The Art Of The Deal: Dissecting Trader Jim
[October 30th] -- From October 16th 1992, when he became the youngest general manager in baseball, to July 26th 2003, when he was fired by the Reds, Jim Bowden made 101 trades in 10 seasons, an average of 10 a year. While the baseball world knows him as "Trader Jim," no one has ever broken down those 101 trades to see if the "boy GM" helped or hurt The Reds.
Let's do that now. Many of the trades sent minor leaguers to another club in return for minor leagers, none of which made an impact with either club. The vast majority of his trades were of this type. We'll look at the "name" trades that Bowden made.
1] 11-3-92 -- Paul O'Neill and Joe DeBerry sent to the Reds for Roberto Kelly. Roberto Kelly had just come off a .272-10-66 season for the Yankees, and Paul O'Neill had hit 95 homers over four seasons with the Reds. O'Neill went on to be an integral part of the Yankees' championship run, and Roberto Kelly bounced around the major leagues until retiring in 2000.
2] 11-17-92 -- Norm Charlton sent to the Mariners for Kevin Mitchell. Charlton had saved 26 games with the Reds in 1992, and Mitchell had an off-year with the Mariners after coming to Seattle from the Giants the previous season. Charlton was a very "iffy" reliever for the Mariners during the mid 1990's while Mitchell batted .341 and .326 with a combined 49 homers in his two years with Cincinnati.
3] 11-2-93 -- Bobby Ayala & Dan Wilson sent to the Mariners for Bret Boone and Erik Hanson. Wilson became the starting catcher for the Mariners for more than a decade and Ayala was one of the few credible relief pitchers that the Mariners had in the 1990's. Hanson played one uninspired year with the Reds and Boone showed traces of brilliance but was traded to the Braves before fully blossoming.
4] 5-11-95 -- C.J. Nitkowski, David Tutle & Mark Lewis traded to the Tigers for David Wells. Nitkowski is still bouncing around the league ... Mark Lewis had a few "low-level" productive years in the major leagues. David Wells won six games for the Reds before being traded again
5] 12-26-95 --David Wells traded to the Orioles for Curtis Goodwin and Trovin Valdez. Wells went on to become one of baseball's best pitchers and Goodwin became a seldom used backup outfielder. Valdez never made it to the major leagues.
6] 5-27-97 -- Chuck McElroy traded to the Angels for Lee Smith. McElroy never did much in the major leagues, either before or after the trade. Smith was at the end of his career, and didn't help the Reds at all. He retired two years later.
7] 3-30-98 -- Dave Burba traded to the Indians for Sean Casey. Casey has been the starting first baseman for the Reds since the trade, and Burba won 56 games over the next four seasons with the Indians and the Rangers.
8] 7-4-98 -- Jeff Shaw traded to the Dodgers for Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes. Shaw was an average middle reliever for the Dodgers until his retirement in 2001 ... Reyes is still in the league today as a borderline reliever. Korerko was traded before making an impact in the league.
9] 11-10-98 -- Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger traded to the Braves for Denny Neagle, Rob Bell and Michael Tucker. Neagle has not had a quality season since the trade .. Rob Bell has a career ERA near 6.00. Tucker did a good job for the reds as a platoon right fielder. Remlinger has been a "stud" reliever for several teams since the trade, and Bret Boone became one of the best 2nd baseman in the league.
10] 11-11-98 -- Paul Konerko traded to the White Sox for Mike Cameron. Cameron has had some decent years in the major leagues, but his bat has never quite caught up to his outstanding glove. Kornerko is today one of the best slugging first baseman in all of baseball.
11] 2-2-99 -- Reggie Sanders, Damian Jackson and Josh Harris traded to the Padres for Greg Vaughn and Mark Sweeney. Vaughn hit 45 homers for the Reds before signing with the Devil Rays ... Mark Sweeney has been a utility player during his career. Reggie Sanders has battled injuries during his career but is still producing in the major leagues. Jackson just signed with the Nationals & Josh Harris never made it to the major leagues
12] 2-10-2000 -- Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonia Perez and Jake Meyer to the Mariners for Ken Griffey Jr. The "mother" of all trades -- Griffey has never been healthy during his five years with the Reds. Tomko continues to pitch in the major leagues, but barely. Cameron did well with the Mariners before signing a free-agent contract with the Mets. Perez and Meyer have yet to make an impact in the "bigs."
13] 3-21-2001 -- Drew Henson and Michael Coleman traded to the Yankees for Wily Mo Pena. Henson is now with the Dallas Cowboys, and Coleman had a "cup of coffee" or two with the Red Sox. Pena has had several productive years with the Reds
So, out of 101 trades, there was only thirteen that had any real impact on either the Reds or the team Bowden traded with. The great majority of his trades were of the "Cary Ammons for Donnie Sadler" variety. Looking back over his 10+ seasons as the Reds' general manager, it becomes apparent that he really didn't have much of an impact. None of the transactions won the team a pennant they otherwise wouldn't have won, and none of the transactions buried the Reds for a few seasons until they could recover.
I guess it goes back to the old saying, that "it's the quality and not the quantity that counts."
Smulyan Gives 'Move' Veto To Local Group Members
[October 29th] -- Indiana businessman Jeff Smulyan, acknowledging concerns of having an owner with no ties to the area, announced Friday that local investors [including former Redskins Charles Mann and Art Monk] will have the ability to stop any potential move of the Nationals by veto vote. This, Smulyan believes, will allay the fears of the Washington faithful.
I don't think that anyone really believes that Smulyan, or any new owner, would move the team from Washington. The Nationals drew 2.7 million people to an old and poorly located stadium. The team did minimal advertising, relying on "word of mouth" to put fannies in the seats. And it worked. The "cash cow" of a new stadium, a revamped cable deal and advertising that actually reaches the fan base is enough to keep any owner ensconced inside the beltway for decades to come. No, moving isn't the problem.
Jeff Smulyan has owned a baseball team before, and THAT is the problem.
He was an underfunded owner in Seattle, unable to generate the revenues necessary to at first pay the bills, and later to build a top-flight organization. Smulyan says that it wasn't his fault, that Seattle was a "small market" team that was losing money. D.C. is different, he says. Well, maybe that's true. But it's also true that he might turn the Nationals into the new Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Vince Namoli, the managing general partner of Tampa who was just recently ousted from his leadership role, had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball while reaping some of the largest profits in the league. There was no incentive to make the team competitive. He just needed 25 players named "Joe" to fill the uniforms.
Mr. Smulyan, that's what we're worried about. When that new stadium is built, when the wrinkles in the cable deal are ironed out, you could put the J.E.B. Stuart Raiders high school baseball team out there [yes, that's my alma mater] and draw 3 million fans and make a fortune. We want this to be a interactive relationship between fan and owner. We supply the funds, you supply the players. You didn't do such a great job in Seattle, and there is nothing to indicate that the same thing won't happen here. Promise us that you'll fund the payroll so that it remains in the upper third of all major league teams, and we've got a deal.
But until that happens, you're just a better dressed version of Bob Short.
Nationals Free Agent Signings Should Bring Depth, Not Breadth
[October 28th] -- The frenzy is about to begin. You can feel it. The Nationals have already started. Other teams will soon follow. General managers are buying extra batteries for their cell phones. Websites have been created to do nothing else but track all of the moves.
The free-agent season is about to begin.
The Nationals dipped their toe in the water on Thursday, signing speedy utility man Damian Jackson and fleet-footed minor league second baseman Bernie Castro. The team will have money to spend, but the lack of an owner, and the tenuous position of Tony Taveres and Jim Bowden will make it difficult to "make a pitch" to the available "stars."
Forget the stars. Go for depth.
The Nationals starting eight were "good enough" to have snatched the wild-card this past season from Houston. What cost them was a severe lack of depth behind virtually every player on the team. Wil Cordero. Carlos Baerga, Jamie Carroll. Tony Blanco. Jeff Hammonds. These players started many games in 2005 for Washington. The pitching suffered from a similar lack of depth. Instead of blowing the meager dollars available on one "pretty good" free agent, the team should add depth and assume that the 2006 will see fewer injuries than in 2005.
Here are three players that I'd like to see in D.C. for 2006
- Eli Marrero: Marrero suffered through a bad season in 2005, but he was an important part of the Braves team that won their 13th consecutive pennant in 2004. He has been a .300 hitter with power, and can play most infield and outfield positions as well as catch. He and Damian Jackson would give Frank Robinson flexibility to make almost unlimited late inning moves
- Robert Fick: Another player who can catch, play the infield and outfield too. Bobby Cox said that Fick plays baseball the way it was meant to be played, like Ty Cobb but with a nicer personality
- Paul Byrd: He would make a great #3 or 4 starter for the Nationals, and could be had in the $5-6 million dollar range, an amount I think the team should have available for a starting pitcher. After suffering from arm problems, Byrd has put together back to back quality years
There are many others that could help the "boys," but one starting pitcher and a couple of utility players will give the team the strength to get through the injuries and the hot summer doldrums. Of course, Jimmy B. has to take care of Esteban and Hector Carrasco as well.
But Damian Jackson was a good start, that's for sure.
Nationals Address Team's Need For Speed, Sign Jackson, Castro
[October 27th] -- The Washington Nationals stole 45 bases in 2005. They were caught stealing 45 times. Obviously, a lack of team speed needed to be addressed this off season. It took exactly one day for GM Jim Bowden make a move.
Jackson played six position in 2005, batting .255 with 5 homers and 33 rbi's. He stole 15 bases in 17 attempts. He cleared waivers earlier this month and opted for free agency. Jackson has a career .245 average and strikes out too often for a player without power. He has 132 career stolen bases and has an amazing 79% success rate when stealing. Jackson will likely take the place of Carlos Baerga on the roster.
The Bernie Castro signing is very interesting. Castro was the recipient of the Pacific Coast League's "Fastest Man" award in 2005. Playing for Portland, Castro hit .315 with 41 stolen bases in 47 tries. In a September callup with Baltimore, he batted .288 for the Orioles with 6 stolen bases in 80 at-bats. Castro has 195 career minor league stolen bases, or a phenomenal 67 swipes per 500 at bats. Kind of makes you wonder why he was available as a free agent.
So, the opening of the free-agent signing period has begun. Jackson is a quality reserve who adds depth to a very thin team. Bernie Castro is a speed-demon, but he can only play second base, a position currently held down by Jose Vidro and Junior Spivey, both former major league all-stars.
It's a first step, but it's a good one.
Cristian Guzman Looking to Redeem Himself in 2006
[October 26th] -- On the final day of the 1941 season, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin asked Ted Williams if he'd like to take the day off to preserve his .401 batting average. "Hell no!" shouted the Splendid Splinter, "If I have to sit to hit .400, then I don't deserve it." He played both ends of a double header and went 5-7, ending the season at .406.
On the final day of the 2005 season, manager Frank Robinson agreed to sit shortstop Cristian Guzman to "protect" his .220 batting average. A pinch-hit at bat in the 7th inning [strikeout], however, dropped him to .219 for the season.
You know you've had a bad year when a .220 batting average is something worth protecting.
Many think that Nats GM Jim Bowden got "duped" when he signed the former Minnesota Twin to a four year, $16 million dollar contract last fall. Bowden understood full well what he was "buying," but had little choice but to make the deal.
Cristian Guzman was one of many stars in the Yankees minor league system in the late 1990's. George Steinbrenner, who never met a veteran he didn't want, traded Guzman and gaggle of lower tier prospects for all-star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. He spent two unproductive years at short for the Twins before finally blossoming in 2001. That year, he hit .302 with 10 home runs, 51 RBI's and 25 stolen bases while playing solid defense.
He had one of the strongest arms in the league. He was only 22 and many baseball insiders believed he was close to being ready to join Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as one of the elite shortstops in the American League.
Then he got hurt.
A shoulder injury late in 2001 never fully healed, and for his remaining three years in Minnesota, Guzman never regained his health. He no longer stole bases and seldom hit for power. The speed that allowed him to lead the major leagues with 20 triples in 2000 all but vanished. But he still had his shot gun arm and he still filled the hole at short very capably. The Twins kept him at short unil his contract expired last fall.
Jim Bowden didn't expect the 2001 version of Cristian Guzman to roam the infield at RFK in 2005. He understood his limitations. He had a career .308 on-base percent. After nearly 1,000 games in the major leagues, he still had difficulty with the strike zone. Bowden understood all of that. But he also understood that there wasn't a single shortstop in the Nationals' system who was ready to play every day at the major league level. He needed a proven shortstop and he needed one right away. There is little question that Bowden overpaid for Guzman, but he had to make sure that the Nationals had someone in place early in the free-agent signing period.
Cristian Guzman can only offer "so much" for the Nationals in 2006. He's going to have a very low on base percentage. He'll hit a lot of doubles and a few triples. Guzman, batting in the 8th position in the order, might be able to get his average up to .250, but not much above that. But if he can do that, if he can bat .250 or so, and hit 25-30 doubles, he will give the team a big lift in the bottom part of the lineup, something the Nationals didn't have last season.
The one thing that Guzman has going for him is that there is no chance, ZERO, that a professional baseball player could have two consecutive disasters like Guzman suffered last season. When you combine his talent level with a little luck and a lot of desire, he should produce well enough that he may be considered for the "Comeback Player Of The Year" award for 2006.
I have little doubt that the last three years of Cristian Guzman's contract will more then make up for the first. He is a professional and he embarassed himself last year. He'll be back.
To Be Successful, Nationals Need To Go To Church Regularly In 2006
[October 26th] -- At the time, the trade made sense [sort of]. Realizing that the team's perch atop the National League East was precarious at best, Nationals' GM Jim Bowden tried to jump-start the team's moribund offense by trading grouchy pitcher Zach Day for Colorado's Preston Wilson. Ryan Church was forced from the starting lineup and spent the rest of the season as the 4th outfielder. By the end of the year, the team was disappointed with Wilson's poor defense as well as his less than stellar offensive production. Heading into the 2006 season, Preston Wilson will be but a faded memory and Ryan Church will again be one of the starting outfielders for the Washington Nationals.
Church came to the then Montreal Expos in a trade that sent Scott Stewart to the Indians for Church and shortstop Maicer Izturis. Church spent four years in the minor leagues, hitting well at each level. His 500+ games in the minor leagues provides a good indication of what the 27 year old is capable of in the major leagues. Assuming 550 at-bats, this is what Church's typical minor league season would have looked like: AVE.:.296 ~ RUNS:92 ~ HITS:163 ~ 2B:34 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:24 ~ RBI:104 ~ BB:67 ~ K:111 ~ STOLEN BASES: 7 ~ CAUGHT STEALING: 4 ~ OBP:383 ~ SLG: 532
Church showed great promise in the minor leagues. Let's extrapolate his injury plagued 2005 season into that same 550 at-bat template and see what his numbers might have been: AVE:.287 ~ RUNS:84 ~ HITS:154 ~ 2B: 34 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:18 ~ RBI: 84 ~ BB:48 ~ K:140 ~ SB:6 ~ CS:4 ~ OBP:.353 ~ SLG:532. The numbers are very similar to his minor league averages. He continues to show good but not great power, excellent run producing ability, and the propensity to strike out too often.
[But these numbers are skewed a bit because injuries caused Church to play hurt for a good part of the season. What would his production look like if we use his statistics only to the point where he was injured? Take a look: AVE:.325 ~ 2B:35 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:24 ~ RBI:100 ~ OBP:.381 ~ SLG:.544. Church was on pace to to have a breakout season until he ran into the wall in Pittsburgh to make that dramatic, game ending catch against the Pirates.
Church has the potential for a solid major league career because, although he doesn't do any one thing superbly, he does most everything well. There are no "holes" in his game. He has good speed for a corner outfielder. His glove and arm are above average. He actually hits left-handers better than he does righties, unusual for a left handed batter. He hits as well on the road as he does at home. He produces during the day or at night. Manager Frank Robinson doesn't have to "hide" Church against certain southpaws, or game times, or stadiums. He doesn't have to worry about defensive replacements or pinch-runners late in games. Give him a bat and point him towards home plate. Ryan Church will take care of the rest.
At age 27, Church is ready to blossom. Don't look for him to hit many towering shots into the expansive upper deck at RFK, but he will drive many balls into the outfield gaps for doubles, and his speed will turn several of those into triples. The majority of his homeruns will be doubles that forgot to stop at the fence. If he stays healthy, and bats third in the lineup on a regular basis,
If Church is given the opportunity, and if he comes through, The Nationals will be one step closer to being a true pennant contender. He is not eligible for free agency until 2009, so the team can rely on his presence for some time to come. Ryan Church is the type of player the Nationals need to attract. He is quick, has some power, and hits both left and right-handers alike. If he can remain healthy, he will become a fan favorite for years to come.
Look For "Two-Headed" Second Baseman In 2006
[October 25th] -- 2002. Three years ago. That was the last time that Nationals' second baseman Jose Vidro was healthy for an entire season. Knee problems in the second half of 2003 forced him to miss 16 games. His knee worsened the next season, limiting Vidro to only 110 games before the team shut him down in early August. Surgery following the 2004 campaign fixed the problem with the knee, but Vidro experienced joint swelling in spring training and played in pain until an ankle injury in May forced him out of the lineup for much of the remainder of the season.
Enter Junior Spivey.
Spivey came to the Nationals in the Tomo Ohka trade. Frank Robinson had tired of Ohka and the Brewers had phenom Rickie Weeks waiting in the wings. Spivey's 2005 season, cut short due to injury [did any National play the entire season?] was not up to his usual standards. He hit only .232 with 7 home runs.
The Nationals cannot count on Vidro being healthy next season. The team doctor recommended surgery for his knee, but he has instead followed a path of excercise and light weight lifting. He told mlb.com that he is feeling much better and that the swelling is down.
The best option for 2006 is to platoon Junior Spivey and Jose Vidro at second base. Vidro has a career batting average against right-handers of .315 with good on base and slugging percents as well. Spivey, on the other hand, hit left handers much better than righties. Last season, Spivey batted .305 against left-handers and only .205 against righties. His power and on-base numbers are much better from the right side.
By platooning the two players, the Nationals will keep the pressure off of Vidro's bad knee while keeping Spivey off the field against right-handers. Vidro and Spivey could easily combine for a .300-20-75 season, production the team desperately needs. Spivey will likely leave the team through free-agency following the 2006 season, and Vidro, by playing only 100 or so games, should be 100% healthy to assume 2b full-time in 2007.
It's a win-win.
All Signs Point To The Need For Speed
[October 24th] -- Don't believe for a moment that it was the Nationals' "Punch & Judy" offense that doomed the team to their second-half slide last season. No, the culprit was a lineup so slow that it used a slugging corner outfielder as its leadoff hitter.
The Nationals lack of speed forced them into "station-to-station" style of baseball, ideal for home run hitting clubs but disastrous for teams with no power. Not only did the Nationals finish last in the National League in home runs with 117 in 2005, they also ended the season dead last in stolen bases with only 45. Worse, they were caught 45 times attempting to steal.
Here is how the rest of the National League East did compared to the Nats:
FLORIDA: 128 home runs, 96 steals (38 caught stealing) ~ PHILADELPHIA: 167 home runs, 116 steals (27 caught stealing) ~ ATLANTA: 184 home runs, 92 steals (32 caught stealing) ~ NEW YORK: 175 home runs, 153 steals (40 caught stealing)
It's no wonder that the Nationals finished last in their division. The average NL East team hit 46 more homers than Washington and stole 69 more bases. The NL East teams were successful stealing bases 77% of the time. The Nationals were barely at 50%.
Team management has to make a decision this winter regarding the offensive makeup of the Nationals. They must either decide to create a team built on speed, or built on power. As things stand today, the team is composed of players slower than the league average with less power as well. You know you're in trouble when your leadoff hitter struck out 155 times the previous season.
You want a blockbuster trade to get things started? How about Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson to Tampa Bay for Carl Crawford. Tampa would take two starters in trade for one. The Nats would get a speedy lead off hitter who last year batted .301 with 15 homers and 81 rbi's. He stole 46 bases. If healthy, Ryan Church could take up some of the offensive slack lost in the trade. Church has the potential for a .300-20-80 season in 2006.
Larry Broadway may just be ready to take over at first. He's likely able to hit .270-15-70 or thereabouts, which is about the production Nick Johnson gave the Nats last season.
I'm surprised that a team that was last in the National League in both homers and steals was able to win 81 games. I doubt that'll happen again without significant changes to the roster. Look what speed did for Chicago this year. Many in Chicago lambasted the Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik trade. Milwaukee is home this fall [again]. The White Sox are two wins away from their first World Series title since 1917.
Speed kills, and the Nationals need to realize it. Now.
Nats Mound Woes Overblown & Overstated
[October 22nd] -- Since the beginning of the Nationals' "great slide into oblivion" the mound staff has been pummeled by both the media and fans alike as the culprit for the team's "first to worst" downward spiral. They say that getting rid of Tomo Ohka and Zach Day because manager Frank Robinson didn't like them culled an already thin starting rotation. Well, yes ... and no.
The Nationals pitching staff crafted the 4th best ERA in the National League. But injuries to Zach Day, Tony Armas Jr., T.J. Tucker, John Patterson, Ryan Drese, Luis Ayala, Antonio Osuna, Joey Eischen, Francis Beltran and others made it seem that the staff was perpetually thin. Going into 2006, the pitching staff has only a few spots open to competition. Barring any major trades or free agent signings [neither of which are likely], this is how the pitching staff should look next April:
- Livan Hernandez [15-10 ~ 3.98] The 30 year old veteran is signed through the 2007 season, and will likely fulfill his contract with the Nationals. Hernandez is an innings eater and solidifies the top of the rotation
- John Patterson [9-7 ~ 3.13] Patterson was the most sought after player on the team's major league roster in 2005. He is cheap [$332,000 last year] and is not eligible for free agency until the 2008 season at the earliest. Patterson will likely become a dominant pitcher in the NL for years to come.
- Esteban Loiaza [11-10 ~ 3.77] Loiaza is the "wild card" in the pitching staff. He is a free agent and will command attention from many teams this winter, but he has indicated he wants to return to the Nationals. He'll earn far more than his 2005 salary of $2.9 million, but he'll be worth it.
- Ryan Drese [7-12 ~ 5.78] Drese posted a solid campaign in 2004 with the Rangers, going 14-10, 4.20. His 2005 season went from bad [see his stats] to worse when he injured his elbow and was sidelined for the season in August. He's 29 and has dynamic stuff. He could win 15 games or he could get clobbered again. With Drese, it's hard to tell. But at 29, he still has time to mature into a quality pitcher.
- Hector Carrasco [5-4 ~ 2.04] Carrasco went from minor league has-been to effective starter in less than six months, and has earned the opportunity to compete for a slot in the rotation next season. Carrasco, 36, has told anyone who'd listen that he wants to be a starter next year. I think he'd do well in the number five slot.
- Joey Eischen [2-1 ~ 3.22] The 36 year old missed two months with a broken bone in his arm, but is 100% right now. Eischen is the designated "Hey, you go get that lefty out" pitcher on the staff, and does a fine job at it.
- Jay Bergman [2-0 ~ 2.75] Bergman's stuff and his age [he's only 24] may place him in the rotation one day, but for now, he's very good at long relief. He's a great strikeout pitcher, fanning 21 in only 19 innings in 2005.
- Gary Majewski [4-4 ~ 2.93] Although he's only 25, Majewski pitched like a veteran last season. He was equally able to get out a tough right-hander or pitch four innings of solid long relief. He was one of the team's most clutch relievers in 2005.
- Luis Ayala [8-7 ~ 2.66] Along with Majewski, Ayala ate up a great majority of the Nationals' middle relief innings. He is 27 and will be a stalwart in the pen for years. He isn't eligible for free agency until 2008
- Jon Rauch [2-4 ~ 3.60] The 6'11", 27 year old will likely find his way into the starting rotation at some point in his career, but for now, his imposing size and good location will help the team in long relief.
- Chad Cordero [2-4 ~ 1.82] The Chief ... 'nuff said. Cordero is only 23 and has 62 career saves in a little more than a season and a half as a professional. If he stays healthy, he'll likely set the all-time record for most saves in a career.
This is a solid if unspectacular pitching staff. If Ryan Drese comes through, or if the team signs a lower-end starter through free agency [someone like Paul Byrd], the Nationals could win 85 games next year. If they add some offense, they could close in on 90 victories in 2006.
Either way, the pitching staff is solid.
To Fill Holes In Roster, Nats Need To Look To Land Of The Rising Sun
[October 21st] -- While living in Okinawa in the late 1970's, I was able to see first-hand the passion the Japanese had for the game of baseball. Brought over to the island by Babe Ruth's barnstorming team's in the 1920's, Japan borrowed the game and made it her own [don't get mad at me feminists, the Japanese refer to their country as 'she']. The games, however, though exciting, were at best 'AAA' quality. But times have changed.
Today, the top three teams in the Japan league could likely play .500 or better against American major league competition. Most of the players now who go to the Japan all-star game can have a successful career here in America. Japan is an ideal place for the Nationals to cull for talent.
The Nationals are learning first-hand the meaning of the phrase "Catch-22." Because the farm system is barren, the only way for the team to stock its big-league club is through free agency. But by doing this, the team would likely lose many of its high round draft picks, which would then make the farm system even more barren, forcing the team to sign more free agents, which causes the loss of draft picks, which .... well .... you get the idea.
Japan is another story. The signing of a Japanese free agent does not result in the loss of any draft picks. The Nationals could then plug holes at the major league level without harming the precarious status of it's farm system. Each year, two or three Japanese players sign with Major League teams. Since Ichiro, the vast majority have succeeded here in America. I'm not suggesting that these players would be instant "stars," but they could be credible replacements for the likes of Cristian Guzman or Vinny Castilla.
I hope the Nationals look into not only Japan, but Korea and the other asian nations who play baseball. A team in the Nations Capital with a decidedly global flavor could enhance its popularity as well as its value, not to mention its win-loss record.
C'mon, Jim. Repeat after me: O-hio Guz-i-mas. Ko-nichi-wa. It really does get easy after a while.
After Year Of Injuries, A New Larry Broadway Emerges In AFL
[October 19th] -- Larry Broadway was at a career cross-roads this past season. Blocked from the major league roster by Nick Johnson, Broadway realized that his future might lie with another organization. His hope was to prove himself at 'AAA' New Orleans in 2005 and then "hope for the best." His season looked promising. Until opening day that is. A groin injury sustained in the first game made it difficult to swing the bat. As a result, he was hitting only .193 thirteen games into the season. Then things got worse. In late May, Broadway tore a ligament diving for a hard hit ball, side-lining him for the next 2 1/2 months of the season. When he returned in late June, fans saw the beginning of a new Larry Broadway.
When he first saw Broadway hit, Zephyrs' manager Tim Foli nicknamed the Duke University graduate "Olerud" because of his tall, slender build and "natural" left-handed stroke. It was thought that Broadway would have a higher average than most first baseman, but less power.
Broadway used his "downtime" during his injury rehab to gain 20 pounds of muscle, going from a lanky 220 to a solid 240. The above image [left] was taken during Spring Training 2005, while the other was taken this week during the Arizona Fall League.
His strength training is paying off in Arizona. In 11 games, Broadway is hitting .375 with a home run and 5 rbi's. He has a .512 OBP and is slugging at a .563 clip. His defense has always been one of his strengths, making him a key component for the Nationals next year, either as a tradeable commodity or a replacement for Nick Johnson at first.
Johnson again suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2005. With almost 1,500 at bats in the major leagues now, we can make some general conclusions about Johnson's ability to help the Nationals in the long term. For his career, Johnson has averaged a home run every 27 at-bats, similar to John Olerud's 29.7 . Power-hitting first baseman typically hit a homer every 15 or so at bats. Jason Giambi (16.5), Albert Pujols (14.7) and Carlos Delgado (14.9) all fall within that range. Johnson never will never be a slugger. Assuming that Nick can stay healthy for an entire season and reach 500 at bats, he would likely hit only 17-19 home runs, not enough for a team already devoid of power.
Larry Broadway's new-found strength, coupled with his proven success in the minor leagues, should provide him the chance to at least push Johnson for the starting job in 2006. If Johnson [finally] shows us that he can play an entire year healthy, Broadway could be used as trade-bait for pitching or a speedy outfielder. If, however, Broadway is the "real deal," then Johnson might be the one traded for help elsewhere.
One thing is for sure: No Nationals' fan wants to go through another season like 2005 where all eight starting position players missed playing time due to injuries. Perhaps the first step towards that end is to rid the team of players who are intimate with the disabled list.
Behind Every National Is A Senator With A Story
[October 19th] -- I am part of that generation that remembers baseball in Washington before the Nationals. I spent many summer days in the upper deck of RFK Stadium, watching players wearing red hats with "curly" W's on them glide along the stadium's lush green grass. Although I remembered the names and the statistics of those players, I had forgotten the texture of their talent, their idiosyncrasies, their passion.
That is, until this past June.
I was watching a "Nats - Mets" game this past summer from my easy-chair in the den. Living In Idaho, the twenty inch, two-dimensional version of a Nationals game is the best I can get, so I make the best of it. But this day was different. I was given a surround system for my birthday, and though it was hooked up, I hadn't thought to turn it on. My son came in around the 4th inning, and said, "Hey Dad, why don't you turn on the sound?" He walked to the unit and flipped the switch.
I had never listened to a game this way before. Suddenly, I could hear the ball zipping to the plate. That "pop" sound that the ball makes when it hits the glove echoed behind me. In the distance I could make out a vendor selling his wares, "Get your peanuts, get your peanuts here ... they're nutritious AND delicious!" I turned down the "center channel" and the announcers were silenced. It was just me and RFK, together for the first time in three decades.
John Patterson was warming up on the mound. I could hear the public address announcer drawing the attention of the fans to a message on the scoreboard. Then it happened. I felt like Sam Beckett, the character in the TV show "Quantum Leap." I was no longer in my den. I was back in 1969, at RFK Stadium, in the upper deck. "Oh boy."
Where John Patterson was just a moment before stood the imposing figure of Dick Bosman. Bosman came out of nowhere that season to win 14 games and lead the American League in ERA. Like Patterson, he had missed part of the season due to an injury. At first, barrel-chested Mike Epstein was laughing with the umpire as he warmed up the infield. His physical appearance was very similar to Nick Johnson. A lefty, Epstein clubbed 30 home runs in '69 even while platooning. Eddie Brinkman ran deep into the hole at short to retrieve one of Epstein's throws. He back-handed the ball, twirled in the air and fired a strike to first. Epstein caught the ball chest high and pointed to the slender shortstop as if to say, "nice catch." Frank Howard was warming up with Del Unser in centerfield. Even then, while just trying to get loose, it was apparent that Hondo had no speed, no range, and little hope of tracking down a ball in left unless it was hit on a line directly at him. The fans in the leftfield corner [all six of them] were chanting Hon-do, Hon-do, Hon-do. He waved in appreciation. Lee Maye was leaning against the chain-link fence, chatting with ace reliever Darold Knowles. Maye, acquired from the Indians in a mid-season trade, plugged the only real hole in the lineup that year. Bernie Allen, the soft spoken second baseman, was preparing to play, stretching his hamstrings behind the mound. Paul Casanova took the last warm-up pitch from Bosman and fired it to second base. Allen whipped the ball to third, where the imposing figure of Ken McMullen stood. McMullen was the second best fielding 3rd baseman in the American League. But because Brooks Robinson played only 45 miles away, Mac's talents were underappreciated around the league. From my perch in the upper deck, I could barely see Ted Williams in the dugout. Williams, wearing his ever-present red Senators warm-up jacket, was leaning forward, his left foot resting on the top step. The team was ready. The manager was ready. I was ready.
As New York's Horace Clarke came to the plate, the public address system came to life: "Leading off for the ..... Mets, second baseman Jose Reyes." Like the penny in the pocket of Christopher Reeve in the movie "Somewhere in Time," hearing the name of this present day Met returned me to my 2005 reality. What a trip. I had forgotten the "feel" of the Senators. Kenny McMullen could really hit. Paul Casanova really couldn't. Bernie Allen was slow yet got to all the balls hit in his direction. I had forgotten just how far a ball would fly when powered by Frank Howard's god-given muscles. Although the Senators are made fun of even today, most forget that the 1969 version won five more games than the Nationals did in 2005.
I hope that 30 years from now, kids who have watched the Nationals play will remember the feel, the smell, the texture of a game played at RFK Stadium. The statistics, the wins or losses, the highlights are all secondary to the experience of watching your team playing in your town at your park.
I had forgotten.
Fathers, Love And Cherish Your Children While You Can
[October 18th] -- Fathers will always believe that their children will be part of their lives. Always. Oh, sure, they'll grow older and get married, but they'll never be too big to sit on our laps and give us "Daddy hugs." I believed that too.
Until October 11th, 2003.
Two of my six children were born severely handicapped. Katie is 15 today -- she is still in diapers and cannot talk, though she can make her needs known through her own special sign language. Her sister Kendi's handicaps were far more pronounced. She was unable to walk and lived her life in a wheel chair. She too was in a diaper. In fact, she couldn't do much of anything. Except smile. Oh, what a beautiful and vivacious smile she had. I woke her each morning, changed her diaper, attached her leg braces, fed her breakfast, and got her off to school. The process reversed itself in the evening. Although she could not say it, her eyes told me that she loved me very much, and that she appreciated the extra effort she required to live upon this Earth with me.
Kendi was a healthy child. Oh, she got sick now and then, but no more than any other of my children. She began to lose some weight in the spring of 2003, and in spite of our best efforts, we could not reverse the weight loss. Her doctor prescribed a feeding tube to help increase her nourishment. A home-health nurse came to our home and placed the tube in my daughter, who at this point had begun to grow weak. She was in the hospital four hours later. The nurse placed the tube not in her stomach but her lung. The Ensure liquid saturated her lung and caused pheunomonia almost immediately.
In the three weeks that followed, my beloved daughter suffered greatly. We almost lost her to a pulmonary embelism the first week. Both her lungs collapsed in the second week. Her heart became weak and the doctors performed emergency surgery to repair it. It kept her alive only a few days more. My daughter died October 11th, 2003.
The second anniversary of her death came and went last week. Death occurs in all of our lives, but it was her special circumstances that continues to haunt me today. She was dependent on me. It is the job of a father to protect his children, but when that child is unable to protect herself, when you are forced to make life and death decisions for her, that level of protection is much higher. I failed her. I couldn't save her. I miss her so.
Fathers, hug your children. Tell them you love them. Forgive their sins. Appreciate their talents. Acknowledge their uniqueness. Help them with their homework. Teach them about life. Use your mind and not the back of your hand to guide them. Hug them when you're happy with them. Hug them even more when you're not.
I pray that you never suffer the loss that I did, and that you're children are as proud of you as you are of them. All I have left today are pictures and memories. I can't hug my child; you can. Go tell your children that you love them. Now.
Before it's too late.
Baseball resumes tomorrow.
Blame Omar Miniya, Not Adam Wogan
[October 18th] -- Nationals general manager Jim Bowden fired the team's director of player development, Adam Wogan on Monday. Wogan had been with the team since 2002. Bowden indicated a desire to go in a "different direction" as the reason for the change.
The implication, of course, is that Wogan has done a poor job in stocking the minor league system with major league prospects. No question, the Nationals farm system is currently filled with a rag-tag bunch of career minor leaguers and below average prospects. But don't blame Wogan. Blame Omar Minaya.
Minaya, then the general manager of the Montreal Expos, made four trades between 2002 and 2004 that gutted the team's minor league system, trades that the team has yet to recover from. None of them made any sense, and all will haunt both him and the franchise for years to come.
This trade came days before the the start of the season. The question is, why did Minaya do it? Jason Bay had just completed his 2nd year as a professional, splitting the year between Classs 'A' Clinton and Jupiter, batting .310 with 14 homers and 71 RBI's. Serrano had finished his 4th year with the club at 'AA' Harrisburg. Serrano went 6-3 with the Senators, crafting a solid 2.17 ERA, saving 20 games. In 54 innings, he struck out an amazing 73 batters. The Nationals recieved in return Lou Collier, a nine-year minor league veteran who batted .252 with Brewers late in 2001. Jason Bay has become a star with the Pirates. He batted .306 with 32 homers, 101 RBI's and 21 stolen bases in 2005. Serrano is still in the minor leagues and Lou Collier was out of baseball. Minaya traded to top prospects for a career minor leaguer. Why?
TRADE #2 -- Date: June 27th 2002. Montreal Expos traded Lee Stevens, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee to the Cleveland Indians for Bartolo Colon, Tim Drew and cash.
Grady Sizemore had batted .270 with a great .386 on-base percent during his time in the Expos farm system. Lee Stevens, a veteran first baseman, hit 25 homers and drove in 95 runs for the Expos the previous year. Brandon Phillips hit .298 in 2001 and was batting .327 at the time of the trade. Cliff Lee was named to the 'AA' all star game just before he was traded to Cleveland. Baseball America named him one of the 25 best lefties in the minor leagues and one of the six best pitchers in the Eastern league. Colon, in return, won ten games for the Expos. Ten. Sizemore batted .289 for the Indians in 2005 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI's. He stole 22 bases for the Tribe. Cliff Lee went 18-5 with a great [for the AL] ERA of 3.79.
TRADE 3# -- Date: February 2nd 2004. The Texas Rangers traded catcher Einar Diaz to the Montreal Expos for Chris Young.
Chris Young won 12 games for the Rangers in 2005, and Einar Diaz was released by the Nationals because the team didn't believe he would ever become a "major league catcher."
TRADE #4 -- Date: July 11th 2002. Florida Marlins traded Cliff Floyd, Wilton Guerrero, and Claudio Vargas to the Montreal Expos for Carl Pavano, Graeme Lloyd, Justin Wayne, Mike Mordecai and a player to be named later
Forget all the other players. Let's look at Cliff Floyd for Carl Pavano. The Expos later traded Floyd to theRed Sox for Sunny Kim and and couple of other non-descript players. Carl Pavano won 30 games with the Marlins in 2003 and 2004 before being traded to the Yankees [he was injured most of the season.]
Minaya also tried to trade several prospects to the Rangers for Juan Gonzalez after he had begun to have injury problems in 2003.
How much better would the Nationals have been in 2005 with the addition of Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore to the outfield, and Cliff Lee and Chris Young to the pitching staff? Brad Wilkerson and Ryan Church would have been available to trade for a quality third baseman and or short stop. The pitching staff would have consisted of: Livan Herandez, John Patterson, Esteban Loiaza, Cliff Lee and Chris Young and Carl Pavano. While the team ended the season with only three starters, this version of the Nats had six, SIX quality starters available.
My guess is that this version of the Nationals would have won 90 games this past season. The team as a whole would be very young, very deep and poised to be one of the best teams in the National League East for years to come.
Omar Minaya destroys the team's minor league system, and Adam Wogan gets fired for it. Man, only in Washington.
Nationals Fans Caught Between Rock, Hard Place
[October 16th] -- For the past 34 years, Washington baseball fans have wondered just how one of America's largest cities, and certainly its most powerful, could have been bypassed, overlooked and otherwise forgotten by Major league baseball.
A year into the return of baseball to the D.C. area, we're beginning to understand.
To Linda Cropp and the D.C. City Council, there is no such thing as a "done deal." Anything and everything seems open to negotiation. In a city full of the world's most powerful politicians, many on the Council aspire to bigger and better things, and are using the new Washington ballpark as leverage to that end.
To Major League Baseball, a "deal is a deal." This is because it takes Bud and the boys so very long to come to a decision that every conceivable possibility and angle was considered. Selig assured all of Washington that a new owner would be in place "just after the season starts." Just after the season started, he said it would be "certainly before the all star break." After the all star game, Selig confidently predicted a deal would be finalized "long before the season's end." Now, with the end of the season in the rear view mirror, the Nationals will have no owner until Jerry Reisendorf's White Sox either win the World Series or are eliminated from contention.
I get the feeling that the D.C. City Council won't finalize the stadium deal until the Nationals have in place an owner they are satisfied with, but MLB is waiting for the stadium deal to be finalized before announcing the team's new owner. This might be because the Council is afraid that baseball is going to bring in an "outsider" and baseball is waiting because they are going to do exactly that and doesn't want the council to back out of the stadium deal because of it.
It is now clear why baseball has been without baseball since September, 1971. Major League Baseball, and the Washington political infrastructure, are both entities that use deceit and disinformation to hide their real agendas. Some on the Council want to become the next Marion Barry, and some in Major League Baseball want to add another franchise to the "old boy network." Somewhere in the middle, fathers and sons, families and friends, even corporations are forced to helplessly watch this ritual power struggle. Likely, by the time all is complete, the Nationals will have missed out on the free-agent signing season, been unable to make any substantive trades, and will go into 2006 with essentially the same team from a year ago less a free-agent or two of their own who didn't want to be part of this comedy of errors any longer.
And what of the Nationals' nation? Well, I guess if you ask Bud Selig, we should be happy that Bob Short died years ago, or he would have been made the new owner of the Nationals. And Linda Cropp still doesn't understand why the Nationals couldn't play at FedEx Field. After all, grass is grass, right?
Where Have You Gone, Carl Everett?
[October 15th] -- Two months before the Montreal Expos were transferred to Washington, D.C., an aging Carl Everett was traded by the Expos to the Chicago White Sox for a couple of prospects. Although he had several productive major league seasons, Everett had developed debilitating knee injuries, and what was "deadwood" in Montreal became "depth" in Chicago. Everett did a credible job for the soon-to-be AL champion Chi-Sox in 2005, going 251-23-87. How did the prospects do for the Nationals?
Jon Rauch has compiled a 5-4 record in two years with the Expos/Nationals while compiling a 2.70 ERA. A torn labrum early in the season forced Rauch to the sidelines for 91 games. Rauch's TSN scouting report indicates a 90+ mph fastball and a "frightening" curve ball. A healthy Rauch could be a quality middle of the rotation starter soon.
Gary Majewski was a stud in 2005. He pitched in 79 games, going 4-4 with a sterling 2.93 ERA. He struck out 50 in 86 innings, and allowed only 2 home runs the entire year. For most of the season, Majewski was "money in the bank" in middle relief. He protected those 2 or 3 innings between the starter and the Chief. He tired late in the year from overwork, but manager Frank Robinson can't be blamed because there simply wasn't anyone else. He is only 25 and will be an integral part of the Nationals bullpen for years to come.
While Everett did help the White Sox this year [although his .311 OBP and .435 SLG weren't exactly stellar], his 36 year old knees and Jose Guillen-like demeanor make him a liability for the future. Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski, however, will be playing in the major leagues long after Carl Everett returns home to Tampa Bay and becomes fat and cranky. I am not a fan of many of the team's trades the past few years [what would life be like if we still had Grady Seizemore and Jason Bay?], but the Carl Everett trade laid a solid foundation for the Nationals' future.
New Stadium Will Segregate District's Haves, Have Nots
[October 14th] -- Reliable information is finally beginning to trickle out to the public about the Nationals new ballpark in Anacostia, and many Washingtonians are feeling uncomfortable about what they're hearing. It's not the overall design that's the problem. It's going to have that same type of 'nook and cranny' outfield fence that's so in vogue today.
The overall look of the stadium is not a big deal either. While not "retro," it is nonetheless evocative of baseball's storied past. So many teams have gone out of their way not to build a "cookie cutter" stadium that they themselves have created a newer [albeit nicer] cookie-cutter version, the retro look. But that's not the problem either. The problem is that in baseball, the stadium is a symbol of not only the team, but of the community it represents. And from we've heard so far, the Nationals' new park will reflect it's city. Sadly, it is reflecting all that is bad in our community.
RFK Stadium's clean lines and symmetrical design offered a sense of commonality between the fans. The father with his two kids who sat behind the first base dugout seemed no more important or wealthy than the mom with her sister who sat halfway up in the outfield upper deck. It seemed to be a more a matter of personal preference rather than asset distribution. The service, the bathrooms, the seat size and design were virtually the same. Inside the circular community of RFK, for at least that afternoon, all of Washington was the same.
Don't look for any of that "cum-bay-ya" stuff at the new stadium.
The "upper deckers" will have smaller seats, narrower walkways, warm water fountains, deeper angles, less creature comforts and far poorer sight-lines.
The folks on ground level will have available to them pretty much everything and anything that money can buy. Just like the city that will surround it, the new stadium, by way of an arbitrary dividing line, will separate the rich from the poor, the haves from the have nots. People will not be segregated by the color of their skin, but by the thickness of their wallet. Baseball equals society.
Not in Japan.
I spent several years in Japan while serving in the United States Air Force. Baseball is exponentially more popular there than it is here in America. The stands are always full. The games are always on television. Sure, things are a bit different. The stadium announcer is almost always a women. Raman soup and chopsticks are the Japanese version of a "dog and a beer." Games can end in a tie. But all in all, it's still baseball.
Baseball stadiums in Japan are very common, almost plain. Eshewing sky boxes, luxury suites, "Founders Clubs" and corporate luxury in general, their parks are simple and uniform. The seats, from highest row to lowest level are roughly the same size, shape and carry similar status among the fans. The president of Toyo Corporation might be found sitting next to one of his workers. Baseball in Japan, like it was in America, brings all levels of culture and society together. Sure, some of the newest stadiums have begun to take on the look and feel of our parks, but the bowl, the seating arrangements, those things and divide American fans unify the Japanese.
It looks like Washington has joined the baseball world of the 21st century. The Nationals are going to grab the teats of the fan and squeeze until the money no longer pours. Although the real fan base of a major league baseball team is that "average guy" or gal who works for someone who works for someone who works for the boss, baseball, because of its high payroll cost, has to find a profit center whenever it presents itself. This kowtowing to the rich keeps pushing the average fan farther and farther away from the field, deeper and deeper, up into the shadows of the upper deck where only pigeons once roosted. And that, my fellow Nationals' fans, is very sad.
Luckily, pay-toilets have been outlawed in the district for quite some time.
It's John Patterson's Time To Take Center Stage
[October 13th] -- John Patterson was standing at the back of the mound, hat in his hand, wiping the sweat from his brow that was as much a result of the Washington humidity as it was the jam he was in. The Dodgers had loaded the bases, and J.D. Drew was at the plate. Two out. 3-2 count. 40,000 cheering fans shook the waffle-topped roof at RFK. Patterson returned to the mound and toed the rubber. His leg kicked high as he followed through on a looping, drooping curveball that bounced at the plate moments after Drew swung helplessly at the pitch. Patterson shuffled towards the dugout with that "aw shucks" look on his face. John Patterson showed D.C. fans yet again a glimpse of his potential stardom.
Patterson was a high school stud in Orange, Texas when he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1997. However, the Expos failed to tender their contract to the high schooler within the required 15 days, and Patterson was declared a "free agent" by Major League Baseball. He quickly signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Patterson spent his first year as a pro in South Bend in the Midwest League, compiling one of those typically contradictory statistical years that is found in the lower minor leagues. He went just 1-9, but with a sterling 3.23 ERA, and struck out 95 in just 78 innings. He was considered a mid-level prospects by the scouts, but with a strong "up-side."
Pitching in the California League in 1998, Patterson went 8-7 with a 2.83 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 127 innings. The "Baseball Prospectus" named him the #23 prospect in all of baseball. 1999, spent with El Paso in the 'AA' Texas League, wasn't quite as promising. While he struck out 117 in 100 innings, his ERA rose to 4.77. Still, he proved enough to get an opportunity to play with the 'AAA' Tucson Toros, where he failed miserably. He won only one out of six decisions, and saw his ERA balloon to 7.04. Still, Baseball America named him the #24 prospect in baseball.
2000 was a total loss, as Patterson blew out his elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. His return to 'AAA' in 2001 showed he wasn't ready to pitch at that level. He went 2-7 with a 5.85 ERA. His strikeouts were down and his walks were up. Baseball was beginning to wonder if his grand potential would ever be realized. Most scouts believed he was rushed back to the mound, and this might effectively end his career. They were wrong.
He played much better in 2002, going 10-5 with a 4.23 ERA with Tucson. His velocity, although not back to his pre-injury speed, was much better. He struck out 104 in 113 innings. He also pitched well during his "call-up" with the Diamondbacks.
2003 was another year of injuries, as he developed shoulder and neck problems. Still, he did well in his third stint with the Toros. He went 10-5 with a sparkling 2.63 ERA, but his strikeout totals dipped significantly, probably due to the lingering effects of his injuries. The Diamondbacks, however, had grown weary by this time of John's injury problems, and traded him to the Expos for reliever Randy Choate. He played 'OK' his only year in Montreal , going 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA. His strikeouts to innings pitched, however, was again over 1:1, indicating he had regained his arm strength.
2005 was the first time since his elbow surgery that Patterson pitched with the confidence and velocity he showed in the minor leagues. He ended the season at 9-7, 3.13, with 185 strikeouts in 195 innings. He now has complete command of four major league pitches: a 90+ mph fastball, a killer curve, a slider and a newly developed change. Looking at his pitching log for the season, you can tell that he's still learning how to pitch effectively at the major league level. When he's "on," he's unhittable, and would pitch 8 innings, giving up 4 or 5 hits while striking out 10. When he was "off," however, he got pummeled. I see this a a good sign.
When Livan Hernandez goes to the mound, you know, YOU KNOW, that he's going to give up 3 to 5 runs. He's not going to get clobbered, but neither is he going to throw a Koufax-esque gem. Patterson, however, is capable of dominating the game when he's comfortable, looking at times unhittable.
Researching Roger Clemens' first two years with Boston, his numbers parallel Patterson's. Clemens either struck out 12 and gave up a few harmless singles or he got drilled mercilessly. The early career of Sandy Koufax was similar as well. I'm not suggesting that the Nationals have in John Patterson a Roger Clemens or Sandy Koufax. I am saying, however, that Patterson is learning and getting better each time he takes the mound. One day soon, Patterson will be one of the most dominating pitchers in the league. He can do it.
Just ask J.D. Drew.
[Sigh] Do We REALLY Want To Be Part Of Major League Baseball??
[October 13th] -- It doesn't bother me at all that umpire Doug Eddings made the wrong call. After all, from his vantage point, his "call" was based on an impression more than solid evidence. To virtually every baseball fan, A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed the ball, Angels catcher Adam Paul plucked it out of the air before it touched the ground, Eddings "rang him" with a tight fist in the air, and that was that.
MLB, and the umpires, are better at "spinning" then anyone living in Washington. At that says something.
Boo to the other umpires on the field, who backed up Eddings 100%. Boo to the umpire supervisors who said that their equipment showed the ball "moved" at the last minute as Paul caught the ball. I guess that the umpires have better equipment then ESPN, Fox and thousands of other still and video photographers. Had they said, "We think Eddings made a mistake, but it was one of those plays that could have gone either way," fans and writers would have grumbled for a day and then it would all have been over. But by using their "Watergate" defense, MLB and it's minions seem as guilty of a coverup as Haldeman and Erlichman.
I fully expected umpire supervisors Rich Reiker to say, "Do you believe ME or your lying eyes?" Rich, baby: even Chicago fans and sportswriters aren't backing your boy Eddings up. Ozzie Guillen said he "didn't see what happened." Pierzynski sheepishly said that "I really don't know what happened ... I just ran."
Boys, for years, Major League Baseball and the Soviet Union were the only entities that really believed that a "lie oft told becomes the truth." The Soviet Union died 15 years ago.
Get the idea, Bud?
Another Piece Of Nationals' Future Now In Place
[October 11th] -- There is no question that the Washington Nationals drafted a player in the MLB 2005 amateur draft who will become the key player in the team's long-term future.
You might be surprised to know, however, that the "key" player very well might not be Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals' webpage reported today that the team signed Justin Maxwell, the team's second overall pick, taken in the 4th round of the draft. Maxwell, who graduated from the University of Maryland this spring, had rebuffed the team's efforts to sign him because of the contract's structure and not its financial considerations. Team officials described the negotiations as "amicable." My guess is the contract addressed his injury plagued seasons of 2004 and 2005.
Injuries the past two years robbed Maxwell of what would have been a sure first round selection. An inside fastball during spring practice in 2004 broke a bone in his forearm which forced him to miss the entire season. He tried to play in the Cape-Cod League that summer but broke a finger there, effectively finishing his year. Seven games into Maryland's season this year, he broke a bone in his hand, ending his collegiate career. He is at full strength now and will likely begin the 2006 season at class 'A' Potomac.
Maxwell has been a star at every level. He played in the Cape-Cod League in 2004 and hit .307 with 47 hits and 2 home runs. In his abbreviated 2005 season at Maryland, the 6'5", 220 lb outfielder batted .455 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI's. His talent is well known to most soouts and general managers in the major leagues.
He was drafted in 2001 by the Orioles, and again in 2004 by the Rangers. Scout Grady Fuson called Maxwell "one of the top college players" in 2004, and said that Maxwell "could very well be one of our most important selections in some time." Maxwell didn't sign with the Rangers.
Maxwell is both powerful and fast, and is often compared to former Met great Daryl Strawberry. His swing has a high arc, allowing him to not only drive balls, but drive them high and very deep. Defensively, he is major league ready today, according to a scout from the Orioles organization.
While his physical tools might be compared to Strawberry, his personality is more like Cal Ripken, which is good for him and great for the organization. Sean Welsh, GM of the Bourne Braves, a summer-league team Maxwell played for two seasons ago, said that he's as apt to be reading his Bible as he his sanding his bats in preparation for the next day's game.
It looks as if those injuries that kept Justin off of the diamond the past two years are more about being in the wrong place at the wrong time than problems with joints or muscles. Maxwell will need time to make up for all those lost at-bats the past few years, but it seems that when he does reach D.C. [likely 2008], he'll be a fixture in the outfield for some time to come.
Kudos, Jim Bowden. You did well.
Nats More A Winner In 2005 Than Padres
[October 10th] -- Since the last game of the season, Nationals' fans have have expressed outwardly how proud they are of the team's record in 2005. So many problems were overcome: Bud Selig issues -- Linda Cropp issues -- stadium issues -- Orioles issues -- cable TV issues -- payroll issues ... the list seems almost endless. Considering all of these distractions, an 81 win season was great.
Inwardly, there is a sense of disappointment. "Sure, we finished with a .500 record, but we also finished last in the NL East, and with a little bit of luck and fewer injuries, who knows where we might have finished."
More than 3,000 miles away, the San Diego Padres won 82 games and their division. They had a few key offensive players and 2 or 3 quality starters, a great closer and steady defense. Sound familiar?
The Padres won 82 games in a divison that had only one team win more games than they lost. The division as a whole had a .459 winning percentage. In the Nationals' division, all five teams finished with a record of .500 or better. The NL East won 425 games and sported a .525 winning percentage. The average team in the NL West won 74 games while the average NL East team won 85. Had the Nationals played in the NL West, they would not only have won the division, they would have likely won another 5-10 games against the inferior divisional competition. They might have ended the season 85-77, perhaps 90-72.
That said, the Padres did win their division, and the Nationals did finish last in theirs. As their reward, the Padres were pummeled in the playoffs by the Cardinals. So all they really got for winning their division was a late start on their winter vacation. The Nationals, although they finished last, are about to get a new owner, increase there payroll and begin the process of building a dynasty [I hope]. The Padres will likely purge their payroll and lose stars like Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman. In the warped world of today's major league baseball, the Padres [who won] lost, and the Nationals [who lost] won. The Padres are on the way down, and the Nats are about to take a giant leap forward.
After the Braves 4th straight first round loss in the playoffs, it's time for the NL East to have a new champion. It might as well be the Nats.
When Friends Go Astray
[October 6th] -- This is my friend Bob. He and I were great friends our senior year at J.E.B. Stuart High School in 1974. Oh sure, we had our differences. He owned a Yashica camera, and I had a Nikon. His Dad drove a huge Chrylser the size of Delaware, and my Dad owned a sleek, sporty Olds Cutlass. He wore cardigans, I wore pull-overs. But we were able to get past all that and remain friends. That is, until I found out the truth.
I could have forgiven Bob for being a junky, a murderer, a cheat, even a Democrat [hmm, come to think of it, he did get a "wispy" look in his eyes when he talked about George McGovern]. Those are character traits that a person can look beyond. But Bob's problem went far beyond simple societal stupidity.
Bob was an Orioles fan.
When I found out, I remained his friend, hoping that I could somehow help him see the error of his way. I thought I had made some progress until graduation day, when, as he crossed the stage at Wolftrap, he did a high leg kick and threw an imaginary slider -- Jim Palmer would have been proud. After graduation, I left D.C. and traveled the world. Today, some 30 years later, I am enjoying my life of relative obscurity here in Idaho. Then "it" happened.
A recent sports poll indicated that there was one Oriole fan living in Idaho. I knew that it had to be him. There are no others with this affliction west of the Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from Bob who was living on the other side of Idaho. We made arrangements to meet, and I must admit that I was excited to see him again after 30 years. I was sure that he had "outgrown" his Oriole fetish, or perhaps someone who loved him had him "re-programmed." It was not to be. Bob, even at this stage in his life, is still an Oriole fan. I am afraid there is no hope.
Bob is a success in business, has a beautiful wife and has enjoyed every minute of his life. All that, however, will go for naught when he passes from this life to the next. The gates to Heaven are clearly marked "Nationals' fans entrance" and the "other" place is marked clearly too: "Hell - waiting room on left is for appeals. Orioles fans enter immediately."
Ah Bob, you could have had such a great life. Why'd you spoil it by praying to the "orange idol" at Baltimore's baseball altar?
Zimmerman, Friends Now Playing In Arizona Instructional League
[October 7th] -- At first blush, it would seem that Nationals third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman doesn't need to be spending any time in the Arizona Instructional League this fall to prepare for the 2006 season. He Hit .343 at Class 'A' Savannah, .471 at 'AA' Harrisburg [and 11 home runs at the two levels], and a hefty .397 with Washington during his September call-up. But it seems that current GM Jim Bowden wants to give him every chance to succeed next year with the big club.
It's not his bat that team officials want to work on, or even his fielding; it's his flexibility. Zimmerman will spend a great deal of time at both second base and short in hopes that he'll be ready to take over for Cristian Guzman if he falters again next year, or at second if Vidro is still ailing [though I suspect that Junior Spivey would be the first choice to replace Vidro if he is still having knee and ankle problems]. Bowden said just before the end of the season, "Absolutely, mentally, physically, ability wise, I think Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play every day in the major leagues right now." My guess is [and this is just a guess] that Bowden feels that if Castilla is 100% healthy next year, he's going to get a great deal of playing time at the hot corner. And that makes sense. If Castilla plays 120 games, he can rest his "aches and pains" and still contribute when he's in the lineup. But Bowden realizes that by sitting Zimmerman 120 games next season, he'll hinder his progress towards stardom. But, if he plays 40 games at third base, 20 at short, another 30 at second, he'll get his at-bats and [hopefully] a healthy Castilla can still contribute. We'll see.
Also playing in the instructional league: 1B] LARRY BROADWAY: injuries limited his effectiveness, but team officials still believe he can be a productive first-baseman at the major league level ----- RHP] ROY CORCORAN: Relief pitcher with a 4.85 ERA at New Orleans last season ----- INF] BRENDAN HARRIS: Part of the Nomar Garciaparra/Orlando Cabrerra trade last year, he's hit at every level, but fielding deficiencies make him a question-mark in management's eyes (though I like the guy) ----- LHP] DAVID MAUST: A lefty out of the Harrisburg bullpen, he went 5-4 with a nice 2.32 ERA. Batters hit a low .221 against him, and he walked only 14 in 100 innings. ----- RHP] CHRIS SCHRODER: A tremendous beginning in 2005 was wiped out by a bad end, but his career minor league record is 21-13 with a studly 3.07 ERA. ----- INF] TONY BLANCO: Did anyone realize that Blanco hit .275 with 29 homers while playing at "high A" and "AA" in the Reds system in 2004? Kind of makes you wonder why they left him off their 40-man roster and exposed to the "Rule V" draft. Of course, he had to remain on the big club's roster all year or be offered back to the Reds at "half-price," so he didn't get much of a chance to contribute before being placed on the disabled list. While in "rehab" [wink-wink], he played in 16 games with New Orleans and batted .281.
All seven of these players should play a big part in the Nationals' long term future.
[October 6th] -- The worst of all possible ownership senarios may be just around the corner, and there isn't a thing that Nationals' fans can do about it, and Jerry Reinsdorf's leadership in picking the new owner is making things even worse.
Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, now says that he's not going to finalize the sale of the Nationals until his team is out of the playoffs, making it very likely that the Nats will spend a great part of the free-agent "signing season" again with no real owner. Also, without an owner in place, Nationals' GM Jim Bowden will likely have a payroll a little higher that last year, but certainly not enough to fix any of the real problems the team faces going into 2006.
Now, the "worse" part. Hints, loud hints, emanating from the MLB offices suggest that Major League Baseball, with Reinsdorf as its front man, may announce that Indiana businessman Jeff Smulyan could be the new owner.
Smulyan has no ties to the D.C. area. Smulyan doesn't have deep pockets. Smulyan has indicated that he will use corporate cash to buy the club.
I lived in Seattle when Smulyan owned the Mariners. He had a lot of great ideas, and created a sense of excitement that was never felt under previous owner George Argyrous. But he didn't have any money to spend, and underfunded ideas don't win many games. Smulyan also seriously looked into moving the Mariners to Tampa Bay when he couldn't get Seattle officials to give him financial concessions on his Kingdome lease. He also questioned the "intelligence" of the typical Mariner fan.
Being an "out-of-towner," Smulyan has no real concern as to his reputation in Washington.
By using his corporations money, he is going to look at his profit-and-loss statements before considering wins and losses. Each year will be like the Marlins, an almost continues process of "slash-and-burn" until the kids begin to win, when its time to start the cycle all over again. He was underfunded in Seattle, and things haven't changed that much over the past decade. So why is he in the lead to buy the team? Because he's a close friend of Jerry Reinsdorf.
Does this remind you of someone else from DC baseball past? Many many years ago, a man from Minnesota bought a baseball team based in Washington. He was underfunded, and had a history of trying to move, and then finally moving, another sports franchise he owned to another city. He tried to get concessions on his lease with the stadium authority, and failing that, began to question the "intelligence" of the fans in Washington. Two years after he bought the team, he moved them.
I don't think there is much of a chance that the team would move from DC unless some cataclysmic event were to occur. But that doesn't mean Smulyan couldn't run the team like Vince Namoli did in Tampa, where with the lowest payroll in the major leagues, he turned a profit on the backs of the Devil Rays fans.