April 3, 2009

Good Humour, Man

In medieval medicine, the four humours were the cornerstone of diagnosis. A proper balance of blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile promised good health. An excess or deficiency meant it was time to break out the leeches. Sure there were rudimentary medicines, but leeches were what kept people coming back.

A certain segment of Washington Nationals fandom finds itself beset by a similar imbalance this spring. Understandably unaccustomed to the team's apparent excess of talented major league ballplayers, they have responded as any good surgeon would in the Dark Ages. "Let the bloodletting commence!"

The preferred prescription? Bleed off an outfielder. (With optional Nick Johnson trade therapy, depending on the severity of your individual condition.) Fans from the august St. Thomas of Boswell to the semi-nonymous rabble at Nationals Journal have signed on for this course of treatment. I covered this topic before, so I won't rehash. As Mike Rizzo, Manny Acta and others have noted, one injury can turn a surplus into a deficit mighty quick.

But there's another thing that bothers me about this line of thinking. It's the casual idea that our "treasure trove" of defense/health challenged OF-1B types is worth anything. It's easy to say (or write) "Trade Player X for another starting pitcher or prospects" as though it's simply a matter of filling out the paperwork. The implied logic is:

1. Player X (let's call him Continuings Sawedge or Houston Bearns) has terrible stats/work ethic/defensive shortcomings/body odor
2. ????
3. Someone will trade us a talented player that fills an immediate need or improves the farm.

That's the kind of business plan that keeps the Underpants Gnomes impoverished generation after generation.

The corollary is even better. Player X must be traded because he isn't good enough to start for the Washington Nationals. So the guy who isn't good enough to crack the lineup of our worst-in-baseball, 102-loss Nats is nevertheless a valuable trading chip. But he can't play because he'd be taking at-bats from more talented, valuable players, you see?

It's true that putting the best team on the field sometimes conflicts with the need to showcase players for a trade. The current climate, where teams are dumping multi-million dollar contracts right and left, makes the process of trading bad contracts even trickier. But if you really want what's best for the Nats, you should be rooting for guys like Kearns, Johnson and Milledge to play, and play well, at least until the end of July.

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