May 26, 2010

Hook, Line, Sinker

What has six thumbs and three tickets to the June 4th game against the Reds? These guys!

I don't blame the Nats. Like Needham says, they bent over backwards not to say anything about when Jeezus will be incarnating in DC. (Contrarywise, seems like they could have said something about when he wouldn't be appearing.) Nor do I particularly blame Zuckerman, Goessling, et al. though this piece is a masterwork of backtracking. Educated guesswork is the lifeblood of journalism, but sometimes you're going to be wrong. In sportswriting this will get you mercilessly mocked on the interweb. In politics it will get you an Op-Ed column at the Washington Post.

One of the criticisms leveled at the Nats for manipulating Stephen Strasburg's service clock was that while they were saving money on his future contracts they were losing revenue in 2010 by not maximizing his major league starts. Clearly Stan Kasten devised a way around that problem. He's managed a near sellout of an otherwise unremarkable Friday night game in early June. Have cake? Check. Eat cake? Check.

Again, I don't blame the Nats. It was in their interest not to quash the June 4th speculation. We ought to understand by now that Stan, Mark and Uncle Teddy consider tickets sold the only appropriate barometer of success. Butts in the seats, or who those butts happen to be rooting for, is a secondary concern. I have no doubt that June 8th, or any other date will sell out just as quickly once Strasburg's promotion is confirmed. Hell, I might very well roll the dice again myself.

May 16, 2010

File Under Better Late Than Never

To make room for the return of Mike Morse the Nats are designating 5th OF/pinch runner (and inexplicable occasional starting right fielder) Willy Taveras for assignment. Taveras is such a typical Jim Bowden-type player that I'm surprised Rizzo didn't get more grief for bringing him aboard. His defense has been solid, but he's been a black hole offensively (38 OPS+) and even with his vaunted speed is just 1-3 in stolen base attempts. Taveras's best performance came in an April 10th win over the Mets, where he went 2-4 with 4 RBI.

I'd say this move has been a long time coming, but in truth, until Morse was healthy again there was no one in Syracuse that would have represented a serious upgrade. Justin Maxwell has put up better numbers, but the organization still hopes that he's more than just a reserve or platoon outfielder and is giving him one last shot to prove he deserves a larger role. It will be interesting to see what sort of time share Jim Riggleman works out for Harris, Bernadina and Morse in right. Morse was originally slated to take the short end of a lefty/righty platoon with Super Willie. That would consign Bernadina to the 5th OF/pinch runner role Willy T. just vacated.

Morse has the potential to be the Nats most offensively potent right fielder (note the damning with faint praise.) Defensively he's probably a step above Cristian Guzman, but several notches below Bernadina and Harris. Morse gives the team a little more flexibility because he can also "play" first base, though with only 85 innings of experience over four seasons it's not clear that he'd be a better defensive replacement than Adam Kennedy or even an upgrade over Adam Dunn.

A look at the roster after Morse's return highlights two ongoing concerns. One, the Nationals are still operating without a legitimate right fielder, and there's no one waiting in the wings to take over. Two, there's still no power on this team outside of the core of Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham. When Mike Morse automatically becomes your big bopper off the bench, that's a problem. Fans are rightly focused on the arrival of Strasburg, Storen et al. to reinforce the pitching, but if the Nats are going to make a serious run at contention in 2010 Rizzo is going to need to do more in right field than just swapping Mike Morse for Willy Taveras.

May 14, 2010

Bryce Harper and the Tao of Rizzo

"Talent without character doesn't work. Your lack of character will make you stumble somewhere along the line." - Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo

Never have I seen a clearer statement of Rizzo's organizational philosophy. The Rizzo ethic stands in clear contrast to Jim Bowden's "Tools uber alles" approach and penchant for giving talented but troubled ballplayers a second home. Based on the early results, you'd have to call this a clear win for the Tao of Rizzo, wouldn't you?

Here's the thing, though. The corollary to Rizzo's first sentence is "Character without talent doesn't work either." In fact, I'm pretty comfortable asserting that a lack of talent has tripped up many more ballplayers than have been laid low by a fundamental character deficiency. Given a choice everybody wants high talent, good character players. That's about as uncontroversial as wanting smart, good-looking kids.

The question is, what ratio of character to talent do you need to be a success? More importantly, if character is what we do when no one is looking, how the hell do you measure character? On a practical level, it becomes a circular argument: "Mike Rizzo puts a premium on character, so any guy he brings in must be a good character guy." Likewise, doesn't Rizzo have to say that any player he pursues has good character? After all, if you value character you wouldn't be interested in fractuous trouble-makers.

On the flip side, other teams might rightly suspect that any player the Nats are looking to unload comes with some baggage. (Josh Willingham improved his batting stroke this offseason by clubbing baby seals, you know.)

In conclusion, no one questions Bryce Harper's talent. So the more you see Nationals' front office-types defending Bryce Harper's make-up, the surer you can be that he'll be holding a Nationals' jersey in June. After all, if Rizzo's interested, Harper must be a good guy; and if Harper wasn't a good guy the Nats wouldn't be interested, right?

May 12, 2010


Can we please get rid of Willy Taveras now?

No? Well, how about now?

Okay, but surely Willy's on the bus to Syracuse by now?

Play Bernadinger in right, play Super Willie in right, I don't care. Hell, play Mike Morse in right when he comes back. I've accepted that the Nats probably aren't going to have a right fielder who can hit and field consistently in 2010. Just get Willie Taveras off the roster.


Know what else I noticed about this game? No Bruney!

Now I'm not saying that Brian the Bear is single-handedly responsible for at least 3 losses this season... no wait, that's exactly what I'm saying.

I didn't think it was possible to have less command of the strike zone than Joel "Gas Can" Hanrahan. I get that "missing bats" is a good thing for a hard-throwing reliever, but someone needs to remind Rizzo that missing bats because you're pitching a foot off the plate doesn't count.

Rizzo doesn't want to call up Storen for fear of having to pay him an extra $5M six years from now when he's still an effective closer (like Chad Cordero, Houston Street and all those other consistent young relievers). Fine, then how about Joel Peralta?

May 3, 2010

Chronicles of Pitching Depth: Volume 2

I think we've discovered the multi-part featurette that Adam Kilgore keeps in the can for a rainy off-day. Every one needs an obsession, I get that. I'm just not sure there's much more gold to mine from the tragic tale of Matt Chico and his inability to crack the AAA rotation. Chico was a mediocre (and lucky) pitcher on a very bad team. Now he's an older, surgically-repaired pitcher, competing with other failed major leaguers to be the mediocrest of them all. If there's a riveting story in that, I'm not seeing it.


Your Improbable 2o11 First Baseman of the Week: Alex Gordon

The official NTP editorial position is that, in the abstract, the Nats should sign Adam Dunn to an extension. We figure the Dunnkeys alone are worth a million a year. Of course, the abstract could give way to a five year, $85M albatross, and nobody (except possibly Adam) wants that. With that in mind, this is the first in an occasional series of looks at the men who could, but probably won't, replace Dunn in DC in 2011.

Alex Gordon (aka the guy drafted two places ahead of Ryan Zimmerman) is in the doghouse in Kansas City. Gordon is undeniably guilty of not being the second best player selected in the 2005 draft. Apart from that, the 26-year old's particular sins are as follows: He doesn't hit for average; he'll probably never be a 30 HR hitter; he's not an elite defensive third baseman, and he's injury-prone.

On the flip-side, he takes a walk with the best of them, he's only a few years removed from being MILB Player of the Year, and a move from third to first probably improves his defense in the long run. Best case scenario? Nick Johnson v. 2.0. Yeah, he's probably not going to be the Nationals' first baseman in 2011, (see the headline). Still, any time a player with Gordon's talent is on the outs with his club, we should hope Rizzo is kicking the tires.