August 29, 2008
August 27, 2008
The Nats are starting the September call ups a little early this year, but instead of adding a 3rd catcher and a few spare bullpen arms, the team has added an extra coach. AAA hitting instructor Rick Eckstein, older brother of the quintessential scrappy white infielder, will be joining the big club "to become an extra hitting coach and do anything else manager Manny Acta wants him to do."
Like helping Lenny Harris clean out his office and pack up his car?
As the article notes, this is the third time in the last five years that the team has added an extra coach for the closing weeks of the season. This may be a month-long tryout for Eckstein, or just a chance to get an extra set of eyes and hands on our struggling hitters, but it can't be seen as anything other than an indictment of the work done by Harris, who has coached one of the worst offenses in MLB history.
We know Rick Eckstein has ample experience working with young hitters, from his time in the Nats farm system, to his just-completed Olympic stint with Team USA. So Godspeed, Rick. Feel free to start with Bonifacio and work your way down the lineup.
Filed by: Nate File under: Empty Promises
August 26, 2008
It seems like there has been a lot more "Nats fans, let your voices be heard!" instigation this year compared to seasons past. Some of that is the sign of a maturing fan base, some of it is spontaneous disgust with The Washington Nationals v. 2008. In any case, there is a significant hue and cry for the average fan in the stands to make his or her opinion known, be it via pointless internet petition, misdirected media-fueled hatred, or hey, self-indulgent blogging!
But there is one way the average fan really can contribute to improving baseball, not just in DC, but everywhere, for all time. GO HERE. FILL OUT THE SURVEY. Vent your spleen at Milledge's circular routes to routine fly balls, or Dmitri's impersonation of a fat Venus de Milo at first base. The more people participate, the better the results will be. Wisdom of crowds and all that. Be sure to read the instructions, and make only those evaluations you feel comfortable with.
And remember, this is for science, so no hopscotching over to the Philadelphia page to tank Pat Burrell's ratings. He's doing just fine on his own.
August 25, 2008
I've come out of my Olympic Daze.
It was fantastic. It's fun to watch a team win, and team USA did that for us in spades. Swimming, gymnastics, track and field, beach volleyball, and water polo all are sports I don't give a damn about normally, and I became obsessed. Hell, I'm thinking about buying tickets to go to London in 4 years. There won't be baseball in the Olympics, but who cares!
And I resurface, and besides figuring out what Nate and Watson are doing, I decide to check on the Nats. I had some vague concept of them doing badly, as it seemed like I got a lot of text messages from the team that they lost. I don't remember many wins in there, but I wasn't really looking.
I totalled it up.
The team went 2-14 during the Olympics.
2 wins. 14 losses.
What the hell happened? I mean, we're bad, I know that, but 2 wins? 14 losses? One game we lost zero to 12!!
Are we even trying?
I'm understanding of the Plan, but does the plan mean we don't field a team? We're not looking to win the World Series, but hell, can we play the game? What if we call up all triple-A guys? Or is that what we've done?
I'm going to the game on Thursday. Somebody brief me.
This seems kinda epic. Just not in the same way the Olympics were.
Please review the following selections from the latest Nationals.com Mailbag:
On the demotion of IF/OF Kory Casto AAA Columbus:
"Casto is a guy who has been the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year twice. Casto set the bar high and the Nationals expected more out of him -- they don't want a singles hitter who goes to left field too often. They want a power hitter who draws a lot of walks. " (Emphasis added.)
On the possible offseason acquisition of OF/1B Adam Dunn:
"They need a power hitter in the worst way, but I don't think Dunn is the answer. He strikes out too much and he is a below-average defensive player. It's time for the Nationals to acquire complete players. If they were to sign Dunn, you might as well bring Dave Kingman out of retirement, because they are the same player. " (Emphasis added.)
Now the fellas at Fire Joe Morgan have made a career of Dunn-defending, to no apparent avail, so I won't belabor the point. But compare career lines:
Adam Dunn (8 seasons): .247/.381/.520 272 HRs 770 BB (1225 K)
Dave Kingman (16 seasons): .236/.302/.478 442 HRs 608 BB (1816 K)
Adam Dunn hits home runs, walks (and strikes out.) The Nationals need a power hitter who draws walks. As long as it's someone other than Adam Dunn.
August 23, 2008
Sorry Cubbies, you're not allowed to be the "best team in baseball" from now on. The "best team in baseball" simply does not blow a 4-run lead and lose to the Washington Nationals 13-5. Dropping two out of three at Nats Park in April is one thing. But you're getting awfully close to losing the season series. No self-respecting World Series caliber team drops two sets to the worst team in all of professional sports ever. So be afraid, be very afraid.
One of the many pitfalls of running a terrible team is that you're constantly afflicted with the curse of the mediocre player having a career year. In 2007 Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young spun Spring Training signings into two-year, multi-million dollar contracts. I'd say the Belliard contract has been a good deal, the Young deal, not so much (even with his impending return to baseball activities.)
Willie Harris is poised to repeat the pattern this offseason. The Nats have expressed interest in resigning the utility man, though negotiations haven't really kicked in just yet. On the heels of his first career multi-homer game, Big Willie is hitting .255/.342/.455 and is tied with Lastings Milledge for the team lead in homers, with 12 long balls. But Harris's career line is a much less sparkling .248/.323/.345, which suggests that this year's power surge is something of a fluke.
There's no question that Willie has value as a left-handed bat who can come off the bench and play all over the field. He's only 30, and if he gets a two-year deal on the order of what Ronnie Belliard got, in the $3.5M range, it could be another nice signing to bolster the bench. But if the Nats go crazy for another average guy having an above average year on a terrible team, watch out.
Aaron Crow's appearance on Baseball Digest Daily's weekly radio show generated a lot of buzz in the Natosphere. I know for a fact that Mike from Hendo's Hutch was listening in to the Nats former top draft pick. You can listen to the show for yourself, so I won't bother with a transcript, but after hearing Aaron's side of the story I'm inclined to think that this is a deal that wasn't ever going to get done. Crow is where he wants to be, following in the footsteps of his former Mizzou teammate, Arizona's Max Scherzer and hoping for a better deal in 2009. The Nats have two top ten picks next season. Maybe that's the optimal outcome for everyone.
August 19, 2008
Meant to mention this earlier, but lord it's a chore writing anything about this team right now. Apparently MASN, no longer content with providing thoroughly mediocre quasi-HD baseball coverage that consistently shorts its DC-based junior partner (and slipping us a few bucks in a plain white envelope every month) has branched out onto teh interweb in a big way.
The new venture is MASNFantasyCamp.com, an online community for fans of the Nats, Orioles and Ravens. Shamelessly cribbing from the press release:
At MASN Fantasy Camp, fans are encouraged to build a personal profile page to connect with other fans, post videos and photos, write their own blogs and organize fan events in their area.
Fans will be able to upload and organize photo albums and video clips, contribute their thoughts on the community message boards, and have their opinions heard through their very own MASN blog. Select member contributions will also be featured on MASN's official website at MASNsports.com.
Now if Facebook and Barack Obama have taught me anything, it's that online communities are the wave of the future, if you expand "the future" to include 6-18 months into the past. Nevertheless, more online watering holes are never a bad thing, particularly as BallparkGuys.com teeters on the edge of insolvency and Yuda's Gameday Chats seem to be in their own twilight hours. I must say though, MASNFantasyCamp.com's business model seems based on some questionable assumptions:
1. Ravens fans know how to use the internet correctly. The results of this ESPN Sports Nation poll suggest otherwise. (H/T to NTP's favorite futbawl blog.)
2. The general antipathy that Nationals fans feel toward their crapbag, skinflint, Keystone Kops franchise hasn't metastasized into a loathing of other Nats fans, who must be farking idiots for continuing to watch this unmitigated natural disaster masquerading as a baseball team.
3. Every sentient human on Earth who wants a blog doesn't already have one.
Still, I have no doubt that MASN Fantasy Camp will meet, nay exceed, the standards set by MASN's broadcasting and journalism divisions. Which means there's no truth to the rumors that the host servers are parked in a basement in Gori.
August 16, 2008
So apparently Nate is watching baseball. I will admit that the only baseball I've watched in 8 days was the USA/Cuba game and the USA/Korea game. There's MLB going on? All the basketball stars are playing, and it's not even their season.
I thought all there was is Michael Phelps.
I'm totally obsessed with Olympics. It started watching the opening ceremonies in a hotel bar in Seattle, and went from there. I watched Saturday night when I got back, I watched all day Sunday. I have it on in my office during the day. I've seen all the Phelps wins. I've watched Togo win it's only medal ever. I know details about people and sports I have no interest at all in... well, ever.
It's like a disease.
So I'll leave it in everyone else's hands to watch the Nats sink into oblivion. I'll be back to swill down some beers in late August and September. For now, my sights are on Beijing.
In the aftermath of the Crow non-signing, opinion has split quickly and decisively into two camps: either "Bowden is unfit to manage a Dairy Queen, much less a major league baseball team!" exemplified, as per usual by Steven at FJB or "Crow's an over-entitled prima donna and his agents are morons!" most commonly found in the comments at Nats Journal. There's more than a grain of truth to both of these positions and, as the slightly more level-headed proprietor of Nationals Farm Authority notes, "there is more than enough blame to go around to both parties."
Based on imperfect knowledge of the negotiations, which is all that any of us have, my initial reaction is to side with the team on this one. If Crow and the Hendricks brothers were looking for a $8-9M deal and a major league contract as recently as 3 days ago, that suggests to me that their expectations were unreasonable from the get-go, and that they thought "The Plan" could put the Nats over a barrel. If so, there's a very good chance that they overplayed their hand. Crow will go back into the 2009 draft, considered to be deeper in frontline pitching talent. Maybe he'll get a better deal, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll blow out his elbow and become another draft day cautionary tale to frighten college juniors. In any case he's postponed his major league career, and the attendant chance at big money, by at least a year, which ought to have factored into his and his agents' thinking.
As for the Nationals, this is a blow, no sugar-coating it. The front office has been deflecting attention from the "product" on the field (losers of 8 straight!) for the past two seasons by pointing to the farm system and yelling "Build from Within!" until they were hoarse. That's all fine and good, but you can't do that and then very publicly skimp on topflight amateur talent. The stadium won't be brand new next season and the team is running out of avenues to misdirect fan attention. The future sure as heck isn't now, and if it doesn't get here soon, there might be nobody left to see it.
That said, you can't lay this failure solely at the feet of Jim Bowden. The signing of a top draft pick is an organizational initiative. If Bowden fell spectacularly short over $700-800K, then so did the Lerners and Stan Kasten. There are no winners here, but as a wise man once wrote, "there is more than enough blame to go around".
UPDATE: Spin is in, but even taken with a grain of salt, you can't say that JimBo is reticent about the negotiations process. I'm curious. Given what we know now, one-sided and self-serving as it may be, what should the Nats have done about Crow? Avoided him altogether in the first place? Paid the $9M? Met his last minute $4.4M demand? What's the "right" play?
For me, the most disheartening part of the interview isn't that they wouldn't pony up $4M for Crow, it's that they wouldn't have signed Marcus Jones and J.P. Ramirez but for the failure with Crow. That's the red flag in this conversation. If Ramirez is worth $1.6M he's worth it whether Crow signs or not. If you draft 50 guys, you ought to budget to sign 50 guys at whatever they're worth to you. A franchise, particularly this franchise, should never be in the position of having to choose between draft picks. Pick the guys you want, and stick to the numbers you have in mind. That's fine. But don't short the budget. That's dangerously close to CHEEEA...
August 1, 2008
The Bonifacio-Gonzalez middle infield defense appears to be as-advertised. As does Emilio's vaunted speed, and Alberto's batting eye. It was just one game, and a game against Homer Bailey, at that, but I'll join the chorus that's saying, "If I have to watch bad baseball, I'd prefer it be played by 9 hustling kids."
Apparently Odalis Perez feels the same way. The youth movement inspired arguably his best start of the season, 1 run on 3 hits over 7 and a third innings. That was more than enough against Bailey, who I expect to see on our roster by this time next season at this rate. The top of the lineup jumped all over Homer, getting 2 runs in the first inning and tacking on three more in the second, including a double by Gonzalez and a single/steal combo by Bonifacio.
Yes, the offense pretty much closed up shop after that, but Perez, "Everyday" Saul Rivera and newly anointed closer Joel Hanrahan held the Reds in check, doing an especially nice job against the heart of the Cincy lineup. If we can get this kind of combination of pitching and defense down the stretch, Nats baseball will be a lot more watchable. Heck, it might even cost us the "Strasburg Sweepstakes."