Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008 Season Over Roundtable


When looking back at a season one must take into account a myraid of.... ah screw it.

Nats suck. Go!


That's about all there is to say, isn't it: they sucked (bad) this year, go Nats (put this year in the rear-view mirror).

I think it can be argued that the team made some strides this year, tentative as they may be. Milledge is a talented player, although his apparent corner OF defensive skills might not match up to his bat in the long-run. Dukes is a supremely talented player, although he's obviously got potential for other things to derail him. (Lock the doors, Fire Jimbo, Elijah's coming!!!111!!!) Lannan looks like a reliable starter, though maybe we got the best he can do in a nothing season. And so forth.

All's not completely lost this season. That's about the best we can say, but it's something at least.


"All's not completely lost." I can't wait for the radio spots.

The Nats are getting better but they are ambling, meandering toward their goal. I want some urgency with this team. The squad is slightly better off today then it was one year ago. Great. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to say the same next year. Maybe by 2011 they can hit .500! I want to see something from the team that says - THIS is when we expect to be better - and moves focused on that. No more "We're rebuilding the minors and we'll be better...someday" or "When we do get better we'll show you we are committed by doing...something"

Of course at least with the plan they are moving in the right direction, however slowly. My bigger issue is how bad the team was this season. I know having a goal of building a perennial title contender takes time, but why does that mean that the intermediate years have to be filled with this crap like this year?


Well, I look at it this way. Every March, the fanboy in us makes a list of "What Ifs", the 15-25, maybe 30 things that, if they go right, means your team is playing meaningful baseball in September. Look at the Rays. They needed their defense to come together. They needed Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival to rebound. They needed the Yankees young starting pitchers to scuffle, etc.

Now look at the list for the Nats. Think about the things we thought they'd have to do for our wildest dreams to happen. How many of 'em happened? Guzman kept up his pace. And... ummm... well... Dukes didn't kill anyone (save it, Biel). That's it. That's the list. Every other stinking thing went wrong.

Now Bodes is going to chalk it up to injury. But were it not for injury, we'd still have Johnny Estrada blocking Jesus Flores, and we'd have had more starts by Aaron Boone. Woo.

But NOTHING went right, and hardly anyone lived up to even their modest expectations. It's a complete flameout by anyone and everyone affiliated with the team from ol' man Teddy all the way down to the giant foam Teddy.


I wouldn't go that far. Plenty of other things went right. Lannan pitched well.


Rauch too (when he was here), umm....

Ok you pretty much got it all.

So everything went wrong, but what was the worst mistake this season? In my opinion, it has to be the LoDuca signing. Spending that much money hoping that a 36 yr old catcher with steroid clouds hanging over him (and don't think they had no idea - these guys aren't idiots) and a history of questionable behavior, including hostile behavior toward one of their key young players acquired, rebounds to have what? An empty .280 season at the plate with no defense? All while blocking the catcher of the future?

Jesus, I'm talking myself into firing Bowden aren't I? Is there anything worse than this because I don't see it.


Well, take a step back though. At the time they made the decision, sending JeFlo to the minors was a reasonable decision. The team had questions about his defense, and nobody really knew what kind of offense they'd get from him. Had they sent him down, they'd have controlled him for another year later down the road when he was fully developed. And, in some sense, no matter how good he was this year, it was for what? Wouldn't it have been better to have a year of him in 2013 than one in 2008?

So, with that, isn't (and I can't believe I'm about to type these words...) the LoDuca signing somewhat defensible?

Man, I feel dirty.

It didn't work out. And, yeah, the guy had a few warning flags around him. But at the end of the day, it's a small amount of money on a one-year deal. He sucked; they cut bait. No harm to anyone.

Now the biggest mistake this year? The continued employment of Mr. Lenny Harris?


So it's agree: It was a horrendous year! Maybe I should temper my obvious excitement above?

At some point, though, you've got to kick the can down the road. Now, as Harper says, we can't have too many of these "Eh, we'll put off progress for another year." Next year is always a year away, or however the saying goes.

But I suppose what I was trying to look at in my first response was what positive signs we could look to, a year or two or ten down the road, that occurred in 2008. The most obvious to me is Elijah Dukes. He's the first player acquired by the Nationals under the banner of "The Plan" who has actual and realistic breakthrough ability. Granted, what he did was only in essentially a half-season, but on the other hand he didn't have just one good month. It was more like three. He has vast ability.

I know when you're so down on your luck, you can't simply point to one positive sign. But Dukes is at least one very positive sign -- provided, of course, that he keeps his head straight and his text messages non-imaginative.

As for the season's worst mistake, I don't know if it was Lo Duca. It might've been extending Guzman. Not that it was a bad decisional, value-wise. But I just think that if you're trying to shepherd in a young pitching staff (Balester, Lannan, ... uh), you want the best defenders possible out there in the middle infield most of the time. I don't know if he'll hit, but Gonzalez strikes me as the better defender, and he's a club-controlled, low-cost guy.

Or maybe it was drafting and/or failing to sign Crow ...


Well, rather than debate the he said/she said on Crow, what was most worrisome to me was the quotes that came out after that - that had they signed Crow at his point, they wouldn't have had the money to sign some of their other picks -- especially the ones they got done at the last minute.

But we're being positive here? Hey, we weren't historically bad! And the stadium was on budget and on time... wait... Teddy's lawyers tell me to scratch that last one.


We don't have to be positive, Chris. Austin Kearns screwed like ten thousand pooches this year.

And if you want historically bad, I submit to you one William Morris Pena.


That's not fair. Wily Mo's 34 OPS+ is only the second worst of all time for any left fielder with 200+ Plate Appearances.

Second worst != historically bad!


And the nats only had the third worst record in franchise history. If you ignore the "history" part it obvious its not historically bad!

Positivity is how fans survive season to season. I for one don't want to be blamed for the mass depression that would happen if we just came out and said "hey this team may never have enough young players get good enough to be more than a fluke playoff threat, and even if they defied the odds and all those youngsters became good to great, the chances the Lerner's are going to put those exrtra millions into the team to increase the chances of making the playoffs and to keep the team good for years on end are roughly equal to the chances Teddy is going to win the president's race."

What kind of jerk would do that?

Of course I also think they should fire everyone but Acta and Harris. Let me go to their website and see if I can file a complaint....

(Ed note -- here was the Great Purge. Harris et al getting fired)

No more half-cuts, no more pings, no more Harris, weak-ass swings!


Greatest day in the short history of the Nats?

We get Strasburg! Harris goes down! Lerners exposed as cheap frauds in the paper!

Hey, when you can't win, you've gotta take your victories somewhere!


Well, you got your wish -- almost. Bowden remains, but they got to the root of the organization's problems by firing the videography coach.

I do wonder what this offseason will bring. On the one hand, you've got all these reports that there's a bizarre love quadrilateral of sorts where the Lerners and Bowden love each other and Kasten hates them both and Acta just sort of sits idly by making the remains. On the other hand, those reports are mainly unattributed and unsubstantiated thus far, and the parties claim no one's going anywhere -- except for the Lerners, who won't talk, unless it's Ted Lerner saying everyone is telling him he's doing a bang-up job. On the third hand, there's certainly enough tacit acknowledgements by most of these parties (especially viz. Kasten --> Bowden and Manny --> Bowden) that there does seem to be some indication of a situation less than the best and confirmation that Bowden is a jerk. On the fourth hand, now Kasten is rumored to want in on the Cubs bid -- except, on the fifth hand, he emphatically denies that. And there would be a sixth hand if Antonio Alfonseca were writing this.

I don't know what any of this means, but stay the course!


Anyone else have this feeling in the back of their head that these firings were to save money? That Harris will be replaced by a tee and a pitching machine? The videographer was deemed unnecessary now that all the players can get MASN and can tape the games themselves?

Is it bad that I think that? Is it bad I think the Lerner's might charge me for thinking it's bad that I think that?


Come on! That's way too cynical of you. I'm sure it wasn't over pay. Maybe they tried to unionize?

So what about Lenny? Does he deserve any credit for the turnaround the Nats had in the second half offensively?

::looks at stats:: Hey, whadya know? In the second half we were still fifth worst in runs scored and one Willie Harris grand slam away from being third worst. FIRE LENNY! It really is amazing how MANY players didn't live up to their expectations. Any player can have a bad year with the bat. An entire team, though? When Ronnie Belliard is your third best hitter, you know you're in trouble!

(And along that lines... anyone else notice how poor Jesus Flores' numbers ended up? For all the talk about him, you'd think he was Soto-lite. Instead, we got more of a Ron Karkovice season -- just without the Cy Young award.)


I feel like Harris had to be let go considering how much worse Zimmerman has looked under him and Zimmermann is a cornerstone. Everybody else though he didn't have much to work with.

Flores' numbers always surprise me. Last year & This year his OPS+s were 78 and 82 respectively. Schneider's? 77 and 89. Not that I'd rather have Brian, at worst Jesus can serve as filler while the Nats solve easier problems. It does highlight that you can't be sure he's the answer yet, though. Which is how I feel about pretty much every youngster that the Nats and fans are counting to come in and be good in the next 2-3 years.

Other things that always surprise me; Milledge's age, Guzman's very average OPS (I feel like Rowdy Roddy in They Live over here), and how about the fact that Redding wasn't very good at all? Just collapsed down the stretch - sort of did the same last year. I guess we keep him though - he eats innings and if you are going to try 3-4 youngsters you need someone who can go 5...

Here's a related question for you - Does St. Clare get a free ride? Or is it the fact that he can only do so much with so little? Or more likely, the fact that there hasn't been a "Zimmerman" of his own to make a judgement on?


Maybe the Lerners decided to non-tender Lenny rather than offer him the 20% max cut? I guess he didn't have enough batting coach service time, though.


Flores is an interesting topic. Lots of Nats fans* crow** about how his acquisition makes Omar Minaya looks terrible, which is always fun.*** And yet Flores has had OPS+ totals of 78 and now 82 in two years with the Nats. The question arises whether there's anything to brag about here. And I would say that it's simply too early to begin to dwell on the question. He's a 23 year-old who spent his age-21 season in the Florida State League, his age-22 season in a forced apprenticeship situation, and his age-23 season in accelerated full-time play. I simply don't think he's had time to mature as a hitting prospect yet. And even so, what he did this year wasn't terrible. I don't have 2008 batting order/positional splits, but in 2007 the average NL catcher hit .257/.318/.394. I'd guess that figured went down ever so slightly this season, given larger offensive trends (although the downturn in offense was slower in the NL than the AL). As it is, Flores hit .256/.296/.402. Maybe a shade or two below average positionally isn't too bad given the factors above, so we'll set it pretty far down the Lenny Harris indictment . . . err, criminal judgment. It's like a misdemeanor conviction lost in a sea of mandatory-minimum felonies!

And teh Kark is a cheap shot! Take a look at that 1987 season. Oh, the humanity!

*Assuming there are lots of them.
**Probably a bad choice of words!
***Isn't it funny how there's a segment of Nats fans who disclaim any interest in the Expos' history . . . except the history of squandered Expos' prospects?


That's a good question on St. Claire. The pride of Fort Ann (Go Cardinals!) gets a lot of love, but at what point should we start asking to see results?

I guess that's a bit unfair. Lannan has developed. Rauch blossomed. And he did turn Hector Carrasco into Stephen Englund.


St. Claire seems very good at what he does, as far as that goes. It's not like he's that Andrews guy who was recently fired by the Buccos. St. Claire strikes me as a very competent pitching coach. But a pitching coach can't turn nothing much into something great. There used to be this perception that Jimbo could acquire some piece of crap, and all they needed to do was give it over to The Saint. Thankfully, that perception has subsided, or maybe it's just that I don't read the message boards or blogs much anymore. (Except for OMG!)

St. Claire looks good to me, but he's not a qualified miracle worker.


I think that's true of most major league coaches. Most of the guys are lumped in the middle, basically about average. You've got a few (maybe 3-5) on one side who really elevate their players... and a few on the other end (LENNY!) who screw their guys.

I imagine if you asked most non-terrible teams to rate their pitching coaches, it'd be just like Lake Wobegon 2.0: WE'RE TEH BESTEST11!!!


I recall in the late 90s or so the Braves went through a steady progression of hitting coaches. I guess it was Merv Rettenmund followed by Don Baylor followed by Terry Pendleton. Or something. Braves were still on TBS a good bit back then. The announcers, every year, would praise the new guy as a great addition to the coaching staff, doing great work, great new approach, just great. And they couldn't dog the previous guy, because of course they said at the time that the previous guy was great too. Great, great, great.

It really does seem like we've been cursed with some bad hitting coaches, though. Lenny was bad beyond words, but how can we forget the Tom McCraw days? Remember when management went completely over his head and brought in Larkin to work with Guzman as his own special project? Good times. Well, that didn't work either. Mitchell Page seemed capable enough, but let's not go there.

This repeated turnover in all areas of the coaching staff EXCEPT pitching coach does seem to beg a question: Why are they so insistent on keeping St. Claire around? Are they incredibly comfortable with him in the capacity of pitching coach, or is he sort of tacitly viewed as managerial material should Manny, you know, slip on a banana peel?


There's probably a special services clause in his contract that NONE of us want to see.

Hey, who can forget Bob Natal?

I find it kind of fascinating that we dumped Davey Lopes on his butt after one year when he was (and still is) regarded as one of the best first base coaches around. So what do they look at when they're evaluating these guys? Did Lopes not kiss enough ass?

As far as St. Claire for manager? Hmmm.... This time last year, I'd have said that Bud Black could prove the pitching coaches make lousy managers argument go away, but then.... Maybe we could coax Ray Miller out of retirement?


Bob who?

I think we're safe on the manager front. If they like St. Clare as a friend they are giving Manny Acta their letterman jacket to wear on the way up to Inspiration Point. It's been two years of unremittingly bad baseball and this guy gets off without a scratch. Normally that would be insane but I can't bring myself to come up with any reason to stoke the coals under Manny either. He's calm, optimistic, generally doesn't make any glaring errors in lineup construction or bullpen use, doesn't blindly follow convention. Man, he deserve a better team then this, doesn't he?


He does... but there are signs that he's... ummm... a bit rough.

I hated the way Frank managed things, but sometimes, bunting is OK! And sometimes stealing a base is ok, too! Then, what was it with his love of intentionally walking the bases loaded early in the year? Did that ever work? And how many times did he bring in a LOOGY in a non-LOOGY situation -- especially to face a switchy? (should I keep going?)


No he's not perfect. But if I want someone to manage a team, I'd rather have someone who leans a bit away from the free-wheeling ways then the opposite. Although Larry Bowa is free. He'd mesh well with Dukes I bet.

I've expressed my thoughts that the whole LOOGY in a non-LOOGY situation was a canny protest on how his pitching staff was built. The Nats didn't have the luxury of carrying a LOOGY, not with those starters, so Manny was just going to act like their wasn't one. Cost him a game or two - but we don't see any LOOGY anymore do we?

(There's a tiny chance I may be giving the guy too much credit here.)


Well, half the season was protest then. Have we forgotten LoDuca in LF? Lopez? LoDuca at 1B? LoDuca at C? LoDuca, period?


Ah that was the old trade bait strategy. Show other teams how useful a player can be and they'll pick him right up. Of course it helps if your trying to peddle something other than a hack-tastic, steroid using, gambling addicted, College Girls Gone Wild star, (these may not all be true - I do believe I saw him take a walk once) on the downside of his career. And it's not like LoDuca was blocking anyone at those positions at the time, unless you are a Kory Casto fan. Since your last name isn't Casto, and this isn't 2006, I'm going to guess that's not the case.

Can you really blame Manny for that without looking at the Wizard behind the curtain? "Come now, Dawg. Hop on my segway and we'll be back to Kansas in no time. Hey, are those shoes 'Red'? Can I trade you for 'em?"


So, if I'm hearing you right, you're suggesting that we should hold the General Manager accountable?



No of course not. Everyone knows the old saying: "The buck stops over there, with the team videographer"


And the other old saying, "Mr. Lerner, in all my years in professional baseball, I have never seen an owner as wise nor as compassionate as you. Your excellency, you doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus. No cream, right?"


Well, his last name was Yost.

(Ed Note - at the time Ned Yost's firing from the Brewers was topical. Blame my slow posting not Basil)


I've heard of teams accidentally drafting the wrong player, but I've never heard of a team accidentally firing the wrong person on whole 'nother team. Of course this is the Nationals. There's a good chance the Lerner's outsourced firings to another team to save costs.

So Jimbo... it's time isn't it? One sided arguments aside, he's done an acceptable job the past two years, but I feel the team dynamic is changing in a way that I don't want this guy here. Trader Jim is fine when you've got a team full of nobodies and a minor league out of a bad Major League sequel, but now that the minors are starting to produce the rare fruit and there are some decent youngsters around, I'd rather have someone else be in charge of who stays and goes. Yeah, Bowden's been fine with Lerner over his shoulder and could very well still be, but I'm ready for a GM that I feel can go about segwaying on his own two feet


It's time.

He's made some solid moves over the last few years, it's the horsecrap that surrounds him -- it's always a circus -- that means he's gotta go. Too many of his moves are akin to someone making preseason predictions. You can crow (there's that word again!) all you want about the ones you got right, and the louder you do that, the less people notice all the ones you screwed up.


I regard Bodes as sort of our version of Milton from Office Space. His effect on the organization is in some ways neutered, as on the one hand he's boxed in by the scouting/development duo of Rizzo and Brown and on the other hand he's precluded from making truly big splashes by an inability to spend. So he's kind of just there -- essentially irrelevant and no doubt truly annoying -- largely because no one cares enough to tell him he shouldn't come back for work tomorrow. So he checks into work, day after day, doing nothing much in particular, but if you give him enough space he could just burn the whole building to the ground.

Maybe that's grossly over-generalized, but you know that Bodes too likes watching squirrels have sex.


Does that mean the Lerner's have an excuse to "fix the glitch in payroll" because you gotta know they are dying to.

Ok Basil - but do you think he should go, or are you waiting for the inferno?


Oh, can his sorry butt. Fire Jimbo!

I think he's outlived his usefulness. He's found a few bargains, missed on a few others, and grabbed some young talent in a couple of high-risk, high-reward type acquisitions. That's nice. But while writers like Chico and Ladson consistently note that they'd be interested in what Bodes can do with a large payroll, the prospect of that actually scares me. It's time to put a grown-up in the GM's chair.


So we're all in agreement and I don't think I know of a Nats fan that would complain about the move. Not everyone would be filled with joyous rapture at Jiimbo's departure from DC but when the best defense out there regarding Bowden is "Firing him really isn't necessary" , I think the fanbase will survive.

Of course when Bowden goes (and let's face it - it's probably not this offseason) the question becomes can a GM truly succeed with this franchise? Are the Lerner's know what I'm going to say... CHEEEEEEEEEP to build this team into a perennial winner? (note - please send your responses through email. Nats Roundtable will NOT accept any charges if you choose to Fed Ex your responses. I will also charge you 2 billable hours in regards to dealing with the matter)


We'll see. The jury's still out on that when, but when they left the courtroom, they were glaring at the defendant making throat-slitting motions.

The single most distressing story all year (besides the rent; besides one of the cheap bastards complaining that Johan Santana was a waste of money; besides them raising the price of the chili nachos midseason!!!!) was probably the draft day where they signed a few of those guys last minute only because they 'saved' money by not signing Crow. Combine that with them not making any meaningful inroads into the International market, and you have to wonder what "The PLAN!" really is?

Sure, it's fine if people want to believe that they're saving money on the major league roster to spend in the minors. But when they're not spending in the minors either, then what?


Then it's all going must be going to the stadium. That giant rotating baseball in the outfield isn't free you know. The extensive views of the river and the Capitol, the real limestone facing, the abundant free parking in the nearby lots the Lerner's own; all this is for you the fan. Seriously, Lerner has put in almost 30 million dollars of his own money. That's almost 5% of the total cost of the stadium. Five percent!

What gets me is even if they were fully committed to making the stadium awesome it would still be money they would be getting back. The stadium is an investment for them. And even if they were fully committed to rebuilding in the minors - that's baseball chump change. Under 9 million last year, about 5 this year, that won't even get you Jeff Suppan! They haven't put REAL money into this team yet. Money that's primary purpose is to put a winner on the field. Eventually you have to do that to create a consistent winner, right?

Thanks a metric ton to Chris and Basil for participating. There will be another roundtable up... someday