Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Roundtable #3 : More Steroid Talk, Pitching, Fan Fest and Nick v Dmitri


Okay, lots to discuss these days (Mitchell Report, Hall of Fame, big free agent signings, divisional races for next year), all at most tangentially related to the Nationals. So I'll try to phrase a question less tangentially related to the Nats:

Let's say it's May 15 of this coming season, and the Commissioner's Office issues a press release stating [Insert Your Favorite Nat] has tested positive for a Performance Enhancing Drug and will be spending the next fifty games doing something other than playing for the Nats. What would be your reaction? How upset would you be? Would that player continue to be your favorite Nat upon his return from the suspension?

(I realize this question might hinge somewhat on who that favorite Nat is and how important he is to the team. My favorite Nat of all time is Henry Mateo, the former utility infielder who couldn't throw because of an arm injury but who put up a .500 OBP for the Nats in 2005 - though in like two plate appearances!)


I'll hop on this first. Just as you have a strange affinity for Mateo, I too have an unconventional love for both Guz and Alex Escobar. So in the theoretical you described (If Escobar's injuries were all tied to injecting himself with cow steroids or whatever), I'd have to say he'd cease to be my favorite player on the Nats. I can say this with relative certainty, as Clemens was my favorite player before the Report came out, and I can't say the same anymore. This probably has more to do with the fact that my love of the Rocket hinged on his durability and work ethic. So...

If Escobar got suspended for 50 games, I'd give him a second chance upon return. If he messed up again, then he would be forever banned from the Sports Pantheon of my heart. With him though, the suspension could coincide with a freak injury and the suspension could serve as the DL.


I so totally want to jump in on this since my favorite ex-Nat, Gary Bennett, was named in the Mitchell Report (go ahead, mock me, I'm used to it at this point!). After recovering from the initial shock, I've had to give this a lot of thought and soul-searching. Since I don't have a current favorite Nat (not sure if that says more about me or the team), this is my only real point of reference at the moment.

I'd love to naively believe my favorite players league-wide are clean, but unfortunately, that's probably not the case. I mean c'mon, even Nook Logan was named in the report! It does tinge my view of players with sadness and disappointment, and even a bit of feeling let down, like I've been lied to and fooled. I do forgive Bennett and Logan somewhat for allegedly being "one time users" who were presumably desperate to try anything to get over injuries (or at least Bennett was). I'm also glad Bennett came clean immediately after the report was released, which lends some decency to his case. I'd like to hear what Paul Lo Duca has to say for himself. Bueller? Bueller?

I guess part of it does depend on the player. For instance, if it came out Ryan Zimmerman was a regular steroid user... whew, that would be a huge blow. I don't think I'd get over that one when he returned from his suspension. He embodies youth and innocence in a talented athlete and that perception would be shattered. On the other hand, if certain other players were proven to be users and suspended, I likely wouldn't be terribly surprised. I think (hope?) that as players become younger with better drug education and enforcement policies in place at the lower levels, this issue will eventually not be so epidemic as the older players head off into the sunset. I hope.

Should allegations and suspicions color Hall of Fame voting? Not that anyone we've named so far will ever have a shot... Except Clemens.


At least to me, this whole Mitchell Report is more a condemnation of us then of baseball players. We've all (or at least most) built this reality in our mind that this sport is unlike all things in life. We think that it's fair, balanced, and incorruptible, and that all of our teams operate on the behalf of the fans, and do what's best for the game and the fans at all turns. The Report just made it evident that Baseball is just like life. Money governs and guides the decisions, from the Front Office to the Commish's office. We asked for our players to do super human things in the name of our entertainment, and they did it. We shouldn't be surprised then that they turned to chemistry to make it happen.

What this report did for me was shatter my naivety about sports. I don't love them any less, but I have a good degree of skepticism that I didn't have before.


That's an interesting point. What's the old saying: "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin' "? Not to get into the subtleties of what exactly is cheating, but it would appear some people cheated, and then quite a few other people cheated. Condemning something while understanding the basis for getting into such behavior isn't in itself contradictory.

Anyway, to answer my own question somewhat briefly, . . . . well, I'm not sure who my favorite Nat is anymore. So let's just say it's Lo Duca. (I'm a big fan of the "my cell phone is TOAST!" line from the Mitchell Report.) My impression of him doesn't really change now that some of his behavior has been documented. I always perceived him as a hard-nosed player who wasn't exactly above doing anything and everything needed to exploit an edge in the game - the kind of thing that's perceived as admirable up and until the point where he does something deemed really WRONG. Well, he's done something really wrong, it would appear, and I'm not sure I care other than the potential discipline he faces. (And even then it might give Flores a better chance to develop; who knows?)

Incidentally, I have suspected PED use by other Nats I liked such as Wilkerson, Church, and Dmitri. Okay, not Dmitri. But who really knows, and without evidence supporting the suspicions, I guess it's best to let that bridge be crossed before we cross it . . . sorry for the John Maddenism there! (And Cathy, I can't believe I asked this question without once thinking of Passed Ball Bennett!)

Okay, next question: According to sources, the Nats are looking at some older, injuried-up vets to round out the last spot in the rotation. Good idea? If so, which vet(s) would you like to see sign with the team? Beyond that, is there even a coherent rotation at this point?


I would have said Mark Prior a week ago, but that ship sailed. I would have said Matt Clement, but so did that one. To make Sutton happy, I'd give Jason Jennings a 1 yr deal. I'd really like Bartolo Colon, and get him on a diet and an incentive laden deal. That guy was an ACE not all that long ago.
All I do know is that rotation needs some help, and the catching lightning in a bottle thing works a lot better if you throw some injured formerly good players in than just guys who were always average.


Yeah -- Prior gone, Clement gone. These guys are starting to sort themselves out. I agree about Colon for reasons the U.S.S. Mariner guys could state far better than me. He's a workhorse when healthy whose stats line, even in an awful season, doesn't seem to foreclose a comeback. It'd be a good gamble to see if we could turn him into something worthwhile in a trade later on (if only to reverse the Sizemore et al trade). If Colon's too costly, I think Jennings is an interesting way to go.

Your point about pitchers with established ability is well-taken. Bowden didn't do too badly in putting together a patchwork staff last year (though the big home park made it "better" than it seemed), but I'd like us to get past pigeonholing guys best suited to relief or the minors (like Hanrahan) into hopes for the starting rotation.


I remember discussing with Kyle (who is the other guy who writes Nats Report) the plethora of pitchers we had, and we didn't know how we'd fit all these guys in. And then it donned on me that I was falling into the old trap of overvaluing the home team boys. Tim Redding? I actually want him as a number 4? I snapped out of it, but it was weird for a little bit there.


Exactly, on getting a pitcher with a history of being good rather than someone who had a cup of coffee or a meager career in the majors prior (haha - get it? Prior?). I don't know who to target at this point, though. So what is our coherent rotation as it stands? Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico (?), Reddacsikippardannan? Let's see... veteran... veteran... I know, let's sign Roger Clemens to a four month contract! Oh wait, he may serve his contract out suspended or in a courtroom. Moving on... When will Freddy Garcia be over labrum surgery (ah, June)? Then we'd have two "Chief" pitchers!


Yeah, it's sort of the same mess as last season's mess, except the guys we have now are generally the guys who replaced the chaff from last year, and some of those guys (Redding? Chico?) will become this year's chaff, leaving Dennis Tankersley as the great rotation savior or something. Ah, a bit pessimistic today, I know ...

Okay, so a new question without a proper transition: According to Barry Svrluga, the Nats are planning something or other as a replacement-caravan, conveniently held at things like an auto show. Now, I'll be upfront about this and say:

(1) I live in Richmond, so I have no real standing to complain; and

(2) meeting players in person isn't the type of thing that thrills me, so I don't really care.

But not everyone lives in a secondary market like I do, and not everyone thinks like I do. So the question is simple enough - are the Nats sufficiently reaching out to their fanbase, or are they sort of playing off/taking for granted the opening of the new ballpark?


This is normally my beat, so... My diplomatic answer? I'm waiting to see a full schedule with appearances, hoping what's been posted isn't quite complete. For some reason, I was under the impression they were having a regular fan-fest for the first time ever, but I guess that's not to be. I know the PR folks work hard, so I can only imagine their hands were tied for whatever reasons we may never know. I like the car show (vroom vroom!), so I may try to make that one!

Even though Svrluga's been making fun of last year's Nook Logan and Mike O'Connor filled appearances, I enjoyed the lack of overwhelming throngs of people and getting to joke around with those who were there. Plus, I met Don Sutton before he called his first Nationals game! Can't beat that! Personally, I'd like to see some of the new guys appear at these events, particularly Lastings Milledge and Lo Duca, to get a glimpse of them before the season starts, but I guess we'll see what happens. Heck, why not bring Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden out for a fan Q&A?

While I admire the club's philanthropic and community-based events, I don't quite qualify those as "fan-oriented" -- it's often awkward to show up at events like blood drives and health center visits. So to answer your question... yes and no. I think the Nationals try to reach out to their fanbase more by proxy than directly, but I'm okay with that. Who wants to stand in line and battle hundreds of more pushy autograph seekers only to get two seconds with worn-out jaded players flexing cramped hands after holding a pen for hours? There's no quality give and take in that. Personally, I find the smaller events more rewarding. On the other hand, huge events like the season ticket holder picnic make fans (many of whom invest considerable money in the team) feel somewhat appreciated and part of the process. So there's my typical wishy-washy answer.

Oh, I have to add that the "Ladies Night" events (which guys can go to) they did last season were like fanfests to me, so it's not like they haven't done anything for fans.

My turn for a question without a proper transition. Jim Bowden says:

As we walk into Spring Training, Dmitri Young is our first baseman. He deserves it. He finished in the top 10 in hitting. He improved defensively and his leadership skills in the clubhouse were phenomenal. So he is obviously the first baseman.
I talked to Nick Johnson and he is healthy. He is already running the bases. He is doing extremely well. He feels great. I think we can all be optimistic there is a good possibility that he comes into Spring Training at 100 percent, which will create good competition. It's healthy for a club.

If Nick Johnson truly is 100% and back to playing form, what do you think of Dmitri Young getting first base over him, presumably relegating Johnson to Fick's role from last year of a late inning defensive replacement?


I think there's no way to deny Da Meat his rightful position as our starting first baseman. He was a model teammate, not to mention that he hit the cover off the ball. Nick can work his way back in, and if and when he ever totally heals (I have my doubts), then the spot is his, and Meat is the #1 bat of the bench. This is the best possible situation for the Nats. Whatever happens, the bench gets stronger, and in the NL, the bench is just as important as relief pitching.


If Johnson is healthy (yes, if), relegating him to the Fick role (or something similar) would be a pretty vast misuse of Johnson's talents. Young earned a lot of respect and appreciation for his comeback year, but ultimately he's not the day-in, day-out offensive contributor that a healthy Nick Johnson is, and Young's switch-hitting at least theoretically makes him a really nice bench option.

Dmitri was adamant about coming in last season to be a starter, however. The caveat was "for however long Nick is out," but that was before Dmitri reestablished himself and got the longer-term deal. That situation does bear some watching and, potentially, some skillful managing by Manny.


I agree with Basil. Not to mention, circus music doesn't play in his head when Nick Johnson is chasing down a pop foul and the fans hold their breath, entertaining as it may be! Johnson probably will need to work his way back in, so this decision is likely months away beyond spring training, but yes, it will require some skillful managing on Acta's part. What I don't understand is all the people still talking about putting Young in the outfield? I thought someone in the Nats org already put the kibosh on that rumor? Plus, they have a perfectly acceptable outfield at the moment with far better range than Young would provide.