Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A disturbing buried sentence

Tom Verducci of SI recently wrote an article about what he termed the "Class of 68," basically big name sluggers like Bagwell, Piazza, Thomas, and Sosa, all of whom were born in 1968, the "Year of the Pitcher," spent their careers in the "Era of Offense" and now are taking cut-rate contracts as the game has passed their stellar careers by.

Not much to report about the article itself, which reads more like its just something to write about, but what really concerned me was the sentence about Sammy Sosa buried in the middle of the article (and I mean nothing bad by the term "buried"--it isn't important to the article even if it is important to Nats fans).

Verducci suggests that Sosa may sign a deal (and I assume he does not mean a minor-league deal, but he doesn't say) "with the MLB-owned Washington Nationals largely because commissioner Bud Selig has had a strong relationship with Sosa and wants to get this erstwhile ambassador of the sport off the street, hat in hand. "

Now, I don't know if Verducci has any sources citing that as the reason, but if true, that is remarkably disturbing and opens the door to every conspiracy theory one can come up with regarding Nats signings and failures to sign. That essentially the Nats aren't operating anywhere near a "real team" that happens to have a check on pursestrings because of MLB ownership, but in essence acts as a pawn of MLB.

What Verducci's statement means is that 29 "real" owners thought Sosa wasn't worth a sniff, but MLB figures they can send a worthless player to its holding company, the Washington Nationals, to be an "ambassador" to the sport. What's next? Dumping huge contracts on the new owner because some "real team" calls Bud Selig and says "I no longer feel like paying this guy?" Making trades where we spread the Nationals' next five years of draft picks among the other 29 teams in exchange for the rights to Doug Flynn in case he comes out of retirement?

Maybe Verducci was just talking for talking's sake, but if he's right, it makes me think that there are a lot of things we will never know about how much MLB was/is pulling some very crooked strings that could take the new owner years to correct.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Winter's Blues

Let's face it; January is the worst month for a baseball fan. The glory of October has faded. Spring, the fountain of all new hope, is but a distant glow on the horizon. And that behemoth of a fellow sport - football - is in its fullest phase. Winter meetings have passed, the contracts have been signed, the awards have been handed out.

It is always darkest before the dawn.

So, in this month of our baseball discontent, I give you the truly awesome link of the month: Humbug: Random Diamond Notes. Yes, Virginia. It's a randomly generated set of Peter-Gammons-esque diamond notes. No, Maryland, Peter Gammons probably does not approve.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I was wrong...it's better!

Happened to go on the Nats official site, chock full of good stuff by Bill Ladson :-p and discovered a number of interesting factoids that made me cringe so much, I had to go to bed immediately.

1) The Nationals remain interested in Sammy Sosa. The most interesting parts of this article are that Sammy's agent appears to be angling not only for a major league deal, as opposed to the minor league one the Nats offered, but a deal that would probably make Sammy one of the Nats four or so highest paid players--I can only suspect that is what a "decent salary" is to a guy who made $17 million last year.

The bigger issue is this nugget of info buried later in the article (as I had thought Sosa would be fighting it out for left field or as a general OF backup):
"If Sosa were to make the team out of Spring Training, the Nationals could have an outfield of Guillen in left field, Soriano in center and Sosa, while Marlon Byrd, Ryan Church, Michael Tucker and Robert Fick would become the reserves in the outfield. Brandon Watson, currently the leading candidate to start in center field, would likely begin the season at Triple-A New Orleans. "

OK, anybody else see wha's wrong with that? First, you have a guy who was a butcher at second in Soriano playing center if Sosa makes the team. Second, you have Sosa playing instead of Ryan Church. But biggest of all, this article says that Church isn't starting no matter what happens next year (with the possible exception of Sosa and Soriano BOTH not being on the team). Ignoring the fact that the article states that a guy, Brandon Watson, would be sent down to AAA if Sosa makes the team, but would jump FOUR other guys and start in center if Sosa doesn't make the team, has everyone in that freakin' nuthouse they call a front office forgotten that Ryan Church, with a .819 OPS was the clubs' second best hitter after Nick Johnson last year? Poor Ryan Church. I mean, seriously, either give this guy a chance or trade him--because other teams will actually use him.

2) Speaking of Nick Johnson, our overwhelmingly best player who with an outrageously high on-base percentage is tailor-made for RFK, Ladson says that he wouldn't be surprised if Larry Broadway started at first for the Nats in 2007. Well, if Larry Broadway is that good, we have to find someway to get these guys both in the lineup because guys with over .400 on base percentages don't grow on trees (or in our farm system). If Broadway can't deliver like that and Johnson doesn't suffer through injuries this year, we better lock Nick up.

3) Oh...and speaking of being locked up, my favorite "sentences" of the offseason regarding the Nats so far came from this Ladson article:
"The team also is monitoring Ugueth Urbina's legal proceedings in Venezuela, according to a baseball source. . . . Urbina, 31, is currently in a Venezuelan prison on attempted murder charges. The source said if Urbina is set free, he could be a good fit out of the bullpen for the Nationals. "
The craziest part of all that? My inside scouts tell me that came from team President Tony Tavares only. Jim Bowden, however, is even more optimistic: "If he gets a conviction, I can probably get him for $2.9 million instead of $3 million. It's worth the risk! That guy's like gasoline; When he's hot, everything around him catches on fire."

p.s. That article also said the Nats were shopping for another first baseman. All the better to take time from both Nick Johnson and Larry Broadway. Way to go, Jim.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Competition is a good thing?

So, it was reported today that Sammy Sosa is nearing a deal with the Nationals to compete for the left-field job. Yes, the same left-field job that Bowden wants Alfonso Soriano to take.

Now, the article says that it would be a non-guaranteed minor league contract (how fast the mighty have fallen), so maybe this is a nothing story. But assuming it is accurate, here is what we know:
1) Bowden assured Vidro that Vidro would be playing second even if they signed Soriano.
2) Bowden did not talk to Soriano about playing left field before signing him despite Soriano refusing to do same for two other teams.
3) Bowden traded Wilkerson, Sledge and a prospect (Galarraga) for Soriano, who if we offer him arbitration is expected to make $10 million next year.
4) Soriano has come out and said there is absolutely no way he will play any position but second base for the Nats and that no matter what, he will only be here one year as he hates the idea of playing in the NL.
5) Bowden will now have to tell Soriano that not only are you playing left field, but that's if you win the job against Sosa. Essentially, we may pay you $10 million to sit on the bench and sulk.

Does ANY of that make sense? Did I miss something and Sosa can play shortstop or pitch? What this says to me is that Vidro better not make any April reservations at DC Coast or Vidalia because I don't see how you keep him and Soriano and Sosa, and if Bowden is the one that signs Soriano and Sosa, he knows he will look like an idiot if he has to trade Soriano for no value after letting the face of the franchise go to Texas. Did I mention that we hear at Nats Blog haven't thought all that highly of the job Jim Bowden has done so far? Like I said, this may all be smoke with no fire because Sammy may not want such a contract and we may not actually pay him anything to just try out, but Jose Vidro cannot be comfortable this afternoon.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bill Ladson Strikes Out

Given that a roving mob of Nats bloggers have recently completed a beat-down of MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson, it's probably safe for me to sneak up to his gurgling carcass and give it a few more swift kicks. Ladson likes to justify the Soriano trade by whining about Brad Wilkerson's strikeouts, as on display here in a response to a shadowy "Chris N., Alexandria" back in December:

Why are you so down on strikeouts? They're frustrating to watch, but they're not all that different from a ground out.-- Chris N., Alexandria, Va.

I'm not down on strikeouts, and I know where you are coming from here. You are miffed by the way I've talked about Brad Wilkerson and his strikeouts the last two months. If Wilkerson was a clutch hitter like Reggie Jackson (he is the all-time strikeout king), I wouldn't dwell on Wilkerson's whiffs. The truth is, Wilkerson was killing the team with his strikeouts. I can't tell you how many times he looked at strike three and walked back to the dugout. Wilkerson hit .248 with 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 147 strikeouts. Let's see how long the Rangers tolerate the strikeouts. If Wilkerson hit .330 with 50 homeruns and 130 RBIs, the strikeouts would be less of a concern.

He takes another shot at Wilk in the most recent mailbag, "Acquiring [Cubs' Corey] Patterson to be a leadoff hitter would be a mistake. While Brad Wilkerson struck out a ton, he at least drew walks."

Capitol Punishment has been a staunch defender of Wilkerson's strikeouts with this theory: if you want a guy to try to hit homeruns, he's gonna have to strikeout a fair amount. And while Wilkerson was the Nats leadoff hitter, he was expected also to be a source of power for the team last year.

Today, that theory gets a boost of support, and Ladson's lame-brained view gets a swift kick in the jimmies, with a great article by Dave Studeman at the Hardball Times. Using some neat graphs, Studes explains that outfield fly balls come in very different types, and some are much more productive than others. The second graph in the article also shows that there is a high correlation between productive OFs and strikeout rate, confirming the thesis that producing high-value flyballs has a price of more strikeouts -- except for a handful of players like Bonds, Pujols and Vlad Guerrero who manage to produce without a lot of Ks.

So, in essence, Ladson's beef with Wilkerson boils down to this: Wilkerson was a problem because he's not Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols. Even Little DM can opine on that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

DuPuy's OpEd Presents the Problem...and Solution

If you haven't seen it, you should read Bob DuPuy's OpEd piece in the Washington Post today. I first heard about it listening to sports radio this morning, and figured it was little more than a complaint about the DC government being hard to deal with. No real new ground there.

And, sure enough, it is chock full of juicy quotes like:

Asking baseball to pay for overruns when D.C. government officials are in charge of the stadium's design and construction is like MasterCard telling you to pay your credit card bill even though MasterCard gets to do all your shopping. No consumer would agree to such a provision, and neither will Major League Baseball.

and, frustratingly:

The Senators left the District of Columbia 30 years ago for a reason -- they
found more fan and governmental support in Texas. When baseball made plans to expand in 1990 and 1995, Washington's desire to secure a team was easily outmatched by the enthusiasm and commitment of Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Tampa Bay.

Wow, that's kicking the city in its collective gonads. I mean, saying that Washington didn't have the enthusiasm and commitment of Tampa Bay are almost fighting words.

But the essential point made by DuPuy about the problem is a good one. DuPuy writes that:

In baseball and in business, if you run the project, you're responsible for its
costs. When teams are in charge of design and construction, any savings go to them and any cost overruns are borne by them. That's what was done with new ballparks for the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants. That's also how MCI Center was built. On the other hand, when a government agency is in charge of design and construction, the benefits and risks are covered by the city. That's what happened in Baltimore at Camden Yards and in Cleveland and Pittsburgh as well. That's common sense, and it's fair.

That is surprisingly well put by Mr. DuPuy. I say that not because I expect little from MLB or Bob DuPuy, but because it is so persuasive of a point that MLB should have been hammering it home for the past few months.

By presenting the problem so effectively, DuPuy also presents an obvious solution: If DC wants MLB to cover the cost overruns, it should have MLB in charge of stadium design and construction. In other words, have MLB contract to deliver a stadium on time and on budget. If the stadium is over budget, MLB as the general contractor picks up the cost. That is the de facto way of having baseball cover the overages on stadium construction. In addition, it is also likely to produce a stadium designed to optimize the revenues of the Nationals.

In addition, putting MLB in charge of stadium design and construction would also correct some major flaws in the process. First, Nats fans would not be saddled with the horrendous steel and concrete stadium design. Second, it would eliminate the ridiculous $35 million that DC has slated for stadium design and "consulting." Third, it takes money out of the hands of the cronyist, corrupt DC government.

MLB should be in control of stadium design and construction. And, by consequence, responsible for any cost overruns.