Monday, June 23, 2008

Anatomy of a train wreck (Pt. 1)

Bowden's defenders almost always include some variation of: "The guy inherited a mess from Montreal, operated with a salary cap and a shoestring scouting budget and no owner for two years. What was he supposed to do?"

This post, the first in what will be a 2-part series, attempts to answer this question. Were we in fact doomed to what looks like 5-6 years of terrible baseball from the get-go, or was it possible that with excellent roster management, drafting, and a commitment to rebuilding that Bowden could have built a winning team by now?

My goal isn't to nitpick every possible move with 20/20 hindsight or blame him for bad luck. The point is to really honestly look back and figure out how exactly did we get here, and was there a fair, reasonable set of better decisions Bowden could have made that would have made a website like this unnecessary? I'm interested in any and all substantive feedback on how well I pull this off.

My biggest challenge in doing this is that I spent most of the last four years as an unrepentant homer (believe it or not), blaming Bud Selig for all our woes. So it took me quite a bit of time, going back through the contemporaneous coverage to look at what happened through non-Red-colored glasses.

For now, we'll start by looking at the overall strategy and then the moves Bowden made in 2005. To try to stay as much as possible tethered to fairness and reality, I won't look at the drafts beyond the first two rounds, assuming (a bit generously I think) that you can't really expect the GM to personally scout deeper than that, and we'll concede that with a shoe-string scouting budget it would have been pretty hard to find gems beyond the top of the draft. We'll also assume the payroll is the same or less.

The links I use are mainly to (which doesn't require a password) and (which does). I would just give you all my password, but I think if I did that I'd be violating the subscription agreement, and I don't want to lose my access. But if you love baseball and buy your own subscription I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Bowden's Strategy
When I started picking through the wreckage, it became pretty clear that the most important thing Bowden messed up, especially in his first two years here, is that he did not to embrace a full-on rebuilding strategy starting in November 2004.

Top to bottom, DC inherited a franchise that had been wrecked completely by four years of MLB ownership, threats of contraction, shoe-string salaries and scouting budgets, etc. This is a team that for four-plus years was run by and for the benefit of its 29 opponents. We had no talent at all in the minors. Consider these four words: top prospect Mike Hinckley.

The major league team was evacuated too, with the likes of Vlad Guerrero, Grady Sizemore, Orlando Cabrera, Brandon Phillips, Jason Bay and more either traded away or allowed to leave without compensation by a team that really believed (or at least acted like it really believed) that there was nothing to live for beyond 2003.

Instead of committing to rebuilding, Bowden ran the team like we were putting together the final pieces of a championship run, dealing young players and draft picks for aging, declining veteran players. Explaining the senseless Guzman and Castilla signings (more on those to come) he said, "These two guys have been to the postseason and that's important, especially for this franchise that has a lot of players that haven't been to the postseason."

Whether he really believed the Nationals were on the cusp of postseason contention, needing just a little veteran leadership and shoring up on the left side, or whether he was just drawing attention to himself (as the most virulent anti-Bowden people say), the consequences for Nationals fans are the same.

2005 transactions
Here, step by gory step, are the moves that we would have made (or, much more often, not made) had we followed the (smarter, in my view) strategy of rebuilding.
I'm listing the things we should (not) have done differently in chronological order. Let's see where this takes us.

--Don't sign Vinny Castilla. Boy, that one was easy, and no possible risk of cherry-picking, since pretty much everyone around baseball said it was heinously stupid at the time. What was JimBo thinking? Vinny hits .271, 35 HR, and an NL-leading 131 RBI (80 at home, 51 on the road) in 2004 at 37 years old in Denver. All of MLB says, "nice little coda to a career, but he'll never do that again." JimBo says, "two years! $6.2 million!" Didn't he learn anything when he took Dante Bichette out of Colorado? The killer here from the long-term perspective isn't even the money or Castilla's one year of bad play--it's the 2nd round draft pick we had to get the Rockies as compensation, which, since the draft order that year was based on the 67-win Expos team of 2004, was the 4th pick in the round, of the 52nd overall.

--Don't sign Cristian Guzman. Another easy one, and not the slightest hint of hindsight revisionism. Four years and $16.8 mil to a guy who was already in decline both offensively and defensively as a result of shoulder and knee problems and whose slap-hitting style would suffer off turf? No thanks! And this time we give up a third-round pick as compensation, the 84th overall. Castilla and Guzman not only never would have gotten these contracts anywhere else, if Bowden had just waited a bit, they probably would have been non-tendered by their respective clubs, and at least then we could have kept the picks. Nationals fans, resist the urge to cheer yourself up about this deal because of Guzman's feel-good first half in 2008. The money, the pick, the bad play... this deal is triple-ugh.

--Don't trade Maicer Izturis (23 years old) and Juan Rivera (25) for Jose Guillen (29). No, Jose wasn't the disaster Cristian Guzman was. But why trade a younger, cheaper guy under team control for 4 more years (Rivera) to get basically the same production back from an older, more expensive player who would be free agent in 2? And then throw in a deMI to boot?

--Don't release Scott Downs. Then, he was a lefty 5th starter/long man out of the bullpen guy--someone we could have used in second half of '05, but no great shakes. Since then, Toronto has reinvented him as perhaps the best LOOGY in baseball. This year, he's been even more than that, holding righties to a .209 BA, 41 points
better than he's doing vs. lefties, while posting a 1.31 ERA in 34.3 IP through Sunday. JimBo gave him his outright release to make room so we could overpay for the privilege of one year of old, bad, nice-guy juicer Gary Bennett (.221-.298-.271) to be Brian Schneider's caddy.

--Don't sign Esteban Loiaza for 1 year and $2.9 million. Clearly, in hindsight, this is one deal that worked out both short-term and the long term, so don't get me wrong, I'm not faulting for Bowden for doing it. Loiaza pitched really well in 2005, and turned
into a compensatory pick, which became Colten Willems. But I can't honestly argue that I'd have signed Loiaza following my strategy. So in fairness to Bowden, I'll give up Loiaza and Willems.

--Don't trade Tomo Ohka for Junior Spivey. This was just pointless. Junior Spivey? This was trading younger, better and pitching just because you don't want to play Jamey Carroll for a month while Vidro's hurt. And even then the only way it makes sense is if you are the only person in MLB who still thought Spivey's 2002 might happen again. Ohka faded, so it hasn't come back to haunt us like it could have, but if he was still eating innings just above league-average now the way he was then, it would really gall. Bad move regardless.

--Don't trade Zach Day for Preston Wilson. Pointless, take 2. Remember how Wilson was going to give us a power bat for the home stretch? Who really believed that? Why did we think we were better with Church on the bench? Maybe JimBo thought he was getting Mookie. Zach Day stunk, so once again, he doesn't haunt us like some others will, but regardless when you're rebuilding you don't do younger pitching for older hitting, even if you do believe (foolishly, to be kind) that Wilson's numbers would survive the move from Coors to RFK.

OK let's pause here and consider how much better off the Nationals would have been if we had just done NOTHING for this first off season. We've cleared $12 million in 2005 payroll (we paid $2m of Wilson's $12.5m(!) salary). We have 2 more high-round draft picks in the draft. We have younger, cheaper players under team control and ready to contribute in Izturis, Harris, and Rivera. We didn't throw away Scott Downs. And here's the kicker: the 2005 Nationals are basically as good as you remember. You get similar production for Guillen with Juan Rivera and more PT for Ryan Church. Losing Loaiza's 217 innings hurts, but the innings we threw away in Ohka and Downs would have been pretty similar. Your Guzman and Castilla-less IF can't be worse with Izturis, Carroll, and Brendan Harris picking up the slack. Bottom line, this team (which based on RS and RA really deserved to be 77-85 anyway) would have been a bit worse, maybe a 72-ish win team. Kind of a bummer we wouldn't have been worse, actually, because this means we only go from the 15th pick in the '06 draft to the 8th.

2005 draft
This draft is primarily remembered for bringing us Ryan Zimmerman, which is appropriate, since we had to wait 110 picks to make another pick because of the twin blunders of Castilla and Guzman. We also got Justin Maxwell and a 10th round pick named John Lannan.

Let's assume we draft well
. Not ridiculously well, like finding Mike Piazza in the 62nd round, but let's say we hit on our first round picks in the way good-drafting teams like the D'Backs, Rays, Red Sox, or Brewers have in recent years. Let's say we pick Chase Headley (Yunel Escobar, Kevin Slowey and Micah Owings were also drafted right around there too).

With the third-round pick we lost for Guzman, we could have taken someone like catcher Taylor Teagarden (other decent picks around there were RP Jensen Lewis, SP Josh Geer, or 1B Nick Weglarz--Lewis is the only one who's made the show so far).

This brings us to the end of Jim Bowden's disastrous first year as GM of the Washington Nationals. It's really remarkable if you scroll through all the moves Bowden made that first year, that almost without exception, we got older, more expensive, and less talented. We inherited a mess, but what assets we did have Bowden squandered a bunch of them, most unforgivably those high draft picks (we didn't even have to suffer through the 2004 season as Expos fans to get them!).

And now the sins of the father are being visited on the son. If you want to know why we're so bad now, why after 4 years of "patience" there's very little hope on the near horizon, look at the way Bowden in 2005 mortgaged our future to squeeze a handful of wins out of a bad team.

We'll continue this series shortly, picking up with the 2005-6 off -season.
  • NOTE: I made quite a few changes to this post and the next part based on the feedback I got from numerous people that I thought was valuable. If you are looking at this again and saw the first version, you might be thinking, "wait, what happened to..." I'm sure I'm breaking all sorts of blogger rules of etiquette and professionalism, but I'm not a professional, and I thought it was more important to make it a better read for any future visitors and to clarify my own thinking.


MrMadison said...

Just a few thoughts.

you may want to make it a bit clearer that Day for Wilson was a mid-season, trade deadline deal and not an Offseason one.

Ohka was having issues, or rather a specific issue with the Manager, so Bowden got rid of him. Understandable.

Now neither Day or Ohka were that good. I'll admit that.

But the combination of trading Day, Trading Ohka, and letting Sunny Kim go for absolutely nothing, and *not getting ANY pitching in return for any of them* is this:

while none of the three were great, they were the only SP depth that we had. as a result, we were forced to embarass ourselves by trotting out our relievers, 3 innings at a time every 4th and 5th day in the middle of a playoff race that we DID have a shot at winning, because we had no legitimate Starting Pitchers for those slots.

While I've criticized Bowden for some moves, and praised him for others, this is the ONE thing that he's done during his tenure in DC that I'll never forgive him for.

Nationals Fan said...

Yes, the Ohka and Day trades were both mid-season deals, motivated by 2 misguided assessments: 1. that we were close to contending at that point, and 2. that Spivey and Wilson would help us. There was a bad evaluation of Drese in there too, but really none of this mattered that much.

The point is that you are committed to rebuilding, you don't trade guys cheap for expensive, young for old, or anyone that's a short-term rental. Period. If you make enough deals like this, sooner or later you get bit. Ohka and Day didn't pan out, but it looks like Galarraga and Thompson might.

To be clear, I'm not saying Bowden should be fired because he traded Zach Day. That would be silly. It's a sustained misguided strategy, not just a bad move here or there.

Nationals Fan said...

Oh, and you do NOT trade a 29YO above league-average innings eater (Tomo Ohka) because of a personality conflict with the manager. You tell the manager to manage the situation. That's what managers are supposed to do--hence the name, "manager."

Anonymous said...

Don't sign Esteban Loiaza for 1 year and $2.9 million

Hmm. Don't pay under market value for an above average SP, then offer arb, let him walk to a horrible 3 yr. $21m deal (which has already been written off as a sunk cost) and pick up a 1st round pick. Sounds to me like a perfect rebuilding GM move. Would that there had been more.

Don't trade Maicer Izturis (23 years old) and Juan Rivera (25) for Jose Guillen (29).

Is there a player more injury prone than Nick J? Maybe Juan R. And is the light hitting Izturis any better than Ronnie Belliard? Certainly not with the stick.

And, OBTW, Guillen was turned into Michael Burgess . . . he of the LowA Home run derby championship last week. At 19. Would you trade Izturis and Rivera for Burgess right now. Answer: No.

Don't trade Zach Day for Preston Wilson. I wouldn't go saving my brass polish for Zach Day's HoF plaque. And rather than pointless, this is EXACTLY the type of transaction the complainers demand. Get us some help, some major league players they chant. Well, no doubt that Preston had far more major league credentials than Day. But, wait, that method didn't work out. Hmmmm.

No mention of the Byrd for Inning Endy Chavez deal? 134 to 91 RC since the trade. Who got the better of this deal?

Nationals Fan said...

As I said at the top (and don't get me wrong, I don't blame you for missing a few pieces of part 1 of my opus maximus, I'm just pointing it out), the idea was to walk through a hypothetical scenario to see if we'd be better off now if we had gone with a different (I say better) strategy and committed to youth earlier. I'm trying not to just cherry-pick the good deals from the bad, but instead to apply a different strategy overall and let the chips fall.

What does it tell you that none of these guys you mention is helping us now? The idea of rebuilding is to build a core of talented guys who will get better together to make a run. We've made just enough "good" deals to tread water around 70-75 wins.

Re: Guillen--you're right, he turned into a compensatory pick in Burgess, and I guess it's debatable whether you'd rather have Izturis and Rivera than him (I'd go with the two guys we know can at least start at the big league level, but I could see the other side).

But we could have had an even higher pick in the 05 draft if we hadn't done the Castilla signing, and a second pick right around there if we don't do Guzzy.

Re: Byrd--again, like I said, I only mentioned the things I'd do differently. So by not mentioning Byrd and Chavez, I'm saying that I wouldn't do that differently, not that this is a particularly consequential move either way. Most of those RCs you cite weren't created for the Nats, right?

jimbo's brain fart said...

So, I see you've taken to deleting comments you don't like, eh? Coward!

Don't you realize that the Lerners and Kasten knew all about my record as GM of the Nats under MLB when they renewed my contract? They knew everything you're writing now, yet they hired me anyway. They're not going to fire me now because of this stuff.

You'll need to come up with something better than this if you ever hope to get rid of me. Better yet, why not just get a life, dude, and give it up.

Nationals Fan said...

I suppose this is as good a time as any to lay out the ground rules for comments on this page.

We're here to chat about baseball, and specifically the Nationals and our esteemed GM, Jim Bowden, and maybe learn some things and maybe even meet some new friends. Strong opinions are ok, and it's ok to express them strongly, with wit, humor, sarcasm, biting satire, etc.

But we're not here to pick fights. If you disagree, cool. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say. If you want to fight with some stranger on the Internet, that's not cool.

So basically, we have one rule, borrowed from outstanding USS Mariner page: if you post something that would likely get you slugged if you said it in person, your post will get deleted.

Calling another poster a coward, or telling him/her to get a life would be good examples of what we don't want here.

So I'm leaving Mr. Fart's comment as an example of the kind of thing that won't survive on this page.

From here on out, comments like this will be deleted. If you feel I've been oversensitive in censoring you, just try again a little nicer, and I'm sure you'll be able to make your point effectively.


Chris Needham said...

Yes, the Ohka and Day trades were both mid-season deals, motivated by 2 misguided assessments: 1. that we were close to contending at that point,

We were only a few games out 'til mid-september. On the day of the September 17th Massacre, we were 3 back in the Wild Card.

Anonymous said...

whats not to like about this team?

The Nick Johnson and Zimmerman injuries can't be foreseen. Austin Kearns slump is freakish in nature too. Felipe Lopez sucks, but the lineup looks pretty solid for the next few seasons, i would think.

C Jesus Flores
1B Nick Johnson
2B Felipe Lopez
3B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Cristian Guzman
LF Austin Kearns
CF Lastings Milledge
RF Elijah Dukes

Anonymous said...

Hey anon., Guzman is a FA after this season and Kearns/Johnson the year after that.

Nationals Fan said...

@Chris--Thanks for visiting. I hope you'll check out part 2, which I'll post later today.

Re your post: Oh, believe me, I remember. I still curse Khalil Greene for driving in the final nail in the coffin that year. Fucking Spicoli jerk (name-calling on this blog is ok in his case).

But what was our Pythagorean record at that point? You don't REALLY believe that team was contending for the WS, do you? If Bowden read his own press clippings and convinced himself that the mirage that was the first half of 2005 was real, he should be fired for that alone. It was a wonderful mirage, but he's supposed to be a professional talent evaluator, not a fanboy getting carried away.

Even if our mid-season acquisitions had kept us out of last place (boy, Preston Wilson and Junior Spivey really juiced that offense!) would it have been worth mortgaging the future to get massacred in the first round?

Chris Needham said...

Who cares about the pythagorean record on September 17? With 2 weeks left in the season, they were 3 games out of the playoffs.

What did you want him to do? Dump everything in September? Hey guys! I know we're only 3 out, but it's all a mirage!

There are good reasons to want Bowden fired. Nitpicking with wrong ones doesn't help your argument.

jimbo's brain fart said...

There are good reasons to want Bowden fired. Nitpicking with wrong ones doesn't help your argument.

That's the problem with this blog (and by extension with its creator). He's too busy spewing his venomous hatred of Jimbo to dig up and state the good reasons Bowden should be fired. He'll deny here that he hates Jim Bowden, but he categorically stated that he does hate him the other day on Baseball Think Factory. He claims he wants an honest debate in this blog, but when I point out here that everything he's posted so far is irrelevant because it was all known prior to Bowden being hired by Lerner/Kasten and thus they're not going to fire him because of that, he doesn't address that but instead gets upset that I suggested he might want to get a life - you know, instead of wasting his time doing what he's doing here because he's certainly not making a good case for firing Bowden.

Steven, dig up the smoking gun. Figure out and explain to us the real reasons Bowden should be fired. They're out there, as Chris points out. Maybe he'll even offer to help you enumerate them - I hear he has time on his hands lately. But quit wasting bandwidth spewing this same tired wrong-headed argument at us day after day. It makes me long to be watching a Mike Bacsik start or a Nook Logan baserunning adventure, and we don't want that do we?

MrMadison said...

I find it telling that the majority of the negative responses to this blog(with the exception of maybe 1 or 2 that I've seen), are attacking the Author instead of attacking the notion.

seems like people are not willing to argue that Bowden is the right man to GM this team, but rather they just have a personal issue with the Blog Author.

Just an outside observation.

Nationals Fan said...


My goal with this post is to NOT just nitpick bad moves. If I just went back and cherry-picked out the deals that didn't work out, that would be not very illuminating.

I'm trying think through where would we be now if we had adopted a strategy of committing to youth starting in November 2004.

If you start from that premise, then we never would have signed Loaiza, traded for Guillen, signed Guzzy or Castilla. Loaiza worked out, but I can't just leave that in because there's no way you do that with the premise I'm laying out.

Obviously, it's impossible to know whether we'd still have won 10 in a row and challenged for the WC with Rivera playing for Guillen and Brendan Harris for Vinny Castilla and SCott Downs for Loiaza.

But if we were still in the hunt without those dumb signings (that you didn't like at the time either), then on you don't do a firesale, but you still don't send away young, talented players for old, bad, declining 2-month rentals. You let the kids play but don't do anything that undermines your long-term strategy, because you know that really your team is still in rebuilding mode, despite the fact that we won some completely unsustaintable number of 1-run games in June 2005.

Nationals Fan said...

Mr. Madison--I agree. I'm really interested in chatting with people who support Bowden, but I do wish they'd talk more about substance and less ad hominem and name-calling. But this is a sports blog, not the U.S. Senate, so we're going to get some knuckleheads.

Chris Needham said...

Look at the Loaiza signing, for example.

How is that a bad signing in hindsight? What did it cost the team? Nothing. A few million bucks. What did they get out of it? A great season from a pitcher, and some extra draft picks.

That's the kind of thing this team should've been doing MORE often.

Chris Needham said...

But if we were still in the hunt without those dumb signings (that you didn't like at the time either), then on you don't do a firesale, but you still don't send away young, talented players for old, bad, declining 2-month rentals.

What young talented players did the team send away in the middle of the pennant race. Zach Day is not an acceptable answer.

Chris Needham said...

The problem with your premise (and sorry to comment in piecemeal) is that there WERE NO KIDS who could've been promoted.

Bowdne's mistakes were giving up draft picks for Castilla and Guzman. But other than trading away Izturis, he didn't really dump any kids or anything of true value.

Nationals Fan said...

My premise is only a problem if you believe 2005 was about taking a shot at the WS. I think 2005 should have been about rebuilding, exactly because of what you say, the team was a talentless desert.

Though I would put Juan Rivera on the list of kids he gave away too.

The draft picks for Castilla and Guzman were big, senseless mistakes. If you assume Bowden drafted well (huge assumption, but just if), that pick turns into Clay Buchholz or Yunel Escobar or Micah Owings or Chase Headley.

And it cost money--remember, this was a cash-strapped--you can't blame the low payroll and ALSO ignore the dumb money he's been spending.

Re: Loiaza--see my last comment. Again, I'm trying to be fair and honest, what could we have done embracing youth. I can't honestly say, "embrace youth! Except the old guys who in hindsight worked out..." That would be dumb cherry-picking, and I'm trying not to be dumb.

Re: the guys we sent away in the playoff chase. Zach Day and Tomo Ohka didn't bite us in the butt. But Galarraga did. When you're rebuilding you stockpile young talent, cuz it's hard to be sure who's going to be Armando Galarraga and who's going to be Zach Day. But that's why I said Spivey and Wilson turned out to be just "pointless," as opposed to "disastrous," like Guzzy and Vinny.

Chris Needham said...

Though I would put Juan Rivera on the list of kids he gave away too.
Got back an equal player in Guillen, who netted us Burgess. Probably a win for Bowden.

If you assume Bowden drafted well (huge assumption, but just if), that pick turns into Clay Buchholz or Yunel Escobar or Micah Owings or Chase Headley.
You can't play that draft pick game. You don't have Biff's sports almanac.

And it cost money--remember, this was a cash-strapped--you can't blame the low payroll and ALSO ignore the dumb money he's been spending.
You'd have been happier had the money been spent on MLB? The payroll wasn't a problem. And they had enough money to begin expanding the scouting operation. There weren't toooo many other places they could've spent it that would've made a difference to the franchise's fates.

Re: Loiaza--see my last comment. Again, I'm trying to be fair and honest, what could we have done embracing youth.

There was no youth to embrace. If you can't recognize that Loaiza's signing was a NET PLUS for the team, then there's not much help...

Re: the guys we sent away in the playoff chase. Zach Day and Tomo Ohka didn't bite us in the butt. But Galarraga did. When you're rebuilding you stockpile young talent, cuz it's hard to be sure who's going to be Armando Galarraga and who's going to be Zach Day
You're mixing timelines and arguments, weakening them.

Zach Day and young talent don't belong in the same sentence together unless it's 1999.

Nationals Fan said...

I don't know how to write the HTML to italicize like you do. Hopefully this isn't unreadable.

Re: Guillen--how is it a win to get the same player for 7 million more? And give away a useful Maicer Izturis as well? Re: Burgess. We'll see. If we didn't give away

Re: "You can't play that draft pick game. You don't have Biff's sports almanac." Well, to be a success, you have to have a good strategy AND execute it well. If the strategy is to build through the draft, AND you assume you miss on the good ones, what's the point? I'm not saying "you missed Clay Buchholz! You're fired!" I'm saying "you had a miserable strategy that at best makes us an old, expensive 72-win team forever! You're fired!"

"You'd have been happier had the money been spent on MLB?" I'd have been happier if they'd put that money into T-bonds for a Rafael Furcal trust fund to take a REAL run after you build with youth. I'm with Stan here--you spend when it puts you over the top. You don't spend to get to 72 wins. If you do, you end up with a team full of declining bad too-expensive players like we have now and you don't have payroll to go after good players when it matters. (You'll say, "who are you, Lerners' bankers? They're just CHEEEP there's plenty of money!" and I wouldn't disagree, but we're evaluating Bowden within the constraints he has.


"If you can't recognize that Loaiza's signing was a NET PLUS for the team, then there's not much help...

I do recognize it was a net plus. But it would be cherry-picking of me to say the strategy is to not spend on FAs and then make an exception for the guys who really worked out in hindsight. I just think it's more illuminating to think about it that way.

"Zach Day and young talent don't belong in the same sentence together unless it's 1999."

People said the same thing about Daryl Thompson and Armando Galarraga. But fine. I'd keep the arm and the $2m, and you can have Mookie. But whatever. Hardly consequential either way.

Chris Needham said...

""You'd have been happier had the money been spent on MLB?" I'd have been happier if they'd put that money into T-bonds for a Rafael Furcal trust fund to take a REAL run after you build with youth."

Fine. But the Lerners sure as hell weren't going to do that.

Meanwhile, your playing of the completely non-existent kids would've netted us some really shitty baseball, but more importantly, millions more in the pockets of Uncle Ted and Bud Selig.

Hurray for not spending money!

Nationals Fan said...

"your playing of the completely non-existent kids would've netted us some really shitty baseball."

Precisely, you go with the kids you have in the short term (B. Harris, Izturis, Rivera, Downs). You lose a lot. You draft high and (hopefully) draft well. You build a core of talented players who get good at the same time. You make a run. You lose some guys to FA or they get old. Start the process again. This is the Twins, A's, Indians, Tigers, Rays...

Alternatively, you never commit to rebuilding. You spend on big flashy names. But without a core of cheaper, younger, talented players to compliment them, there's not enough money or FAs to make you good. So your dumb money just gets you a lot of 70-80 win teams. This is the Orioles, the Mariners, the Nationals...

The choice is... be REALLY bad for a year or 2, but then be good for a sustained period. OR just be bad forever.

What my little exercise shows is that if Bowden had refrained from spending just for the sake of spending, and instead went with youth and THEN spent money to put us over the top, then we could have had a team to challenge for the WS by next season without spending a dime more than we are now.

Small budget teams CAN win (and do). They just have to draft well and not spend stupid money on flashy names for teams going nowhere. Which is what Bowden did.

Nationals Fan said...


One place we're missing each other is that the whole point of my post here is to examine the question of whether it's valid to excuse Bowden's failure to build a winner on the payroll.

You, I think, are trying to make a case for more spending by the Lerners, and you are taking my hypothetical as an endorsement of the 55m salary we have now.

It's not. I'm just trying to make an intellectually honest argument that the payroll is not an excuse, that even within the constraints Bowden had, that he could have done much more. It would hardly be fair of me to just say, "The payroll isn't an excuse! Bowden just should have spent more!"

There's nothing inconsistent with this point and also saying the Lerners are cheeeep.

Steve Shoup said...

Umm i'm not sure what draft source you used for the 2005 hypothetical draft, but Bucholtz was gone by the time the Nats would have picked in the second round as he was picked in the Supplemental First round, the Nats would not have had the 32nd pick it was the 52 overall pick.

Also by saying you'd take Braun over Zimmerman is the worst case of hindsight 20/20 i think i've ever seen. At the time of the draft Zimmerman was considered a consenus top 5 talent in the draft while Braun was thought of as more of a top 10. There were many more questions about Braun and not just his Defense whereas everyone knew Zimmerman would always be able to stay at a more premium position.

"One scout called him the best defender he had ever seen--at any position--and said the only question about Zimmerman was how many Gold Gloves he would win. His makeup also gets high marks; he returned from his strong summer playing with the intensity of a walk-on. "

"Braun has a hitch in his swing and a high, unconventional finish, but his hands are quick enough to make it work, and he’s athletic enough to repeat his stroke and drive pitches to all parts of the field. His future position will be the main source of concern for pro teams. He came to college as a shortstop and now plays third, but he has struggled with errors at both spots. Some scouts doubt his infield actions and footwork and say he'll have to move to an outfield corner, where his plus arm and speed could allow him to be an above-average defender in time. "

And I doubt anyone was questioning the Zimmerman pick as he was in the 2006 ROY honors while Braun was stuck at Double-A

Nationals Fan said...

@Steve--Well of course it's hindsight. The question on the table is "was it possible" for Bowden to do better? There's a crowd of Bowden defenders who inist that because of the ownership situation and payroll that there's no way he could have done better. So I set out to look and see if that's true. My assumptions are that we commit to youth, and then draft really, really well.

Re: Buchholz--you know you're right. I was going through it a little too fast I guess and was looking at the Rockies' pick in the supplemental round and thinking that was the pick the nationals would have gotten. you're right--it's the 52nd pick that the Nats would have gotten, not the 31st. My mistake. Still, they could have gotten Headley, Escobar, or Owings there.

Steve Shoup said...

I think what your doing is def. an interesting exercise, it is nice to go look and critique deals, but the problem is you look at them from a complete 2008 prespective and not the prespective of the time of the trade. For instance Soriano trade and promotion of Zimm, this is a brand new Franchise and you need to make a statement to your fans so having someone with a name for fans to root for and get excited about in Soriano is not a bad thing, esp when we were stuck in RFK and there was no Red Porch to go to to lament a teams losing streak. At the very least we knew we'd get compensation picks for him if not a trade. Now no one knows exactly what was offered, but the no trade of Soriano is something that deserves study, there were reports of a Joe Saunders, Reggie Wilits and Erik Aybar deal but the Angels might have not offered that so who knows. Wilkerson is not that good and that has been highly proven since he left DC, Sledge is playing in Japan, so we gave up one thing of value that is easily replaceable (see Tim Redding). For two compensation picks and honestly millions of $ in tickets and merch.

Only one team has ever truely rebuilt, the Marlins after their 97 WS so they already had a fan base established, and were happy to live off the MLB Revenue Sharing money. The nats aren't gonna do that so while the signings of Castilla and Guz were questionable i think there are two sides to that story. And other moves like Loaiza and Guillen trade would prob be done by most GM's in baseball.

And my final point while it is fun to predict the record and future draft pick each year, that is unfair to Bowden b/c had the nats finished with a worse record then maybe they do draft Linecum or Price. But since he didn't have the option you can't fault him for it. and In no professional sports team do you play to lose. Last year we should have had the worst record based on talent and we didn't. So even using Win Shares and things like that you can't predict where we would have finished. What if Zach Day or Tomo Okha had won their last 10 starts down the stretch?? wouldn't that have prevented us from getting your hypotetical draft pick?? And also Matt Wieters could easily have made the case of being the #1 overall pick esp. for a team devoid of impact bats.

Nationals Fan said...

I hear you, and I totally acknowledge that we'd have been painful to watch in 06 if you follow my plan.

But here's where I'm coming from:

The Expos in 2004 were a barren talentless desert in the minors and had just a few aging assets in the big leagues. I think this was a team that desperately needed a full-on rebuilding effort. That's a judgment call Bowden failed to make, and to me it's the #1 reason we're so bad now and the best reason to fire him.

Then I'm not sure why you think rebuilding is so rare. I think if you look at Billy Beane's record in Oakland, what the O's are doing now, the Indians, D'Backs, Rays--most of the most successful franchises in baseball do this boom-and-bust cycle. Really only the very richest teams--Yankees, BoSox--have the financial clout to do both make a run every year and have a talent pipeline going.

Nationals Fan said...

Another thing about my perspective--take it or leave it--is that I just really couldn't care less about moves that get us from 70 wins to 75 wins but don't speed up the arrival of The First Great Nationals Team.

To me, Bowden's job is to win the World Series as soon as possible. Some people think his job is to avoid a historically bad team or to get stay above .500 as long as possible. I don't care if my Packers are 8-8 vs. 5-11, and same goes here. The goal is to win the World Series. Soriano, Guillen, Guzman, Castilla, Lopez, Kearns--these guys were never going to be part of that. We are/were too far away from that.