Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bigger than Endy

Harper at Oleanders & Morning Glories has posted an artfully-composed analysis of the Endy Chavez trade. I'm not sure that Harper introduces any new elements in his post; for instance, certainly others have noted that Endy demonstrated tangible improvement in his plate patience despite Frank Robinson's insistence otherwise, and still others have made the fundamental observation that Endy is ill-suited to be a regular lead-off man, anyway.

Neverthless, the manner in which Harper constructs his argument is compelling. It's a defense of Chavez in a sense, but then it isn't; his point is beyond Endy Chavez, and that is why it struck me. His central point is as broad as it is somber:

No, what bums me out is what this makes me think of management. In Endy, I see a player who was given an impossible task by his organization, who was punished not only when he failed at it, but also when he showed progress in it. I see how the outfield, 5th starter, and bench situations are being handled and I really doubt that this is the type of organization that can develop younger players. It seems that you need to excel immediately (like John Patterson did) or else you’re relegated to platooning, the bullpen, or worse the minors, being blamed by the coaching staff and GM all the way for “not stepping up”. I am really looking forward to a owner for this team, not only to get more money behind this franchise, but to really take a look at this franchise to see if the guys in charge are the ones that are really best for the future of the Nationals.

Like I said above, this is a compelling argument. One facet of Chavez's depature that must people noticed, I would surmise, is that the criticisms (as disseminated via the media) became much more vague and abstract. Pull up Barry Svrluga's recent chats, for instance; the most often oft-employed phrase is "he isn't [wasn't] getting it." What does this mean, precisely?

In essence, Harper argues forcefully that not only was the Nats' stated reason for Chavez's departure a pretext---as applied solely to Chavez---but that the behavior of management in arranging his banishment portends a more foreboding message. It's a strong argument, and it gives me substantial pause.

Ultimately, though, I can't agree---at least not fully. I see the Chavez trade as a positive step for this organization, independent of what the Nats received in return. Over a two-year period, Chavez amassed nearly big league 1,000 at-bats for the organization. During those two years, the team finished 12th (with Vladimir Guerrero) and 15th, respectively, in runs scored among National League teams.

By the time the 2004-05 offseason rolled along, Chavez was an established major league regular. He was mainly an ineffective regular, offensively at least, but at the same time he demonstrated certain traits of a regular center fielder, especially in '04: a) he hit for average, and b) he stole bases. These things, by comparison, Nick Johnson did not do last year.

One persistent theme of the offseason was a perceived struggle between three guys (Chavez, Johnson, and Terrmel Sledge) for two spots in the batting order. The magical dry erase board reflected this choice the organization faced; in fact, according to the board, Chavez was a regular and Sledge was a sub.

The team could have gone this way. It could have thrown Chavez and Cristian Guzman in the top two spots, as recommended and rumored by some during the offseason. Leaving Chavez in the regular lineup would have just been the same old thing for the organization---in effect, a step back for the Washington Nationals.

Instead, for whatever reason---and maybe patience was a pretext---Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson didn't leave well enough alone. That, to my thinking, was the big choice. And once that choice was made, to my thinking, what became of Chavez became secondary.

Seeing the trade of Endy as progress? I can go along with that. Even if the team has difficulties choosing the right path at times (or practically all the time), at least they seem to be learning how to avoid the wrong one.

Of course, is it enough to simply avoid the worst possible decision? There are plenty of bad ones still out there.

They've learned not to put Cristian second, but they still have the guy batting.

They've learned that JJ Davis isn't the answer, but they still aren't giving any of the young players a real chance at the starting 3rd outfielder spot.

They are going to start Vargas again (for Jon Patterson) while Jon Rauch rots in long relief and Zack Day wonders if anyone has suffered so much for having a couple bad starts. (I suppose the worst decision here is letting the other team throw the ball up and hit it)

I guess learning a little at a time is fine, but it's very frustrating.
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