Friday, July 29, 2005

Washington Nationals: Let yourself D'oh

Thanks: WaPo

So the season effectively ended tonight at about 10:30, when Brian Schnieder struck out swinging against Todd Jones, stranding Vinny Castilla at first base and sealing the Washington Nationals' fifth straight loss (the last four by one run each time out, presaged by a 14-inning marathon).

I don't phrase many things categorically in this space, but I am going to do so right now: the Nats are done, baby. Bang-zoom? Pop-fizzle. It's all over but the details. We don't even need to be reasonable or polite or optimistic about it now that the Nats aren't leading the wild card race; they're not even tied anymore, thanks to yet another win by the
Houston Astros.

You don't need me to make the pronouncement, though. Rocket Bill Ladson has told us all we need to know on the Pravda site:

Frank's sticking with Cristian Guzman. Why? Oh, I don't know. Something about not setting ultimatums upon himself regarding slumping players and not wanting to bury a guy---as long as that guy's name is not a synonym for a house of worship, of course. Ever helpful, Rocket Bill backs up Robinson's claim that he's obscenely patient with guys who suck, ostensibly demonstrating that Frobby is a mindless ingrate.

Yeah, well, who you gonna replace Guzman with? The correct answer, Smart Guy, is "Anyone Who Respirates." But, if you're the Washington Nationals, your standards are higher. General manager Jim Bowden (fittingly enough, pictured smiling, like the smirking dimwit he is) has previously said the team isn't in-line to trade for infielders, because, you know, by definition an "infielder" can't be a "toolsy outfielder." Well, not trading for infielders isn't good enough; nope, the Nats are standing pat through Sunday's (non-waiver) trading deadline. No help is on the way. Bowden couches this disappointing news in truisms about ample buyers but limited sellers; as John Marshall would say, though, this explanation is but a truism. It's not worth much when the only trading partner with whom you are linked is Chuck Lamar of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Well, it's a good thing that Bodes executed that Preston Wilson trade back when there was more than one seller, eh?

Of course, the current check-signer is a scumbag dissembler. Consequently, even if this team could pull off a reasonable trade with whatever trading chips we have left, I'm guessing we'd see Laura Bush win the WWF world title before Bud Selig and His Owner Buddies clear a red penny above the pre-imposed budget for the Nats' payroll. But don't worry; there's lots of people interested in buying the team and inheriting that sweet television deal Grimace Dupuy negotiated. And even though not a single candidate has been narrowed out of consideration, we'll still see the new owner selected by the end of the summer. This summer.

No, it's possible. Really. Seven words: flux capacitor, one point twenty one gigawatts.


To recap: 1) no ability to take on salary; 2) no opportunity to take on talent; 3) no inclination to replace a guy who's hitting in the .180s and has shown about as much regard for fundamentals as Madeleine Murray O'Haire.

Or, to put it more pointedly, we're screwed.

Sure, I can try to rationalize things like I did during the series against the Braves: that no team that wins 50 games in half-a-season is this bad and that none of the other teams is that good---to leave us in the dust of the wild card race, that is. I'm fairly baffled concerning the first point, still; I mean, there are lucky teams, and then there are the Washington Nationals of June 2005. The second point, however, is the dispositive one. As
Dexys commented over at Yuda's late in tonight's loss, any hope that the Astros will lope around enough to give the Nats a chance is probably a fool's wager. A couple nights ago, I said that only the Braves were irrelevant from here on in.

Turns out, I was short-sided. It's the Nationals who are irrelevant.


Hence, we are in essence back to where we were six months ago, when we had little more to do but heap more love on Frank Howard than even his momma ever did, God love 'em. There's all kinds of DC baseball trivia and oddities left to explore from a variety of angles, and fortunately Michael McCann of Sports Law Blog recently published an interesting analysis of the bomb shell uncovered by the intrepid PostiesSvrluga & Boswell.

The Nats, since they are run by MLB, are per se run by lying scumbags. It is thus a natural stroke that McCann explores whether a misrepresentation claim concerning the, uh, fluid outfield dimensions at RFK Stadium would be colorable for a hypothetical free agent affected by the 15-foot gap between truth and fiction:

Aside from embarrassment, might there be a legal risk for teams that mistakenly list their ballpark dimensions? More specifically, might a player who signed with a team under a certain set of employment assumptions later have recourse if those assumptions prove untrue? The most plausible claim may be "misrepresentation," which is an unambiguous,
false statement of fact that is material and induces a party to consent to a contract. If a court identifies that one party has been misrepresented, the aggrieved party can have the contract voided. Aggrieved parties may also be entitled to reliance damages.

It's an interesting subject---as Chris notes, it's more of an academic thought exercise than anything that's going to cross the desk of a practicioner, in all likelihood---and McCann approaches it with typical quality and insight, which is to say nothing short of excellence. [Needless to say, the RFK dimensions story is the catalyst, but McCann's analysis transcends just this specific news story.]

McCann notes that the Nats' two big free agent acquisitions, Castilla and Guzman, are not model clients for such a hypothetical claim, given their struggles, well, everywhere. I'll also add that RFK's dimensions---in general, but also in ignorance of the actual enormity---do the Nats no favors should Bodes decide to sell near the August 31 waivers trading deadline.

I mean, you'd be stupid to trade for Vinny Castilla, whose wobbly knee makes Scott Weiland look steady. But, even if Castilla were healthy, RFK's dimensions would (and have) obscured his power to some extent. It follows that it's to the Nats' best interests to be able to tell a potential suitor exactly how far a guy has to hit a ball in the power alley for a homer. I don't really know how general managers think (thank goodness), but I'd have to think a video of someone clearing a power alley wall that is marked "395" has to make an impression.


In retrospect, perhaps this post is a bit harsh. I mean, it's good enough that DC---after long last---just has a team, right?


Tell you what: I'll check back in tomorrow.

Frustration is natural in this case, and the fact that everyone (besides the people who actually run the team, and maybe the BPG forum) knew this was coming just makes it worse.

We knew Guzman and Castilla were bad signings; we knew that Guillen was a hothead with a spotty performance track record; we knew that Junior Spivey and Preston Wilson were not really meaningful upgrades. But as long as the Nats were winning, you couldn't say anything about it (at least not without Boswell and even Svrluga yelling at you that the Nats were winning EVEN WITH Guzman hitting .190 [this was in the good old days when his avg was still that high], so just think how good they'll be when he starts hitting his usual .260/.300/.380).

The negativity comes pretty easily, and the first half tease just made it worse by forcing us to let our guard down a little. It's like Lucy and the football -- you know at the start it's going to turn out badly, but you somehow convince yourself that this time will be different, and that makes the humiliation of lying on your back in the dirt all the worse.

The silver lining, I hope, is that this will make it that much easier to get rid of Bowden and Robinson when new owners take charge.
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