Nationals best leadoff hitter in 2007? Here's your answer. Surprised? I know I was.

Yes, all the usual small sample size caveats apply, and there are many other issues that prevent him from being a realistic option as an everyday leadoff man. But consider this, the Nationals let this 31 year-old walk (and sign as a minor league FA with the Cardinals) and signed 38 year-old Bret Boone.

Just for fun: the second best leadoff hitter on your 2007 Washington Nationals? GUZMANIA!

Some historical perspective:

  • 2006 - Damn, Alfonso was awesome.
  • 2005 - Admire Wilkie's April, 'cause there sure ain't much else to admire.

A little fooling around can tell you why Manny tentatively has Guzie penciled into the top spot and why he desperately hopes Felipe returns to form. It doesn't look like Plan C is much of an option.


Perez signs. Chico sweats. Trader Jim needs a haircut.

Whazzat? It's pronounced O-Dallas?


February 18, 2008


I swear we've been here before. As a rule, minor league signings, even those that include an invite to Spring Training, don't rate a post of their own. But this is different, this is a family affair. Bret Boone, of the previously hired Bob & Aaron Boone bloodline, agreed to a minor league contract today.

Just to refresh your memory Bret Boone will be 39 in April, hasn't played in the majors since 2005 and hasn't played well since 2003 (what I like to call the "Pre-Testing Era".) To top it all off, he doesn't seem interested in A) a utility role or B) a minor league assignment. Yes folks, this move has success written all over it.

It's never a bad thing to see your GM attempting to stockpile useful assets for trade, but Bret Boone stretches the definition of useful asset beyond recognition. I suppose in the best-case scenario Bret might play well enough to earn the backup 2B job, freeing the team up to trade the more valuable FLop or Belliard, and in the worst-case he just gets his walking papers at the end of March. But I just can't shake the feeling that he wouldn't be in camp today if his name was Bret Balaban, y'know?

Capitol Punishment helpfully provides a handy list of remaining unsigned Boones (though he mysteriously neglects poor, dead Boone Carlyle from Lost. Maybe it's all part of the conspiracy!) Note: NTP heartily endorses the signing of Coach Herman Boone.

Go West, Young Nook

From that hallowed baseball publication the L.A. Daily News comes a brief note that the Dodgers have signed former Nationals CF Nook Logan to a minor league deal. Logan owns the distinction of being MLB's most unlikely 'roider.

Nice little bit of symetry with Paulie the Pusher coming to DC and Nook heading out to L.A., though given the state of the Dodger outfield Nook is most likely to spend 2008 toiling for the AAA Las Vegas 51s. So if you happen to be out west getting your gamble on, stop by and say "Stop overrunning third base, jackass!"

February 16, 2008

Hmm, Something's Missing...

Something was absent from today's much anticipated statement by Nationals Catcher/Pusherman Paul Lo Duca. Something besides an admission of guilt, that is. As a piece of public relations the statement was pitch perfect. Stan Kasten himself couldn't have been more opaque. In fact, Capitol Punishment saw fit to run Paul's opus through the vaunted Stan-speak translator. But the duplicity isn't really what bothers me. I wasn't holding my breath waiting for Paulie Lo Down to pop out of his spider hole and apologize for using PEDs and running an amateur drug ring out of a few major league clubhouses.

What I would like to have heard is something like this:

I want to apologize to my family, all my fans and to the entire baseball community for being too stupid to pay cash for my drugs, which might have helped me avoid a starring role in Senator Mitchell's cursory, half-assed examination of baseball's "steroid problem." I grant you that most baseball players are not frustrated closet astrophysicists, but catchers are supposed to be more cerebral than the average bat-toting Neanderthal and there is no doubt that I have disgraced the august backstop fraternity. Except for Piazza, that guy's dumber than a bag of hammers.

I recognize the importance of my role in calling a game and handling a pitching staff and I'm frankly mortified that I wasn't bright enough to realize that writing personal notes to my dealer on team stationary is only slightly dumber than hiding national security information in a hollowed out pumpkin. I'd also like to take this opportunity to extend a big middle finger to Sprint, because if my cell phone hadn't been TOAST! I would never have written anything down in the first place.

I am fully committed to being the best player and person I can be, on and off the field, for the Washington Nationals and the entire baseball community. So that I can avoid creating further distractions, I respectfully decline to communicate using anything other than a system of clicks and whistles from this day forward.

February 14, 2008

Roster Under Construction

On the eve of Pitchers & Catchers Day, I want to talk about something that's been bouncing around my head for about a month now. The active roster for an MLB team is composed of 25 players. Usually the breakdown is 5 starting pitchers, 6 or 7 guys in the bullpen, 8 starting position players and 5 or 6 guys on the bench.

National league teams tend to carry an extra bench player over an extra reliever to facilitate pinch hitting, double switches and other strategic concerns. Teams with questionable starting pitching tend to carry an extra reliever to take some of the pressure off both their starters and their bullpen. The Nationals are an NL team with questionable starting pitching, so something's got to give.

The issue is not so much who occupies each individual spot, but how they fit together as a whole. Here's an example: Either NJ or Dmitri is going to occupy first base, and the other will be on the bench. Likewise, either FLop or Ronnie will be playing second, with the other riding the pine. Elijah Dukes seems to be the consensus fourth outfielder going into Spring Training and Estrada will back up LoDuca unless and until Paulie LoDown is suspended, indicted and/or deported. With Aaron Boone in the "Batista-Baerga Memorial INF/PH" role that's five bench spots filled with no left-handed outfielders.

The bullpen is similarly crowded. Big Jon Rauch and The Chief figure to be locked in as primary setup guy and closer, respectively. If Luis Ayala is healthy he'll be there too, as will, in all likelihood "Everyday" Saul Rivera. Again, that's four relievers before you've added a lefty or a swingman. Assuming Ray King really has slimmed down to the point where he only occupies one roster spot that only leaves two roster spots for a lefty outfielder, a utility infielder, a 2nd lefty reliever or a spot starter/swingman.

In the abstract this isn't a terrible problem to have. Nats fans who recall the not-too-distant halcyon days of Jeffrey Hammonds, Joe Horgan and Matt White can be forgiven for smiling at the current conundrum. Too many talented players for too few spots is nothing to object to strenuously. Injuries, trades, minor league options, a lot of things can happen between now and Opening Day that will make this issue moot. But with the start of Spring Training visible just over the horizon, the club will have some decisions to make.

February 7, 2008

On Running Out of Things to Talk About

Nine days until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, and the discussion-worthy pickins are a bit thin on the ground. Tours of the (still oddly incomplete looking) new stadium, improvidently-shaped snack treats, the signing of some guy who probably played American Legion ball with your cousin and, like the swallows returning to Orange County for a cappuccinno, hints and allegations of incipient cheaposity on the part of the ownership group. Taking these in order:

1. The Stadium: If the field and the seats are in, I can wait a few days weeks and months for every thing else to shake out. Improving on RFK is not a high bar to clear and I'm not worried. The parking situation will be atrocious, and will be a major black eye for the team and the city. But I've accepted that and resigned myself to Metro at least for the inaugural season.

2. The Concessions: No Aramark = big smile. Gifford's on-site is good, Ben's Chili Bowl would be great. Symbolism aside, the pretzels can be shaped like a lower intestine if they're plentiful, fresh and served with the correct amount of change.

3. Minor league signings: I don't care who the 5th outfielder for the Clippers is, or which 25-year old occupies the key backup utility infielder role in Harrisburg. God help me, I just don't.

4. Payroll: Now we've arrived at the elephant in the room. Making a broad generalization, I don't think anyone who has been paying attention thinks the Lerners are cheapskates in the Charley O. Finley, Carl Pohlad tradition. If there is a charge to be leveled at our ownership it might be "unnecessary thriftiness." Or then again, it might not.

It's easy to forget, but the Lerners have already spent more than half a billion dollars on this team. First came the record-breaking purchase price. Then they invested a few million in duct tape, paper clips and eagle spit to hold RFK together for one last hurrah. Roughly $50M and counting has gone into upgrades for the publicly financed stadium, though you can certainly huff and bluster that the average fan in the outfield seats won't see the results of the bulk of that money. Still, it all comes off the balance sheet the same.

Bare-bones facilities and inept contractors have aroused their fair share of ire, but the main complaint concerns the team on the field. The Lerners, this thinking goes, are shortchanging the fans (and I suppose the players) by not shelling out a few measly million more for a veteran to shore up the rotation/lineup/bullpen/bench, with most of the animus directed at the lack of veteran starting pitching.

I doubt even the most ardent fanboy would argue the Nats are anywhere close to fielding "the best team that money can buy" but the team has gotten a pretty good return on their on-field investment. For 2007, the Nats spent $1.33M per marginal win, the 5th lowest amount in baseball. By contrast, the 2007 Baltimore Orioles spent $4.17M per marginal win. (A fuller explanation of payroll, marginal wins and efficiency is available here and here.) In fairness, two of the teams with better marginal win expenditures than the Nats were the playoff-bound Indians and Rockies. It's not like the franchise is a model of payroll efficiency, but they look pretty good compared to San Francisco ($4.07M per marginal win.)

All of which is to say, the Nats strategy of staying primarily young and in-house paid off pretty well last year, relative to expectations. And I mean realistic expectations, not the "OMG! Nats are gonna be the worstest team evah!" prognostications that came from a few quarters. And there really is no reason to think that they won't continue to improve this year, given the offensive upgrades the team has made.

Could a veteran pitcher aid that progress? Sure, it's possible, though there are very few guys left on the market who look capable of producing anything near 200 innings of sub-5 ERA ball. Kyle Lohse might, as might ¡Livan! Those two are the cream of the remaining crop, and leaving cost aside entirely, both are far from sure things. I don't particularly think bringing in one "established veteran" will impair the development of the youngsters on the staff, I just doubt it would help more than letting John Lannan, Tyler Clippard or Collin Balester take their lumps in '08 to learn and grow for 2009 and beyond.