Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Anatomy of a train wreck (Pt. 2)

Completing our series looking at what Bowden could have accomplished had he committed to rebuilding on day 1 and executed it well, we pick up with the 05-06 off season, continuing with our strategy of rebuilding with a commitment to youth.

2006 transactions
--Do not acquire Alfonso Soriano for Armando Galarraga, Brad Wilkerson, and Terrmel Sledge. "What????!!!???" you say. I say, "We're rebuilding, people. No one-year rentals need apply, especially not when the asking price includes a pitching prospect." And it's just not smart for teams as cash-strapped as the '06 Nats to spend $10m to get to 72 wins. Again, the strategy should be to get as many young, cheap prospects as possible so that we can contend by 2008. The goal is NOT to just keep bouncing between 70 and 80 wins forever.

--Trade Chad Cordero: Chief is one of our better trading chips and should have been traded at his peak value coming off his 2005 all-star year. It's impossible to know what we would have gotten, but let's assume that we flip him for some prospects that have some value, not Reds retreads.

--Trade Wilkerson for prospects. I do like the idea of getting rid of Wilkerson and his $4m salary, but only for prospects. Really, we'd have been better off dealing him in the 2004-05 off season when he was coming off his career year in '04, but the more important point is that we shouldn't be squandering one of our best trading assets to acquire one year of Soriano. Granted, Soriano turned into two compensatory picks, but even if those picks (Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker) pan out, they are even now a couple years away, and that delay makes a difference.

--Do not allow Darrell Rasner to be claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees in order to make room for Matt LeCroy. (See the pattern here? Bowden is not prioritizing youth, pitching, or young pitching.)

--Do not trade Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Daryl Thompson, Brendan Harris, and Royce Clayton for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner. Another example of a big group of young guys leaving and a smaller group of older, lower-ceiling guys coming back. People loved this deal at the time, but the reality is that Kearns and Lopez have not panned out, Wagner's been hurt, and meantime Harris has been useful, and Bray and Thompson in particular are coming back to haunt us.

--DO! trade Livan Hernandez for Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. (I haven't been noting specifically the moves I wouldn't change, but it's worth flagging that this is really the first point at which Bowden finally stopped mortgaging the future to stay above 70 wins and started the process of rebuilding for a real contender.) Mike Stanton for Shairon Martis is another example of a rebuilding trade that works for me that JimBo did around this time.

2006 draft
With the 8th overall pick in the draft (remember, because we resisted the urge to spend $10m+ on Guzman, Castilla, Loiaza, Guillen, etc. to push the Nats to .500), the Washington Nationals select Tim Lincecum (instead of Chris Marrero at 16).

The 2006 season is played out without Soriano, Kearns, or Guillen in the OF, and their PT going to mostly to Juan Rivera, Church, Byrd, and scrubs. The IF mix without Lopez is Zimmerman, Brendan Harris, Royce Clayton, and Maicer Izturis to go along with Nick J. and Vidro. Bottom line, especially without Soriano and Cordero, this team is really, really terrible. PECOTA says Soriano and Cordero were worth about 13 wins combined over replacement level performance that year, so this team's gonna lose around 105 games. Good news: this is the last year we really suck.

2007 draft
Coming off the historically awful 2006 season, we have the top pick overall in the draft, and take David Price, the prized left-handed starter from Vanderbilt (instead of Ross Detwiler). Since we never traded for Soriano or Guillen, we have no compensatory picks, so no Josh Smoker or Michael Burgess. However, since we have the first pick in the 2nd round, we can still get Jordan Zimmermann.

The 2007 Nationals take some big steps forward. The IF mix is similar--Zimmerman, CBOY Dmitri Young, and Ronnie Belliard, plus Brendan Harris and Maicer Izturis getting most of Lopez's ABs. The OF is a punchless assortment a lot like what you remember, minus the punchless Austin Kearns. In the bullpen, Scott Downs starts pitching great. The rest of the pen is the same, and with Downs in place of the Ray King and Winston Abreu innings, that's damn good. We also have improvement is in the rotation, where Lincecum in mid-season joins the rag tag group of Chico, Redding, Hill, et. al. that we remember to give DC a true front-end for the first time since Walter Johnson.

--Do NOT waste money re-signing Dmitri ($10m/2), who was fine for a minor league contract but a waste at $5m/year.

--Do not block Flores with Estrada and LoDuca, freeing up another almost $6m.

Using the freed up ~$15m in salary from these guys, plus the $10.3m we aren't paying Cordero in '07-'08, the $17.3 we haven't paid Kearns and FLop in '07-'08, the $16m we didn't pay Guzman, and the $25.5m we spent on pointless veterans on bad teams--P. Wilson ($2m), Loiaza ($2.9m), Castilla ($3.1), Soriano ($10m)
, and Guillen ($7.5m)--that's $85m. Downs costs about $1m, but everyone else is under team control for chump change. We could put that towards, say, signing Aaron Rowand to the 5-year, $60m he got from SF. Or, there's plenty of room without going over the real life '08 payroll of $55m to get Torii Hunter instead at 5 years and $90m.

Amazing the options even a low-budget team has when it doesn't spend stupidly with no long-term plan, isn't it? But we're not quite ready to make a run, so we're going to save the big spending for one more year.

So, in our alternate reality, here's the 25-man at the gleaming new Nationals Park. It's younger, way, way, way cheaper, and better:

LF: Headley
RF: J. Rivera
3B: Zimmerman
SS: Maicer Izturis
2B: Belliard
1B: N. Johnson
C: Flores

Bench: Pena, Dukes, Nieves, Boone, B. Harris, with W. Harris, Langerhans, Orr if needed

Starting pitchers: start the year with Lincecum, Hill, Redding, Lannan, and A. Galarraga, with D. Rasner, Balester, or Daryl Thompson available as injuries hit, young guys struggle, or just to upgrade with younger, more talented guys.

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Scott Downs, S. Rivera, Ayala, Bray, and Bergmann or Colome (with me cheering irrationally for mullet-man Majewski to get the call-up every chance I get).

Other notable prospects in the system: David Price is the star on the horizon who projects to give us the best 1-2-3 in baseball. Teagarden is a promising C in case Flores doesn't pan out, or to trade if they both do. However, because of lost compensatory picks from free agents we didn't sign or higher picks we got, we don't have Detwiler, Willems, Marrero, Smoker, or Burgess. Assume that the prospects we
would have gotten for Cordero and Wilkerson would make up for a good chunk of this. Otherwise, Zimmermann, Balester, Maxwell, Smiley, and everyone else we're excited about is still there.

With Price and Lincecum ready to begin their reign of terror on the league, a bunch of other cheap, improving players in the pipeline, and with about $100m in savings stockpiled, we are ready to make a splash in FA and make a true run at the World Series.

Let's assume we have a bump of $5m or so from the $55m we're spending this year (really, in a big market we would go much higher, if Stan's telling the truth about his intentions, but for the argument let's just say).

Because we've been so disciplined about not bringing on older, expensive players, we have just a couple FAs of our own (Juan Rivera, Ronnie Belliard, Aaron Boone), this is plenty of money to make a couple big signings at the $10m-12m/year level. We let all our own FAs walk (or we could re-sign Rivera if the Milledge/Dukes
/Pena group isn't ready).

Our biggest need clearly is MI. Good news! That's the strength of the 09 class! We have enough money to get the cream of the crop--I think that's Furcal and O. Hudson (or O. Cabrera if you want to put him at 2B).

And with that, here's the 2009 team, ready to challenge for a WS:
Batting order:
Dukes or Rivera--9

SP: Lincecum, Price, Lannan, Hill, Galarraga (or Chico, Mock, Redding)
Bench: Pena, Teagarden, B. Harris, W. Harris, Izturis
Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Downs, Rivera, Ayala, Bray, and Bergmann, Majewski, or Colome

Zimmermann, Balester, Maxwell, or any of the prospects we got for Wilky or Cordero are ready they'd be in the mix here too, maybe as bullpen arms or as additional rotation options. Or we could trade them for someone like a C.C. Sabathia or Matt Holliday if needed. Lots of options.

Wow! I'm excited!

Through a well-executed commitment to rebuilding, starting on Bowden's first day on the job in November 2004, he could have built a very talented, young group by now that is competitive today and ready to make a real championship run next year. He would have needed to embrace a strategy of rebuilding and execute it well (especially in the draft), but there's no reason that a well run team, even given the constraints of salary and ownership couldn't have gotten it done.

From 2003 to 2005, the D'Backs hit on Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds, Micah Owings and Justin Upton. From 2002 to 2005, the Brewers hit on Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo. The Red Sox got Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia in the '03-'05 drafts. So is it crazy, pie-in-the-sky cherry-picking to say that we could have come away with Zimmerman, Lincecum, and Price in 3 consecutive drafts? Not really, especially if you're picking #1 overall once and in the top 5 a couple times.

But really Bowden never had a chance of turning the team around. He never committed to rebuilding, at least not till after Kasten came in, running the team like he was hell-bent on 75 wins and no more--ever. In fact, by wasting 2 years trading away youth and giving away draft picks for aging vets and short-term rentals, he basically guaranteed that we would prolong the suffering for 2-3 years more than was necessary.

Bowden's fatal mistake wasn't any particular move or non-move, it was the inability or unwillingness to accurately assess the state of the team in 2004 and to pursue the a long-term strategy to build a contender. That, not any particular move or non-move, is why we're still suffering as fans now. And that's why he should be fired.


jimbo's brain fart said...

Bowden's fatal mistake wasn't any particular move or non-move, it was the inability or unwillingness to accurately assess the state of the team in 2004 and to pursue the a long-term strategy to build a contender. That, not any particular move or non-move, is why we're still suffering as fans now. And that's why he should be fired.

You're delusional. Bowden's boss and therefore his marching orders changed halfway through the four-year period during which he's been GM. You can't just say that because he's failed to execute a cohesive strategy during that time he deserves to be fired. That would be like saying everyone in the Pentagon should be fired because they started a war under a Bush/Cheney administration and then failed to win it under a Dennis Kucinich administration.

You call this blog "Fire Jim Bowden", but what it really is is "Slam Jim Bowden". You're doing to Bowden what Kathy Griffin was doing to Jerry Seinfeld in this Seinfeld episode. Nothing more, nothing less. This is more about you than it is about Jim Bowden. Why don't you just admit here that you hate him, like you did on Baseball Think Factory, and be done with it?

Nationals Fan said...

Bowden had basically no boss at all under MLB. As a tribute to CP, I'll link to what Chris quoted JimBo saying when he came to DC (it's the second post in the archive titled "Bowden Speaks":

The key statement: "I get to make all the baseball decisions, within the budget."

He showed that was the case by immediately signing Vinny Castilla to an irretrievably stupid contract that no one would have signed off on, if there was anyone watching him at all.


The question is this: why would you put a guy in charge who has shown that left to his own devices he would do the exact OPPOSITE of what you want done?

It's more like this: David Petreas takes over in Iraq, and immediately hires Don Rumsfeld to run the day-to-day operation.

So I do hold Stan and the Lerners accountable for making a terrible decision hiring Bowden. But like Ron Wolf always said--the only thing worst than making a mistake is living with it.

Harper said...

What you are asking is too much - you want Bowden to have pulled off 4 perfect years of roster management.

4 years of great drafts. 4 years of deals and non-deals that work out for the Nats. 4 years of players developing as exactly they have in the past 4 years, with no injuries to speak of (a issue with the Nats to be sure). There's too much hindsight involved here.

Would Rasner, Thompson, Galarraga, Braun develop in the same manner as they have in the Nats farm system, expecially pre-Kasten?

Would the Giants trade Mock/Chico if they didn't get to draft Linceum?

Would there not be a surprise break-out year (Church, Rivera, Izturis, Harris) that might add a few wins to the Nats total?

Would Ankiel really have signed with anyone but the Cardinals?

It's not just good execution, it's "future Biff brought me this sports book" execution.

You're dead right that the team would be further along if 2005 was handled differently. Alot further along? Not sure - but somewhere further. The question is is how much you'd want to blame Bowden for that.

Nationals Fan said...

I don't think so. First, I'm not saying that because Bowden didn't do all these things right he should be fired. I'm saying that the position put forth by Bowden defenders that it would have been IMPOSSIBLE given his financial limitations to build a successful team is not accurate. Would it be easy? No, you'd have to have a smart strategy and you'd have to execute it well. A little good luck wouldn't hurt.

But I'm not cherry-picking moves at all, if by that you mean just going back and taking away the deals that worked out and leaving in the deals that didn't. I'm starting with the premise that you commit to youth and saying don't do moves that make you older/more expensive. Keep the picks you threw away for Guzman and Castilla. Let the team bottom out. Get the top pick in the draft.

Chris was busting my chops on the last post that I was saying not to do the Loiaza deal, even though we both agree that deal worked out. But it wouldn't be intellectually honest of me to say "commit to youth and don't spend on aging one-year rentals" and then cherry pick the one that seems to have worked net out in our favor.

Otherwise, I'm just consistently following a philosophy--no one-year rentals, never do a deal that involves young for old, cheap for expensive, etc. Maybe you like the Kearns deal. That one's clearly debatable. For the purpose of this exercise, I don't even consider it an option since it breaks from the philosophy I set out in the hypothetical.

On the draft, yeah, I'm assuming we draft well. I think if you impose a small budget AND you draft poorly, then yeah there's no chance of success.

But my scenario is not "Future Biff" (like assuming we can get Mike Piazza in the 62nd round). I'm assuming that when we bottom out with bad, bad teams in 05-06 and get three very high draft picks in a row (#5, #1, and #8) that those picks work out pretty good, like good-drafting teams like the Sox, Rays, DBacks and Brewers have done.

Plus, I didn't look *at all* beyond the 2nd round, so I'm assuming that it's impossible to improve on Bowden's performance beyond there. That's a huge concession that I don't actually believe, but in the interests of fairness there you go.

But fine, if that's too much for your taste, then let's assume we don't take Braun, we still take Zimmerman (Tulowitzki's better too, but nevermind).

With the way I tear apart the 06 squad with the intent of bottoming out to rebuild, we DEFINITELY get Price, and he was clearly the #1 pick (his arm could break tomorrow, so there's no guarantee, but he's ours).

The only other really good draft picks I factor in are Lincecum and Buchholz.

Let's say we completely waste the Lincecum pick (which would be a monumental screw up, since that's a #8 pick, up from 16, as a result of the decision to commit to youth right away, part of the benefit of not being an 81-win team in 2005), but let's say we waste it totally.

And with the Buchholz pick, instead of choosing the best possible guy, we take, oh, Owings. Not a total waste, but someone of value.

So now, I'm assuming that we commit to a strategy of rebuilding through the draft AND that we don't really execute it all that well. We're still better in way way way better shape than we are now.

2009 team, mediocre draft success version (still younger/cheaper/better than what we have now):

C: Flores
1B: Nick
2B: Izturis
SS: Furcal
3B: Zimm
LF: Dukes/Rivera
CF: use the Hudson money for Rowand, since now you don't have Ankiel
RF: Milledge

SPs: Owings, Price, Lannan, Hill, Galarraga

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Downs, Rivera, Ayala, Bray, and Bergmann, Majewski, or Colome

The reason he should be fired is because he RAN in the opposite direction--time and again going for old over young, more expensive over cheaper, and throwing away prospects and draft picks for one-year rentals and declining vets for teams going nowhere.

j said...

So this is what it's like to be a Royals fan. But without the '85 series.


Nationals Fan said...

J--Well, yes and no. We resemble the Royals in our interminable crappyness and our lack of any hope on the near-horizon.

But the Royals are a small market team with a far more legitimate gripe about payroll than the Lerners (although their ownership has been pocketing revenue sharing money for years, so even their payroll really should be higher).

We are not a small market team. We had some artificial spending constraints for the first 2 years, and owner-imposed constraints now.

My last 2 long posts were an attempt to answer the question I posed at the start--is it possible to build a winner with the budget bowden has had, or should we just give him a pass because of the salary the way so many Bowden defenders do.

That's not an implicit endorsement of the payroll as it is, it's just an effort to make an intellectually honest argument that the payroll isn't an excuse for JimBo.

The point Harper @ OMG makes, which I think is right to an extent, is that you can spend on FAs AND rebuild at the same time. And you can't rebuild and give away draft picks and prospects at the same time the way Bowden has. Plus, it's harder to score blue-chippers in the draft picking at 16 and 51 than it is picking at 5 and 50, so there is a rationale to bottoming out as part of the rebuilding process.

But all that said, if you can draft really well from the middle of the first round on, and you have an owner willing to spend $70-80m or more you could add pieces like Loiaza and to stay respectable while still building a WS team.

Simon Oliver Lockwood said...

Great post. Just one quibble. Ryan Braun has firmly demonstrated that he cannot play third base. Having him at 3b last year with Young at 1b would have resulted in an absolute horror show. Although, if there's no Kearns, does Nick break his leg? Ahh, he'll get hurt some other way.

Nationals Fan said...

@Simon--thanks. Yeah, you're probably right. It probably would have been more persuasive to just assume we took Zimmy with that pick. I was just having fun at that point, but taking Ryan Zimmerman with the fifth pick in 2005 is not our problem.