Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Latest from the S.O.B. (Self-appointed Ombudsman for Boz)

The latest from your S.O.B. (Self-appointed Ombudsman for Boz) takes a look at the Friday, September 12 "Ask Boswell" chat. Here's the S.O.B.-annotated transcript, minus all the Redskins questions and some other stuff that no one cares about:
Central Virginia: Mr. Boswell, I don't think averaging 29,500 in attendance is bad this year. Yeah, there's a brand new stadium, but the team has been equal parts awful (Strasburg Race) and boring (on offense), and realistically has been out of the playoff picture since the spring. Am I wrong?

Tom Boswell: I think you are wrong __by 10 percent.

The Nats are currently 18th in attendance. If they had drawn just 31,000 a game, they'd be 14th __top half, though barely, and nothing to brag about. If the team hadn't collapsed and been so hartd to enjoy, then normal summer attendance patterns should have pulled them up to an average of 32,000 for the season. The lowest acceptable level, in my oppinion.
S.O.B.: I'm nitpicking, since I know you're trying to give this nice commenter a shot of reality, but I think you're too soft. The benchmark shouldn't be whether we are in the top half of the league or not. The relevant comparison is to other new parks. Of the 17 new ballparks that have opened since Skydome in 1989, only the Great American Ballpark drew fewer at 29,077 (remind me, what did the '03 Reds have in common with the '08 Nationals?).

BTW--why don't you write a little more about the stadium? That's really where I think your focus should be, doncha think? ;-)

However, here's point of (pleasant) interest. What is the FairestBallpark in baseball? The one that is most perfectly balanced between pitchers and hitters? And what park is second?

First: Nationals Park with a "Park Factor" rating 1.023 where 1.000 is perfect balance.

Second: Camden Yards: 1.029.

Third: Toronto: .966.

Fourth: SF: 1.039.

Nice that Nats Park has one added advantage in appealing to fans. After 99-100 loses, every little bit helps.
S.O.B: Hey good job pulling out the snazzy PF stat. In fact, you must have been dying to use it, since it has nothing to do with the question.
New York: Remind me again how not signing Crow increased the chances of drafting then signing Strasburg? It's a common spin, but I find it bizarre, if not pathetic.

Tom Boswell: After further reporting, I don't buy it. And, as far as I can tell, it played no part in the failure to sign Aaron C.

Starburg is a Boras client.
S.O.B.: Who's Starburg? Hey, I appreciate the way you make these chats seem all spontaneous by leaving the typos in and all, but Starburg? OK, maybe it's a typo--you just transposed the R and the A and forgot the S. We'll give you the benefit of the doubt.
That alone reduces the nats interest in him. Same problem with Teixeira. Boras clients, the day they go with him, become "last dollar" guys. Teixeira left Atlanta, didn't get a deal done, where he and his wife had lots of college and family connections.

The Nats side on Crow, and even they cringe, I think, when they tell it __or, rather, when others in the industry say, "Well, this is what the Nationals seem to think"__is that the Hendricks brothers, after their nightmare with Clemens in the last year, have had to "reposition" their agency as more of a tough-guy Boras-style operation. (Which doesn't suit their personalities, as I knew them.)

The Nats say that the Jason C offer was $9-million until 16 MINUTES before the final deadline.
S.O.B.: Wait. Who's Jason C.? Boz, you really don't know the players' names, do you?
I've heard that in the last day. I read Bowden's 3,700-word interview with Chico (excellent) but I boil it down to this. The Nats, in those final minutes, offered $3.3-million. Maybe it was $3.5M. Who cares. It would have made Crow, taken No. 9, the highest paid player in the draft. The Hendricks dropped their offer to $4M. Then the deal didn't get done.
S.O.B.: Actually, $3.3 million would have made him the sixth highest paid player after Tim Beckham, Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, and Justin Smoak.
Bad black eye for both sides. The Nats (Bowden) may have gotten the other side annoyed by making contact with the father/family __ie., going outside channels. Maybe the Hendricks just haven't learned how to run a bluff, then still get a deal done. If the nats look somewhat bad, the agents look like absolute IDIOTS. Their kid has nowhere to go for a year and, by any account, he turned down a decent contract. The Nats would say generous.
S.O.B.: You're right, both sides look terrible. I'm not sure why you feel better thinking that our guys are dumb but their guys are dumberer, but ok. We'll see where things are at a year from now. If Crow is hurt, he'll be sorry. But if the Nationals are in last place and Crow gets $4.5 million or more, then he won't look so bad. Would you wait 10 months for an extra million? Buster Posey got $6.2 million at #5--if Crow can come close to that no one will be calling him an idiot.
Anyway, the Nats then made two last minute signings of other players that they previously didn't think would fit in their budget.

THEIR BUDGET? What budget __for building the farm system? They have a budget for that, TOO.

Ok, everybody has a budget for everything in every business.

But the Nats budget __it has now become clear__ is Too Damn Low. And they better figure it out. This is just one example. I'm sure I'll return to this.
S.O.B.: No argument there. With some teams spending over $10 million in bonuses, we spent half that. That better not be the budget. But who used the word budget? Bowden. No one with the ownership has backed up Bowden's decision to let Crow walk over $900k.
Fairfax, Va.: I think Bowden has run his course. The debacles that are Young, Kearns, Lopez and no return for Cordero makes me cringe to think he will be making free agent acquisitions with the limited amount ownership will allow. Would they promote from within, or is a Brian Cashman figure in the equations?

Tom Boswell: I'm always fascinated by the lynch mob outside Bowden's office. It's a common fate for all GM's of 100-loss teams, but what is his big mistake? Not little ones.
S.O.B.: I strongly reject the premise. The standard isn't to avoid colossal blunders--it's to build a winner. I have this handy statistic I like to use to calculate the net impact of all a general manager's decisions. It's called wins. Bowden hasn't had a winning season in seven seasons and hasn't seen the post-season in 12.

But since you asked about big mistakes, he 1) blew the Crow negotiations, 2) shot his mouth off about Chad Cordero and probably cost us the chance to even negotiate with one of the team's most popular and talented youngish major-leaguers, 3) signed Cristian Guzman for 4 years, $16m, and a draft pick, 4) signed Vinny Castilla for 2 years, $6m, and a draft pick, 5) released Scott Downs, 6) 'threw in' Armando Galarraga, 7) reaching back, he left Trevor Hoffman unprotected and lost him in the rule 5 draft, 8) fired Tony Perez as manager after 44 games, convincing the world that the Reds hate Latinos, not just blacks, 9) traded Paul O'Neill for Roberto Kelly, 10) Jason Simontacchi, symbolic of the endless parade of cast-off bums he's used to fill his rotation for the last decade-plus, 11) traded B.J. Ryan for a 12-start rental of Juan Guzman, and 12) is an ass.
He got Young for nothing.
S.O.B.: Wrong--he got Young in '07 for nothing. This year it cost him 2 years and $10 mil. Could have had Milton Bradley and Kyle Lohse for that.
He got Dukes for nothing.
S.O.B.: Wrong again. He gave up a pitching prospect in Glenn Gibson. Gibson may not pan out, but you never know what pitchers will pan out. The volume matters. Gibson is looking like the next Seung Song, but he could have been the next Armando Galarraga. Besides, aren't you the guy who just last week compared Dukes to John Rocker?
The Rauch trade, plus the other fast middle-infielders he picked up, are part of the reason the team has played 18-19 for the past six weeks.
S.O.B.: Now you're really stretching. First, the team is 20-32 since the Rauch deal--the same 100-loss pace they've been on all year. Second, Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez (0 career SBs combined) are not fast. Third, Bonifacio, who is fast, is hitting .246 / .298 / .338, and no one around baseball believes Bowden got full value for Rauch. And finally, yeah, Hernandez has put up some nice numbers, and as long as he can keep up that .367 BABIP, he'll continue to do so, meaning he won't.
Ayala is doing well in New York and Lopez is contributing in St. Louis -- for now.
Remember that Mock -- who's looking useful -- was part of the Livan trade. Would you like to reverse Schneider-Church for Milledge? I wouldn't. Who brought Guzman here, at a reasonable price, in '05? So far that's a poor-to-mediocre signing, but it led to re-signing him for the next two years at a fine price, which I think that was a total steal. I think Guzman hits .300-to-.315 over the next two years.
S.O.B.: We're supposed to do jumping jacks over Mock? I'll give you the Milledge deal, but we gave up real value there. Look at Church. And Guzman at reasonable price in 2005? Your strategy is to waste $16 million to get a chance to sign a guy for 2 more years at another $16 million? Nevermind that a .300 BA with no walks and little slugging isn't very good. Harper will have to explain that one again.
By next Friday, I'll try to work up a net-net view of the team Bowden inherited in '05 and the team -- plus farm system -- that now exists. Given that he has had no budget to compete for free agents above the Lo Duca level, I think you have to grade him on a curve.
S.O.B.: Remember, the Paul Lo Duca-level was also the Milton Bradley-level.
Winning in MLB comes down to the ability to evaluate and project players, not "may the highest payroll win."

Payroll matters, no doubt. Especially it matters most when it comes time to re-sign your own stars long-term. But in 15 years in Cincy and here, who's the best young player who Bowden lost to free agency? If payroll is such a problem for Bowden, where's his Manny Ramirez, his Johan Santana, his Jason Giambi or Miguel Tejada? I'll grade Billy Beane and Terry Ryan on a curve because of the players they've lost to payroll, but Bowden? Why?

Free agents are by definition older, declining players who no one thought was worth re-signing long-term. Which blockbuster free agent would you have wanted to sign? Andruw Jones? Eric Gagne? Carlos Silva? Barry Zito? Name names. Maybe Soriano? At least he's good, but would we be a contender now? And where would we be when we're saddled with him at $17 million a year at age 38? At what point in his career arc would we have made a run? Just willy-nilly spending to show you care won't make you a contender--it'll make you the D'Rays circa 2000, the Orioles circa 2005, or the Seattle Mariners of 2008.
Also, the Nats have now passed 1,000-player-games lost to injury in '08, yet may lose only eight to 10 more games than they did last year in what was considered an overachieving year. So lets see: They add nobody of consequence in the off-season, get nothing in 2008 from Cordero, Hill, Nick Johnson or Young, lose Zimmerman for 48 games, lose Dukes for more than half the year, trade the back end of their bullpen (Rauch and Ayala) by Aug. 1, to improve their middle infield ... yet find bullpen replacements in-house, including Hanrahan, Mock and maybe Hinckley, and then play better after Aug. 1!?
S.O.B.: As noted, they haven't played better since August 1. Raise your hand if you're shocked Hill, Johnson, Guzman, and Meat got hurt.
Oh yeah, fire this guy for sure -- he can't improvise at all! Bowden's life in Washington has been one continuous low-budget fire drill. Let's see what comes out of MLB's investigation into the Winter Ball problems. Nothing has come out yet. If there's no problem there, I don't see why people don't get (halfway) off Bowden's back.
S.O.B.: So there it is--the Boz standard: just as long as you don't commit a felony in the course of doing your job, you're ok.
Okay, that's this week. Next week I'll probably be in the mood to make the opposite case. That's the nice thing about chats -- they have the Plausible Deniability factor. "What can you expect? I was typing as fast as I could. You expect me to think, too?"
S.O.B.: Fair enough. When you come to your senses you can sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/fire-bowden.
But what would a chat be without Bowden? After all, you can't blame the manager. It's amazing that this team hasn't quit at all on Acta. They may play the last third of the season near .500 after there was every reason to pack it in -- including subtracting your closer at the trade deadline.
S.O.B.: No argument there.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Boz. If pitchers do these wild dances in celebration when they strike out the last batter to win the game, why can't a batter beat his chest in celebration when he gets a bases-loaded walk that drives in the winning run?

Tom Boswell: I kind of liked the walk-off walk chest beating. "What a great batting eye I have!" The problem is that Elijah still is thought of as a rookie, and even a vet hitter doing that might annoy a pitcher in that situation.

But you're right, that's minor. Dukes has gotten much better about fussing with umps. But he hasn't completely solved the problem. They'll figure out by next year that he has a good eye and, if he hasn't gotten himself a bad rep with them, he'll start seeing a "normal 16-inch plate" when he bats, not the rookie's 18-to-20-inch plate.
S.O.B.: So then why did you write this: "But when he beats his chest after a walk-off walk, infuriating the pitcher, or glares at the home plate ump as his walk-off home run is still leaving the park, the Nationals' room grows darker."
Alexandria, Va.: I think your column today on Dukes had too much of a hand-wringing quality to it. So Dukes showed some emotion -- it was certainly nothing that would be noticed outside followers of the Nats. The kind of jawing between Dukes and the pitcher happens daily, and blowing kisses to the fans while being taunted ... if this is his worst behavior, I'll take it.

Tom Boswell: If Dukes has a long great career, as everybody hopes, they will still be booing him every time he comes to bat in New Shea Stadium in 2018. That's why it was an awful idea to blow kisses to the Mets and then to their fans.

In New York, there is only one rule: "Don't react. Don't react. Don't react." (Or maybe that is three rules.) Once you react to a New York crowd, they win. And they know it. And love it. They have for generations. Look at the faces of the Mets fans taunting Dukes in the paper this morning -- they are in heaven. "We've found another victim!"

My ex-sports editor, George Solomon, who knows New York as well as anybody, walked by a few minutes ago. I asked him "how long until the Shea fans forget what Dukes did?" He laughed and said "they'll remember forever."

Why couldn't Dukes have done this in a baseball town where the fans have high IQs but short memories, where they don't care fanatically about the team and are too sophisticated to hold silly grudges, where they aren't sadistic by nature? "Oh, you mean like Washington?" said George.
S.O.B.: So the gripe is that the New York fans are in heaven? That’s Dukes’s great crime that will make him “toxic in his own clubhouse?” This is why the stakes are “star or burnout"? Really, it’s as if this chat and that column were written by two different people. I think you should acknowledge that you changed your mind and that Alexandria is right.
Time for some Boz-bashing: Actually, I like you, I just have to ask you a tough question. Given the overall numbers regarding fan interest for the Nats (decent attendance, horrific radio and TV ratings) that indicate the moderate interest they're getting includes a lot of people just checking things out (the team, the ballpark) without really showing any form of commitment, right now Washington doesn't look like such a great baseball market. Are you ready to concede you may have been wrong during all of those years when you kept saying it would be, if it got a team?

Tom Boswell: Not at all -- 2005 got an A-plus. That happened. It wasn't a mirage.

The ballpark got built on time, on budget and is a pleasure. As the Southeast neighborhood grows, it will improve and widen the experience.

There is no problem whatsoever with 29,500-a-game at big market prices.
S.O.B.: All across the land Econ 101 profs are slapping their heads. Prices are set by supply and demand. Whether this is theoretically a big market or not has no bearing on what the prices are.
If the prices are so high that they are keeping demand down, then the prices are too high.

There is a huge problem with a new stadium drawing only 29,500. I don’t blame the fan base. I blame the team for fielding a crappy product and next to no hope for the future. It’s not just that the team is bad, it’s that the trend-line is down. Four years into rebuilding, we still don’t have enough major league-ready, young, improving players to give fans hope.
The issues are What happens to attendance over the next couple of years? Does it contract some or collapse? And what happens when the Nats (like every franchise) have a winning team? Will it be embraced?

Washington will be a perfectly fine baseball market. Will it be a great market, as almost everyone thought just three years ago? If Southeast develops well, the Lerners spend appropriately and the Nationals improve enough to get even a sniff of a wildcard race, I don't think there will be any questions like this on our chats in a very few years.

Baseball grows roots over time. It always has always been that way -- everywhere, every generation. Affection for a game, and a home team, that is played every day grows with time. As you know the players better, watch them arrive and come to sense that the ballpark itself is part of your life, your interest increases. But it isn't a sudden event like "baseball is back" -- it's a process, one that takes years. Always has.

Here is what matters: A team is back in town, a first-rate ballpark has been built and, after a third of a century, the process of growing those roots and creating that relationship between town and team has started again. In the next 33 years, Washington will be very happy that it has. Just my opinion.
S.O.B.: I hope you’re right. But Denver didn’t have a long history of baseball. Neither did Phoenix, Toronto, Dallas, or Seattle. All those cities did far better with new stadiums than DC has.
Southeast: Thanks for the chat, Boz. What are the chances the Lerners will allow Jimbo to go after Teixeira? He would look awfully good in a lineup with Dukes, Zimmerman and a healthy Wily Mo Pena. That type of move will satisfy the group that wants a free agency splash as well.

Tom Boswell: Teixeira would be the perfect fit. How often do perfect things happen?
S.O.B.: Perfect for whom? Certainly it's a terrible fit for Tex.

But even for the Nationals, why him? First base is one of the few positions where, if healthy, we're competitive now. And Chris Marrero is a real blue-chip prospect who hopefully will be knocking on the door of the big leagues by 2010. Using Nick as a bridge to Marrero seems like one of the only positions on the team where we actually have a coherent plan in place.

I'd way rather see the team go after one of the very good crop of starting pitchers that will be available this year, which would make us better in the short-term and also protect the bullpen so that we don't have to risk destroying young pitchers by making them throw 51 pitches in an inning.
The Nats will probably have to pay above top dollar for their first major free agent, and perhaps their first couple. Big free agents don't come to 100-loss teams unless the price is right. So maybe, just once, you want to go after a "gimme the last dollar," Scott-Boras-agent player like Teixeira. Some players you can't just buy -- you have to say "come here and win the pennant." To Teixeira, at least in theory, you can say: "Come here and set the market for free agents. Help every player in your sport financially ... and help make us a .500 team quickly and a pennant contender in a couple of years. So, you'll be a hero, too. And didn't you grow up in Annapolis?"

Hey, it's a pitch!

Whether the Nats get Teixeira or not, it shows how radically one excellent player in the middle of the lineup can make everybody else look.
S.O.B.: You didn't really show that at all, actually.
However, baseball is a game of pitching. History says that you can buy hitters, but you probably have to develop (or steal in trade) your best pitchers. That's why losing the signing of a No. 1-pick pitcher hurts so much. But it's why having one of the top three picks next year, as well as the 9A pick in the first round, gives you hopes.
S.O.B.: I'm with you there, Boz. Well said.
This is more information that you folks want, but I'm going to give it to you anyway because I'm slightly nuts and spend my time working out such things.

I wanted to see just how bad it was for the Nats not to sign the ninth overall pick. So, I looked up every ninth-overall pick since '83. How much value do you think they have?

Here are the names, starting in '83: Matt Stark, Alan Cockrell, Mike Poehl, Derrick May, KEVIN APPIER, Ty Griffin, Kyle Abbott, Ron Walden, Mark Smith, PRESTON WILSON, Matt Branson, C.J. Nitkowski, GEOFF JENKINS, MARK KOTSAY, MICHAEL CUDDYER, Sean Burroughs, BARRY ZITO, Mark Phillips, Colt Griffin, JEFF FRANCIS, John Danks, Chris Nelson, MIKE PELFRY and William Rowell (O's).

That's less than half as much "value" as I thought.
S.O.B.: Really? You expected twice as much value? There's four all-stars here, one a Cy Young award winner, plus two very good position players (Cuddyer and Kotsay) and three guys who are at least very good #3 SPs, maybe more (Francis, Danks, Pelfrey). That's at least nine "hits" out of 24. You expected 18?
See you next week.
S.O.B.: Looking forward to it!

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