Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roundtable #2: The Mitchell Report and/or Paul LoDuca


This week was supposed to be the calm after the storm. Ha! The Nats immediately jumped to fill the hole that was sort-of left at catcher after they traded away Brian Schneider by signing Paul Lo Duca. This must have been an early Christmas gift for the bloggers since one could say a lot more about Lo Duca's acquisition than the "Younger, cheaper, and better in the long run! That's a good deal!" thoughts that pretty much summed up every Winter Meeting deal. While we were winding down the discussion on Lo Duca in came the Mitchell report yesterday where, surprise, Paul LoDuca is all over it. He's the gift that keeps on giving.

Does the Mitchell report change anything in your mind? Was the signing a good deal before the report? Is it a good deal today? Did anyone tell Nook Logan that you don't rub the HGH on your bat like pine tar? Are you ruined for baseball forever? (Sure hope not because that will make for a real short roundtable)


I'll start with my reaction to the Mitchell Report in general and then get to Lo Duca. I didn't really think that anything earth-shattering came out of that report. Sure, some names might have surprised some of us, but no one who's followed baseball at all for the last 20 years can be shocked that there has been widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The Mitchell report was a classic case of an organization punishing itself in order to avoid a harsher punishment by an external body. In this case, Selig wanted to finally take his medicine over the steroids flap and get it all over with. Remember, when this Mitchell report was commissioned back in early 2006 Congress was hauling players up to testify left and right. Sosa, Palmiero and McGwire had memorably awkward/embarrassing performances on Capitol Hill and the writing was on the wall. Selig knew that if MLB didn't take action, Congress would, especially heading into an election year. So here we are. It will be interesting to see what, if any, lasting impact this report has on the game and on particular players.


More than anything, on a personal level I'm sad for baseball. A great game has been tarnished in the public eye. While I think the long-term damage to MLB will be minimal, and that this cathartic moment was necessary, it nonetheless hurts to see your heroes hauled up and pilloried by the court of public opinion.

I agree that nothing come out of the report that we didn't expect, except maybe that the whispering campaign against Clemens being made explicit. If there is a silver lining to the whole affair, it's that the report shifted the focus of steroids in baseball away from Barry Bonds and onto the sport as a whole. If the union is smart, they will put out a joint press release with the commissioner's office embracing the report's recommendations lock, stock, and barrel -- even if they reserve the right to criticize the naming of names.

One thing that bugs me though is the thought that records outside of the Steroid Era are any less tainted. Who's to say that Pete Rose's hit record, Rickey Henderson's stolen base record, or Nolan Ryan's strikeout record weren't accomplished with the help of amphetamines, for example. This is why I'm against the whole "asterisk" idea in general. This is an old argument though, so I'd rather no rehash it again.


I agree that the game has been tarnished but I think any shock or negative reaction from fans has already been registered years ago. I don't think we'll suddenly see lower attendance at MLB games or anything like that, but maybe I'd feel differently if any of my favorite players were on that list.

You make a good point that it is appropriate that the locus of this controversy has shifted from all-Barry, all-the-time to a more broad spectrum of players. What I also find interesting is who ISN'T on the list. Think of all the guys who are just as good as Bonds, Clemens and Tejada who, apparently, have not had to resort to performance-enhancing drugs to excel in the Major Leagues. I'm thinking of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, etc... It would be different if all or nearly all of the game's best players had achieved success because of drugs, but the names on the list are a mixed bag of the best players of our time and relatively mediocre guys like Nook Logan. We should find solace in the fact that so many have managed to excel without resorting to drugs. Of course, we can't know whether or not the Mitchell list is the definitive list of all drug users; indeed we must expect that it is only a subset.

Still, I think there are lessons to be drawn from youngsters who may be thinking that steroids and HGH are a one-way ticket to success. The message seems to be that there is simply no substitute for raw talent. You can take all the steroids and hormones you want but if you're not a skilled baseball player you will never make it to the top. This is why I have trouble with asterisk suggestions. Bonds may have been on the juice but he would have never hit anywhere near that number of home runs if he wasn't really good at hitting them in the first place. Clemens may have bought some of his remarkable longevity from drugs, but no drug can make a pitcher that dominant by itself.


I don't want to detract from getting to the impact of the report on current Nats, but for a future roundtable, I wonder if it wouldn't make an interesting diversion to discuss the impact on the Hall of Fame of the Steroid Era. If the bar for entry into the Hall for admitted or suspected juicers (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, presumably Clemens) has been raised, is the converse also true? Has the bar been lowered for good-but-not-great players who are above suspicion? I'm thinking of guys like Thome, Schilling, Glavine, etc. (just to name a few).


The Hall of Fame voting will almost certainly be one at some point in the winter. The Nats can't keep signing/trading for interesting players every week...

You guys sound reasoned and fair about the report. No wonder you're not officially sports radio talking heads. I think my general feeling is one of disappointment over the whole steroid situation. Not over the players so much as with the helplessness baseball has to do anything about the past. You can pinpoint users, but not all and not specific time frames, and without that information you have to throw up your hands at the whole era.

Jamming's point about the amphetamines is fair, but the same thing applies. Not sure who, not sure when, oh well. I think the interesting thing we might see going forward is more of a push not to compare guys across eras. Any question of who is the best of all-time will inevtiably lead to steroid conversation which will then lead to uppers, the exclusion of blacks, the influx of asian players, etc. etc.

Of course this era is here and now so we're the ones who have to deal with it's consequences. One of which is having players on your team who are known "cheats". The Nats have one Paul Lo Duca, but he's a big one brought in not only for his offense ( I suppose) but to be a vocal leader. How's that working for ya now, Kasten?


I'm not really that bent up about him appearing on this report because I have zero emotional attachment to him as a fan at this point. The Nats just picked him up two days before the report, and now he's on the steroid list. Meh.

He's been brought in on a one-year contract to keep the catcher's spot warm for Jesus Flores. It will be a nice bonus if Lo Duca's offensive capabilities make him not be the automatic out that Schneider seemed to be at times last year, but he's really just passing through DC on the downside of his career. Look at his $5 million salary for 2008 as the price for bringing Jesus Flores along slowly instead of tossing him right into the starting role. Seems like a good deal to me. Much has been made of Lo Duca's alleged clubhouse malfeasance and now he's allegedly a steroid cheat, but Jim Bowden is paid to put together a winning ballclub, not hand out merit badges.

I feel similarly about Nook Logan. So he's an HGH cheat, huh? Oh well. He is in all likelihood finished as a Nat after a lackluster 2007 campaign and an offseason that has brought a surplus of outfielders as it is: Dukes, Pena, Kearns, Milledge, Langerhans are all in the mix. I already had a low opinion of the Nook's abilities, so his exposure as an HGH cheat doesn't change much.

All this being said, I definitely felt a sense of relief as I scanned the list that none of the "core" Nats players were named. I would be disappointed as hell if Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero or Nick Johnson had turned up on that list, because I like those guys and wouldn't want to be given a reason not to. I would have felt the same way about Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. We Nats fans are lucky in that our only real current connection to this mess is a journeyman catcher who's unlikely to be around for more than a season or two.


It's a relief but it's not a surprise. There are only 34 active players in the report and the majority of those came from Radomski, who was understandably focused on NY given his position with the Mets. This is only one path for PEDs and it happened not to go through the Nats area. Plus the Nats are a young team that got younger this offseason. A lot of these guys have been subject to the more strict minor league policy that's been around since 2002.

As for Lo Duca the player, it's funny because I find myself becoming the mirror universe version of 2007 Harper (I should grow a goatee or at least get a cool scar). Last year tossing a decent amount of money at a veteran player was what I wanted to see. This off-season though, I've gotten behind the youth movement. Now there is enough talent here to try to play out a season with what's on hand and not have a strong chance of a ~65 win season. Now I would have preferred to sign someone that would have made Flores a part-timer not a back-up.

Oh well, I guess it's Lo Duca or bust (or Lo Duca busted) in 2008. Things could be worse.


I'm ambivalent with LoDuca. I do think that Flores could use more seasoning. At the same time, I think we could have gotten similar production and defense for less money and without the steroid/gambling/women baggage by going after Estrada, Olivo, Damian Miller, or any of a number of lfree-agent eague-average catchers. The best thing that can be said about LoDuca is that the Nats are only on the hook for one year.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Roundtable #1: Winter Meetings


We thought, or at least I did, that the Nats would be lots of talk and no action in the Winter Meetings. Instead, they made tons of moves and unlike signing Vinny Castilla or Cristian Guzman (brought up to simply remind you what Bowden can do when left to his own devices, since fans are getting too giddy about him in my mind) all of them seem pretty good on the surface. A rundown in some order:

• Traded Ryan Church and Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge.
• Traded Glenn Gibson to the Rays for Elijah Dukes
• Signed Aaron Boone (1yr, 1 million)
• Traded Jonathan Albaladejo to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard
• Locked up Wily Mo (1yr 2 million with an option for a second year that'll make the total 4 or 7 million depending on how much they still love eachother)
• Brought back Ryan Langerhans (for all intents and purposes, 1yr 500K), and Ray King (minor-league deal)
• Got Matt Whitney and Garrett Guzman in the Rule V draft (They do know they don't have to pick someone, right?)
• And most importantly they brought in "the Tank"! Dennis Tankersley (minor league), which I think is totally cool because he had an infinite ERA in 2003. (seriously though I think he's going to "get it" one of these years and have 3 years of middle brow starting pitching. Why not with the Nats?)

Lot to talk about. I'll start out by saying I think they'll miss Church and Schneider in 2008 more than they think. Church was a decent everyday player who I'm going to make not-so-crazy statement #1 about and declare that he will outperform Milledge next year hands down. Milledge has yet to play a full season, and did you see what he did against righties last year? .250 / .304 /.395. Playing everyday we'll be seeing more of that. Schneider was nothing great, but have you seen what's available? Finding yourself stuck with a horrible offensive catcher is pretty damn easy. If Flores doesn't immediately get better or the Nats find a lefty platoon bat for him, fans could be pining for Brian Schneider, not 2007 Brian Schneider mind you, but a Brian Schneider. (Flores v righties last year .220 / .276 /.297).


Those are valid concerns, and they make sense in that even an upgrade from the status quo will present concerns. You gain your independence, and you have to worry about forming a workable governance model. You win the lottery, and you suddenly have to think about tax consequences.

All told, however, you'd rather have independence and/or several million dollars, and likewise you'd rather have Lastings Milledge even if it means patching through the consequences. We'll have to see how Milledge does against righties; his minor league splits, to the extent they matter, don't seem to indicate a particular weakness. Hopefully, we haven't acquired the short end of a platoon!

As for Schneider, isn't it sort of strange that he was praised for handling a young staff when there weren't really that many youngsters in '07 but he could've been charged with a potentially younger staff in '08 had he not been traded? I have no real reason to doubt that he was indeed a good handler of pitchers, but at the same time it seems like Schneider was afforded a reputation boost by Nichols Law of Catcher Defense: he couldn't hit anymore, so he must've been just short of a demi-god behind the plate. He was an Original Nat (and a popular one at that), so it'll be strange to see him gone from the roster, but how hard will it be for Flores and some crappy patch-veteran to approximate the 77 OPS+ or whatever Schneider put up? I'm not a LoDuca fan, but if you can luck into a .310 half-season from him, you can probably get something interesting in return at the deadline.


Definitely this is a deal you do 100 times out of 100 if you are in the Nats position (halfway back from nowhere). But the idea that's floating around that adding Milledge, Dukes, and Boone will make the offense better in 2008 is something I don't see. The offense will likely be better in 2010 because of these deals, that's why you make them, but in 2008 if the Nats are more potent the names Johnson, Zimmerman, and Pena will be the reasons. Along with the smaller park...


The smaller park is key. I definitely think that's going to have a much larger impact than we're expecting simply because RFK is so extreme.

As far as the moves not upgrading the 2008 team, I'm going to take the contrary view. They're better off short and long term.

Look at what the Nats got out of their outfield production last year. Left fielders batted .245/ .316/ .396. CFers hit .255/ .321/ .382. Trading for Dukes, Milledge and with Pena on the team takes away the 100 ABs they wasted on Snelling and Kasto and the 300+ they threw at Logan. The Nats are replacing that (on paper, of course) with actual major-league production, a healthy bump-up for the offense.

Yes, losing Schneider's probably going to hurt more than you'd expect, but if they do get Johny Estrada, at worst the catcher's offense will improve slightly, with a big upgrade if he comes closer to his career averages.


Hmmm, that's true - the right FA catcher signing I'd flip-flop on the no offensive improvement behind the plate, but that's still speculation. For all we know they could just try to run with Chad Moeller, he's so bad a hitter he must be Johnny Bench behind the plate.

That 3rd OF slot will (I'd hate to see what those numbers look like without Church's contributions) almost have to improve if Dukes starts (despite Boswell's insane ramblings about Dukes being a poor man's Austin Kearns) but are we certain that he will start? They still said they are looking for a "true leadoff hitter", brought back Langerhans, still have Logan. They have a history of playing hot potato with OFs. I'm not counting on 140+ games from him just yet.

Plus the fact that, you know, Dukes's a contemptible person that may very well bite the head off a bald eagle on opening day. I know others NFA, Nats Report tried to look on the bright side, but I this is the one move I don't make. Especially since it wasn't for nothing but for a pitching propect. Not a great one, and one that was replaced immediately by Tyler Clippard, but if I'm the Nats I'm taking the quantity approach here.


I think you do the Dukes deal 10 times out of 10, too. Well, maybe 8 times out of 10. You don't have to feel good about it -- part of what makes us blessedly human is feeling bad or even outraged about it -- but the object is to acquire talent. And Dukes has talent. I'm fine with it, provided there really is a zero-tolerance policy attached.

The aspect I'm a little cynical about is the "Dmitri as role model" angle, but I admit I'm often cynical for the sake of being cynical.


Except right now the object isn't just to acquire talent it's also to building a fanbase and you have to factor that in. The wrong player at the wrong time could set that back and Elijah is just the type to be that wrong player. But I guess that's me talking as a Yankee fan who had to sit through several years of "I hope the Yankees win the game and Roger Clemens gets hit in the head with a baseball and is forced to retire to breed more kids he can name Kirby or Khaki or Kinky or..." Having a player on your team you don't like isn't fun.

I also don't mean to be overly negative. I think the Elijah deal is the only one the Nats did that I don't do and even that is a completely defensible move since it is a winner talent wise.


I think the concerns about developing a fan base are often overblown, to some extent. What's going to bring people in, especially in a town that most regard as a transient one, is winning. And on the off chance that Dukes doesn't murder anyone or sire four more children AND lives up to his potential, he could help do just that -- or at least be a nice stopgap 'til someone like Michael Burgess is ready in 3 years.


What's with all this Elijah love? Certainly, Elijah's impact on the fanbase will be minimal, especially in the long run, but it's is another factor to account into the trade. I don't think that you can look at this trade as simply a talent swap and that's why I come out on the other side.

But it's just one deal. Let's talk about ones we can all agree are great (I think), like the Tyler Clippard deal. I can see him stepping into the back of the rotation next year. For what? A reliever that was gotten for nothing and can be easily replaced. That's a deal.


Sure the goal is to acquire all the talent we can get. Primarily because we don't have much of it right now. If the "think tank" were to turn around and trade Kearns tomorrow, then I'd be much more inclined to share your view on the trade. But nothing is being shuffled for Elijah's benefit at this point; he'll have to earn quite a bit of capital (not Capitol, Chris!) first.

Moving on to the Clippard trade, it's obviously a very good one. But I don't know if we can pencil in Clippard with a rotation spot yet. After a marvelous year at Trenton in '06, he was pretty meh at SWB last year. It was only a half-season, and there seemed to be a BABIP-type issue, but nevertheless I'm reminded of something Bill James (big surprise!) noted about a pitcher a decade or so ago: the pitcher thrived against more talented yet less experienced hitters from Double-A but struggled against less talented yet more experienced hitters from Triple-A. It's not a fault, per se, but it's a sign (potentially) that Clippard needs a little more savvy or, to be cliched about it, more "seasoning."

Or maybe not. Chico seemed more seasoned than talented at times last season.


I'm with Basil. My expectations of Clippard are low. Hey, you can never be disappointed that way! Apparently the Yankees tweaked with his mechanics a bit, leading to some of the struggles. We'll find out either way. The bats have a pretty good way of telling you how a guy can do. (Although getting out of the NL and from the Yankees infield defense can't hurt -- although this could probably be a glass houses and stones kind of comment)

Overall, how can any Nationals fan not be happy at this point? They added a decent batch of long-term talent without giving up a ton of value. The only question mark is Dukes' attitude, but maybe a change of scenery, getting away from some of the bad influences in his hometown will help. If they don't, they cut him.

But the puzzle is only half complete. Catcher's still a gaping hole, and while middle infield and starting pitching aren't holes, per se, there's definitely potential (and budget room!) to upgrade both. It's been a good start.


On Clippard, I don't think he'll ever be anything more than a mid-rotation starter but I like him better than Balester or Lannan, the two I see most likely to fight for those lower end rotation slots in Spring Training next year. That's why I see him on the opening day roster...but we'll see.

You're right Chris. Nats fans have to be feeling good right now. In two years they've made remarkable progress in the minor league system and the recent actions help fill in the "guys ready right now" gap that the team had thanks to the joke the system was for the past few years. They might still be a year or two away but they've just added interest to the next couple years beyond looking at minor league box scores and waiting for those drafts to bear major league fruit.