Friday, May 11, 2007

The Nats Suck … By Design

Baseball. While the nation’s capital finally has a major league baseball team after more than three decades without one, it really doesn’t. That’s because the Nationals are a league-worst 9-25 and playing in a division in which there are at least 3 solid division contenders every year.

Under new ownership, they’ve rid the team of its veterans and placed the building blocks for redeveloping their farm system by revamping scouting en route to hopefully building a champion. As a result, the team is chalk full of young bargain-type players such as Austin Kearns and Ryan Langerhans. Moreover, the payroll is down to a meager $37 million, which is 3rd-lowest only above Florida and Tampa Bay.

In yesterday’s edition of The Washington Post, Thomas Boswell uses a few facts, a few quotes, and plenty of Boswellian overstatements to make his point that the Nationals fan base has dwindled with the onset of heavy losing. He also expresses doubt towards the Stan Kasten plan of building the organization from the minor leagues upward.

But what should they do? In an honest moment, Boswell would probably say they have no other choice than the Kasten Plan. Simply speaking, Kasten makes himself an easy target because his public persona is one of unconditional exuberance and that persona views the cup as 130% full. Of course, he had a similar persona in Atlanta, and if this organization reaches anywhere close to what Atlanta did in the 1990s, then Kasten will be in the annals of Nationals history. Let’s not get that far ahead ourselves though and remember that in the present, the Nationals are atrocious.

In the current climate of the NL East, the New York Mets have the talent to win 95 games, Atlanta can win 90, and Philadelphia can eclipse both of them if they ever realize their potential. For all three, the window is limited, though New York and Philadelphia have built its core around young players. The same holds true in Florida, where the Marlins, despite making the tragic decision to fire their award-winning manager, have a truckload of talent with the highest ceiling in the division. Of course, the 10,000 fans they get for every home game does not help the plight of sinking revenue.

In the same article, he shares his disgust over the “roster of discount vagabonds”. What if the Nationals adopted the Royals approach? While they still stink, the Royals’ payroll has ballooned to $67 million through overpaying less-than-average to average baseball players. Here’s a few players on that roster who were acquired in the last year either via trade or through free agency:

Odalis Perez ($7.75M): 6.20 ERA in 2006 splitting time between the Royals and Dodgers. 6.75 ERA this year.

Gil Meche ($7.4M): Signed a 5-year, $55 million deal over the winter. Sparking 2.15 ERA this season, but has a career 4.49 ERA. I’ll be willing to bet that Meche’s ERA will eclipse 3.50 by the end of June.

Jason LaRue ($5.45M): Batting .104 this season and got cozy with the Mendoza line last season. Of course, the Royals faithful will be quick to point that the Reds are paying for a portion of his salary.

In essence, these players could have very well been misses made by the Nationals. They were not because the Nationals brass realized that they must internal credibility through their existing squad and farm system. Otherwise, bad teams with zero history such as the Nationals will have to overpay for average talent, and misses are much more likely to occur than hits in the dangerous game of free agency.

This isn’t two years ago when the Nats held first place. Being in first place as long as the Nats were that season before tumbling was a best-case scenario with average talent and poor management by Major League Baseball. Since then, the Mets have become a winner, the Braves have reloaded and the Phillies … well, we don’t know but they have talent. The climate has changed and there are more teams for the Nationals to jump over in their pursuit for the NL East crown. For this happen, the fans will need to provide unconditional support over time and the Lerner group must show a steady increase in the willingness to spend on players. Only then can the Kasten Plan be realized.


Chris Clement said...

No kidding on the hyperbole found in that Post article. No surprise considering the course though.

In the end, here are my additional thoughts on the Nats:
1) The new stadium better bring in revenue. Those luxury seats need to attract politicians and big-wigs in DC.
2) Marketing. The Zards have done a so-so job with Arenas. Frankly, they should have Redskins at that park throwing out opening pitches and maybe even on camera during games...if possible.
3) Soriano. It's why you trade him. He wasn't more than 25% likely to stay even with huge money. Prospects are no guarantee, but the Marlings are an NL-East example of what trading mega-stars you aren't going to/likely to keep can net you sometimes.

Washington in that division is sorta like Tampa Bay in the AL East. Good luck guys.

In the end, I'll always root for the Nats...without being a fan.

Great work Pay.

Paymon said...

Exactly. Strong point about marketing, revenue, and questionable moves.

Regarding Soriano, I give ownership a partial pass. The group only *really* took the reins from the MLB in July, I think they could have gotten a better deal in the early dangling period. As you might recall (correct me if I'm way off base, baseball is a 4-month sport for me as a Cubs fan), the value of Soriano fell in the days leading up to the deadline as no team was willing to part with its top prospect.