Friday, November 13, 2009


Yes. I've been co-opted. Reigned in by the classic Washington technique of granting "access".

Just hung up on a conference call with new Nats manager Jim Riggleman. That's right, me a lonely pajama-clad basement dwellar had a chance to speak directly to one of only 30 major league managers.

All thanks to: Dave Nichols, Nats News Network and his DC-IBWA idea. And the Nats PR staffers who set the whole thing up.

Anyway, you little people on the outside didn't miss much. The other bloggers asked the same kind of questions that any interested observer of the Nats would want to ask given this opportunity. And Riggleman answered just as you might expect . . . nothing flashy or glib. Just solid baseball focused answers. Not a thing wrong with that and exactly what could reasonably expected.

I'll take away three things:

1) He didn't want to talk about himself which is an admirable trait IMHO. He did say that he considered his role to be one of not letting the team get too high or too low. Sort of a Stay Medium message. We all know how the last Stay Medium guy is faring.

2) When asked about stolen bases, he said they had gone away thanks to the Steroid Era when managers just waited around for someone to hit one out. He thought that the stolen base would make a slight comeback. Nothing particularly odd about this opinion. I found his use of the term "Steroid Era" to be significant. First, if I were involved with baseball, rule #1 would be "Never mention steroids in public." Second, I wonder if those involved in baseball really think of the late 90s and early aughts as dominated by juiced up sluggers? AFAIK, we have 104 positive tests back in '04. Given a 65-35 split pitchers to hitters that would be about 68 hitters. Is that enough to change the entire strategy of a 100 year old game? Or was the problem so widespread and so known inside baseball circles that managers managed differently knowing they had roided up sluggers up and down their lineup. * note -- I couldn't care less about steroids in baseball. But for those who do, here you go.

3) When asked why free agents would want to come to a team with 100 losses in consecutive seasons, Riggleman answered that "ballplayers are looking for opportunities." A player would rather be a starter than a backup. Essentially, this means that playing time is an asset the Nationals can use. They could guarantee a guy coming off an injury, hey you'll stay in our rotation now matter how badly you get pounded. We'll give you the best chance to get yourself healthy and back in game shape. Then we'll make sure you land on a contender come July 31. Brad Penny didn't do himself any favors signing with the Red Sox last year. They had to win and couldn't wait for Penny to be fully healthy and ready to contribute so they cut him loose. I'd make that my cautionary tale when I went after say a Ben Sheets or a Mark Prior.

Please don't stay tuned for more inside info from Nats land, I doubt there will be any more here. In fact, I don't think there is any now. But at least I feel more important and that's what a blog is for right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

$12.5m is a place to start

That's Aaron Harang's salary for 2010. And it's too much for Cincinnati to swallow

It gets better. Here's Harang's contract status according to Cot's:
  • 07:$4.25M, 08:$6.75M, 09:$11M, 10:$12.5M, 11:$12.75M ($2M buyout)
  • 2011 option increases to $13M with 210 IP in 2010
  • if traded, 2011 option becomes mutual option at $14M ($2.5M buyout)

So it's a $14.5 m commitment.

Oh. I see why he's available. Yech. Barely league average. A right handed Scott Olsen for five times the price. Except for those two outstanding seasons three and four years ago when he was in his prime.

OTOH: the Nats DO need a veteran starter at the top of the rotation. I don't think that can be disputed after last seasons disaster. Their are only two ways to get something like that: free agency or a trade.

Free agency means almost inevitably you will be forced to overpay. Especially if the quality you want to buy is consistency. You can get a cheaper alternative but you radially increase the chance of suckage or injury. Either of which defeats the purpose of spending the cash. Also, it is far more likely to require a longer term commitment for the mediocrity in question. One year of Jon Garland's averageness would be OK, three would be intolerable.

Trade market. Here's its much more interesting. Two ways to make a deal. Either have prospects or have cash on hand. Since the Nats farm system is still pretty bare at the upper levels, it makes more sense to go the cash route.

The Reds want to cut payroll upwards of $15m. They have a pitcher who has been hurt and when healthy been average. They are paying him $12.5m this year and will almost certainly buy him out (barring a miracle renaissance) for another $2m. A $14.5m commitment.

Take that burden off their books and it shouldn't cost you a damn thing. Hell, I'd give them Carlos Alvarez or whatever the hell his name is this week just for fun. Think the Reds don't jump at that? Of course they do. They'd be stupid not to. Unless someone allows them to buy a prospect by picking up part of Harang's salary which I would think is highly unlikely.

Pros: No long term commitment. Harang's gone after 2010 no matter what (again barring a miracle contract year drive). He could be sold as a veteran presence at the top of the rotation. Just as likely as any of the top FA's this off season to be healthy and throw 200 innings albiet of league average ball. Could be flipped at the trade deadline and get a decent prospect.

Cons: It's $14.5m for about $6m in production. I didn't go to business school but I know that is a bad deal.

All in all, why the hell not? Again, I love spending other people's money. But isn't that the main sport here in Washington?

I'll throw a quick 2 cents in on the manager search. What are the odds that the Nats find an uber manager who can by sheer baseball intellect and force of will turn this motley band of rag tag losers into a trim fighting for a pennant machine? About the same as a Nancy Pelosi blink this decade.

So what do we really want in a manager? Give us a character. Someone who we can talk about, who will amuse us who will be a personality a presence in the sports community. If we have to watch the same quality of baseball, at least keep up mildly entertained while doing it. I guess that's an argument for Groucho Marx errrrr Bobby V.

Now, if you tell me he'd be likely to blow out SS's arm or play mediocre vets ahead of promising kids, I'd say I wouldn't care if he was entertaining at all, he'd be a disaster. But, if he can get those things right, why not go for the fun? We've had precious little of that in our Washington baseball lifetime.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The ONLY reason to keep Riggs

is to not taint the next manager with the stink of '10's drive to not lose 100 games for a third straight year.

I can see the utility of avoiding a Lou Pinella in Tampa situation where you pay for a "proven" manager and they arrive to find the cupboard bare. They try all the tricks that worked when they had superior talent (over managing, temper tantrums, blasting players in the press etc.) and they still lose 60% of their games. Finally, they simply lose interest and beg to get out of their contract.

Who needs that?

As for a young guy, what would make the National's job attractive? No sign that the owners are going to spend, not really a baseball town, team promises to be bad in the short run. At least Drayton McLain in Houston would pony up the dough (although they might be in worse shape than the Nats in the long run)

So why not Riggleman? He's cheap, disposable and not without some managing acumen. (Lest we forget, he's partially responsible for the Future Front of the Rotation)

As a fan, the choice sends the message: ehhhh. Not a big name, not a big personality just a caretaker.

I mean really, wouldn't you rather have the Lerner$'$ spend the millions it would take to hire a Showalter or Valentine on oh I don't know guys who have the athletic skill to actually hit and throw and catch the BASEBALL! Plenty of places to spend that cash -- Cuban defectors, Japanese high schoolers, Venezuelan outfielders. Please go get them and it won't matter if you have John McGraw or the late Tug McGraw managing.

Oh and one more thing. There is absolutely no reason, none whatsoever, to offer Scott Olsen arbitration. I have confidence Rizzo knows this but since I recently saw a 2010 preview that incuded an Olsen arb, I wanted to make this point clear. There are a raft of factory second starters on the market -- it would be a shock to me if Olsen got more than an NRI in the off season. That I could live with.