March 20, 2008

Pattergonia (For Good This Time)

That was... unexpected. John Patterson, 2007 Opening Day starter and inspiration for a future episode of House, was released outright by the Nationals this afternoon. The Big Narsty was limited to 15 largely ineffective starts over the last two seasons by a variety of mysterious neuro-muscular forearm ailments, none of which was exertional compartment syndrome.

J-Pattsy had been inconsistent in his Spring starts and got rocked pretty convincingly by the Orioles in his last outing, but his performance wasn't particularly unusual for a guy who A) was coming back from surgery and B) hadn't pitched regularly in two plus years. So what's going on here?

The team's explanation, via Jim Bowden: "We've done everything we could possibly do. He just never got the stuff back." more specifically "We believe he had better stuff last season. We hoped we could get him back, and it just never came."

This strikes me as fishy for a number of reasons. First, see above re: coming back from injury. Second, the move was timed to avoid having to pay Patterson's $850,000 non-guaranteed contract. [Update: It appears the team will be on the hook for about $212,500. Not a bad severance package in these uncertain economic times, but still.] Third, the team has a history of frustration with Patterson's many injuries and the glacial speed of his rehab.

If the team legitimately thinks John Patterson is done as a healthy, effective Major League pitcher, that's one thing. It's a reasonable opinion to hold, particularly given that they have access to information that we as fans are not privy to. But if someone in the front office or the owner's box looked at J-Patt and said, "Why are we about to pay this guy $850,000 for putting up a 7 ERA in Spring Training after what we've put up with the last two years?" that's a problem.

If money was the driving issue consider this: Odalis Perez got an $850,000 non-guaranteed contract on the heels of tossing 137 innings of 5.57 ERA ball for the Royals and he's in the running to be the team's Opening Day starter. There's no question that Patterson has as much natural talent as anyone in the organization, notwithstanding his ability to harness it. Cutting him loose outright over a few hundred thousand dollars out of a budget of tens of millions smacks of penny wisdom and pound foolishness. This will certainly do nothing to dispell the ever-present "The Owners Are Cheap!" chorus, currently warming up backstage.

If durability was the primary concern, it's worth noting that Shawn Hill has been every bit as injury-prone and inconsistent as Patterson. However, as Harper notes, Hill, the presumptive staff ace, is an "unlucky warrior" while J.P. is the Big Pansy. This wouldn't be the first time ::coughChurchcough:: that this team has scapegoated a player for lack of toughness, real or perceived.

We will likely never know the full story behind this move. So instead of more pointless speculation, we'll end by wishing John and his family well and promise nothing but fond memories of nights like this one. Vaya con Dios, Big Nasty.

UPDATE: Dave Shenin with more on the logic behind the move. Quoth the Mannyger, "[W]e don't feel right now that, every five days, John was going to give us the best chance to win a ballgame." If that's the story they're sticking to, then this was a good baseball move. But this is a tough town for going on the record. If it comes out later that something else was going on here, whoops, there goes Manny's credibility. Maybe he should've gone with "an anonymous coaching staff source who took part in the deliberations and understands the value of OBP." Too opaque?


Anonymous said...

The striking thing to me isn't that the Nationals front office thinks John Patterson is done as a healthy, effective Major League pitcher. It's that every team in major league baseball thinks John Patterson is done as a healthy, effective Major League pitcher.

You know before releasing him, Jimbo had to be busy trying to move him, and clearly he got no bites. The scouting report on J-Pattsy had to be worse than we thought. The Nats are clearly not the only team unwilling to pay him $850K.

Nate said...

That's a good point, PR, but more than the money the roster spot could have been a sticking point. Pattsy may well find himself a non-roster invitee with a split major league/minor league contract for his next team.

Anonymous said...

I do not think you would find many if any teams, that are going to be interested in pitcher with 85mph fastball and a era of 7.00.

Nate said...

And yet Mark Hendrickson is a strong candidate to start Opening Day for the Marlins...