Saturday, January 28, 2006

Who's Screwing Who?

Mayor Williams submitted another doomed lease agreement to the D.C. Council yesterday. I won't re-hash all the details here, but the revised agreement includes a few paltry concessions from MLB in hopes of satisfying a few swing votes on the council. The lease agreement bucks the question of financing entirely, leaving those details to a forthcoming document called "The Construction Administration Agreement." Good job, Tony...now you'll have to hope the council passes not one but two contentious agreements before the team can be sold! D.C. CFO Natwar Ghandi has come out against this new agreement, saying "I cannot take this to Wall Street." Ghandi's comments will almost certainly strengthen the resolve of the anti-stadium council members, dooming this agreement before it comes to a vote on February 7th.

I realize that some of my readers may be confused by the labrynthine dimensions of the stadium conflict. To help make sense of all this, I've assembled a helpful, USA Today-like InfoGraphic entitled: "Who's Screwing Who? The Washington Nationals Galaxy." This helpful, easy-to-read chart will help you cut through the clutter and understand who's who in the Nationals Greed Sweepstakes. To view the full-size chart, simply click on it and it will open in your browser window. Feel free to print it out and put it on your fridge, bedroom wall, public restroom stall, or any other handy place for future reference. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lightning in a Bottle

Alright, that's enough. I have completely had it with Jim Bowden's bullshit. I'm so fed up, in fact, that I'm willing to eat the inevitable crow that will be served to me in the comments of this post. You remember me, right? I'm the guy that wasted 824 words defending Bowden in October and another 475 words re-defending him in November. Enough is enough. Jim Bowden is wearing out his welcome in Washington by making move after pointless move with no real plan in sight.

In my own defense, my support of Bowden was logged prior to an offseason's worth of ridiculous moves. The only positives thus far have been the Castilla/Lawrence trade and the re-signing of Schneider and Nick Johnson.

Bill Ladson says that Jim Bowden is always looking for "lightning in a bottle." Problem is, he drinks bottle after bottle looking for that lightning and starts drunk dialing free agents and other GMs. He wakes up with a hangover and the Nats wake up with Michael Tucker, Damian Jackson, Marlon Anderson, Robert Fick, the catcher quadruplets and Alfonso Soriano. It's like a bad morning at a frat house where people walk around saying "you did what with who?

I told Chris the other day that if Bowden signed Sammy Sosa I would publicly renounce my support for him in this space. At this point, I'll be shocked if Sammy Sosa doesn't become a National by the time spring training rolls around. However, I've decided to move up my renouncement after finding out that Bowden is looking to sign ***Ugueth Urbina***. You know, good ol' Ugie, who is currently being held in a Venezuelan prison on murder charges. Murder! With all that is amiss with the Nationals franchise today, the last thing we need is to acquire an accused murderer as a set-up man for Chad Cordero. Imagine the possibilities for Charlie Slowes: "Urbina killed 'em in the 8th and Cordero disposed of the carcass in the 9th!" In the name of all that is good and wholesome, Jim Bowden must be stopped now.

Bill Ladson is right. Bowden's M.O. is the shotgun approach: sign as many players as you can, whether you need them or not, and hope you can find nine that stick. This is the man who created a logjam in Cincinnati's outfield for five seasons because he kept stocking up on "prospects" that couldn't be sent back to the minors. After trading for Ken Griffey, Jr. the Reds had an outfield of Griffey, Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena. Each one of those guys was good enough to play every day, but Bowden stubbornly refused to offload one of them to fill a gap elsewhere. At long last, Bowden's successor Jim O'Brien finally traded Sean Casey to the Pirates, moving Dunn to first and breaking the logjam. This is exactly the kind of situation that Bowden has created in the Nats' infield and the kind of situation he'd create in the outfield if the team signs Sosa.

This strategy flies in the face of prudent planning and common sense. The Washington Nationals, perhaps more than any franchise in baseball, should be biding its time, building the farm system and making sure that the money is available in three years to pay those prospects. Instead, Bowden is on a rampage of signing has-beens in their late thirties to deals that paralyze the payroll in the future. This franchise has a long, long way to go in nearly every aspect of its operations. The team desperately needs competent leaders who understand and share this philosophy. Sadly, those leaders have yet to emerge and are nowhere in sight.

Jim Bowden should no longer be the general manager of anything other than a fantasy baseball team.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Oh the Bitter Irony...

Oh, if the Nationals only had a new owner. I've been enviously following my former favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, who are playing out the exact kind of offseason script that the Nationals should be enjoying. The Reds have a new, local owner, Robert Castellini, whose first act as owner was to hold a press conference (in the Reds' shiny new stadium) declaring his five-point plan to return championship baseball to Cincinnati.

His second act was to fire hapless General Manager Jim O'Brien, whose sucktastic tenure succeeded that of current Nationals fan favorite GM Jim Bowden. Jim Bowden haters take note: O'Brien reorganized the Reds' minor league system in such a way that it was depleted of prospects and gave Eric Milton an $8 million contract in 2005. Milton promptly set a club record by giving up 40 home runs last season. Given these Bowden-esque tendencies, we should all be terrified if any rumors ever surface of O'Brien becoming the Nats GM.

I have to cringe at the bitter irony of my baseball fandom. I suffer through an acrimonious stadium struggle as a Reds fan in the 1990's before giving up on a team that cannot compete due to inept and apathetic management/ownership. No sooner do I abandon the Reds than I find myself a fan of another team stuck in the same muck. I am Charlie Brown, charging to kick that football that won't be there by the time I arrive...

Friday, January 20, 2006

GM-antics

Another day, another GM candidate off the books for the Nats. Theo Epstein is back with the Red Sox after a two-second hiatus. Is anyone really surprised? I'm not. There was something fishy about the whole situation surrounding his departure.

Some in the Natosphere are actually disappointed at this non-event, but personally, I'm relieved that we won't wind up with Epstein.

Theo Epstein is the Barack Obama of general managers. His youth and good looks give him an instant status boost, yet his track record is too short to warrant the kind of second-coming-of-Christ accolades that he gets. Yes, I know he won a World Series in 2004 after an 86 year drought. There's no question that he has done a great job keeping the Red Sox in annual contention. But just about any Major-League GM could make the playoffs with the kind of payroll that the Red Sox ownership doles out. After news of his departure broke, all kinds of reports came out that Epstein was kept on a very short leash and essentially served as a figurehead for all kinds of co-assistants, nepotists and hangers-on in the Sox front office.

Epstein has enjoyed success thus far in his few seasons on the job but his superstar status has yet to be proven. If anything, I'd hoped that he would have wound up with another team so we could all see how well he'd have done on his own. After yesterday's news, it seems we'll have to wait awhile longer. In any event, he is not, nor would he have been, The Answer for the Nationals. We all know that Jim Bowden is a maverick and can be reckless at the helm. However, everything about this Nationals franchise is in a complete state of disarray. Until the stadium/ownership situation plays out, there is no reason to hire Theo Epstein or anyone who will bring yet more uncertainty to Nationals Nation.

Maybe someday the Nationals will become the big-time franchise that we'd all love them to be. When that day comes, the team can compete for star players and headhunt a big name manager and general manager. And maybe then Washington can attract an older, more experienced (and presumably still attractive) Theo Epstein. But for now, just keep your pants on, Nats fans.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hope Springs Infernal

I have a confession to make.

The whole stadium debacle has sent my fandom of the Nationals into a tailspin. The fight between the D.C. council and MLB has turned so hopeless and so ugly that it's hard to get excited about the team's upcoming season. What did we fans do to deserve this? All we want to do is support the team yet we're subjected to a demoralizing legal fight between some of the most despicable, knuckle-dragging human beings to have ever lived.

No wonder so many DC-area baseball fans choose to default to a weak, quasi-fandom of the Orioles or have the audacity to show up to RFK wearing Red Sox and Yankees hats. It's better to be a fan of an ugly team with a stadium than a ugly team with no stadium, I guess. Better to recline into the plush fandom of a far-away team with a $200-million payroll and a guaranteed playoff spot than struggle with the masochistic fandom of a nearby team that has to fight for enough hot dog carts on the mezzanine. If the powers that be don't care why should we?

Major League Baseball is quickly becoming the major sports equivalent of the WWE. Each season, the favored, well-funded teams take on a series of no-name contenders and the outcome is deliciously predictable. Who didn't enjoy seeing Hulk Hogan pile-drive some anonymous sap every Saturday morning? The Nationals are that anonymous sap, set up to fail from the start while the crowd goes wild. And we, the fans, are the rubes watching in the stands and cheering for the underdog, not understanding that the whole thing is a setup from the start.

I'm sick and tired of rooting for the underdog. I'm tired of spending my time, energy and hope on an organization destined to fail by a league and city who only care about winning the Greed Sweepstakes. We invest so much passion and money in pro sports because it gives us something positive to care about that is larger than ourselves. And yet, the Nationals' arrival in our area has brought out the smallest, weakest parts of human nature.

And yet, like a lemming off a cliff, I'll be back at RFK this season to cheer on the Nats. I'll hope that another rag-tag collection of cast-offs and reclamation projects can somehow stop the mission that the Mets are on in the NL East. I'll hope that I can come home after work and watch the games on Comcast. I'll hope that the team gets an owner and that the owner makes the franchise live up to its vast potential. I'll cheer every victory and mourn every loss while continuing to spew vitriol at the D.C. council and MLB.

Hope springs infernal if you're a Nationals fan...