Friday, December 30, 2005

The Intangibles

I'm back from my long hiatus. There's been a great deal of Nats news in my absence and it's all been well-chronicled by my colleagues in the Natosphere. As the stadium debate continues to rage on with ever-rising acrimony, I've noticed a side to this story that seems to have been overlooked thus far. Beyond the debate over the RFK or Anacostia site, or which concessions will be made, and even beyond the justice (or lack thereof) in the stadium debate lies an important element to the situation: what are the Nats really worth to the city? I'm not talking about tax revenues, or game-day parking or ticket sales or any of the armchair economics that we usually discuss. I'm talking about the intangible value of the Washington Nationals to Washington D.C. and the metro area.

Anyone who has lived in the D.C. area long enough knows that there is a big difference between our Washington and the Federal Capital. Our Washington is one of the largest, most diverse and most prominent metropolises in the United States. We have everything that a great American city should have: a transit system, famous landmarks, a thriving business community, universities and last, but not least, a franchise from each of the four major pro sports. This last element may seem silly and extraneous compared to the other necessities of a great city. But this is the reality in America today: to be a truly great city you must be home to big-league sports.

I'm sure every Nationals fan has thought about this from time to time: until the Nationals came to town last spring, D.C. was little brother to all the other large Eastern cities. Each summer our friends and family in New York, Boston, Philly and Baltimore would obsess over their cities' teams. We in the D.C. area were forced to either follow our childhood teams from afar or drive up to Baltimore in a half-assed effort to cheer "our" Orioles. Think about it: we were so starved for baseball that we were willing to pay money to Peter Angelos, a man who tried his best to shove the Orioles down our collective throat.
It just wasn't the same.

Our common love for our local teams transcends everything that separates us because it hits us right where we live. You can be a Nats fan whether you're from Arlington, Bethesda, or Anacostia. You can be super-wealthy or just scraping by. It doesn't matter what church you attend, what color you are or what language you speak. All you need to be a Nationals fan is a love of baseball and the patience of a saint. Of course, it's easier if you're not a Comcast customer, but that's another story. The Nationals matter because, like the Redskins, they are a common thread that makes this community stronger. Our mutual fandom brings us closer to our neighbors and gives us a firmer sense of being here.

As the debate over money, concessions and one-upmanship rages into 2006, let's not forget the intangibles. Let's hope that the so-called "swing" voters on the council take a good whiff of what this sports team really means to their city. Let's hope that Selig, DuPuy and company look over at FedEx Field, wake up to the reality of this market, and do what needs to be done to keep the Nats here. The D.C. council and MLB must decide: is Washington a Major League City, or just a collection of monuments and museums?

-Edit: I started this post on 12/22 and finally finished on 12/30. Work and parenthood are getting in the way of coherent blogging!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hiatus

Dear Readers:

The Curly W is currently on paternity leave. My wife gave birth to a baby girl last night so I'll have to tear myself away from the Nationals news this week to focus on being a dad! I'll be back up and running in a few days. In the meantime, keep reading the other blogs in the Natosphere for all the news that's fit to print, and even some that isn't.

Finally, you'll all be pleased to know that I wore my Nats hat (away, fitted) to the hospital this morning and it was present in the delivery room when my daughter was born. I already have a Nationals baby outfit ready for her to put on this April.

You see, Bud Selig? You're not just messing with this generation of fans...you're messing with the next!!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Another one Rides the Bus

Reliever Hector Carrasco signed with the Angels yesterday, inking a 2 year, $6.1 million deal. Its unfortunate to lose Carrasco, but it's good not to see the Nats overpay to keep him. He's 36 years old now and 2005 was far and away his best season ever. As with Esteban Loaiza earlier this week, there's no need to break the bank to hold on to guys that aren't part of the future of this club.

Myself and other bloggers keep apologizing for the loss of free agents this offseason, but it is really important that the team doesn't overpay for aging veterans who played above their heads in 2005. Let's face it, the 2006 Nationals are not going to be a playoff contender. They wouldn't even contend in the NL West. What the Nats need now are young, inexpensive players with a lot of upside in order to build for the future. By letting Loaiza and Carrasco go, the Nats have just earned a draft pick each from the A's and the Angels. That is a significant first step toward putting some real prospects in the farm system.

It will take years for the Nationals to recover from baseball's ridiculously unjust treatment of this franchise. I applaud the front office for not prolonging that recovery by wasting money on aging, league-average talent.

More on the RFK Site Sham

Buried at the end of the Post article is even more compelling evidence that the claims of cost savings by building the stadium at the RFK site are totally bogus. The land is owned by the National Park Service (how apropos) and leased to the District at no cost. However, the lease allows only one stadium on the site, and amending this lease would require an act of Congress! If you've been following Congress lately, you'd know that they can barely pass a budget reconciliation for the United States, much less tinker with a 50 year old stadium lease. In addition, a new environmental impact study would require two to three years, doubling the timetable for completion of the park. I'm certain that MLB would immediately pull the lease agreement off the table if they were presented with that scenario. Oh, and there's potentially harmful lead in the soil over there. Who knew?

(Tentative) Lease Agreement!

Hallelujah?!

The Washington Post reports this morning that a tentative stadium lease deal has been reached between Major League Baseball and the D.C. Council. The Post is sketchy on the details, but it seems that MLB has agreed to the District's demand for a $20 million additional payment. Baseball also has allegedly agreed to provide the District a portion of the $24 million letter of credit for guaranteed rent payments that it needs to satisfy Wall Street bond raters:

"Baseball officials have agreed to give the city a letter of credit for one or two seasons, with the expectation that that will satisfy Wall Street, D.C. government sources said. If that money is drawn down in the future, then baseball would renew the credit line to build up the reserve fund, the sources said."

Both District and MLB negotiators were quick to let the media know that the agreement is not a done deal, but both sides gushed about how much significant progress has been made. Reinsdorf has left DC, but Tony Tavares is going to continue ironing things out with the DC SEC over the weekend.

So here we are. Just when all seemed lost we're much closer to a deal. However, there are still a few hurdles to cross:

  • It remains to be seen whether or not Wall Street will accept the compromise deal on the letter of credit. I won't even presume to guess or predict what Wall Street will do. If any of you readers are investment bankers feel free to weigh in!


  • Both sides are saying that there are still "some things" left to be ironed out in the deal. I can only guess that these outstanding issues are relatively trivial because the Post article addressed compromises or concessions on the Council's major sticking points. The Post also reports that the city has offered MLB some as yet undisclosed concession in return. Could it be luxury suites with the solid gold bidets flowing with the tears of area schoolchildren that Chris suggested? In all seriousness, I am willing to bet that the mystery concession is a promise from the Council that they'll drop this RFK-site foolishness. What do you think?


  • The DC council has to vote on this thing once it's signed. The vote will probably take place on December 20. I'm not sure if the Council has the votes to pass this thing, but I'm sure that, like last year, some opponents will grudgingly cast aye votes. The city has just gone too far in this thing to torpedo it now, especially since the demands have been met. But you never know who could be looking to make a big splash in the headlines...
  • Thursday, December 01, 2005

    The Doldrums

    Hi everyone-

    I'm back from my extended hiatus. Between Thanksgiving and being majorly ill for the past week I just haven't had that bloggin' spirit.

    Now, on to the Nats news.

    I won't attempt to re-cap every little snippet from the last ten days. If you're craving that kind of material I'll direct you to any of the fine blogs that I link to on the sidebar.

    Here's what's new:

    Esteban Loaiza has flown the coop , signing a three-year $21 million contract with the Oakland A's. It's unfortunate to see the team lose a quality starter, but it's encouraging to see that the Nats' front office resisted the temptation to overpay for league-average talent. Loaiza is 34 now, well into his prime, and he's had an up and down career. He's simply never going to have much better of a season than he did in 2005. What the Nats desperately need is younger guys that can begin to coalesce around the core of this franchise. What the team doesn't need is to be paying a 37-year-old pitcher $7 million per year. Of course, the team now faces the challenge of finding a #3 pitcher to take Loaiza's spot in the rotation, but since the 2006 season looks like a lost cause anyway, just about anyone will do.

    Jerry Reinsdorf was in town today to meet face to face with the D.C. Council. From what I've read in two WaPo articles on the subject, hardly anything of import came from these meetings. The current Post headline claims that MLB "does not rule out (the) RFK site" for the new stadium, but upon review of the article there is nothing to suggest that this is true. Nothing Jerry Reinsdorf has said gives any indication that MLB would support the RFK site.

    Nor does it really matter what Reinsdorf thinks (in this case) because I don't think the whole RFK thing is going to happen. It's nothing more than a straw man concocted by an increasingly restless council, whose members are desperate to appear as if they are playing hardball with MLB. Our friends at Ball Wonk list a myriad of reasons why an RFK site would not acheive the $200 million savings that Linda Cropp and company claim. The Wonk summarizes: "moving the ballpark to the Bobby's parking lot will increase construction costs, double up-front city expenses, waste millions of dollars the city has already spent, throw away a chance to redevelop a blighted neighborhood, discredit the city to potential future private partners, and turn a $535 million urban renewal investment into a $480 million corporate giveaway with little benefit to the city." I couldn't agree more. At this late date, the SE stadium site has become the only fiscally sane option for the city. At $535 million and climbing, that's a frightening thought.

    So here's where things stand. Reinsdorf and the DC SEC are still poker-facing each other at the negotiation table, neither willing to budge. The DC Council will vote on the lease agreement (provided it is completed) on December 20. Finally, the District has until the end of this month to settle this mess or the whole financing plan and construction timetable falls through. It's now December 1st and zero progress has been made since the original stadium agreement nearly one year ago.

    Zero progress on anything, really. The stadium has stalled, the ownership is in suspended animation, free agents don't even consider the Nats, our GM has one foot out the door, we're no closer to a real TV deal, etc, etc. When you really think about it, all the Nationals have really accomplished is to sell 2.7 million tickets and sell us all a bunch of hats. Sad, but true.

    It's winter now, and the summer has almost completely faded for me. It's hard to imagine that December and 2005 will conclude with any progress made toward the future of the team. The Nationals are only one year old and I'm already nostalgic for the good old days.