Monday, January 31, 2005

Sosa? Again? Why?

Because Capitol Punishment has a good analysis of the trade, that's why; also, I needed an excuse to rip off an Angelos blast

I didn't intend to use Chris' stuff as a primary jumping off point for the second day in a row, but here you go; I suspect it means he's a good blogger. Anyway, it's an excellent (Orioles-centric) analysis, thorough and well-reasoned. Two points Chris made are worth attention.

1. Chris chides a rigid enforcement of what you might call ex ante transaction analysis, such as that found in this blog, which dwells on Sammy's expected marginal rate of return (expressed in wins) above what Jerry Hairston Jr. would have brought (wrought?). He states that one cannot view the trade in a vacuum.

I addressed the Baltimore attendance issue in Saturday's post, and I'm not sure I'd go as far as Chris characterizes it (the impact of DC/NoVa-based Orioles-goers is still quite a variable, and I do think O's fans are quite loyal), but it's certainly more substantial than Boz's "well, it's not a joke to hold on to your O's tickets anymore" bit. It's the other point that is more interesting: what you might group together as luck, improvement, opponent's injury:

As far as the claim that it’s a bad signing because it’s only
going to get the Orioles to 84 or 85 wins… Huh? Is 84 wins a failure? You don’t think there’s a difference between finishing under .500 and finishing over? What if the Orioles get lucky and exceed their Pythagorean win total? What if Randy
Johnson gets hurt? Could the Orioles win 92 games and sneak past the Yankees? Definitely. Is it likely? Nope, but ya never know. And that’s what’s great about baseball.

I agree; anything can happen. The difference between success and failure---sometimes, I should add---is the difference between grabbing it and just sitting there, waiting for something to develop.

Besides, this is a good move for both teams. In a sense, Baltimore needs competition; Peter Angelos, as he was dreaming up his "regional franchise" dream-world, embodied this spirit of complacency that made the Orioles very boring. I believe competition is good, and I believe at some point the Orioles will realize they need to fight the DC move---not with negotiating ploys and threatened litigation, but with a competitive attempt to make DC care about the Orioles, to cut into the larger portion of the two-pronged, semi-regional market.

At the same time, an Orioles team with some bite is good for the Nats. Such a development will make management (whoever it is by this/that point) that it cannot recline and enjoy the "Baseball is back in DC" honeymoon for too long.

2. As an aside, Chris notes sagely that a Sosa trade to the Nats would have been very bad. I agree.

On Saturday, I was trying to come up with an angle for the Sosa-to-the-O's trade. My reflex was to go with the "pointless aging slugger deal" approach, perhaps as seen above. This is my reflex because of---you'll never guess!---a Bill James mini-essay I read when I was about 14 that criticized the Mariners for signing Jeffrey Leonard and hitting him clean-up in 1989.

Well, I was just a kid, and I was captivated by the dimensions of the RBI stat. (For instance, the lumbering Rob Deer-type slugger had a low RBI-to-home run ratio, while the line-drive, high average hitter like Mike Greenwell had a much higher RBI-to-HR ratio. I don't know why this interested me---it just did, as it probably did with many other kids who grew up loving baseball.) Consequently, I thought Jeff Leonard had enjoyed a stupendous season. He drove in 93 runs, after all!---back when that meant something.

And then I opened "The Baseball Book: 1990," and there James is calling Leonard a completely pointless acquisition, one that does not affect the future success or failure of the franchise one iota. Years later, I understood: Leonard was just there to fill space. I also realized that this "great" season was, in context, exactly league-average offensive performance.

Sosa would have been something of a Jeffrey Leonard deal for the Nationals. Do they need him? Not in the slightest. Jose Guillen has one corner outfield spot, and although we Nats bloggers mock F-Robbie's love of Terrmel "Complete Me" Sledge, what point would there be in displacing a manager's favorite fairly-young player for an aging superstar. And this is to say nothing of what to do with Bluegrass Wilks and Nick the Crutch. In addition, do the Nats have any hope of competing for anything in 2005? Not that I can see.

It is different for the O's. They can push above .500; they can with some luck hang around until maybe early-mid September in the wild card hunt, if tings break right. They haven't played a meaningful September (hell, August) game since 1997. And have you seen who is playing corner OF/1B/DH for the team?

Okay, not to make this all-Baltimore-blogging, but I wanted to comment on this story, which includes the amazing story of the Denny Bautista trade:

Aren't we glad that Angelos doesn't own the Nats?

A case of the Mun-days

It's Monday morning, and some guy said something and something else happened, and traffic & weather together on the 8's

Scanning . . . scanning . . .

Hat tip to William World News for this one. Jim Bowden, whose Adult ADHD is postively uncontrollable, took time out from drooling at the waiver wire report and noodled some realignment thoughts out loud. Apparently, Bowden wants MLB to take a COLA approach and just organize the divisions by---what?

Well, he says "revenue." Then, in another quote, he mentions "big markets," which as we all know by now is not a synonymous term, necessarily. But before all that the writer interprets Bowden as intending "big spenders," which is particularly ill-defined. For instance, Florida would have been in the "big spenders" division in '97 and been realigned all the way to "cheapo" in '98, to be replaced by San Diego, who would have been replaced in '99 by Arizona, and in '00 St. Louis could have replaced Baltimore---at midseason, mind you---and so forth.

At any rate, baseball already has one of these divisions, Jim. It's called the AL Central.

Bowden's thoughts did get me thinking, though. I'll post an essay or something on this when I have the time, but I've long thought that the 3 + Wild Card system (which I'll call expanded-divisional)---while perhaps a success in a professional sports universe where the controlling mantra is otherwise "one-third is good; one-half is better"---has killed the concept of the "commendable season."

You know what I'm talking about, right? It's the type of season where a team plays well, plays hard, usually does so rather unexpectedly, and misses the playoffs by a handful of games. I became an intense baseball fan as a kid in the early-mid-80s, and I remember those times well. Finishing second in the division meant something; even finishing in the first division (a badge of honor in the pre-divisional days) was considered something of an accomplishment.

Maybe the best example I can think of is the 1989 Baltimore Orioles. The previous season's edition, of course, had been horrendous---historically bad to start the season and not a whole lot better thereafter. They came completely out of nowhere and hung with the Blue Jays, who had underachieved in the early going, before bowing to Toronto on the last weekend of the season.

That was a fun season. There were a lot of surprising heroes: Jeff Ballard (who?) won 18 games; Gregg Olson became the first established rookie closer (though maybe in hindsight that wasn't such a great development); Randy Milligan broke the lineup when Bob Horner tanked and became a proto-sabermetric first baseman; in a particularly memorable game, Mike Devereaux beat the Angels with a purported ninth inning homer (clearly foul) that sent Doug Rader into a rage. And so forth. I've even heard die-hard DC baseball fundamentalists who find the Orioles objectionable just on principle concede quietly that 1989 was an enjoyable season.

You know what would happen today? I'll venture two possibilities: [1] The Orioles would have lost out late not only in the divisional race but also for the wild card, and such a late choke would have left something of a sour taste in the fans' mouths; or [2] the divisional race would have been between thoroughly mediocre teams, and no one would care or remember to care about the pennant run within a year. See, e.g., Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 and Kansas City Royals way back in 2003.

It occurs to me that Selig pushed for the expanded-divisional format because the playoffs were too exclusive ("everything or nothing"). In a sense, though, it is now apparent that the playoffs really are everything.

In other news, a couple of Nats dropped by, and Ballwonk has photographic evidence that Bluegrass Brad Wilkerson is a hobbit, albeit an extraordinarily large one.

Chris (Capitol Punishment) picks up on the Dave Johnson-to-Nats-radio rumor and hopes (as we all do) that the Nats are not approaching the search process with Dayn Perry style lust.

John (Nationals Pastime), in an invaluable service to Nats fans, attended the SABR D.C. Chapter get-together and has posted an exhaustive, two-part (so far) account. Included in the first part is this humorous anecdote of Montreal baseball promotion:

The funniest moment was in the Q+A period, one guy told a
story about how the Expos would cart in local prisoners to make Olympic Stadium appear to be a more popular place. The prisoners wouldn't be unshackled, and they would, on cue, clang their shackles on the seat in front of them, since they couldn't clap. To that, [special assistant to Tony Taveres, Kevin] Uhlich said, "That's not in our marketing plan".

Also cracking a Monday morning smile is this practical joke idea from Natfanatics:

When the Marlins are in town, put a little speaker under 1st
base and continuously play "God Bless America" whenever the Marlins take the field. We'll see if Carlos D. ends up spending the whole inning in sitting in the ball-girl's chair.

Essay update: The "John Clayton's Masculinity" essay didn't get finished this weekend. Look for it some time this week.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 31

Cristian Guzman: Statdork dupe?

Continuing on with the series after a five-day absence . . .

Name: Cristian Guzman
Position: Shortstop
Age: 27 in March
Height/weight: 6-0, 205
Bats/throws: Both/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: 576 at-bats; .274/.309/.384 batting line; 10-15 in base stealing; second among nine regular American League shortstops in fielding percentage; pretty good with the advanced defensive metrics too (see below)
Garden variety scouting report: Slappin' swifty at the plate; uses whole field, little patience or power; steady fielder but has lost some agility after 2001 shoulder (?) injury.

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. So what's this about Guzman's defense?

It stinks. Next question.

Just kidding.

Anyway, his fielding percentage is solid, but there seems to be some issue with how many balls Guzman actually gets to. I'll readily admit that I know very little about the sabermetrically-inclined defensive metrics; I know so little that I don't even know what some of the acronyms stand for. So, when discussing Guzman's defense, I'll have to play the inquirer role a bit more strictly.

Chris (Capitol Punishment) analyzed Guzman's defense in general, and his defensive performance in 2004 specifically, at length back in
November. Chris thusly described the Guzman defensive puzzler:

Defensively, is where the problem comes in. Bowden claims he signed him because of his defensive value. But, up until this year, most of the defensive metrics have rated him at, or near, the bottom of the league. This year, however, he jumped up towards the top on most of them. Win Shares even had his as worthy of the Gold Glove.

What precisely did these defensive metrics say? I'm not sure I'm qualified to assess that, so I'll turn to the internet's resident Twins expert,
Aaron Gleeman. Summarizing his findings, we have Guzman (compared to his positional peers) as:

---greatly improved in Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average (from below average in 2002-03 to 17 runs above average in '04);
---the major league leader in Bill James' Fielder Win Shares;
---ninth in the AL in STATS Inc.'s Zone Rating (same as in '03);
---improving from abysmal in 2002-03 to below average in '04, according to Baseball Think Factory Chris Dial's Player Index (DPI);
---improving from just plain awful in 2000-03 to above water in '04, according to Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating.

Except for Zone Rating, which I understand is the "least advanced" of the metrics above, Guzman showed vast improvement in 2004; he was very good according to the first two metrics (which estimate defensive opportunities) and quite improved according to a great consensus of the others, which employ actual play-by-play data in one form or another.

That's like Jeff Hornacek going from a walk-on at Iowa State to an NBA all-star guard. What gives? Well, I see at least four possibilies:

1. Those metrics aren't worth a dog's feces steamin' on frosty grass;
2. Guzman had a fluke defensive season;
3. Guzman actually improved as a defensive player in '04;
4. Some changed circumstance made it easier (or less difficult) for Guzman to performance as a defensive player in '04.

I am as certain I am not qualified even to touch No. 1 as I am certain that Jim Bowden loves to look in the mirror. I suppose No. 2 is possible, but I don't have any way to determine it at the moment.

So that leaves Nos. 3 and 4, which might just be two sides of the same coin. And perhaps they go hand-in-hand with what I'll call the "FieldTurf Theory."

Let's go back to Chris' analysis:

What happened? I think it comes down to the turf. I think that this year is the first year that the Metrodome went to the field turf. They were one of the few teams holding out with the old concrete artificial turf. The turf game is dramatically different than the game on grass--with different positioning required. The field turf aims to replicate the grass game, pretty dramatically
changing how the game is played.This is all just conjecture, but I’d anticipate that Guzman’s reaction times--his read off the bat--aren’t exceptional and that balls were getting ripped through the infield before he could get a glove on them. With the slower speed of batted groundballs on the new turf, he could use his speed more effectively to make up for the lack of instincts, accounting for
the increased performance. His double play partner, Luis Rivas, whom the defensive metrics also hated, also say improved numbers across the board. Unless there’s something in the water in Minnesota, it’s gotta be something else. The field seems as likely as anything, to me.

Gleeman raises the same possibility and adds another possible element, a change in the composition and tendencies of the Minnesota pitching staff:

Now the numbers show that he made a complete turnaround in just one year, going from horrible to great in FRAA, average to great in Fielding Win Shares, and horrendous to above average in UZR. Only DPI shows him as still being below average. Now, it's certainly possible that those numbers are legit, but I have a hard time believing it's just a coincidence that Guzman's gigantic improvements came in the same season that the old, fast Metrodome turf was replaced with new,
slower turf, and the Twins went from having a fly ball pitching staff to a ground ball pitching staff.Perhaps in past years Guzman was unfairly penalized for having few opportunities (because of the fly ball pitching staff) and those opportunities being very difficult ones (because of the fast turf). Or perhaps now Guzman is being unfairly credited with having lots of opportunities (because
of the ground ball staff) and those opportunities being easy ones (because of the slow turf). Or maybe it's neither of those things, but either way something just doesn't seem right to me.

What do I think? I think I need an aspirin. But I'm going to soldier on and look at the "FieldTurf Theory" from another perspective, if you don't mind.

2. Whither the triples?

Guzman, you might have noticed, has displayed a Neon Deionian proclivity for hitting triples. It all started in 2000, when an otherwise weak-hitting Guzman smacked 20 three-baggers. He followed that performance with an especially potent (for a shortstop) .477 SLG in 2001, a seasonal line that included 14 triples. He "slumped" a bit in 2002, dropping down to six triples, then bounced back in 2003 with another 14 triples.

And then, last season, in the season in which Guzman purportedly displayed tremendously improved range (and, while recognizing much of range is instinct and positioning, presumably agility is a factor in the equation too), Guzman declined all the way down to four triples.

Well, I think we've reached a genuine, Jerry Seinfeld, "What is the deal . . . with THAT?" moment.

Could be a fluke, sure. Anything can happen in one baseball season---and if not "anything," then certainly "a lot of weird stuff."

Then again, my instinct is---in light of the change in the Baggie Dome's surface to mark the 2004 season---to look at home and road splits. I am at something of a disadvantage, because's splits stats only provide three-year totals. I have some old STATS player profile books dating from 1999-2001 lying around in a box somewhere, but I'm afraid that if I start trolling through my book boxes, I'll also find my old Evidence casebook, and I don't want that.

But I do have the 2002-04 data, and I suppose it is at least marginally, eh, probative:

2002: 6 triples (4 home, 2 road)
2003: 14 triples (11 home, 3 road)
2004: 4 triples (0 home, 4 road)

And why I'm at it, how about Twins home games in general?

2002: 44 total Metrodome triples (26 Twins, 18 opponents)
2003: 39 total Metrodome triples (25 Twins, 14 opponents)
2004: 20 total Metrodome triples (11 Twins, 9 opponents)

Well, that's interesting. I'm sure other factors could contribute (e.g., as Gleeman notes, greater groundball emphasis among Twinkie pitchers), but it's still interesting.

I'm not sure if it means anything, and even if I did, I don't think I've approached the subject with enough precision and vigor to be qualified to say so. Still, if I were to voice a "Grand FieldTurf Theory"---interconnecting every living Metrodome thing not unlike The Force---I'd say that slower turf slows down balls in the outfield just as it down in the infield, and it's not inconsistent to say that Guzman's triples could go way down and his range could go way up.

Whether that means that Guzman's a good defender who was previously hurt by his home park or is a substandard defender who was helped for a year by his home park, again, I cannot say.

3. Geez, way to take a position, buddy. Not that anyone outside of Bill James' beard cares about that stuff. What do you actually think of Guzman, as a Washington National?

A) Maicer Izturis---we should pause and mention for Tom Boswell's benefit that he was traded to Anaheim with Juan Rivera---is young, cheap and hit well at Triple-A. Not to say that means the guy would have been an all-star for us, or even established himself at shortstop. Then again, there is something to be said for being cheap and young enough to improve.
B) The good thing about a longer contract for Guzman is that it provides some cost certainty. The bad thing about a longer contract for Guzman is that, if he flops, it brings cost certainty.
C) Guzman is entering his "magic age-27 season," although it would be pretty hard for him to top 2001.
D) Age 27 peak issues aside, get ready for tons of outs from Guzman---on the offensive end, for sure. Defense is still an open question, of course.

Your Daily Boz

Yet another Boswell column; talks about Sosa trade, internet message boards

But not our DC baseball blog community:

As one fan moaned on an Orioles Internet site, "Sammy Sosa? I just want a starting pitcher. Is that so wrong?"

So we know Boswell reads baseball-related sites. But maybe not 1) Nationals ones, or 2) the ones that point out occasions when he speaks optimistically of guys who were traded by the Nationals months ago.

One more passage of note here:

Be happy. Be entertained. Sammy, at 36, drags a caravan of baseball baggage behind him. He's no in-his-prime Delgado, but he's vastly better than nothing. At least if you tell your friends you kept your Orioles tickets, they won't laugh in your face now.

He's joking right?

Look, Baltimore gets ripped a ton by DC baseball boosters and nascent Nats fans. I understand it; I've done it myself---or at least I've ripped Angelos and the lemmings who actually interpret his "negotiating" strategy as literal truth. And this is a Nats blog, so expect some boosterism here.

Then again, I'm an admirer of the sabermetric, analytical approach to baseball, and in its core definition is the word "objective." And objectively-speaking, Baltimore is an excellent baseball town. It has intelligent and loyal fans, and those fans come out to Camden Yards.

Let's put this in perspective: The last time the Orioles posted a winning record was 1997, back when Monica Lewinsky was merely a dutiful White House intern. Princess Diana was still alive. Rick Pitino was steppin' out on his new basketball project, the Boston Celtics. ESPN's website was something called "The SportsZone." Rob Neyer was a fantasy columnist. Baseball Prospectus was still in its infancy. Ryan Leaf was a hot young quarterback prospect, respected for both his arm and his poise at Wazzu. Hanson and the Spice Girls were big; swing music had to wait another summer to get big, as did Britney Spears and the wussy boy bands. Anyone operating a "Countdown to the Olsen twins' legality" website would have been arrested and prosecuted as a sicko. It was some time ago.

And yet the Orioles have never dipped below fifth in the AL (out of 14 teams) in
attendance. Their attendance per/game actually went up by 3,500 fans last season, probably because it was a more interesting team---flawed and still pretty bad, but interesting and pretty good at times. (I'll also acknowledge that league-wide attendance went up, too.) And their "new park boost" occurred well before this period.

Sure, Sosa's arrival will no doubt spark some interest; after all, he's a big name. But the Orioles don't just draw well when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town (though it is an aid, certainly, and it's hilarious to see Angelos fight the Nats' arrival while justifying contuining rivalries with teams that routinely top his team by 25-30 games in the standings). The notion that going to an Orioles game is some sort of joke among Balti-morons is just that: a joke.

Or, put it another way: I was dead set for DC baseball. And, obviously, I am a big fan of the Nationals; heck, I even started my own blog. Yet, the Orioles were one of my two favorite teams growing up (the other was the Phillies). Cal Ripken, Jr. was one of two players I idolized as a kid. (The other, Michael Jack Schmidt, will always be my favorite player.) I am still an Orioles fan. How on earth can I reconcile the two?

Because they're two different markets, of course---which is exactly what DC baseball supporters have been saying. The Orioles don't need DC. Baltimore fans will do their job, as they have during seven consecutive years of losing. Now, you do your job, Mr. Angelos.

And, for pete's sake, don't listen to Tom Boswell. He might convince you to sign a player who has already died.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hey, another blog!

Say hello to District of Baseball

Actually, like the Washington Nationals Blog, this one has been around quite a bit longer than my blog. But I just noticed it, via a link on the Nationals Pastime blog.

District of Baseball, the creation of "Jeff," dates back to New Year's Day it would appear, and I must say it looks really good. The interlocking "D/B" logo is very nice, and like Natfanatics, this blog has an exceedingly cool technical feature: this time, it is a links section in the right margin that recounts and links to the three most recent entries of each linked blog. Cool! (And thanks for including me!)

The content is exceptional, too. Jeff gives his take on articles from an impressive variety of sources with a concise paragraph or two. There are also interactive polls. I like it.

Oh, Lord in heaven, NO!

Nats interested in Dave Johnson as Nats play-by-play guy, DCRTV reports; Nats fans cringe

I don't like Dave Johnson; I don't know many people who do. Now, I'm sure he's a nice guy in real life, but between 1) his odd vocal pacing and 2) his complete apparent smugness, he strikes me as strictly a second-rate announcer. That's fine for Wizards basketball, because WTEM puts absolutely no effort into the product. But these are our Nats and this is MLB, which is still a radio-broadcast driven sport.

So, if this rumor turns into more of a rumor---well, I share the sentiment of poster NatsForMe from the discussion on the Ballpark Guys DC forum. What is that sentiment, you ask? See the title of this post.

Albert Spalding alert

19th Century sky-is-falling baseball magnate occupies the soul of yet another MLB owner; also, Sosa apparently going to O's

Okay, pop quiz, hot shot. One of these quotations is from early professional baseball owner Albert Spalding in 1881, and the other is from a few days ago by current Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy. Which one is McClatchy's?

A) ``What you don't want to see is some of these teams spend themselves into bankruptcy -- that's not good for any of the league, that becomes a liability on all of us. I'm not sure if some of these people are writing checks with money they necessarily have, and that's a negative thing."

B) "Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the

The correct answer---as if you couldn't tell merely based on the less articulate nature of today's rhetoric---is A). I would have also accepted C) What does it matter? They're the same quotation, and this is only the 17,652nd time a baseball owner has predicted utter doom.

Adub, whose substance-to-word ratio is among the most impressive among the Nats bloggers, nails McClatchy's position with one word: "whine." Also check out the Baseball Primer discussion on the article, which includes a reference to Baseball Prospectus columnist Joe Sheehan's ultimate MLB Labor Wars insult, economically illiterate *****. By the way, Mr. McClatchy: Next time, make sure your top position player prospect doesn't get turned into an injured pitcher. Just a thought, but it might help matters.

The (Baltimore) Orioles are, if you trust the sources, pretty darned close to landing Sammy Sosa, in a deal that would send second baseman/outfielder Jerry Hairston and a couple of prospects to Chicago.

I first learned of this story in the car radio on the way back from a friend's house late last night (which reminds me---I'm not a Will Ferrell fan per se, but I do recommend "Anchorman," if only for the mangling of the English language and the rather dull mind of the weatherman). Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune was on ESPN Radio, and he seemed to indicate it was a steal for the Orioles. This posture, I believe, is mandated by the Chicago Sports Writers Guild (Jay "Poopy Pants" Mariotti, Grand Poobah). Rogers had a couple of other things to say, including that it was originally Hairston + four prospects going to the Cubs, Dusty Baker refuses to manage a team with Sosa on it, and Sosa is not really a clubhouse cancer because "everyone knows he's a jerk" and as such does not have the gravitas necessary to divide a clubhouse.

The financial terms have not been ironed out, I believe; however, as I understand it, the Cubs will pick up $10 million of Sosa's $17 million salary for 2005, and Sosa has agreed to void his 2006 option---which is a Very Good Thing from the O's perspective, since his refusal to do so would result in a Spicy Meatball Contract (for one thing, $18 million in 2006). Ken Rosenthal, among others, is reporting generally the same thing. The trade is conditioned upon Sosa passing a physical and Emperor Selig approving it.

I think the trade is germane to a Nats blog, if for the simple reason that Sosa going to the O's means Sosa won't be going to the Nats. So I'll discuss it:

Perceived selfishness, corked-bat, and alleged steroid issues aside, Sosa is in the midst of a precipitous decline. Even omitting his beyond-this-galaxy 2001 season, Sosa has lost about 50 points of OBP and 120 points of SLG from his 1998-2002 other-worldly peak. He's steadily moving back toward his marginal-free-swinging-power-hitter status of 1993-97.

Essentially, this trade comes down to three things: 1) Was 2004 just a bad season for Sosa, and he's actually closer to his 2003 performance? 2) Was 2004 just a bad season for Jay Gibbons, and he's actually closer to his 2003 performance? 3) Who else do the Cubs get in the deal?

Obviously, it was a terrible year for Gibbons, who missed a lot of time with a hip flexor injury that became easily aggravated. He made it off the DL in August, looked completely lost for awhile, then salvaged something of the season in the last few weeks of the season. Make no mistake, even a bad 2004 Sosa is a better offensive player than a healthy 2002-03 Gibbons, but the difference isn't that great.

I'll admit a bias here: I am a huge fan of Gibbons. He's a wonderful story, a guy not blessed with tremendous athleticism who just consistently hit in the Blue Jays' system but was blocked anyway; saved by Syd Thrift in one of Thrift's few good moves with the O's, Gibbons is one of the best Rule V draft picks of recent memory. He's no all-star, and he has his weakness (his OBP is substandard, for one), but he's a decent complementary player for a decent price. (He's starting to make some money now, though, so his days as a bargain are on the wane.)

Nevertheless, $7 million for one year for Sosa (if those indeed are the terms and payout) is not bad. I'll conditionally agree with Adub that this is Albert Belle Redone, but only if you consider Belle's first season in Baltimore. (This is the distinguishing feature here---the O's commitment to Sosa apparently will stretch only one year.) The Orioles need a corner outfielder who can pound, and---as long as the decline is checked in 2005, and I suspect it might be---there you go.

Now, what else do the O's give up? Hairston's a decent little player, aside from being unusually injury-prone; but his trade value didn't help net Tim Hudson earlier and he is rather blocked out of a full-time job in Baltimore. He turned the corner a bit last year, getting on base well and demonstrating he can be useful in a variety of defensive contexts. I do wonder who the minor leaguers will be. Baltimore's system has pitching, and Beatagan the GM Combo has been willing to deal it for crud before; see the Jason Grimsley-for-Denny Bautista trade as an example. As for position players, aside from a couple of guys, there probably won't be muchvalue given there. [Late note: I heard on Fox Sports Radio that Jorge Julio indeed might be included in the deal. The O's are down on Julio, and he is erratic, but he's a capable enough short reliever.]

In sum, I don't see this as a clear win for the Orioles, as Rogers does. In fact, if the O's give away too much of their organizational depth, it strikes me as a little pointless. But this isn't a horrible trade for the Orioles, subject to the Orioles not being stuck with much of a commitment. Undergirding this entire analysis, however, is the fact that Sosa will not be going to Washington. Make no mistake, Jim Bowden doesn't need to do this trade.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What better way to say "I love you" than with the gift of a spatula . . . smacked right into Tom Boswell's backside?

Post columnist trashed by several of us; Nats sign some guy; other stuff

Yesterday, Wash. Post columnist Tom Boswell got our attention here in Natsland by (perhaps?) attempting unilaterally to undo a transaction made back in November; less charitably, he simply forgot that Juan Rivera is no longer a Nat---a curious lapse of no small degree, since the column mentioned the guy acquired for him, Jose Guillen, several times.

At any rate, Boz, not content with resting on infamous laurels, added yet another notch to his belt for the gaffe. He's got a ways to go before he matches Michael Phelps in hardware, but give Boz time.

Last night, Ryan (Distinguished Senators) chimed in on the blunder, and he added enough substance to the inevitable enmity to earn a mention. At first blush, Ryan levels a serious charge:

Boswell thinks Rivera is still a Nat, so he's "promising." If he'd
remembered the trade, Rivera would have been a "platoon" or "utility" player that Jim Bowden suckered the Angels into taking in exchange for proven RBI-driver-inner Jose Guillen.

In reality, though, Ryan captures the essence of yesterday's criticism; yes, he says what we're all thinking. And it's a little sad. As Chris (Capitol Punishment) points out, this is the once-great Tom Boswell here.

(For the record, the column has not been edited to reflect acknowledgement of the error, and today's column is about college basketball.)

In other news, the Nats have signed ex-Japanese Leaguer George Arias, as covered with admirable depth by Adub. He sums up Bowden's obsession with making tiny roster moves rather perfectly, too. It's a no-commitment minor league deal, and I suspect that this Arius, though dead for almost 1,700 years, has a roughly equivalent chance of making a big impact for the '05 Nats.

Also worth a read is The Nats Blog's take on Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci's attempt to equate walks in baseball with turnovers in football. And the season ticket impasse between John (Nationals Pastime) and the used car salesmen in the Nats' ticket office appears to have been settled. Kudos to John for not taking that treatment lying down.

Programming note: Big weekend in the works for the Nationals Inquirer blog. The "Nat of the Day" series will resume, and look forward to an essay on the masculinity of ESPN's John Clayton (and how it relates to "baseball nerds").

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Welcome to our world, built with you in mind

Here to say hello to new Nats blogs; all the cool kids are doing it

I've been meaning to give a plug to the very cool-looking Natsfanatics blog for a day or so, but I haven't been able to fit it in. So I'll do it now. Welcome! That scrolling news thingy rules the world. In fact, the whole blog has this professional look that is . . . oh, how do I put it? . . . the very opposite of mine. Simply put, that blog is Ty Cobb to my Ray Oyler. The content looks good, too.

While I'm on the subject, there is also the aptly-named Washington Nationals Blog to welcome. Well, maybe it's a bit odd for me to welcome in that blog, since I've been around for all of a week and those guys ("John" and "Chris," apparently) have been around a lot longer than that. The blog is back from the holidays, or perhaps covert ops, or whatever; it looks like a good fit for our humble little neighborhood.

And, just for the pride of Midlothian, VA, I'll give a second plug for Rich at Capitol Dugout.

It's a pleasure and an honor to share Nats fandom creativity with all of you!

You. Are. Terminated.

DC Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose faces prospect of recall, unsuspecting public faces possibility of lame Ah-nold jokes

Some folks in Ward 6 are a touch upset with her service to the constituency, it would appear. There's a 5,000 vote threshold for the required recall petition, and Chris at Capitol Punishment addresses the issue with an eye toward the concept of election nullification:

I don't know about her politics, but I think there's something
screwy with a system that forces a politician to have to deal with something like that with so few signatures needed. It certainly can't make for good politics.

Just to waste my lunch hour, I went back and checked the numbers for Ambrose's last election, which appears to have been in 2002. That year, just short of 17,000 Ward 6 voters cast ballots. Now, I have no idea how many registered Ward 6 voters there are in total, and I generally disfavor the concept of recall (or impeachment, for that matter; just vote the chucklehead out next time). At the same time, I doubt that, for instance, those California dudes bummed out by Gray Davis' non-excellence needed to collect signatures representing 30% of the figure of cast ballots in the previous election.

Anyway, given the substance of the criticism of Ambrose, I wonder if she knows the price of tea in China? ;-)

While my other open window is scanning Chris' blog, I'll take note of another entry: turns out the radio deal with Cheap Channel's WTEM isn't so mixed in concrete, after all. And to think I just derided that poor Nats beat writer for saying, "Tavares hopes to announce the radio deal soon."

This leads me to wonder---who is the more foolish: the fool (who has been rumoring it as a done deal), or the fool who follows him (me)?

Rhetorical question, of course . . .

Doughnuts, and the possibility of MORE doughnuts

Thursday morning crumbs for the masses . . .

"Say what?" award unequivocably goes to Tom Boswell, who was perhaps one-quarter lucid while composing today's column in the Wash. Post.

It's one of those "Nationals vs. Orioles offseason performance"-type columns, which are dubious to begin with, for the simple reason that many baseball writers---Boswell included, apparently---confuse "doing something" with "getting better." I think even Boswell himself recognizes the difference, as he contorts the Castilla, Guzman, and Loiaza signings several ways (good players; well, they're not as good as I said two paragraphs ago; aw, forget it---they're good signings, anyway). And Boswell might be right; maybe Bowden has done a good job with what he's been given. That's why they play the games, so guys like us can find out.

Another issue is his evaluation of the Orioles' offseason. I think losing out on Delgado hurts, because their offense isn't quite as good as it seems. (The Orioles of recent years, since about 1999 or so, have had better teams for batting average than for scoring actual runs. I know that "team offense" is still characterized in an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer fashion by just ranking teams by average, but it shouldn't be that confusing: the object is to score runs.) Other than that, though, I tend to think---either through discretion or through being used by Pavano et. al., or through a disingenuous "negative marketing" campaign to aid his "negotiations" with MLB over media rights, it doesn't matter---they've been rather wise not to invest big-time in this market. Baltimore could have used another starter like Perez or Clement, but it didn't happen, and they've got oodles of young pitching anyway. Like I said, just because you've "done something" doesn't make your decisions particularly intelligent. See, e.g., Arizona Diamondbucks.

Okay, that's all the preliminary stuff; here's the whopper. Boswell, after intimating (though not explicitly stating, I'll concede) the remarkable proposition that Castilla, Guzman, Guillen, and Loiaza are bargain picks, writes:

Yet Bowden has managed to put together a heart of the order --
Castilla, Guillen and Brad Wilkerson -- that hit 94 homers last year. Second baseman Jose Vidro is a perennial .300 hitter. Outfielders Juan Rivera (.307 in 391 at bats) and Terrmel Sledge (15 homers as a rookie) are promising.

Yo, Tom! You are the lead baseball columnist for the Washington Post! Your city is now a big-league city! This is your moment! This is what you've pined for! Your city, our city, the whole city, the whole nation . . . we're looking to you!


That is all.

A number of other Nats blogs also picked up on the "Around the Horn" outfield profile on yesterday, including Nationals Baseball, which points out that it's a bad sign the team's Pravda correspondent speaks ill of Endy Chavez's hacktistic nature. Adub finds humor in the 2003 Expos' "Twelve Disciples Outfield" (most of whom stunk). And Ryan correctly points to a blind spot in my take of Tony Siegle's OBP quote yesterday: actions speak louder than words. Good point, as well as the point that Batista's departure is not constructively Batista-for-Guillen, but Batista-for-Castilla---who is no OBP deity himself.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"I'll take 'Potpourri' for four hundred, Alex."

After a week of chronicling mostly minutiae, this eager blogger struggles for something, anything that brings late-January interest

Let's see . . .

Regarding Jose Guillen: "He's a really good kid. I trust him with my children," Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said of Guillen in November. I haven't had a chance to comment on this quote yet, but I have the opportunity now: Bowden clearly needs to have his parenting license suspended.

Assistant GM Tony Siegle on ex-Expos third baseman Tony
"I'd rather be digested for a thousand years than take a walk" Batista: "Last year, our main offense was [third baseman] Tony Batista, but he had flaws. His on-base percentage wasn't very good." Front office guys talking about OBP is a very good thing.

Brad Wilkerson, as told by Ladson, on batting leadoff or in an
RBI spot: Wilkerson said that for the Nationals to be successful in '05, they must acquire a leadoff hitter to allow Wilkerson to move down in the order. I started this blog far too late to mention it, but didn't Dave Roberts seem like a nice fit? Now we're stretching Endy Chavez out a bit much, if you ask me.

  • Finally, it's a busy night for me tonight; as a result, there probably won't be a "Nat of the day" for January 26. Adjust your hopes and dreams accordingly.

[Late Edit: Chris from Capitol Punishment has an entry on a fascinating NY Times column by Dan Okrent---whom many can blame in part for rotisserie baseball, if I remember correctly---on the proper and improper application of numbers.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 25

Wil Cordero, lefty-masher; or, Must. Corner. Market. On. Corderos. (Only one left.*)

Name: Wilfredo Cordero Nieva
Position: First base, left field, pinch hitter
Age: 33 (turns 34 in October)
Height/weight: 6-2, 190 (not likely; other sources have him at 232 lbs.)
Bats/throws: Right/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: Nothing, really---Cordero barely garnered enough at-bats to escape Voros' Law ; he did hit an outstanding .500/.556/1.125 in A-ball (of course, that was in all of eight at-bats . . .)
Garden variety scouting report: Fairly impatient hitter; moderate extra-base power; speed is a distant memory

The Inquirer wants to know:

Why is Cordero in Washington?

Presumably, Cordero's primary on-field existence is now to create a platoon advantage against lefthanded pitchers. Last year's totals don't tell you anything, of course, but he's probably as capable as most veterans confined to his type of role. For the period of 2002-04, for instance, he has hit .292/.372/.478 in 226 at-bats against lefties. If Cordero's got anything left in his tank, he will likely perform his job in an adequate manner.

Haven't we already been to this party?

Well, yes, in a way.

Cordero signed a one-year deal for $600,000. Two offseasons ago, he signed to these exact terms with the former Montreal Expos. The signing coincided with the point when Rob Neyer apparently had taken his fill of Expos-payroll-related woe-is-meism, and he came just short of attempting to audit the organization. Mike's Baseball Rants provided a nice summary of Neyer's article (and linked to it as well, if you've got a minute), picking up on Neyer's observation that “[s]imply put, for $600,000 you can have either one Wil Cordero, or two players just as good as Wil Cordero.”

Mike then added:

He cannot be said to be a credible starting player in the majors any longer. The Expos are in a bind financially. Given their situation and his salary, he may have to be their starting first baseman next

Would that be such a bad thing? I could see Cordero producing 15 HRs, 60-odd RBI, and .260-.270 average. However, he also will walk only about 30 times, ground into 20+ double plays, and steal nary a base (unlike his early days). We’re talking about a player that has a chance to be slightly better than average OPS-wise, something that should be a liability for a slow, defensively-poor first baseman.

Our present situation is clearly distinguishable; unless Terrmel Sledge, Brad Wilkerson, and/or Nick Johnson play pick-up basketball with Aaron Boone, it is not likely Cordero will be asked to be a starter.

Now, you could say that Cordero's role could be filled by a younger, cheaper guy. I was even critical of the signing for just this reason. But perhaps that's just some knee-jerk statheadism talking. Call it Chris Kahrl-itis, if you will: the need to obsess over a team's decision regarding its last two roster spots.

I guess J.J. Davis could accomplish the same thing, and Davis is certainly younger and almost as cheap as you can get. And I definitely would have loved to see Josh Phelps signed and get a shot at the role. But let's face; there's a team in Washington now, and that changes things a bit. Baseball is no longer solely a theoretical, analytical exercise for Nationals fans. There's still a lot of that, yes, but when it comes down to it . . . we're not going to be fans of this team in order to be steamed off by a net $300,000 loss over the platoon lefty-masher role; well, I'm not going to be.

Is this guy really a "clubhouse leader"?

I've no idea; the last time I had a press pass was in high school, so my chance of observing the Nats' clubhouse is roughly equivalent to my chance of spending a lovely evening with this lady.

To the extent we can determine whether Cordero will provide Veteran Presence(tm) or just play the role of Old Slug, I suppose much will depend on whether Cordero reports to spring training in shape. Beyond that, there seems to be a split of authority on how smoothly Cordero's 2003 Montreal tour under Frank Robinson went.

On the one hand, we have the story told in Nats beat writer Bill Ladson's article about Cordero upon his signing in December. This article has been picked up by so many media outlets that its presence is rather pervasive if you do a quick search for information about Cordero on the internet. The same lines and quotations about Cordero are repeated, including this quote from Robinson:

"Wil has been a professional hitter for a long time," said Robinson. "Not only does he play the game the right way, his on- and off-field presence provides an intangible that will be an asset to our ball club."

On the other hand, we have this mysterious passage from's profile of Cordero, which hasn't been updated in a year:

Cordero seemed to find his way into Frank Robinson's doghouse a number of times for perceived lackadaisical play, and he won't be back after the Expos didn't offer him salary arbitration.

Now, presumably this report has some basis in reality, and it's very possible that Robinsonrevised history and said some nice company-man things upon Cordero's return to the organization---well, its successor organization. Anyway, my general rule is to take direct quotes over unattributed information, and I didn't find else (albeitly, in rather superficial research) to indicate that Robinson found Cordero so problematic.

It's also possible that the profile dwells on Cordero's troubled past, which is fairly well chronicled (though the spring of 1998) in the second nugget of this article. Furthermore, it is not as if Cordero's troubles ceased completely; in fact, the profile might have been written about the time Cordero was arrested for DUI in December of 2003. (He was acquitted in August, though the profile would have needed a flux capacitor to know this.)

At any rate, this is a bit lengthy a discussion for a guy like me, who doesn't really even take much stock in "clubhouse leadership" or "team chemistry" per se. Still, if a major justification in signing the guy is that he's a great veteran presence, we---as Nats fans---should probably investigate, with whatever resources we can, whether the characterization holds a basis in reality. (Just don't obsess over it.)

* Did you realize that only three men named "Cordero" have ever played in MLB, and they are all active right now? It's true, I swear; look it up on Baseball Reference if you want.

How in the hell did you come up with mail fraud? Nats beat writer Bill Ladson, who probably does not look like Ed Harris, purports to answer fans' questions but doesn't say anything interesting

If Ladson isn't going to give us anything, he should at least adopt a Bill James, "I hold contempt for your very question" approach to 'net chatting.

Among the juicy tidbits we receive are that the Seligian trustees are really cheap (though that's good, since investing in Sammy Sosa in 2005 is like investing in pumpkins in November ; that Tavares says the team is "close" to a radio deal (even though SportsTalk 980/WTEM-AM already has its Nats link up); and that---be still my heart---the Vermont club will still be called the Expos.

We could just as well blame the rather banal questions presented to (or selected by) Ladson, I suppose. I don't mean to deride Ladson. I'm sure he's not given much by MLB itself or its subsidiary Go Pravda! network, which means that the AP and the two daily rags probably scoop him on everything but scintillating Winter League statistics.

Tuesday morning crud in the eye

A few items on my mind as we start the day.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 24

Terrmel Sledge: Going to build that power?

Name: Terrmel Sledge (no middle name?)
Position: Left field
Age: 28 in March
Height/weight: 6-0, 185
Bats/throws: Left/left
Relevant 2004 statistics: 398 at-bats; .269/.336/.462 batting line; hit .286 after 1-for-34 start; tied Jose Guillen for MLB lead in
most projectiles thrown; made final out ever at Big O.
Garden variety scouting report: "Untapped potential"; learning patience at the plate; tendency to try to pull the ball; decent speed, but doesn't steal; average arm; sometimes positions himself poorly and doesn't always hustle

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. Will he be our left fielder for the next ten years?

Of course not. Sledge will be 28 by Opening Day; he'll enter his decline phase well before that decade's out---if free agency hasn't already taken him away.

2. Right. Well, will he be our left fielder for the next five years?

Quite possibly, although it wouldn't surprise me to see him settle down as a two-thirds time fourth outfielder-type.

Sledge is one of those rare upper echelon (Grades B or A) prospects who doesn't really inspire much passion, either with tools-watchers or with statheads. He's got plenty for both (or all) sides of the issue, combining a decent average/speed combo with a decent walk rate during his minor league career. Put the two together, and you've got some consistently fine minor league on-base percentages.

In fact, I'll be sure to repeat this later---because it's just so ridiculous it deserves a second mention---but the Mariners traded Sledge away immediately after he put up a .458 OBP in 2000 . . . and they got Chris Widger in return! (And Sledge was only one of TWO guys to be traded for Widger!)

Anyway, Sledge has also consistently been a little old for his level, as he is now, in fact; he's on the verge of 28 and is just entering his second big league season---not just full season, that's counting any time he's been on an active MLB roster. In addition, prior to 2003, Sledge's power was slow to develop, leading to
this assessment by scouting savant and apparent cat-lover, John Sickels:

Failed steroid test last year hurt his reputation this spring, but he still hit .356 and won a job. Home run spike in Triple-A had as much to do with thin Pacific Coast League air as anything else. Our Bet: Don't expect big home run numbers, but should hit for average and knock doubles.

Ben Johnson Aspirin aside, it should be noted that apparently Edmonton is one of the
least offensively-exuberant Pacific Coast League parks.

Sledge, apparently (hopefully) clean by now, helped legitimize that power spike by hitting for decent power (.462 SLG; 16 HR, 20 2B, 6 3B in about 400 ABs). And now Sickels is
changing his tune a bit:

He hit .269 with a .336 OBP and .462 SLG in 133 games for the Expos last year. I think he can do better than that; indeed, he is on my list of players to watch very closely in '05. Sledge hit .286/.357/.515 on the road last year, but only .250/.314/.406 at home. Getting out of the Olympic Stadium dungeon should do him a lot of good. We don't know exactly how RFK Stadium will play, of course, but a major improvement in Sledge's numbers is certainly possible.

As Miss Birdie from The Rainmaker would say, "How nice."[Note: I'm not sure about the "dungeon" comment. Olympic Stadium played as a slight hitters' park last year but is traditionally pretty neutral.]

Ultimately, I think Sledge is better than a .270-hitter; I expect him to establish himself somewhere in the .285-range. It's the power that interests me. If you add the inevitable (I think) bump in batting average to, say, a 10-20 point spike in isolated power, and you get a pretty nifty corner outfielder---for a very nifty price, which is nice since Bowden is attracted to overpriced mediocrities like CBS execs are attracted to ugly stand-up comics.

But if the power doesn't come---if last year's nearly 200 points of isolated power was a fluke---then you've got a glorified Derrick May.

3. Why in the world would a team trade away Sledge for Chris Widger?

Beats me.

Not internationally known but known throughout the microphone

Or keyboard, as it were; DC baseball blogsmiths get a mention in the Wash. Post , next stop Aaron Gleeman status

Pretty cool. Written by Matt Bonesteel, who is a fellow GW alum, too, if I remember correctly.

Ballwonk seems flattered.

Hopefully this will cheer up John over at Nationals Pastime.

Ryan from Distinguished Senators gets what might be the money quote from the article, dubbing Brad Wilkerson's blog "the best thing to come out of Kentucky since bourbon."

Vanity Check

The Inquirer wants to know if he can improve the layout of his blog

Okay, enough third person references . . .

As loyal reader Yuda pointed out a few days ago, I changed my Blogger template. Then I changed it again. I like this one, for a couple of reasons that aren't really important enough to detail.

That said, I've been toying around with different stylistic and formatting conventions. I think I'm set on the title/subtitle approach. However, the font sizes have been bugging me. At home, for instance, "Large" type looks pretty good for the subheads; when I check during lunch at work, however, it looks like something from a dot matrix printer.

Today, I think I decided to go with "Small" as the main text and "Normal" for the subheads. It makes the body of the text a bit more readable---at least it does now at lunch.

Any suggestions?

And you want to be my latex salesman . . .

Scary freaks among the 15,000 applicants for 45 Nats front office jobs, the Post informs us.

Tell me this isn't a bit peculiar:

And earlier this month, 38-year-old Jeffrey Deceder walked into the Washington Nationals trailer in the parking lot at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, asked where he could locate the director of marketing and promotions, and, upon finding her, declared, "I'm going to be your mascot."

No picture of Mr. Deceder on the Post webpage, unfortunately.

Nationals Pastime and Capitol Punishment are also on this breaking story.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 23

Vinny Castilla: When a one-year deal just is not enough

Name: Vinicio Castilla Soria
Position: Third base
Age: 38 in July
Height/weight: 6-1, 205
Bats/throws: Right/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: 583 at-bats; .271/.332/.535 batting line; .218/.281/.493 road batting line; National League-leading 131 runs batted in;
Garden variety scouting report: Good fastball hitter; susceptible to breaking ball away; prone to slumps; hard to tell really how good a hitter he still is, given his success at Coors Field; extraordinarily slow; good hands; accurate arm; skilled at charging a ground ball.

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. Two years, $6.2 million for this guy? Okay, smartguy. You've got a question: "If not Castilla, then whom?"

There were 18 Major League free agent third basemen this offseason; a third of those guys remain unsigned to this date. One of the free agents was the Expos' Last Ever Third Sacker, Tony Batista, which is why the (contemporary) Nationals' Inaugural Third Sacker would be a new guy, probably fresh off the free agent market. As it turned out, the lucky man is Castilla, who was richly rewarded for hunkering down in his Happy Place last year and riffin' off the Coors Field advantage to the NL RBI crown.

That leaves 17 free agents; I'll try to categorize them in a somewhat organized manner:

---Out of our league: Adrian Beltre (LA to Seattle: 5 years, $64 million); Troy Glaus (Anaheim to Arizona: 4 years, $45 million); Corey Koskie (Minnesota to Toronto: 3 years, $17 million). These were some spicy me-ah-ta-balls-ah. Even Koskie's contract was too spicy for our Seligian trustees---plus he's from America Junior, so maybe there was a hometown discount factor at play. Have fun with your moolah, guys.

---Option picked up: Mike Lowell (Florida); Bill Mueller. Worth a mention, I guess.

---Club AARP (35+): Todd Zeile (39; NY Mets to TBA); Joe Randa (35; Kansas City to Cincinnati: 1 year, $2.15 million); Mike Mordecai (37; Florida to TBA); Mark McLemore (40; Oakland to TBA); Dave Hansen (36; San Diego to TBA); Shane Halter (35; Anaheim to Tampa Bay: minor league deal). If you're scoring at home, this is also Castilla's classification. Most of these guys, of course, aren't regular third baseman---or, in McLemore's case, not really even a third baseman at all.

---Utility swine: Andy Fox (Texas to TBA); Juan Castro (Cincinnati to Minnesota: 2 years, $2.05 million). If these guys ever got 500 ABs for the Nats, we might as well just jump off the Wilson Bride.

---Non-tendered, sucks to be you: Mark DeRosa (Atlanta to TBA); Eric Munson (Detroit to Minnesota; minor league deal). DeRosa convinced the naysayers that he, really truly, isn't that good. Munson is a third baseman in theory but still struck me as somewhat interesting. Of course, these guys were non-tendered long after we signed Castilla, so discussing a theoretical third baseman like Munson is in itself entirely theoretical. My head is starting to spin, in reality.

---Sayonora, dude: Tony Batista (Mon/Was to Somewhere in Japan: 2 years, $15 million!!!). Unjust enrichment. Cash those checks fast, Tony!

All right. To quote Al Pacino's adorably Smithfield Ham performance from Heat: "Whattya got? Whattya got?"

Well, some True Scotsmen on the Ballpark Guys DC baseball board have defended general managed Jim Bowden for the Castilla signing by asking, "Well, what else was out there?" To tell the truth, that's a compelling argument, as far as it goes.

Strike the "Out of our league" guys. Strike the "Option picked up guys," obviously. Strike most of "Club AARP." Strike the "Utility swine." Strike "Non-tendered, sucks to be you" as a literal impossibility. And strike Batista, for too many reasons---both procedural and substantive---to name.

I'm left with two alternatives to Castilla, one of whom---Munson---is a chronological impossibility. So I'm left with Joe Randa.

I would have preferred Randa to Castilla.

Randa is younger and does something that Castilla won't do, even if Castilla's power translates to a non-Coors environment: get on base at a decent clip. Randa has put up at least a .340 on-base percentage the last three years, five out of the past six, and in seven of his nine full years in the bigs. Castilla hasn't met that standard since 1998. To put this in context, Smashmouth was really popular in 1998.

One knock on so-called "statheads" is that they are obsessed with on-base percentage. Well, there's a reason for that---OBP correlates quite well with actual runs scored---but maybe it's a fair criticism. That said, your 2005 Washington Nationals are going to need guys who can get on base. Between Chavez, Guzman, Castilla, and the pitcher's spot---well, four spots in the order will really put the outs on the scoreboard. I would have taken Randa's OBP over Castilla's SLG, especially considering Castilla's slugging is sort of a variable factor.

Add in that Randa's deal is for one fewer year at one million less per year than Castilla's deal, and I would have taken Randa. [I'll add that I also would have taken a shot on Munson, but that would have required Bowden to be anything other than impulsive, which in itself is an impossibility.] Not that any practical free agent option was particularly appealing, mind you.

2. Okay. If not a free agent, then whom?

There were two in-house options: Jamey Carroll, our current utility infielder; and Brendan Harris, a B-grade prospect who was acquired from the Cubs in the O-Dog Cabrera trade.

Carroll, who will be 31 by Opening Day, was pretty darned good last year in part-time duty, putting up a .289/.378/.372 line. I should caution that he's never been that good before, certainly not on the big league level, and he hasn't shown that much since he was a 25 year-old in AA-ball. Making Jamey Carroll sort of akin to making Mark DeRosa your third baseman, I guess.

Harris is a 24 year-old 2B/3B type who was rated by Baseball America as the organization's No. 5 prospect and won the vaunted "Best Hitter for Average" honor in the organization by the same publication. Harris has been nothing special since joining our vagabond organization, both at AAA Edmonton and in a cup-o-joe with the big club, but he's been at least impressive everywhere else---including a pretty neat .311/.353/.511 half-season at AAA Iowa (keep in mind it is the Pacific Coast League, of course). Maybe he could use a full year at AAA, or maybe he'll be kept there for a half-season if Bowden or his successor decides to trade second baseman Jose Vidro.

The other option would be to pick up a minor league third baseman type of guy. The name of Russell Branyan comes to mind.

Okey-dokey. Here's my list of preferences with what Bowden could have done at third base:

1. Wait for the non-tender list and just go from there (and, maybe, subsequently sign Munson).
2. Give Carroll or Harris the job and just let it ride.
3. Sign Joe Randa to that one-year deal.
4. Acquire a minor league third baseman like Russ Branyan.
5. Sign Vinny Castilla.

See? Castilla makes the top five.

3. Well, yeah, but Castilla really is a Nat. What can we expect?

Just a guess: .260/.305/.440.

Not bad, I suppose, but probably not worth $3 million for a team on a budget. And then you consider we'll start over and do it again in 2006.

"A very hot ticket"

Nats sell out seats in their "two highest-priced categories to full-season ticket purchasers," the Times the Lesser reports.

Sales of 20- and 40-game plans begin on Feb. 4; single-game tickets available in March.

See you there. The Victorious Seven should get beer on the house, if you ask me.

Good ol' Rocky Top?

Tennessean developer/financier/former-indictee looks to buy the Nats, the Post reports.

From the article by Thomas Heath:

Franklin Haney Sr., 64, a Chattanooga developer, has put in an application to baseball to buy the club, according to sources familiar with the sale process. Haney and his son, Franklin Haney Jr., 45, will be competing against at least two other Washington-based groups who have placed a $100,000, partially refundable deposit as part of their applications to buy the team.

Haney the Senior has an interesting bio:

Haney Sr. is an attorney turned developer-financier and Democrat activist with an impressive political Rolodex, including close ties to former vice president Al Gore. Haney once worked in the Senate office of Al Gore Sr. Haney worked his way through the University of Tennessee as a Bible salesman, then earned a law degree from George Washington. He ran for Congress in 1966 and lost, then ran for governor of Tennessee in 1974 and lost again.

His interest in the Nats might seem more timely if he were an actual F.O.P., instead of a Friend of the Former Other Guy, but whatever. George Washington is a heck of a school, if I don't say so myself.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Mr. Haney was also indicted at one point . . .

In 1999, Haney was indicted on 42 charges alleging that he funneled contributions through company employees, friends and others to the 1992 and 1996 Clinton-Gore campaigns. Haney was acquitted on all counts.

. . . not convicted, though. Anyway, even if he actually acted as alleged, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin', right?

As for Haney the Junior, I've got nothing. No idea. Perhaps he belongs on an all-star team with Joe Buck, Ernie Johnson Jr., and the Rev. Robert Schuler's son, among others.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 22

Jose Guillen: Illin' or Villain?

Name: Jose Manuel Guillen
Position: Right field (probably)
Age: 29 in May
Height/weight: 5-10, 190
Bats/throws: Right/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: 148 games played (missed last eight due to team-imposed suspension); .294/.352/.497 batting line; 92/37 K/BB ratio; nine outfield assists (third among regular AL left fielders); now on his seventh team
Garden variety scouting report: Free-swinger with power to all fields; quick wrists; decent speed when in shape; cannon for an arm; poor man's Vlad Guerrero, except he's a hot-head with a sinister disposition and ass-like-qualities, prone to altercations but (hopefully) not Ron Artest-crazy.

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. Is Jose Guillen one of Those Guys?

You know the type of guy of whom I refer: a player who---either because he crosses the line from ultra-competitive over to near-sociopath, or else because he's a just-plain-jerk---is never happy, creates factions on the team, gets into it with management, etc. It's the great tradition of Dick Allen, Isaiah/J.R./Whatever Rider, Kyle Turley, Randy Moss, and about a hundred other guys.

This type of complex is sort of tolerable if the player is truly great; okay, it gets blown way out of proportion because the media latch onto the story (e.g., Randy Moss), but the player is still probably worth the fuss since he's a truly great player and incredibly hard to replace (e.g., Randy Moss).

Well, no one is saying that Jose Guillen is a truly great player, but a lot of people say he's a jerk. Just ask the Los Angeles Angeles de Anaheim---all of them, probably, including their manager.

If you follow the Nats, you likely know as much about Guillen's reputation as his record on the field. In fact, the two realms sometimes coalesce into one, like when he was lifted for a pinch-runner in a late season game in the heat of a pennant race and fired his helmet into the dugout---earning him a suspension for the rest of the season, including Anaheim's three-and-out versus the Sox of Destiny.

[Incidentally, Guillen expanded the record a bit concerning the incident in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, including mentioning but perhaps not clarifying the not-insignificant detail of what his target exactly was.

As best the DC bloggers, including myself, can tell, Guillen threw the helmet: a) at manager Mike Scioscia (though Guillen denies this); b) at the batboy (though, as Chris from Capitol Punishment asks, why would he admit this?); or c) at no one in particular, sort of like Hal MacRae chuckin' a telephone. Anyway, on some level it does not really matter; as Ryan from Distinguished Senators points out, the broader point is that the incident reinforces that Guillen is a jerk.]

Does all this matter, though? It could---though not necessarily because baseball teams compete in a Manners Competition (by the way, anyone else heard that radio commercial for the product called "Good Manners Made Easy" that uses the marketing angle that teaching little kids manners is fun? FUN?). It could matter, instead, because of something Guillen said to the Chronicle reporter:

Washington will be the seventh team Guillen has played for, and his reputation for poor behavior has grown as he's bounced around -- he is often described as troubled.'' In person, though, he is intelligent and charming, and he insists that he only gets upset when he isn't playing. "I'm not like what people are saying," he said. "If I'm producing and you sit me, though, we're going to have a little problem. It would be different if I was making a lot of mistakes, but I know what I'm doing. If you just let me do my stuff, I'll be fine. "

Now, as noted in my Nat-of-the-day yesterday on Endy Chavez---as well as every other DC baseball blogger, from what I can tell---the Nats have something of a logjam in the general outfield-first base sector of the roster and lineup composition department. Presumably, Guillen will be the everyday right fielder, and I am fine with that.

But what if he doesn't produce (but still thinks he is)? Or what if Termel Sledge continues to develop and Nick Johnson stays healthy and hits up to his capabilities? Uh oh. The last thing this team will need (or we, as the fans, will need) is a jerk stumbling along at .240/.300/.415 grousing about not soaking up at-bats on a pace of 600 for the season?

At the very least, I imagine the guy will carry a serious complex with him to Washington. On a certain level, I guess it is understandable. Here is a guy who was rushed up by Pittsburgh at an insanely early stage of his career; he was not even 21 yet when handed the starting right field job out of spring training, and he had never played at any level above A-ball.

His team indulged in "Next X is Y" talk, calling him a next-generation Roberto Clemente, mainly---I guess---because he was a young Latin outfielder with an extremely strong throwing arm. He was plunked into something of an RBI spot on a team in something of a pennant race (the '97 Pirates were slightly more mediocre than the '97 Astros). He basically repeated his performance the next season and, amazingly enough, established something of a 3,000 hit pace given a 20-year career, which was at least possible given his early start.

Then, poof. He's in Nashville. Then Durham. Then back to the majors (sort of) in Tampa. Then Durham. Then Tampa. Then Durham. Then Tampa. (He must have been stalking Bobby Smith.) Then he went to Colorado Springs. Then Louisville.

Then he made it back to the majors in Arizona, just in time to join the World Champions---the year after they won it. Then he was traded to Cincinnati (actually, come to think of it, that's where "Louisville" comes in).

And, after all of that, he's finally re-established himself as a big leaguer. And he still is, only it's now three stops later. If he's learned to appreciate hard work in the meantime (though apparently he reported overweight last spring), good; just the same, it would appear to this far outsider that he's adopted some resentment, too.

Alright, enough of that for now. Although it's a cliche, it is true that only time will tell.

2. Is Guillen a legitimate clean-up hitter?

According to Baseball Direct (which, as I understand it, is some of STATS Inc.'s stuff for free), the average National League clean-up hitter---or, more precisely, all the at-bats from the No. 4 hole combined, then average per team---had a batting line of .281/.373/.513. Guillen hit .294/.352/.497 last year in Anaheim, which played as a neutral park.

When I said that Guillen re-established himself as a big leaguer, I wasn't joking. That 2004 batting line is nothing compared to his 2003 batting line, which was .311/.359/.569, which in turn was nothing compared to his first half of 2003 in Cincinnati, with his Albert Belle batting line of .337/.385/.629.

You see where I'm going with this; setting aside an other-worldly half-season, his 119 OPS+ in 2004 is probably a pretty decent representation of his abilities. He could beat that figure, sure, and he could tank it some, too---but if you arranged 100 "Jose Guillen seasons," I'm betting that most of the time, he'd come within 5-10 percent of that figure.

He's a passable clean-up hitter, keeping in mind that RFK might well play to the pitcher's side of neutral.

3. Was Guillen worth Rivera and Izturis?

Guillen didn't come without a cost, of course. As I understand it, his 2004 salary is $3.5 million, which is a pretty fine bargain when one considers what the market wrought this offseason. The greater cost came in the departure of Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis in order to bring in Guillen. In essence, Guillen replaced Rivera, and---for better or worse---free agent Cristian Guzman replaced Izturis as the shortstop of the present and future.

Neither Rivera nor Izturis necessarily look like future all-stars, of course. On the other hand, both are pretty young and very cheap. Guillen may be a bargain, but the mind contemplates the cards Dandy Jim Bowden could have played had the Guillen and Guzman salaries been off the books---Odalis Perez, perhaps (which would have negated the "need" to bring in Stevie Loiaza, too). Suffice it to say, speaking just on financial merits, Guillen (and Guzman) better be worth it.

I should mention that neither Rivera nor Izturis are lame-oh Diamondbacks-quality prospects, either. Hell, Rivera hit .304/.364/.465 last year---in the major leagues. And he wasn't being babied in a lefty-mashing role, either. (In fact, he hit better against righties.) As for Izturis, he only beat the hell out of the Pacific Coast League last year, hitting .338/.428(!)/.423 for Edmonton, before being exposed rather starkly in a 107 at-bat cup o' coffee in Montreal following the O-Dog Cabrera trade.

Nothing otherwise in Izturis' minor league record suggests, even after league-and-park adjustments, that he would be anywhere near the kind of offensive force he was in AAA last year. I'm no prospect expert, but I don't foresee him establishing himself as anything greater than a 250-AB utility infielder. Ultimately, I believe, this trade comes down to Guillen vs. Rivera. If you take great stock in runs batted in, you probably think Guillen is a far superior player. That's fine; that's your right.

On the other hand, I see a dirt-cheap outfielder who has already proven he can hang in quite well against big league pitching and is now entering his "magical age-27 season." That's Rivera. Guillen better hit really, really well---especially considering his Explosion Probabilty Index might just be through the roof.

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