Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Doing the Right Thing, Even when it's Unpopular

Some of you may be aware that the other team I follow besides the Nationals is the Green Bay Packers. The whole Favre saga got me thinking about the Packers' front office and some similarities and differences with the Nationals'.

First, I'm really pretty impressed with the performance of Packers GM Ted Thompson, who, facing a breathless, Brett-worshipping fan base, has stood up for what he believes is best for the team.

Here’s the basic situation in a nutshell, in case you’ve been under a rock: After hinting at retirement pretty much since he was in high school, Brett finally did the deed. The Packers announced the Aaron Rodgers, the former first-round draft pick and three-year back-up, would be the new starter. Then, Favre changed his mind. Then he changed his mind again, and again, and again.

So why not just let Prince Hamlet of Kiln change his mind as many times as he wants? Let him change his mind five minutes before the coin toss on Opening Day. A lot of Packers fans would be happy to watch Brett play ten more years till he’s the worst quarterback in the league and then have him be a miserable head coach for another 20 and when he dies just bronze his body and stare at it all day on Sunday afternoons forever.

But Thompson knows his job isn’t to do the safe PR thing. His job is to win the Super Bowl as soon as possible and as many times as possible, and if he has to do some unpopular things, well, that’s why he makes the big bucks. He’s decided that the best thing for the Packers is to end the Favre drama and go with Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is a free agent after this season, and if the team were to renege on their commitment to him as the unchallenged starter in 2008, there’s no chance he would re-sign with Green Bay.

Don’t get me wrong. Thompson’s not perfect, and he may be screwing up here big time. If Rodgers plays like fellow Cal alum Kyle Boller and Favre comes back to play another year or two of Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, then he’ll look like a fool. And that certainly could happen.

But I admire that Thompson is making a courageous decision and doing it for the right reasons. If he brought back Favre, no one would ever criticize him, even if Rodgers left for a successful career elsewhere and the Packers spent the next 20 years looking for a replacement for Favre the way they spent 20 years trying to replace Bart Starr.

Which brings us to the Nationals. One of the things I most appreciate about Stan Kasten is this same willingness to take the heat in the short term to do what he believes is the right thing for the team long term. For instance, he could have re-signed Soriano to a long-term deal that would have been hugely celebrated by the fan base but likely become an albatross for the team in the long run.

And I agree with the core of The Plan, that to contend for a championship we need to build a core of young, improving players and then spending on big free agents when they put you over the top. Free agents are by definition older, declining players, and if we had signed a Hunter or Rowand now, chances are they would start to suck just as the young guys are coming to fruition, like Richie Sexson in Seattle. This kind of dumb spending hurts the team long term, but it's rarely unpopular. And with people screaming about what cheapskates they are, it'd be really easy to just "spend to show they are trying," even if it's the wrong thing to do long-term.

Bowden in particular needs this kind of adult supervision. One of his worst tendencies has always been to prioritize making a splash in the short term over having a plan long term. Rumors about trades of prospects for Matt Holliday make me worried that he's drifting back in that direction.

Again, don't get me wrong. Kasten and the Lerners have done some truly cheapskate things. Short-changing the city on rent, putting the parking garage above ground. I'm not saying they are above criticism by any stretch. But I do appreciate their willingness to do the right thing for the team, even when it's hard and unpopular.


Mike said...

I definitely agree with you on this one. Spending for the sake of spending is a really bad idea, and I have my doubts that it really does much directly for fan interest except in rare instances.

It's going to take time though for this way of building to really take hold, and I think we're in for quite a few more lean seasons.

Nationals Fan said...

Yep it's going to take some time. And it'll take even longer if we do dumb things like flip pitching prospects for Matt Holliday or start signing declining vets to long-term deals who will be sucking up payroll and playing badly in 2011-2012, when theoretically the group of young talented players we're stockpiling now gets ripe. And it'll never happen at all if we don't pony up to sign our draft picks and spend where it's smart. That's why I'll lay into the Lerners if they don't get Zimmy re-signed and/or stick to this absurd line about the "slot" system for draft picks.