I've sat by idly watching the Nationals create their "foundation." I've watched vice president Stan Kasten create his plan and I've watched general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta execute it.
Sometimes it takes a small move to trigger a loud response.
Bowden sent capable reliever, and the last remaining Montreal holdover, Luis Ayala to the Mets for 25-year-old utility infielder Anderson Hernandez Sunday. It's one thing to trade Ayala. It's another to give him away to a division rival.
I understand moving veterans for youth, but there are 28 other teams out there. Do we have to make our rivals better?
But that's not as laughable as Paul Lo Duca, arguably the worst offseason signing not named Andruw Jones, who was recently released and picked up by division foe, Florida. With Florida in the market for a serviceable catcher since April, why Bowden couldn't have parlayed Lo Duca for a prospect (or as Bowden likes to think of them -- slap-hitting middle infielders with little upside) is depressing.
But not as laughable as signing Johnny Estrada to a contract when you have budding star Jesus Flores in the system and serviceable Will Nieves. After all, it was Jason Kendall who unseated Estrada in Milwaukee. Here's how that offseason conversation between Jimbo and Johnny "I'm spent" Estrada went:
Jim: Johnny, you staying in shape? We're looking for a veteran catcher to work with our young staff.
Johnny: I dunno, Jimbo. I'm not really feeling the game of baseball anymore, I mean geez, they brought in Jason Kendall in Milwaukee to replace me. Ya know how depressing that makes a human being, when Jason Kendall is seen as an upgrade over you? It's like replacing Rodney Dangerfield with Jackie Mason in Caddyshack II.
Jim: I loved Caddyshack II! It had that black bailiff from Night Court. What a great show, Night Court. Bull, he sure was tall. Just like Rauchy. Come on into spring training, we'll see what we can do with ya.
Johnny: OK, bud, if you say so.
But not as laughable as signing an overweight defensive liability who doesn't take his diabetes seriously to a multi-year contract that makes him untradeable. (see: Young, Dmitri)
But not as laughable as signing fragile Nick Johnson, a light-hitting first baseman to a multi-year contract, effectively inhibiting any prospects from manning the corner. Sorry, Larry Broadway or Chris Marrero.
But not as laughable as trading the best reliever on the market for one of those hard-to-find slap-hitting middle infielders. But hey, he sure is quick. So is Joey Gathright. So is Michael Bourn. Keep them and their miniscule OBP off my team.
But not as laughable as failing to sign draft pick Aaron Crow over a $500,000 dispute. Crow, deemed major-league ready, was always expected to be a tough sign. But when the gap came to within six-digits, the team should have ponied up to sign the kid. Why sign unproven talent to major-league dollars? Let's say they end up paying Crow $4 million per (what he wanted, the Nats came in at $3.5). What pitcher on the free-agent market are you going to find for $4 million per? That's fourth- or fifth-starter money and Crow is projected as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Yes, paying kids that sort of moolah isn't ideal, but the club drafted him knowing he'd be potentially great, and tough at the table.
But not as laughable as the Lerner family withholding $3.5 million in rent (as of July 11) to the city of Washington for receiving an incomplete stadium. Not just that, the Lerners are "demanding damages of $100,000 a day, dating from March 1," according to the Washington Post. Just to refresh, the city paid for this stadium using tax dollars. The team is playing in the stadium and the Lerners are collecting revenue. The Pope conducted mass in the stadium. The Presidents Race occurs during every home game. But it's incomplete to the point where not just rent is being withheld, but damages are being sought. I've attended three games and the only thing incomplete I've noticed is the on-the-field product. It takes a budding villain to make the public stick up for the city of Washington. Congrats Teddy.
But back to the seemingly small things. Here's what really set things off, laughably speaking, in this blogger's dome. The Nationals are last in the league in giveaways. Dead last at 35 per 81 home games, according to the Sports Business Journal. The Marlins, a team like the Nats which entered the season with little hope to compete, lead the league with 141 giveaways. Couple this with the fact that season ticket holders had to actually show up to these atrocious games (but only specific ones) to receive their complimentary yearbook and replica stadium is well, laughable. I received mine Friday night and as the guy who handed it to me said upon seeing my disappointment in the craftsmanship, "I hear some people are using them as ashtrays."
Having a plan that requires patience is one thing, using it as an excuse to be miserly is another. One season doesn't make a rich data pool, but if Year 1 of Ler-Kas-Bow is a sign of things to come, it's safe to say this team is destined to complete the trilogy of Washington teams leaving the area.
But I offer a solution, and it's so simple I demand it: An apology not just to season-ticket holders like myself, but to all Nats fans.
Dear Nationals fans,
We're trying here in D.C., but we've been out of the baseball game for a while, which explains why we don't know how to treat fans at the ballpark, why we don't know how to do the whole TV thing well (the Nats are dead last in TV ratings), and why we don't know how to do the whole personnel thing well. But we'll get better, starting with the removal of Jim Bowden from the general manager post. We'll bring in a smart baseball guy who has a fine-tuned balance between objectively analyzing players and pulling the trigger on a brash big-ticket signee when it fits the plan. We'll provide incentives to attend the ballpark, which Washington was nice enough to build (despite its many flaws), like free caps and balls (but no cowbells). In short, we'll do things better. But stay faithful, please. We've waited a long time to have baseball back in D.C., let's not rush this job. Let's set up a foundation that will ensure the District has the best baseball franchise in MLB. If we don't fulfill our obligations above, we promise to sell the team to Ted Leonsis and never entertain any offers from Dan Snyder, no matter how much money or Lions for Lambs paraphernalia he throws our way.
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