Rumors and lies and stories they made up

Well the old hot stove league is in full swing, and, the Nats seem to be smack dab in the middle of everything this year. I’ve been trying to follow everything I can on this, and here are the bits and pieces I’ve found around.

Coming

1. Mark Teixeira. Lots of rumblings about this. He wants to be signed by Christmas. He is apparently interested in playing for the Nats. He wants to stay on the east coast. The Nats are ready to offer ‘crazy money.’

Teixeira is really perfect for the Nats, but are the Nats perfect for Teixeira? He’s a good guy (certainly was a nice guy giving autographs when he came here as a member of the Braves.) From the area. A power hitting left handed first baseman.

Tex is rumored to be courted by the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Orioles and Nats. I just don’t see the Red Sox signing this guy. They have Youkis at 1b, Lowell at 3b and Big Papa at dh. The rumor goes that Lowell would be dealt if Tex is signed. Seems like that’s a high dollar gamble for this team that is so loaded they really don’t have to pay $200 mil to one guy to get back to the Series.

The Yanks seem interested only because he’s a big ticket free agent, and they are the Yanks, so they have to be interested in spending a lot of money. Why they would worry about Texiera when they so desparately need pitching is beyond me. Ching Ling Wang was hurt for most of the year, Mike Mussina retired, and they really have no one else (Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, both fantasy team busts for me last year, qualify as no one). The Yankees are clearly looking to sign Sabathia, but he seems hesitant (you mean that money can’t buy you happiness?!). There are several other quality free agent starters on the market, including the oft-injured but talented Ben Sheets and the underappreciated Derek Lowe and Brad Penny. Unless that money is burning a hole in the pocket of Hank Steinbrenner, seems to me he’s better off looking elsewhere.

The Angels are supposedly balking at Boras’ demand for a 10 year contract. And Tex seems predisposed to come back east. So they are a possible, but unlikely destination in my opinion. (By the way, there is a complete idiot sportswriter on the west coast named Randy Youngman of the Orange County Register who states that Teixiera would be ‘ridiculed’ if he signed with a ‘perpetual loser’ like the Nationals. The team has been in existence four years. Perpetual? The Iraq war has been in existence two years longer than the Nationals. How can anything be ‘perpetual’ on the Nationals? One wonders how this loudmouthed uninformed unnecessarily insulting sportswriter sitting three thousand miles away could know that the Nationals will be ‘losers’ for the ten years of the contract Teixeira seeks. And jeez, I wouldn’t mind being ridiculed for getting $200 million. I wonder how many Nationals game this idiot has actually seen.)

That leaves the Orioles and the Nationals. Good ol’ Peter Angelos at it again. Teixeira supposedly grew up an Orioles fan (pity, really) so one would assume that if everything is equal, he’d put a bird on his head. But it may come down to years, guaranteed money, and which league Tex would rather play in. My guess is that he’s going to end up in Baltimore, but the Nats have a better shot at this than what the national press would like to think.

2. Adam Dunn. If you read this blog, you know I want this to happen. Dunn’s destinations have been remarkably quiet. My guess is that after Tex signs the bats are going to begin to fall. The one story I heard was that Jim Bowden contacted Dunn at the beginning of the free agency period, and told him to bring him a number before he signed anywhere else. With Bowden, AK, Aaron Boone, Bob Boone, Jose Rijo and Barry Larkin here, I really think that Dunn probably would be very comfortable with the Nats and be very productive. If Texiera goes elsewhere, this needs to get done.

3. Delmon Young. This would be a trade. Why why why? Didn’t this family hose us once already? He’s been with the Twinkies for a year and they’re looking to move him. Another disgruntled ex-Devil Ray?

4. Orlando Hudson. I’ve always thought that this guy was over rated, he’s a good quote so the press seems to love him. He also seems to be hurt quite often. But, lets face it, he’s probably an upgrade over Ronnie Bellard or Anderson Hernandez, and would improve the team. Also is supposedly a great clubhouse guy. But I’ve seen his name linked to about a half dozen teams, so why would he come here?

Staying?
1. Aaron Boone. Wants to play here, of course, his dad and JimBo are here and he’s a leader and liked in the clubhouse. He’d help Willingham and (more importantly) Olsen adjust. Its supposedly a matter of money.

2. Odalis Perez. There was a Spanish language report that he was working on a 2-3 year deal with the Nats, that turned out to be false. What veteran pitcher would you rather have in the rotation next year — Odalis Perez, Tim Redding or someone else? I’m not sure I know the answer to that.

Going
1. Nick Johnson. Just before Thanksgiving there were a whole bunch of press reports that the Oakland A’s were seeking Nick’s medical records. This appears to be true but no trade imminent. One report suggested Nick would be traded if Texiera signed with the Nats; another indicated that the Nats were interested in a young A’s first baseman .

Check the first 2008 post of the Nats Boy Report to see my high praise of Nick Johnson. When healthy, I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the league. When healthy. Its been two years and Nick’s played about six weeks though. I’ve jumped the shark. He’s in the last year of his contract. Get something for him if we get Teixera or Dunn.

2. Jesus Flores. Jesus Flores? Really? Offered to the Red Sox? This was in a report out of Boston. Flores was named as one of a dozen catchers offered to Boston by various MLB teams. Wasn’t there enough termoil behind the plate last year with LoDuca and Estrada? Unless Brian Schneider is traded back to the Nats by the Mets (and even then really), trading Jesus Flores is just plain nuts.

3. Lastings Milledge. I haven’t seen any specific rumors about Milledge being offered around, but there has been some press speculation that Milledge is going to be traded sooner rather than later because he is shaky as a center fielder and doesn’t have enough power to be a corner outfielder. My observation of Milledge is that the criticism is true. But shouldn’t we have checked this last year before trading Church and Schneider? I personally think the price for Milledge is only going to go down, so I’d quit while I was behind and get what I could. .

Oldies but goodies.
1. Jamie Carroll recently signed a new contract with the Cleveland Indians. Good for him.

2. No word at all on my favorite all time Nat Brad Wilkerson who is a free agent. He can play 1b and the outfield. He isn’t that expensive. And he has a ready made fan base here in DC. I’d love Wilky to come back but, like Paul O’Neill in Cincinnati, Bowden doesn’t seem to like players who do things to win games rather than just put up stats.

3. Brian Schneider is on the trading block by the Mets. Perhaps they discovered that the joys of a ground ball to second aren’t what they are cracked up to be. My personal observation, which is based on nothing concrete, is that Schneider was not the clubhouse force or influence on the pitching staff in NY as he was here in DC. People love Brian Schneider here. Like Wilkerson, he’s got a ready made fan base, and doesn’t make too much money. I’m not convinced that Wil Nieves is an adequate second catcher. Couldn’t Schneider and Flores split time?

After the Thanksgiving holiday ends, the winter meetings take place. Should be fun.

Olson/Willingham. Change We Need. Change We Can Believe In

Not surprisingly, Mr. Jim Bowden warmed up the hot stove early with a trade with the salary dumping Florida Marlins last night, acquiring a front line left handed starter, Scott Olsen, and a power hitting left fielder, Josh Willingham, for Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leaguers.

Hard to see any downside with this trade. The Marlins were salary dumping, and the Nats filled two needs with young, almost-arbitration eligible players. Olsen had a DUI a couple years ago, but so did Bowden. At least they aren’t hiring a guard to keep him out of prison. Olsen stayed on the straight and narrow last year. I always liked him as a pitcher, seemed like he beat the Nats quite often. Right now, the rotation is probably something like this: Scott Olsen, John Lannan, Colin Balester, Jordan Zimmermann, and someone else.

Willingham beat the Nationals like a drum. He’s an average fielding left fielder but hits usually 25-30 home runs a season, something desparately needed. Some speculation is that Willingham will play first base but I don’t see that happening — he hasn’t played it on a big league level and there are several reports that the Nats are looking to make a free agent splash by signing a big name 1b, which, to build/rebuild/retain interest in the team, is probably necessary. See below.

Right now as I see it the outfield is Willingham/Milledge/Kearns or Dukes. But I just don’t think that Dukes is being relied on by the organization to be in the lineup, and I think he may even be traded, assuming you can find someone else willing to take a chance on his volitile personality. Since arriving in DC, he’s had a shouting match with the manager in Pittsburgh, angered the New York Mets twice by chanting like “softball girls” and by showing up the Mets after hitting a home run. He has a M.O. of angering opponents, and even some teammates, with his displays of…shall we say ‘overenthusiasm’.

I see people on message boards discussing Willie Harris as a regular OF. Plu-eeze. Using marginal players like Harris on a regular basis is what landed us with less than 60 wins last year. Harris may not be back at all, he’s a free agent, and if he is, he is likely to be a role player at best. He doesn’t have the power to be a regular outfielder, he doesn’t hit well enough. He had a couple of good months, but really tailed off at the end of the season.

I still believe the Nats are going for big game, and by the end of the week. Matt Holliday is gone to Oakland. Given that he has one year left in his contract, I am glad the Nats didn’t bite like they did for Alfonso Soriano. Baeball Prospectus reports the Nats may land Mark Texiera, a Maryland native and an ex-Brave (though not in Kasten’s time), and Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports reports that the Nationals believe they are ready to make a “breakthrough”. The Baseball Prospectus report stated the Nats are prepared to offer Texiera 10 years at $200 million. And, of course, Adam Dunn has been in contact with the Nats too as has been widely reported. So look at this lineup and see if it doesn’t look better than 2008:

Guzman SS
Milledge CF
Zimmerman 3B
Texiera/Dunn 1B
Willingham LF
Dukes/Kearns RF
Flores C
Hernandez 2B
Pitcher

The best part of the Olson/Willingham trade and the reports of free agent offers is that it is a clear signal that the management of the team is finally willing to spend some money and bring in some major league players to make the 2009 Nationals competitive on the field and interesting to watch. I grew extremely tired of the ‘hope for the future’ line, when the ticket bill that comes in isn’t for games five years down the line, its for games to be played NEXT season. Maybe I’m not every fan, but I’d rather have a team that competes for 10 years, than one that loses 100 games on hopes of winning a World Series 10 years down the line. I waited 33 years for this team. Don’t tell me to be patient anymore.

Looks like hope is coming to Washington in more ways than one in 2009. I’m looking forward to the changes that I can believe in.

The First Base Dilemma

I started my Nats Boy Report blog last spring with an analysis of why Nick Johnson should be given the starting first baseman job over Dmitri Young. It made sense to me at the time, but it all turned out moot, because Nick lasted about six weeks and Dmitri lasted about as long as it takes to open a box of Sugar Free Ding Dongs. Kory Casto, Aaron Boone, Paul LoDuca, etc. all got significant playing time at first base. Which should, in part, explain a 59 win season.

Its pretty generally reported that the Nationals are looking for a new power hitting first baseman this off season. There have been a few names bandied about in blogs and ‘trade rumors’ websites. I’m no Kreskin, but here’s what I see happening/not happening.

1. Paul Konerko. I have had a theory since the trading deadline last July that Paul Konerko is going to be a National in 2009.

Here’s why: There were two rumors at the end of the trading deadline, just crazy enough to be true, that would support this theory: 1) It was reported that Bowden was talking to Kenny Williams about trading John Lannan and Joel Hanrahan to the Pale Hose; 2) It was also reported that Bowden had serious discussions about trading for a first baseman in July, but that the deal was not completed because the trading partner was in the pennant race and wanted to hang onto the first baseman until the off season.

If in fact both rumors were true, wouldn’t it make sense that it was a Lannan and Hanrahan for Konerko deal? Nick Swisher, who has been named as a possibility for the Nats by Phil Wood in Newsday, would surely be had for less than Lannan and Hanrahan. Jim Thome is pretty much a DH these days. And, people forget, that Konerko is an ex-Red and a player that Bowden traded for in the past as GM for the Reds. Konkerko fits the profile.

Today, Newsday in NY reported that Konerko (along w/ Jim Thome) may be moved by the White Sox — although the Nats were not mentioned as possible suitors. He also would have to waive a no trade clause, which, given the current state of the team, might be a sticking point. Also, this was before Adam Dunn was a free agent.

2. Adam Dunn. This makes so much sense. Dunn is exactly a player Bowden would like. Ex-Red. Bowden drafted him. Left handed power hitter. First baseman. Could also play left field, thus allowing Nick Johnson some ABs if and when he is healthy. Good friends with Austin Kearns.

There are reports that the Nats have already contacted Dunn’s agent. Fox Sports reported in 2007 that the Nats nearly completed a deal with the Reds for Dunn at that time.

Right now, my guess is that Dunn is number one on their list, and if he is available and can be signed, this conversation is over. Konerko, and the others named below, are probably all Plan B.

3. Mark Texiera. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Texiera, who is coveted by several pennant contending teams, would want to join the upstart Nats. The Angels. The Yankees. Yet I’ve read several places that Texiera is on the Nats radar. Supposedly its because he’s from Annapolis. But since he grew up an Orioles fan, and since they are supposedly also interested in him, if location was the primary consideration, it appears that he’d go put that silly bird on his head and take their 200 million.

For what its worth, I don’t think Texiera is a good idea for the Nats. He is a good player but not an impact player, not on the field or at the box office. He’s a good guy, but really has anyone ever bought a ticket thinking “I want to see Mark Texiera”? And, for a team trying to build a fan base, star power should be a requisite if you’re going to sink 200 million in one guy. (Alfonso Soriano, for instance…)

4. Prince Fielder. Fielder is often named as a possiblity on the official Nats website by Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Personally, I’m just happy Ladson finally stopped taking cheap shots at Brad Wilkerson.

But Fielder on the Nats? Please. He’s young and he hits a lot of home runs. But he’s probably 300 pounds — how long is he going to be able to play the field? Dmitri Young proved that that formula is probably not a long term solution. The Nats probably can’t spare the amount of prospects needed to acquire Fielder anyway. The Brewers, who just offered CC Sabathia $100 million, don’t sound like they’re ready to break their team up just yet anyway.

Any of these guys, though, would be an upgrade over Kory Casto, Dmitri Young, or Paul LoDuca, all of whom spent significant time at first base last season.

Two other free agent rumors floating around:
1. Matt Holliday. This is a guy that would be a franchise lynchpin for the Nats. The only problem is that he is on the last year of his contract, and, as we have seen with the Soriano trade, its not prudent to trade valuable members of your current team for someone who is only renting a year here and playing well only to acquire a big contract from someone else. I would trade anyone in the organization not named “Ryan Zimmerman” to get Holliday if the contract extension was worked out first. But the consensus is that he’s going to St. Louis for Ryan Ludwig and some other players. I don’t think we have a player not named “Ryan Zimmerman” who is as good as Ryan Ludwig, so this issue is probably moot.

2. Manny Ramirez. Believe it or not, I actually saw this reported on MLBtraderumors.com and by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. This would be so much fun. Manny can hit. Manny is colorful. I’m pretty sure that people have bought tickets to see Manny Ramirez. It would rejuvenate the franchise in this city and put us back on the national map for a while. Manny might like coming here because it would be his show, and we play in a pretty high profile city. Can we sign Manny and Dunn?!?! I don’t see it happening because I don’t think Manny would want to come here. But it makes so much more sense than other more credible rumors, that I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

(Originally posted on November 9 on Nationals Review.   Obviously some movement has taken place — both real and rumored — on Holliday and Texiera).

The New Jersey Devils

Yesterday 2009 officially began for me as I spent the day after my birthday in a little bit of Nationals-land, attending the new jersey unveiling at the ESPN Zone. The ESPN Zone events are always fun and entertaining, getting a chance to interact with the players a little bit, etc. This was a little different than the usual noontime Q&A however, because there were quite a few media types there, including Brent Haber from Channel 9 and Russ Thaler from Comcast Sports Net. Cameras were lined up everywhere. And, most encouragingly, the place was packed with fans.

The new jerseys are in my opinion really pretty cool. The road grey jersey is mighty impressive — a throwback, and apparently intentionally so, as noted by Charlie Slowes at the event. I’m an old time Senators fan (well, I remember them as my team for my first two years following baseball and went to my first game on Memorial Day 1970 at RFK), so obviously they are appealling to types like me. (Now if only once the Lerners would sponsor a Senators throw back the clock day along with the usual annual Grays tribute.)

Another really great jersey in my opinion is the new red Sunday jersey. I was never a fan of that interlocking DC logo. But this new jersey with a curly W looks almost EXACTLY like the Cincinnati Reds Sunday jerseys from 2003 — the curly W replacing the Wishbone C, and that’s about it. I actually own an Adam Dunn 2003 Sunday Reds jersey. He’d look right at home in that new Nats gear. The other alternate jersey is kind of odd. Its a dark blue jersey with an American flag pattern in an interlocking DC logo. Its taken a lot of heat on the message boards (at least the not-as-great-as-it-used-to-be Nationals Journal at the Washington Post), but I like it. It is kind of a unique logo, almost like one of those magic eye posters that were popular a while back, you look at it one time and you see the flag, then keep staring and you see the DC. The lettering on the back is white, and on the blue jersey I think it looks really nice.

Some other uniform notes: the blue caps will apprently continue to be worn on the road even though the jerseys are red and grey. You had to imagine what this may look like since Lastings (who was wearing a new grey uni) was not wearing a blue hat (or any hat) as he laughingly strutted past the cameras in the made up runway at ESPNZone. Something tells me that they have a backlog of blue hats they want to sell before switiching to all red, because a blue hat with that jersey is just gonna look odd and mistmatched.

The road jackets from last year, which were damn sharp, are apparently being scrubbed, (as are any clothing with Washington in that ‘Fuddruckers’ font). The new road jackets are supposedly going to look like the jerseys. I think Charlie said the jackets would be grey, but I may be wrong about that.

The new flag logo blue jerseys will also sport a new hat that looks a lot like the 2005 batting practice cap, only with the flag DC logo. They’re pretty cool.

Manny Acta and Lastings Milledge were both at the ESPNZone as part of the event, but, interestingly enough, Elijah Dukes, although advertised, was not. Someone in the media (or on the team) should find out the explanation; missing a high profile fan event was just not cool if there was not a good reason for it.

Manny gave an approximately 15 minute powder puff interview to Charlie, then after the fa-fa-fashion show, the guys took questions with the media and then signed autographs for the fans. They were in good spirits, and, as always, both Manny and Lastings are very conversational and fan friendly in meets and greets like this. When Manny saw me trying to work the camera function of my new IPhone, he quickly grabbed Lastings and they both struck a pose. It was pretty funny. I’ve posted that shot here.

Jerseys and hats are, of course, available in the team store, so I dutifly made the three stops on the green line to pick them up (a late birthday gift). There were no packed houses when I went there to lay down the coin though — it was about as empty as RFK in July 2004. I was pretty amazed that they had authentic player jerseys there in all styles — of course at authentic jersey prices, but still, I’d rather have a choice at a Zimmerman than just a blank back. Interestingly enough, the jerseys in the store were better representations of the new gear than the fashion show at the Zone, where models from the Nat Pack modelled the ladies jersey equivalent of the new gear.

It was a happy day after birthday.

 
(Originally posted on November 7 on Nationals Review.)

Back for a while….

I’m back home here at MLB.com for a while because I felt like that tree falling in the forest — don’t know if anyone was alive out there at the Nationals Review.  So for a while I’ll maintain both blogs. Looks like things are getting interesting….

Springsteen — Brilliant Artist or Human Juke Box?

Generally this is supposed to be Nationals blog, but I don’t see any cyber-police keeping me from posting on other subjects.  So I broke the tedium of the Nats losing streak on Monday night to take a drive down to Richmond to see Bruce Springsteen at the Richmond Coliseum. I’ve seen Springsteen on every tour since the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988, and in fact had already caught two shows on the Magic tour when it came through DC last fall shortly after the CD was released.   I had deliberately not checked the internet for setlists, etc, figuring that I would be surprised if the Boss threw in an unexpected chestnut or two that I hadn’t heard last fall.  Truth be told, I was really looking forward to hearing the solo in “Gypsy Rider” and was hoping that “You’ll Be Comin’ Down”  (also from the “Magic” CD) would be added to the setlist.

What I got when Springsteen took the stage was the most unexpected concert that I could have ever imagined.  Many people on the floor had signs noting Springsteen songs.  Some were typical favorites “Thunder Road”, “Jungleland”, etc., but some of the signs had really obscure referenced songs such as “Stand On It”, “Trapped”, “Seaside Bar Song”, “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street”, “Ramrod”.  Turns out that, at one point in the show, Springsteen stops doing his set list and gathers these signs and takes requests.   It made for an odd concert experience.  “Backstreets”, a personal favorite which is usually played near the end of the show for great effect, was almost haphazardly broken into when Bruce read a sign and directed the band “play Backstreets, this guy’s band just broke up.”  “Stand on It” and “Cadillac Ranch” were both played.  Then, at one point, Springsteen saw a face in the crowd he recognized, calling the guy his ‘friendly stalker’ and took his request.  It was “Crush on You”, which had not been played for 28 years, and which Springsteen stated was the worst song he ever put to record.  Sure, after this went on a while, Springsteen broke back into the traditional set, but then took some more requests for the encore.  It was memorable.  I loved the show, it was probably the most enjoyable of the twenty-odd Springsteen shows I’ve attended over the last twenty years.  And there was something immediate, and very cool, about Springsteen coming up with fantastic versions of requested old obscure songs at the blink of an eye.

But the whole notion of taking requests in a middle of a show arguably belied the idea that Springsteen was an artist and that the concert was an unique presentation which was designed to present a specific artistic vision of his music.  The whole notion of taking requests smacked of something a has-been oldies artist might have done for what was left of a once strong fan base, and seemed light years away from the Springsteen who was putting his music where his mouth was by headlining the Vote For Change concert series in 2004. The Boss seemed to have lost an idea of what he wanted his music to say, so he just threw up his hands and played what people asked him to. Michael Stipe of REM often bristles at audience members who call out titles while an REM show is taking place, stating “I’m a human being, not a human jukebox.”   And I wonder, as I think so fondly back on the Springsteen Richmond show, if in fact that is all that Springsteen has been reduced to — taking requests in a small southern city that not-so-long-ago was too small to accomodate such a significant tour.  

I’m not sure whether it was the best Springsteen show I ever attended, or the worst.  But it will stick in my memory forever.   Maybe I just wanted to hear “Gypsy Rider”.   Or maybe I’m just annoyed that I didn’t read up on the concert so I could have made a sign that read “Tougher than the Rest.”

On a more sombre note, the health of the E Streeters seemed to be in jeopardy.  Of course, Danny Federci passed away a few months ago.  Patti S. wasn’t there — presumably to take care of the kids?  But most distressing was the apparent poor health of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who still did his sax fills flawlessly, but in between his spots sat in a big gold cushy chair on the sidelines while Springsteen, the Mighty Max, Little Steven, Nils, etc. were rocking out.  I’d like these guys to stick around a little bit longer.  

Back to reality the last couple of nights, the Nats lost two more to the Sillies and now the losing streak is 12.  Back in ’05 and ’06 I used to make the trek up to Citizens Bank to root for my boys (incongnito, of course, I had no desire to return to DC in a body bag.)   This year, I’m glad I saved my money and my central nervous system, and was able to leave Citizens Bank with a push of a button on my remote.   

The Answer to Everything is Money

Some have opined that the Nats ownership is cheap, and that the only plan profitability.  Others have opined that Aaron Crow, the Nats’ number one draft choice who chose not to sign by demanding over 4 times what last year’s choice got, was a greedy punk and that the Nats should say good riddence to him.

Crow’s motivations are not really of interest to me.  He could be greedy, he could just not want to play for the Nationals.  He’s gone and I don’t care about him any more than a Phillies fan cares about JD Drew.

But the organization has rightly taken some heat for failing to sign a number one draft choice in the midst of selling the Future as part of a “Plan”.   Seeing this, Jim Bowden saw fit to give the press a blow by blow account of the Crow negotiations in order, supposedly, to do some damage control.   The entire account can be found on the Washington Post Nationals Journal blog.  But here’s the quote that made me pause:

Q: What about when you’re talking about the bonus money given to Crow and then Ramirez in the 15th round?  A: He was done at one minute ’til midnight at the end. Here was a guy that, we were holding on to that because we didn’t know if we had enough money in our budget to get Ramirez. We had enough money to get Ramirez because we didn’t sign Crow.

This is a direct quote from the Nationals Journal.

What Bowden revealed here is that the “Plan” isn’t to sign all the draft choices or to restock the farm system, its to spend X amount of money doing so, and that ownership is ready to let what it perceives as draft picks with potential walk if they don’t fit the budget.  I’m talking about Ramirez here, not Crow.   Bowden states succinctly that the only reason Ramirez was signed is because Crow freed up some money in the budget by balking at the Nats offer. 

Why was the ability to sign Ramirez tied to Crow?  I thought the plan was commitment to the farm system to make the team a winner long term.  If Ramirez was worth the money given to him, a real commitment would have brought him in notwithstanding Aaron Crow’s negoitations

Fans call for Jim Bowden’s head because the team is so bad and players are acquired on the cheap and marketed as superstars (Wily Mo Pena) . Is it really all Jim Bowden’s doing, or is he simply doing what his employer has instructed him to do?  Small market teams like Kansas City and Pittsburgh do this sort of thing.  Washington is a very affluent city with one of the top five media markets in the U.S.  The stadium cost the city $611 million.  Parking is $35.  Tickets behind home plate are $170 or more. The team is drawing betweeen 25,000 and 30,000 per game.  Why do we have a small limited budget for players, not only at the major league level, but at the draft level as well?    

 

 

Luis Luis — You Gotta Go!

Something of a nostalgic weekend at Nationals Park.   No, I’m not talking about the memories being made by the current 10 game losing streak.   But two pitchers were in the house that, at one time, were considered important parts of the 2005 Nationals.

Livan Hernandez has always been one of my favorite players.   He has panache, he’s fun to watch.  He throws pitches at 60 MPH and gets star players to look silly swinging at his stuff. He goes out there with every intention of pitching 9 innings.  He can hit.  And he did a lot of good work for the Nats in 2005 when — can you believe it — they actually were in contention.  Livan returned Saturday night to pitch in Nationals Park.  Livan talked often of wanting to pitch the first game in the new ballpark and he finally made it, but not in the way imagined.  After being designated for assignment by the Twins, he was picked up by the Rockies.  It was fun to see him, and if the Nats had to lose, I can’t think of a pitcher I’d rather see them lose to.  But I couldn’t make an argument that bringining him back would be a good move.  The big Nats Park scoreboard, which gives up to the minute stats — indicated that Livan’s ERA went from 24.00 runs a game to a measley 14.00 by his Saturday night winning performance. And, even staked to a big lead by the Rox, Livo gave up a cool 6 spot in 6 innings.  Even with those big numbers, Livo won the game and has an 11 – 9 record.  Good luck, Livo, we wish you the best.  

Also on Saturday night we got a chance to say goodbye to Luis Ayala, one of the few remaining original Nationals. Nats were down 11 -6 in the ninth. While not likely, the Nats still may have had a slim chance to come back against the questionable relief corp of the Rockies.  In comes Luis Ayala.  Boom boom boom boom.  As is routine for Ayala, he gave up two runs in the inning, and any slight chance to come back was gone.  I’m not going to mince words about Ayala.  I think this guy stinks.  Really, really, stinks. He is directly responsible for losing two of the ten games in this current skid.  In Colorado on August 5, he came into a tie game into the eighth inning and proceeded to load the bases. The runs eventually scored.  Then, in a marathon game against Milwaukee on August 10, Ayala came in in the 13th inning of a tightly contested hard fought ballgame.  Within a couple of pitches, the team was in the showers because Ayala immediately gave up a home run to superstar slugger Gabe Kapler.

But wait, there’s more.  July 23, San Francisco.  Nats up 6 – 4 in the 8th.  Ayala comes in.  Nats lose.  July 10, at home vs. Arizona.  July 5, in Cincinnati. The list goes on and on.  Ayala’s 1 – 8 record does not tell the tale of his performance.  He’s worse. Much, much worse. If you come in a game with runners on base and give up hits, you don’t get the loss, but you haven’t done your job and been a direct reason your team loses.  Ayala has done this repeatedly.

What drove me the most crazy about Ayala was his seemingly no-care attitude.  In spring training, most of the relievers would come to an auxillery field in Viera to do their running and throwing.  There were usually no coaches around, it was just pitchers and a few fans.  The vast majority of players conducted themselves professionally.  Luis Ayala would not.  He would spend his time half-heartedly doing his work and fooling around with other players by jumping on them and generally keeping them from working (which seemed to annoy them).   During the season, even after these excruciating losses, the next day Luis would be laughing it up and playing with fans in the outfield during batting practice (pretending to throw them balls, etc.) instead of taking the job seriously.  I went on a road trip to Cincinnati over the July 4 weekend, and the day after Ayala blew another tight ballgame, he was strutting around the hotel lobby on his cellphone looking like he was hoping for an audition on a male edition of “The Next Great American Model”.   Obviously the difficult loss had affected me as a fan more than Luis.

So, even with a ten game losing streak at hand, Sunday brought good news when I found that Luis had finally been dispatched to Omar Minaya’s Old Expos Home in Flushing, NY, for a AAA infielder hitting around .215.   This may be Bowden’s finest hour as GM.

 Reading the press on the circumstances regarding the trade was like reading “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  

1. Ayala had requested a trade because he wanted to be in a pennant race.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  Exactly what about this guy’s performance gave him the right to expect to be pitching on a contender.  Phillies fans rejoice, because the New York Mets are about to lose 5 more games they probably otherwise would have won if Luis Ayala is put in games in crucial situations.

2. Ayala got angry and requested a trade because Joel Hanrahan, not he, was named closer when Jon Rauch was traded to Arizona.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Exactly what about this guy’s performance gave him the right to be expected to be named closer.  He’s the reason that the Nats didn’t need a closer in the first place, because he kept giving up leads in the eighth inning.  Supposedly, it is reported, Ayala expected the job because he had done some closing for the Expos in 2004.  Well, pal, Rollie Fingers was a great closer in the 70s, too, that doesn’t mean he’s suited to close ballgames in 2008.  (Actually in my opinion Rollie Fingers in his 60s would be better than Ayala at his current age, 30.)

3. Jim Bowden stated that they ‘owed’ Ayala to grant his trade request.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??  What does this team owe Ayala?   In 2008, he’s been about as reliable as Britney Spears’ behavior while intoxicated.  He didn’t even pitch in 2006 and for the first half of 2007 because pitched for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic with a bad elbow (against the Nationals’ doctor’s orders).  In 2005, he was an average middle reliever.  I think Luis Ayala owes the Nationals for pitching in an international tournament with a bad elbow while under contract, and for giving off the impression that he didn’t give a damn what happened to the team for the past three years.

4. Ayala blames his performance on trying too hard because of his impending free agency.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??   You can’t quantify effort, and I cannot say definitively that Ayala wasn’t trying, but, as I detailed above, it sure didn’t look like Luis Ayala cared about his performance or that of the team. The impression that Ayala gave off was complete indifference at best.  I’m sure the Yanks and the Sox are going to be banging down their doors to give a 1 – 8 reliever a big contract to pitch in a pennant race, Luis.

Saturday night was not only nostalgic because of Livo, but it was my last chance to boo loudly another subpar performance by Luis Ayala.  Aaah, the memories.  My vocal chords can recover.

The departure of Ayala means that, for the first time in Nationals history, there are NO former Montreal Expos on the active roster.  Only three Expos — Cordero, Johnson and Hill — remain on the 40 man roster.  This may be a mess, but its OUR mess, not Montreal’s, anymore. Maybe Luis, Joey Eischen, Zach Day, Tomo Ohka and Claudio Vargas can all have a nice reunion with Minaya at Citi Field in 2009.   

 

Bad Karma — Killing Me Like Disease

Oh, what a beautiful morning.   Didn’t get to bed till late last night because I spent another fabulous evening at Nationals Park, sitting in the rain to watch the 79th loss of the season — 14 more than on the same date in 2007.   Tim Redding started and pitched a pretty servicable game.  Then came the top of the fifth inning.  Two outs, runner on first, Nats up 2 – 1. Rockies have the worst road record in the league.  Matt Holliday hits a routine fly ball to centerfield.  Lastings Milledge breaks in on a ball clearly heading for the fence.  It goes over his head, runner scores, tie game.  Next batter, Brad Hawpe, two run home run.  Nats lose.  Friday Night — Party Night at Nationals Park!

Tim Redding is quoted in the paper stating that what bothered him most about Hawpe’s homerun is that Hawpe never should have been up in the fifth inning in the first place.  Good for Tim.  One of many annoying things about this season is that the amaturish nature of the play is never addressed publically.  Someone needs to stand up and say it — some of these guys are not major league quality players.

Lastings Milledge has a lot of enthusiasm and hustles.  But the fly ball last night was not particularly difficult to catch for a major league player and missing the ball was inexcusable. Even though he readily admitted he should have made the play, this time of thing happens all the time.  Milledge stated at an ESPNZone appearance that he has trouble judging fly balls off the bats because he was not used to playing with wood bats.  Its been FOUR YEARS since you’ve turned pro.  You’d think that if he were the big prospect the Nats tout him as, he might know how to track a fly ball off a wooden bat.

This is made worse given that, just the night before, Brian Schneider, who was part of the 25 percent of the 2007 starting lineup dispatched for Milledge, hit a home run to dead center field. Schneider was one of the most popular Nats.

Its not just Milledge, by any means.  Routine plays are botched.   The clutch hit never comes.  Manny Acta prides himself on being able to ‘take it’.  I personally wish he were NOT able to take it and would explode, at least once.   There needs to be less patience and more accountablility..  

But remarkably, the night would only get worse after the game was over.  The deadline for signing draft choices was looming at midnight.  The Nats’ number one pick, Aaron Crow, was proving particularly difficult to sign.  Finally Jim Bowden emerged at 1 a.m. to inform the press that the Nats had failed to sign Crow, which meant he would go back into the draft.  Bowden, ever the Col. Tom Parker, pointed out that we get another first round pick next year for failing to sign him.   Oh boy!

From all accounts Crow and his representation made ridiculous demands — asking for a $9 million contract (last year’s first rounder, Ross Detweiler, got a little over $2 million).  I’m not sure that Nats management can be criticized for not meeting Crow’s demands.

But why did the Nats not do their research to see what Crow’s demands would be BEFORE drafting him?   This team sells the future like Snake Oil, and quickly points out how all of its draft picks get signed and how the “Plan” is to restock the farm system.  Be patient, they say.

If this is your plan, then you need to be extra sure that you pay attention to detail to assure that you can actually sign these young players before wasting a draft pick on them.  A number one draft pick.   

The bottom line — the Nationals, the team with the worst record in major league baseball, is the only team with a top ten draft pick that did not sign.  Getting another pick means waiting another year for another guy in another spot.  Is the Red Porch going to fill the park for the next 25 years?

The future is eternal.  I’m sure the Nats will get better in the future.  But the question I’m beginning to ask — will I live to see it?

 

Out of the coma and amongst the wreckage

Is it really August already?   I’ve been about as good updating this blog as Luis Ayala has been in relief this year.   So much has happened since February.  Is any of it any good?

1.  Biggest disappointment of the season has been the barely active nature of Ryan Zimmerman.  Not that any of this is his fault; his potentially serious shoulder injury that robbed us of two months of Zim-cidents looks to be healed.   Kyle Kendrick should have been suspended for deliberatately throwing at Zim’s hands in retailation for John Lannan accidentally hitting Chase Utley last year.  (Really, I know that Philadelphia is simulateous with unnecesary confrontation, but does anyone in the Sillies organization really believe that Lannan was going after Utley in his first major league start?) 

2. The selling off of players for prospects continues with the Jon Rauch deal.  While I really like watching Emilio Bonifacio play ball, the whole “future is a long ways away” method of operation is getting old for those of us watching every game every day.  The team is getting worse.  We’re paying top dollar at the ballpark to watch a team lose 110 games. 

3. Wily Mo Pena has got to go.  The best thing about the second half is that he isn’t in it.  Can’t hit.  Can’t field.  Doesn’t hustle.  My biggest fear is that his shoulder injury is used as an excuse to bring him back in 2009.  This guy has been playing the same way (i.e. inept) since he broke in with the Reds in 2002.   Did this shoulder injury hamper him for six years?

4.  Does Luis Ayala have photos of Manny Acta in a compromising position?  How else can one justify Manny’s decision to continue to put Ayala in key situations only to LOSE.  His record says he’s lost 8 games, but if you totalled up the number of games that he’s let baserunners from others score, I would bet that he is responsible for at least 20 losses.  Rumor had it that the Mets (aka the Old Expos Home) wanted Ayala for their bullpen.  If they were offering a bag of used batting practice balls……TAKE IT!!

5.  Why did the Nats not believe Flores was ready in Spring Training?  The fans did…

6.  The Nick Johnson vs. Dmitri Young debate of February seems oddly irrelevent. 

So what’s good about the season?

1.  We’ve got a team. They aren’t the Orioles. And we’ve got the Red Loft, the Scoreboard Walk and Racing Presidents. And they aren’t the Orioles. 

2. The team is interesting (if infuriating).

3. The players are genuinely nice to fans in my experience. (Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds — are you listening?)

4.  Eljiah Dukes has been a pretty good citizen (remembering that what happens in Pittsburgh stays in Pittsburgh).   Lastings Milledge is one of the most exhuberant ballplayers in the league and continues to improve.   Austin Kearns is hitting over .300 now that his elbow is fixed.   Willie Harris gives 110 percent all the time. 

5.  The starting pitching is coming around.  Lannan is becoming nationally known; Jason Bergmann has pitched some lights-out games and is improving on consistency.  Colin Balester and Garrett Mock are extremely confident. 

6.  Signature Sundays are a pretty cool way to get to meet players and get some autographs.  Nice going, management!

 

 

 

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