Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Sons Speak

From National Pastime, page 208:

"My dad always trades my favorite players," Chad [Bowden] said, somewhat contemplatively. "Isn't that right, Ty?" Tyler, bigger and older, laughed at his little brother. But Chad was serious. He thought about it some more. "Why is that?" Chad asked. Ty responded quickly, "Because he can."

Dream about magnolias in bloom

I think it may now be official. There's nothing bone-headed, nothing so stupid or ridiculous the Nationals could do that would surprise me anymore. At least while the current regime is in place.

Yesterday, the Nationals sent Ryan Church, the National League Rookie of the Month for May 2005 to AAA New Orleans. In effect, that hands the starting CF and leadoff job to Brandon Watson, a speedy player with very little Major League experience.

I'm late to the party once again, since this story broke around dinnertime last night and I was away from ESPN and the internet once I got home from work. Most of the other fine members of the Natosphere have chimed in already, many of them doing a fine job of explaining much better than I could why this is a silly move.

The main rationale for the move seems to be that Church hit only .200 this spring while Watson hit .311. Perhaps that's true, but Church also walked 10 times -- a team high for the spring. And in 2005, Church hit .287 with 9 homers and 25 RBIs while Watson managed only a .175 AVG.

And as Scott pointed out in the Yudite chat yesterday, Johnson, Clayton, Guillen and Schneider all have worse averages than Church this spring, yet all four will be starting on Opening Day (assuming they're healthy.)

Check out the Punisher and the Federalist for some interesting number crunching on this issue. In the end, I think many agree the brass has been down on Church since he lost a fight with the left-field wall in Pittsburgh and his oh-so-unmanly injury to his pinkie toe.

Last night, I finished Barry Svrluga's new book, National Pastime. (I may or may not have a review up soon.) It goes into greater detail with some of the storylines from the 2005 season. There is a story that has relevance here.

In Spring Training 2005, Bowden and Frank Robinson were hoping that Endy Chavez would be the centerfielder and leadoff in the lineup:

With all that in mind, Bowden held meetings with each of his new players at the start of spring training. ... None was more important than his meeting with Chavez. There would be, Bowden said, no more of this free-swinging bullshit. If Chavez ... wanted to make this team ... he had to have the mind-set that he was there to score runs, not to drive them in. ... He had to, as Robinson said, "stop swinging from his ass."

All the information seemed to frustrate Chavez, who was twenty-seven and quiet. "I've heard it," he said impatiently one day. "I know." Leave me alone, he said, and I'll carry out your orders. After all the meetings of the spring, he asked for the same thing. The coaching staff obliged. (Svrluga, Barry, National Pastime, pp. 100-101)

After Chavez went 0-3 in a loss to the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Robinson got frustrated:

His on-base percentage fell to .257. In thirty-seven plate appearances, he had drawn two walks. Robinson, alone in the small manager's office inside the visiting clubhouse, muttered to himself afterward, "He's the same fucking player he's always been. Hasn't changed a thing." (Svrluga, pg. 104)

Of course, we know that Inning-Endy was shipped to AAA New Orleans near the end of Spring Training. And guess who was the beneficiary?

Church saw Chavez slump into the clubhouse that day, saw the paper in his hand, saw the look on his face. The gears started to turn, and Church looked away. Wait a minute. Church's mind started linking things together quickly.... If Chavez is out then ... Okay, think through it again. Count the outfielders remaining in camp. Five will go north. Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, J.J. Davis, Terrmel Sledge ... and me? Holy shit, Church thought. Holy shit! I just made the team. (Svrluga, pg. 107)

Fast-forward to Spring Training 2006. Brandon Watson is the speedy centerfielder dujour. And less than three weeks ago, Robinson and Bowden highly praised Watson for his work ethic and willingness to listen, especially compared to Chavez.

And yesterday, the brass decided that Watson's .311 AVG, .368 OBP, 7 stolen bases and 6 walks meant that he had been more willing to listen to them than Chavez. They rewarded him with a spot on the team, and presumably the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Because Watson has better ears than Chavez, Ryan Church -- who got his 2005 roster spot because Chavez wouldn't "listen" -- gets demoted to AAA New Orleans. He'll take his .287 AVG/.353 OBP rookie season to the minors with him, along with his .323 OBP this spring (only 45 points lower than Watson).

It sure seems that the fate of Ryan Church rests on the ability of speedy centerfielders to listen to their superiors. Maybe it's just me, but I think Church has long since earned the right to have his fate decided by his own abilities.

Fire Bowden.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

He's wandered the earth an exiled man

So Soriano took the field about 20 minutes ago in left field. Our buddy Bote Man reports via audio that Soriano hit an 0-1 pitch to the warning track in his first at-bat.

It looks like this is resolved. For this season, at least.

Happy Because:

This distraction is apparently behind us, and the Nationals can get back to playing baseball.

Pissed Because:

Bowden seems to have won the PR war over this, even though he needs to be sent to Guantanamo for letting his ego put the Nationals in this ridiculous position.

Happy Because:

With Vidro, Johnson, Guillen, Soriano and Zimmerman in the middle of the lineup, the Nats might actually score a few runs in 2006.

Pissed Because:

Ryan Church may not have a spot on this team now that Soriano is in the outfield. It's a shame the way he's been treated, implicitly accused of being a pansy after a collision with the left field wall in Pittsburgh.

It's awesome that this seems to have been resolved. But Bowden cannot be let off the hook for this one. Trading for a player only to massage his overinflated ego without assurances he'll play the position you need is reckless, irresponsible and flat out stupid.

Fire Bowden.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

You had to prove it to the crowd

This is what happens while I'm being a good newlywed husband by spending time with Mrs. Rocket away from the internet, radio and ESPN. The Soriano situation came to a climax a little after 6 p.m. last night, and I didn't learn about it until this morning. In the meantime, just about everyone has already commented on the situation.

-- Capitol Punishment explores the options that Soriano and the Nationals have in front of them. (EDIT: Chris has updated with a reluctant defense of Soriano.)
-- BallWonk says the Nats might be forced to be second base polygamists.
-- The Beltway Boys says Soriano won this round and Bowden is the villain.
-- Curly W goes ballistic on Bowden, further endearing himself to my heart.
-- The Distinguished Senator is ready to rumble.
-- Federal Baseball spins a sordid tale of lust and passion.
-- Just A Nats Fan has a guest reporter from Viera.
-- The Nats Enquirer wants Soriano gone now.
-- The Nats Blog wants Bowden and Soriano gone.
-- Triple Play misses Wilkie, but laments he has to side with Bowden.
-- Oleanders blames Bowden.

Since I'm late to the party (again!) I won't try to pull something originial out of my hat.

This situation is just plain weird, though. There are no good guys, just like there are no good guys in the Comcast-MASN battle or like there were no good guys in the D.C. Council-MLB battle.

Soriano deserves our scorn and derision for refusing to take the field last night. By deserting his teammates last night, he became a poster boy for what the American public hates in prima-donna spoiled professional athletes. His culpability should not be understated.

However, there is one guy who could have prevented all this. And of course that man is our resident genius GM, Mr. James Bowden. As Sheinin reported yesterday, Bowden was refused the chance to Soriano before the trade went through. But Genius Boy wanted to do the trade anyways.

And today, the league-run news source reported that Soriano said to Bowden, "[Not getting permission] should have told you something."

Again, Bowden had to have been aware of all this. Yet he and his overblown machismo thought his powers of persuasion were greater than anyone on the Yankees or Rangers who had already tried to persuade Soriano to switch to LF. Bowden ignored Soriano's plainly obvious history, and for that he should never be employed in sports again.

Bowden said that Soriano will have one more chance on Wednesday to play left field before the team requests that he be placed on the disqualified list, suspending him without pay and without free agent service time.

Frankly, Soriano doesn't need a second chance. I highly doubt he'll change his mind, but if he does, after the stunt he pulled last night, he will be ruthlessly booed the first time he sets foot on the field at RFK. This team, as weak as it already is, doesn't need that kind of clubhouse strife. The Nats need to non-tender Soriano or trade him for the best offer they can get, even if it's a half-eaten chorizo and dixie cup of warm Blue Moon.

And kick Bowden's carcass out onto the Beltway with these parting words. "If you want an outfielder, f---ing trade for one, you stupid ass!"

Monday, March 20, 2006

You had to have a white hot spotlight

After watching Soriano strike out to eliminate the Dominican Republic on Saturday, Dave Shenin has a tremendous article in this morning's Washington Post.

Most of us in the Natosphere have ripped Bowden for not inquiring of Soriano whether he was willing to play left field prior to pulling the trigger on the trade. After all, it was well known that Soriano thought of himself as a second baseman; he had already refused to switch for the Rangers.

It turns out that Bowden did ask permission from the Rangers to speak with Soriano. And the Rangers said no. That certainly implied that Soriano would refuse the switch, and Bowden even recognized as much.

But the freaking MORON made the deal anyways! The leatherpants wearing piece of bat excrement even had the balls to tell Frank, "You can handle it."

Soriano has no legs to stand on after his abysmal WBC performance where he failed to get a hit while committing several errors.

Yet his personality and history in regards to position switching are well known. Bowden deserves to be run out of town on a rail for failing to recognize the situation and gambling the team's season on making a big splash in order to garnish his reputation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"It's not the mayor's fault that the stadium collapsed!"

Wonder of wonders, we got ourselves a real live stadium design! For those that haven't seen the four drawings released by HOK and the DCSEC, click here.

I've probably spent an hour of my Tuesday studying and staring at these four pictures. At first I was thrilled. It's like being shown a picture of a future new car or a new home and you're all excited because it's just that -- new.

Let's start with what I like.

Despite the fact the rounded exterior is sort of reminiscent of Shea Stadium, I do like the contrast between the lines and curves that you can see in the above drawing. It's an interesting visual, and it's not something you see much anymore in baseball stadiums. I was never a fan of the exposed steel look.

I think I'm going to like the offset right field section (red arrow above), despite what I've heard elsewhere. It's different, and it's one of the elements that save the inside seating bowl from looking eerily similar to Shea or Dodger Stadium.

I like the curved exterior look you get in the above picture. It's a departure from the recent brick and steel looks, with a nod back to the modern Yankee Stadium. However, I would have preferred an exterior that looked more like this.

However, I think the main seating bowl (above) is just not good at all. I mean, there are four decks there, with the upper deck and the press box in the clouds. Who knows, maybe they'll install those coin-operated viewing machines up there so you can actually see the field.

The seating bowl is more evocative of boring places like Shea Stadium or the Oakland Coliseum. Of course, the design is not nearly as bad as those two stadiums. But in regards to the main seating bowl, there are a lot of very clean lines that remind one of a dual-use football stadium like Shea. But like I mentioned, the offset right-field section helps in that regard.

Like others have mentioned, I worry most about the view from behind home plate. Many ballparks are beautiful because of the skyline. What are we going to get, parking garages and the DOT building?

All in all, I like it because it's new. But the newness factor will wear off and we'll have to live with the place for a generation, at least.

A few things like the skyline and the height (altitude, even) of the seating worry me. From the drawings alone, I'm not overwhelmed. We'll have to wait for more details, I guess.

EDIT: I'm a bit more optimistic after seeing MissChatter's report from the unveiling. This picture in particular gives me some hope that it'll turn out OK.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

In like a lion...

Well, it's been an interesting beginning to the month of March, that's for sure. As usual, I've been sorely delinquent in chronicling my thoughts on the goings-on in the world of the Nats and baseball in general.

We learned last Friday that Guillen was lost for the first half of the year. (I actually wrote about that!) When combined with the loss of Lawrence for the year and the continuing saga of Soriano, that was devastating news. Over the weekend, we got some sorely needed good news; a second opinion revealed that Guillen just needed about two weeks of rehab. Unbelievably huge bit of good news.

Then on Sunday, we learned that MLB signed off the emergency lease document passed in February, with a few caveats. Many of our resident fanboys popped champagne corks, but I wasn't ready to celebrate until the D.C. Council signed off on the caveats.

Last night, they finally got it done. The Council passed a construction contract and reaffirmed the lease deal, effectively erasing all doubt that the Nationals would get a permanent home in the District.

Maybe I'm just immune from the pain of the past, but I honestly don't feel anything. It's like "That's nice, do you want a cookie for finally doing the right thing?!" Kinda like Nate's theory of congratulating Bowden when he doesn't crap his pants. (I can't find the link. Maybe it was Ryan's theory. Who freakin' knows?)

From a city management point of view, I don't blame the Council for balking at all this. Major League Baseball are a bunch of monopolist money grubbers. But I want baseball and I don't feel like giving anyone any credit for getting around to finally finishing this mess.

So can we have a (non-Smulyan) owner now? Maybe an owner can get us a REAL TV deal.


Speaking of fake TV deals, MASN has a website up now.

Straight from the horse's ass:

"Since at least 1981, the Orioles have had exclusive rights to the 7-state television territory. In 2004, Major League Baseball announced the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. The Orioles objected to the relocation of the Expos to within 35 miles of Oriole Park in Baltimore. Among other things, the Expos/Nationals had no television territory within which to telecast its games. In today's world, no baseball franchise could viably exist without a television territory and television rights revenues. The Orioles, the Nationals and Major League Baseball all understood this reality. The Orioles appreciated that a baseball team in the nation's capitol needed to be on television and agreed to share its exclusive television territory with the Nationals."

Alright, just shut up.

Using the words "at least" shows they haven't figured out exactly when this imaginary, made-up exclusive right to TV rights in the region began.

Oh and by the way, the Mister Angelos Screws the Nationals website has a comment form.

(Just my freaking luck. Five months after I move out of Fairfax County, Cox Cable adds the Nats games.)


Watching the WBC game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela yesterday, I heard Harold Reynolds and John Kruk speculate that Soriano will not move to left field under any circumstances.

I don't know how right they'll turn out to be, but I think I've begun to be pretty indifferent on my opinion of Soriano. He's been a stubborn guy long before D.C. ever had a team. He's resisted left field before, and he even jonesed his way out of a contract to play in Japan.

But the onus was on Bowden to know all that. Like Reynolds and Kruk said, why trade for a second baseman when you already have one!? The new owners must ship Bowden back to Cold Pizza the minute they have control of the team.


As for the WBC, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the US beat Mexico yesterday. Jake Peavy was filthy good, and it was the pitching that made up for some shaky American defense. Schneider caught a majority of the game, and it was really cool to see Chief in his USA duds pitch a dominating 1-2-3 fifth inning.

I went to a World Cup qualifying match in 2001, and it was a blast. I knew very little about soccer, but I wanted to wrap myself in the flag and dance and sing like a soccer nut. The WBC games I watched yesterday seemed to have a similar atmosphere, and I think that freaking rules.

I do hope the WBC succeeds and evolves to the point where it becomes an important part of the MLB season, rather than something that's a sidenote to spring training.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I'm just kidding!

Thank God!

Jose does like to play through injuries and pain. And I pray that he gives everything enough time to heal properly.

Friday, March 03, 2006

¡Yo tengo dolor en mi muñeca, pendejo!

So, it looks like Guillen is out until at least June with a wrist injury. Wheeee. This is really bad news, the loss of a major offensive piece.

Assuming the second opinion doesn't change anything, this makes the Soriano/outfield situation even more dire. If Alfonso doesn't eventually agree to move the left field, we have exactly zero starting outfielders set in stone.

As it is, one would hope that Ryan Church finally gets his chance to be a starter, presumably in right field. That leaves big question marks to fill the other outfield slot, such as Brandon Watson or Michael Tucker.

Good work by Bodes. Good work trading away Brad Wilkerson without asking if what you were getting in return would even play the outfield. Now we get to see if he'll go sniffing around the Reds for another outfielder falling into the "toolsy" category. Or God forbid, Sammy Sooser.

At this rate, it might be smarter to just put on the field the Chinese National Team who got spanked by Japan last night.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

And if I claim to be a wise man

I'm not sure I've had an original blogging idea in a long time. And it's kind of frustrating. There's a ton of Nats blogs out there, and a lot of niches that are filled. Some guys know the Nats farm system (or lack thereof) like the back of their hands. Other guys are diligent enough to weigh in on almost every news development. One gives us the schismatic point of view, while another gives us the female point of view. Then there are the guys who are smart enough to admit they are too lazy and enlist friends to blog with them.

I guess I'm the guy who compensates for his lack of anything to say by posting pictures of ex-Nationals in their new uniforms. Or by amassing a collection of over 100 spring training photos stolen from news sources.

It must have been the posts from JP Allard and MissChatter that got me thinking. I don't fully agree with JP; there is a place for the link-factory news regurgitator blogs - and I enjoy reading them. But I don't want this place to be one of them. So I guess I fall more into MissChatter's camp. I started this place as "Nats Homework" - a way to force myself to pay attention to the team. But like MissChatter said about herself, I too don't have biting wit, a head for stats or the indepth knowledge of the farm system. I just like baseball, the Nationals, and I like to write about it too.

I've pointed out before this entry as one that I'm especially proud of. It was a neat little tidbit a half dozen people witnessed, and it made for a good story. I like this entry too, where I wrote about Mrs. Rocket thoroughly enjoying herself at a ballgame.

Maybe that's my niche. Writing stuff that you wouldn't read anywhere else, whether it's about me or it's something that only I witnessed. I guess we'll see what this season brings.