Thursday, October 13, 2005

Tavares Speaks Out featured an interview with Nationals President Tony Tavares on Wednesday. Tony speaks candidly on a number of the issues that are currently abuzz in the Natosphere. The entire interview is worth a read but I'll feature highlights here.

It looks like the Nationals will not be big spenders in free agency this offseason:

Tavares: We would love to get a bopper somewhere, but it's a tough free-agent market place. If you really look at it, there is not a lot of quality. There are a few players here and there. I read somebody saying there is going to be a lot of money wasted in free agency this year and I think that's true. There are going to be a lot of bad contracts [that are going to be done] out of desperation. We're assuming the Nationals will not be one of those desperate teams?

Tavares: We always played conservatively. We will intelligently get involved. If things get silly and stupid, there's no point getting involved in that level. The worse thing in the world is when you are paying for players at premium prices and they don't perform for you. That's true failure at that point. We have to avoid it.

Bad contracts done out of desperation? What, like the Guzman contract? No shock there. All indications seem that MLB is going to let the Nats work with the $50 million or so in their budget until a new owner comes in and sets a payroll. Well, at least we'll have a higher payroll than Tampa! I think we'll have to wait awhile to get our "bopper."

Tony also sounds off on the issue of moving in the fences. Boz makes an excellent case for moving in the wall in his final e-mail newsletter of 2005, but it looks like the club will have none of it:"Players such as Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla made a big deal about Robert F. Kennedy Stadium being too big to hit home runs. What was your reaction to the griping?

Tavares: It didn't seem like the opposing teams had problems hitting home runs. When you [talk about] moving the fences in, I will guarantee you our pitching staff will not be in support of that. It's just silliness. Jim and I told Jose this already: "Deal with the issues that are in front of you. It is what it is." I think it became a distraction during a point in time. When all that complaining started, we lost our focus and we didn't play as well. My point is, quit your complaining and just play baseball.

Um, OK, Tony. But the fences ARE a bit far, as much as ten feet farther than they were during the Senators era. Of course the pitching staff wouldn't support moving the walls in. They'd probably support doing away with the walls altogether so that the only way to hit a homer was to send one into the upper deck. And anyway, pitching wasn't our problem this year. The offensive power outage was one of the main reason for the team's demise. Another couple home runs at RFK this year could have made a big impact in the tight NL East/Wild Card race. The claim that other teams didn't have problems hitting homers at RFK is bunk. People didn't start clobbering home runs until September, when we were down to a three man rotation and a bullpen full of tired arms. Until then, a home run at RFK was a rare experience.

Apparently team discipline and player apathy are a huge issue: We often wondered why the Nationals didn't practice before day games.

Tavares: I wonder that, too. It's something that will not be accepted going forward, I can tell you that. When I say we didn't work hard enough, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

Too many times, we didn't take batting practice. If you look at our record on Sundays, it's indicative of our success. I just don't think we prepare as well.

WHAT? We were in a playoff race and the team didn't take BP before day games? The worst offense in baseball couldn't be bothered to take some extra swings? That's one of the worst things I've ever heard about the Nats. That says to me that the players didn't give a damn about winning and neither did Frank. In my mind, this rests squarely on Frank's shoulders. Everyone knows you can't win if you're not prepared to win. Hopefully the coaching staff and players next year will take their jobs more seriously. This isn't Montreal, for goodness sakes.

Tony expresses the frustration that we all feel about the ownership situation: The team still doesn't have ownership. When do you think the announcement will be made?

Tavares: I don't know. I wish I did know. In a lot of people's view, the sooner the better. There have been decisions made that said we will not get ownership selected until the [stadium] lease is done. We have been working diligently to get that done, but it takes two to tango. We just can't seem to get the city's attention on this issue.

Tony seems to feel that the DC Council and the DCSEC are to blame here. After yesterday's events I'm beginning to think he's right. The crappy politicians that sit on the council will say anything to grab a headline in a mayoral campaign where the candidates have precious few opportunities to differentiate themselves. It's enough to make me wish the Senate still ran D.C.

Tavares discusses the upcoming expiration of club employees' contracts: The contracts for all your employees, including Bowden and Frank Robinson, expire on Oct. 31. Let's say ownership is not in place by then. What are you going to do with the employees?

Tavares: I'll do the same thing I did last year. We go month-to-month. I'm going to put our Minor Leagues in place. We are going to hire scouts and so forth. But in key positions -- like GM, manager and team president -- we just have to wait.

And wait we will.

Finally, Tony endorses Jim Bowden but falls short of endorsing Frank Robinson: Do you want Bowden back with the team?

Tavares: If I come back, I'm definitely offering a job to Jim Bowden. What about Robinson?

Tavares: That would be Jim Bowden's call or a new GM's call. I didn't hire the manager or the coaches, and I'm certainly not going to fire the manager and the coaches.

Even though the CEO of your company isn't directly responsible for hiring/firing you, wouldn't you be a bit nervous if your only endorsement was "I'm not going to fire you?" It makes you wonder what the relationship dynamics in the triumvirate (Tony, Frank, Bowden) are really like. If a new owner comes in and retains Tavares and Bowden, might there be pressure to hire one of this year's "free agent" managers? Could get interesting...Sweet Lou is out there, Joe Torre could be out there, and there's always Davey Johnson. I can't imagine any of those guys saying "sure, it's Sunday, the Astros are in town, and we're a game and a half out of the wild card...let's skip batting practice!