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The State of the Nationals (from the Zone)

Whoever designed the interior of the ESPN Zone restaurant had a certain leaning toward pyromania; reminders of flames are everywhere. A flame-like logo hangs above the kitchen. The orange-gradient words, "EN FUEGO," form an incendiary warning along one wall. (A warning about the cooking? The hot sports action? Unclear.) Today, during the lunch hour, the flat-panel televisions seemed to be in screen saver mode, showing just the ESPN Zone logo which had, of course, a flame dancing atop it.

So, it was into this inferno that GM Jim Bowden and assistant GM Mike Rizzo stepped today. With an alarming entourage of the Washington braintrust in attendance -- Stan Kasten was there, so were a couple communications staff members -- Rizzo and Bowden stepped onto a stage, plopped into a couple stools, and, for the next hour, answered questions from fans. Fittingly, some of the questions brought a good amount of heat.

I listened in, and here, will provide a quick synopsis.

* The crowd was roughly 30 or so. Bowden's demeanor was pretty restrained; he wasn't as animated as I'm used to. Roughly half of the 15-odd questions (including the first two) had a considerable edginess to them. Bowden responded, always, with a level tone.

* The first questioner, who introduced himself as a four-year season-ticket holder, launched into an impassioned critique of Bowden's last year, mentioning what he called the "improvident" free agent signings of Paul Lo Duca, Johnny Estrada, and Rob Mackowiak, a payroll comprised currently of some "$30 million" of wasted money, and a lot of "disappointing personnel questions." Though this fan said all along that he had only a comment, not a question, he finished his critique by suggesting that the team, for this offseason, spend $10-15 million on one impact player rather than spreading it around to no end.

Bowden called the critique "fair," but defending the Estrada-Mackowiak signings by grouping them with other similar signings of players like Odalis Perez and Willie Harris. When players are brought in for annual salaries of between $850,000 and $1.5 million, he said, they won't all work out. But if a few do, you're doing alright.

Bowden also said that, "sure, all of our preferences would be to have one quality player at $15 million a year..." but it has to be the right person -- namely, "a player who's in his 20s who will be ready when we're ready to win."

* The second question was about Aaron Crow, from an equally frustrated fan who took the team for task for allowing less than $1 million to stand between the two sides. "Aaron Crow was asking for about what we paid Rob Mackowiak this year!" the fan said. "Why is it in this team's interest to allow talent like that to walk away?"

Bowden provided numerous reasons for the team's stance with Crow, several of them well documented, and said that the team must be "sensitive to the marketplace" when negotiating. Otherwise, the team will pay a price in future negotiations, and prospects will believe they can hold the club ransom.

* Rizzo was asked about criterion for draft selecting, and whether the Nats would ever back away from a player because of his agent -- especially Scott Boras. The short answer from Rizzo was clear: No. "We would never walk away from a Scott Boras client," Rizzo said.

Some other highlights...

* When asked about the team's outfield for next season, Rizzo sketched a Dukes-Milledge-Kearns scenario, but Bowden quickly added, "I think there's also the possibility we could make a trade and change that answer." Bowden also said, in perhaps the most noteworthy news of the day, that the team would consider "an outfield position change to upgrade our defense." He didn't name names, but no hint is needed: It means eventually shifting Milledge to a corner spot and putting Dukes in center.

* Bowden listed the team's greatest offseason priorities as a "big bat and... another top-of-the-rotation starter."

* He indicated the team would be more likely to acquire its needs via trade than via free agency.

* Bowden suggested that Jordan Zimmermann will be in the starting rotation next year. (Read between the lines, and it seems like only an arm amputation -- or a 14.00 ERA in spring training -- will keep him out.)

* Rizzo, asked directly if he has aspirations to be a GM, said yes, but added the there's "great leadership" in Washington right now. Then he went on to talk about the organization's progress in the last few years.

* Bowden speculated that the team would have had an 82-80 record if not for the injuries.

By Chico Harlan  |  September 19, 2008; 3:45 PM ET
 
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Next: Lineups, minus Peavy

Comments

... and they'd have won 102 and made the playoffs if they signed Andruw Jones.

Posted by: ntr Boz | September 19, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Did Charlie box anyone?

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Haha Austin Kearns sucks. Go out and get Matt Holliday.

Posted by: Austin Kearns Sucks | September 19, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Newposted:

To try to put a cap on this Zimmerman discussion, how about we look at it this way:

Compare the probabilities for the following scenarios (1) as they would have been at the end of the 2006 season, and (2) as of today:

--Is the probability greater today, as compared to the probability at the end of 2006, that Zimmerman will have a HOF career?

--Is the probability greater today, as compared to the probability at the end of 2006, that Zimmerman will be a perennial MVP candidate?

--Is the probability greater today, as compared to the probability at the end of 2008, that Zimm will be a perennial all-star?

I'm not saying that all these things won't or can't happen, and I surely hope they do. But I think it's hard to dispute that, if you had to handicap it, the odds that they do are lower today than they were 2 years ago. And I think that shows some regression.

(As an aside, I remember that Bill James used to have some kind of career trajectory/HOF predictor type of measurement, is there any way we can measure this objectively?)

Posted by: Coverage is lacking | September 19, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Saying you would have gone 82-80 without the injuries is almost like saying "We would have won a hundred except for all those losses"

Posted by: estuartj | September 19, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Excellent question re. the boxing, 506!

(also, :P)

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Here you go CiL!

I won't tell you all the results, because it's too fun. I also don't trust it, it seems like magic. But Bill James made it, so it must be good! Like magic!

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/stats/assessments

Posted by: Ahem. | September 19, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Nice, and funny, scene-setting, Chico. Thanks for the summary. (so, how many rounds did Charlie go?)

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

off-topic ... who here is going to the picnic at the park tomorrow?

Posted by: e | September 19, 2008 4:04 PM

Posted by: new posted ... | September 19, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

EN FUEGO? Really? You don't get that reference?

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/SportsCenter#Dan_Patrick

Of course, you can catch him these days on XM144 9-noon. Oh, and on Football Night in America with his old pal Keith.

Posted by: CajunD | September 19, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Re. the picnic, I won't be there, e, as I'm not a STH.

Re. tonite's game, just noticed that Peavy was scratched (his wife is in labor) and Dirk Hayhurst of Non-Prospect Diary fame will be starting for the Padres tonite. Will be interesting to see him.


Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

No wonder that Ken Rosenthal says the Nats lead the league in excuses.

Please fire Jim Bowden. Please, I'm beggin' now, little Mark Lerner. Please...

Posted by: ohplease | September 19, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Re. tonite's game, just noticed that Peavy was scratched (his wife is in labor) and Dirk Hayhurst of Non-Prospect Diary fame will be starting for the Padres tonite. Will be interesting to see him.


Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 4:26 PM

That's a low blow. Manny should retaliate by giving Dukes the night off. Run Bernadina out there.

Posted by: Gal Revels in Pee | September 19, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Reading through the outfield discussion, I'm thinking that Lastings might not just be out of CF next year, but also out of Washington. If you are from the school of "it takes something to get something," then perhaps Lastings and a pitcher can get a substantial upgrade at corner OF or, more likely, 1B. Lastings for Wladimir Balentien (SEA)? Lastings, Nick and Bergmann for Adrian Gonzalez (SD - a fly friendly park for JB) (in my dreams)?

Cuddyer (MN) might be a spare part and plays RF. I have not thought of how the positions match up, and I think they are happy with Young, Span, and Gomez.

Posted by: PTBNL | September 19, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Jimbo seemed determined to keep Kearns in the lineup...

Posted by: ohplease | September 19, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Kearns WILL play better than he did this year. We can get some A/AA prospects in return at the trade deadline.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Jimbo seemed determined to keep Kearns in the lineup...

Posted by: ohplease | September 19, 2008 4:39 PM

And the options at the time were . . . oh that's right Milledge missed a month or so and Dukes only has what 250 PAs missing big chunks of time. Oh and Wily Mo too. JimBo wanted him in the lineup . . . please.

Posted by: Gal Revels in Pee | September 19, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't like Bowden saying they're probably going to get what they need by trade rather than free agency. We don't have much in the way of players to trade, and the players who are trade bait we probably shouldn't trade.
We do have money, on the other hand: the money you and I have paid for our season tickets. Can't we spend some of that on a Matt Holliday type? I don't think we should shoot for an Andruw Jones-type, some 30-something guy on the back end of his career curve. But why NOT spend some cash on a relatively young player who can bring some bash into the lineup? Come ON.

Posted by: johnDC | September 19, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I'll be there. It's a busy Nationals weekend for me. Tickets to tonight, Picnic tomorrow, tickets for Sunday.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
off-topic ... who here is going to the picnic at the park tomorrow?

Posted by: e | September 19, 2008 4:04 PM

Posted by: Section 138 | September 19, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

So were looking at a rotation next year of:

Balester
Lannan
Redding
Bergmann
Zimmerman

How many games do you think that rotation can win next year?

I doubt its 82.

Get rid of Redding move Bergmann to the bullpen and get some real major leaguers in here please.

OH AND ANYONE BUT KEARNS AND ANY OTHER FORMER RED JIMBO THAT MEANS NO WILY MO TOO.

Posted by: Patrick | September 19, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

The Lerners won't spend the money, folks. Just accept it. It's why I'll be watching MASN in HD next year instead of giving the Lerners more of my hard earned dollars.

Posted by: ohplease | September 19, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I won't be at the picnic, but I will be at the game. Why have the picnic from 12-3 when the game doesn't start until 7? Makes no sense. I will probably spend some pregame time watching my kids at the kiddie-park, nursing a beer. If any NJ regulars are around, stop by and say hello.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | September 19, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Can we go back to the magical place of last thread when the bozos weren't in charge? Or at least it was the bozos I like.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Bowden just went up a tick in my estimation -- for being willing to admit a failed experiment. Anyone still watching the Nats has to admit that Milledge is not and will never be the answer in center field. That's supposed to be the strength of a team's defense, not its greatest liability. I like him as a hitter, but he can't judge a fly ball, and he's not decisive enough either. Milledge may think his power nimbers make him a center fielder, but his play there says otherwise.

I'm not sure Dukes is the answer, either. I foresee hamstring pulls. He has got decent legs, but isn't he also better as a corner outfielder? If the Nats don't have a convincing center fielder, but have a potential surplus of corner outfielders, doesn't that suggest they seek out a team that might have an established centerfielder AND a strong prospect?

Posted by: Fisch Fry | September 19, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

In case I wind up on pg. 2, that should read "power numbers".

Posted by: Fisch Fry | September 19, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Kearns? I'd rather go to Spring Training betting on WMP healthy than Kearns healthy (if our juice is spent on firstbase and a big-time starter).

Posted by: Arlington Nats Fan | September 19, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

JohnDC, fair point, but Holliday is under contract for 2009, so not the best example. The only guys that fit the bill ("a player who's in his 20s who will be ready when we're ready to win") are Teixeira and Sabathia, and they will both be 29. Adding both would be neat though.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | September 19, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Ted Lerner's net worth: $3.6 billion.

Nats: #1 profitable team in baseball.

Nats: 58-95.

What's wrong with this picture?

Posted by: ohplease | September 19, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

In terms of arm strength, isn't the strongest OF arm best in right, then the next in left, and the weakest in CF? RF makes the long throws to 3d and home, CF throws almost always get cut by an infielder. Seems like a waste of Dukes's arm, but maybe I'm wrong.

Posted by: PTBNL | September 19, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

There's a reason they play the games, and there's a reason playing is better than stats.
All I'm sayin.

************
But Bill James made it, so it must be good! Like magic!

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 4:14 PM

Posted by: ce | September 19, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Fisch Fry, Dukes numbers are usually considered better for a corner outfielder, because they usually aren't put up by someone who can field well. So you can tolerate some poor fielding in exchange for some good hitting (see, Ramirez, Manny).

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

The Crow question was mine.

If I had been allowed a follow up, I would have said, "First, stop telling me how stupid the player was. It makes no difference to me as a fan whether Crow is screwed or stupid or whether the agent is hard to deal with. I want my team to win, and Crow would have helped us win. We don't have him. Listening to you trash the kid doesn't make me feel one bit better. Second, what marketplace are you talking about? A marketplace is when you have a seller and multiple buyers. This is a situation with one seller and one buyer. There was no marketplace. Crow can't shop his services, so there's no market. You with all the leverage in the world got offered a total low-ball offer of a one-time payment of $4.4m and 4 years of minimum wage ball from a front-line talent. In a true free market he would have gotten far more than even his supposedly "absurd" 8m initial offer. So again, explain to me how we're better off letting him walk to save 900k?"

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | September 19, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"I don't think we should shoot for an Andruw Jones-type, some 30-something guy on the back end of his career curve."

All FAs by definition fit this category. You have to play 6 full seasons to qualify for FA, so unless you came up at age 20 or 21 and stuck, which is very rare, and teams usually don't do it even if the kid is ready because of this exact thing, they are all at or over 30YO. This is what the people who think we can buy a contender fail to acknowledge or understand.

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | September 19, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

1. Why are people worked up over wasting $$ on LoDuca & Lopez? It's only relevant from a fan's perspective if that money would have been spent on someone else who would have been productive or if the playing time would have been given to a young player who could have benefited from the playing time. Since there were no other middle infielders in the system, Lopez's signing didn't do anything other than cost the Lerners some cash, which they weren't about to spend on someone else; Lo Duca's was harmful only if you could were sure (in hindsight) that Flores was ready to play every day. As far as the other are concerned, looked at it as cash package for a bunch of question marks--some worked (Perez, Harris) and others didn't (Estrada, Mackowiak). It's not like they were going to take the cash that they would have saved and cut the price of beer in the park

2. Bowden's strength as a GM is identifying free or nearly free talent that could help the team, as opposed to using the non-existent farm system that Selig and Minaya foisted on us. He's acquired Loiaza, Castilla, Redding, Perez, Da Meat, Harris & Belliard, all of whom have been useful at one time or another for no cost in terms of young players. Plus he got Dukes. I think his weakness is a) falling in love with toolsy players who may not be baseball players and b) having a crush on players he signed in Cinci. What the jury is still out on, IMO, is whether he has the skill to acquire & nurtured grade A talent, as opposed to grace C talent.

Posted by: 307/418 | September 19, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

@ 506 -- I wasn't focusing on Duke's offense. I meant his defense. With his arm, he seems like natural rightfielder to me, a la Dave Parker or Jose Guillen. Plus his size might make him a bit awkward in center -- why I suggested he'd be more prone to injuries. He certainly does not have the prototypical centerfielder build, even if he is fairly fast. Plus, as PTBNL noted, his arm would be wasted in center.

Posted by: Fisch Fry | September 19, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, yeah, I know. I was just covering the traditional wisdom on corner outfielders. I don't disagree with you.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | September 19, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

W. Venable, CF
M. Antonelli, 2B
B. Giles, RF
A. Gonzalez, 1B
K. Kouzmanoff, 3B
C. Headley, LF
N. Hundley, C
S. Kazmar, SS
D. Hayhurst, P

E. Bonifacio, 2B
C. Guzman, SS
R. Zimmerman, 3B
L. Milledge, CF
E. Dukes, RF
K. Casto, 1B
L. Montz, C
R. Bernadina, LF
C. Balester, P

Posted by: The Lineup Fairy | September 19, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

W. Venable, CF
M. Antonelli, 2B
B. Giles, RF
A. Gonzalez, 1B
K. Kouzmanoff, 3B
C. Headley, LF
N. Hundley, C
S. Kazmar, SS
D. Hayhurst, P

E. Bonifacio, 2B
C. Guzman, SS
R. Zimmerman, 3B
L. Milledge, CF
E. Dukes, RF
K. Casto, 1B
L. Montz, C
R. Bernadina, LF
C. Balester, P

Posted by: The Lineup Fairy | September 19, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I'd wondered whether one of the questions reported might be yours, SoCH.

And thanks, lineup fairy. Go Nats! Hammer Hayhurst!

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Also, may the best team win, er, the worst team, er -- my brain hurts!

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 19, 2008 6:09 PM | Report abuse

>In terms of arm strength, isn't the strongest OF arm best in right, then the next in left, and the weakest in CF? RF makes the long throws to 3d and home, CF throws almost always get cut by an infielder. Seems like a waste of Dukes's arm, but maybe I'm wrong.<

The centerfielder gets a lot more opportunities, so his arm would be more useful in CF. They're supposed to overrule the left and right fielders in addition to controlling their area.

Posted by: Brue | September 19, 2008 6:39 PM | Report abuse

>The Crow question was mine.

If I had been allowed a follow up, I would have said, "First, stop telling me how stupid the player was. It makes no difference to me as a fan whether Crow is screwed or stupid or whether the agent is hard to deal with. I want my team to win, and Crow would have helped us win. <

He seems kind of like AJ Burnett, or somebody who's not really all that bright, but could bring you a buttload in a trade, or like you say, throw strikes and win for the Nats. There's no substitute for good stuff, no matter who's throwing it. I'm glad you asked them something about it, even though they did the usual spin. Not signing him was ridiculous.

Posted by: Brue | September 19, 2008 6:45 PM | Report abuse

>@ 506 -- I wasn't focusing on Duke's offense. I meant his defense. With his arm, he seems like natural rightfielder to me, a la Dave Parker or Jose Guillen. Plus his size might make him a bit awkward in center -- why I suggested he'd be more prone to injuries. He certainly does not have the prototypical centerfielder build, even if he is fairly fast. Plus, as PTBNL noted, his arm would be wasted in center.<

Just think about how many more assists he would get throwing runners out at third, and the number of times he would cut a ball off in the gap and hold a runner to a single. The CF gets twice as many shots at gappers than the other two guys, because if the ball's hit down the lines, then it's usually a double because the throws are farther away from second base than they would be in left-center and right-center.

Posted by: Brue | September 19, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Great discussions today.

Since everyone is making predictions here are a couple of mine.
1. If Zimmerman has a good March/April he will be an all star candidate for 2009.
If not then he will be no worse than this season's stats.
2. We will find that Hernandez or Gonzales will be our regular second baseman. Bonaficio will improve in the minor leagues and may make it back by mid season as our lead off man. Belliard is traded mid season and perhaps one of Gonzales or Hernandez will be traded.
3. Johnson returns as 1b.
4. We sign Odalis Perez for next year.
5. Dukes in center, Milledge in right, and for my surprise wild card (cue drum roll...)a healthy Wily Mo Pena in left. Since it was disclosed that Wily Mo has had muscle tears in his shoulder for the entire season and maybe longer a completely different Wily Mo returns to revitalize the power left field position.
6. Mock or Martis will be the 6th starter or first fill in for injury.
7. No big free agents sign this offseasonwith the Nats. The Yankees have too much money to bid for Sabathia and Texiera. There will be an obscene bidding war for both players. Our lineup is basically going to stand pat for the opening of 09 with a major trade happening in mid season, probably at first base.

Posted by: Dale | September 19, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

>Bowden's strength as a GM is identifying free or nearly free talent that could help the team, as opposed to using the non-existent farm system that Selig and Minaya foisted on us.<

This is true. But this might also be a byproduct of his attitude. The problem with Bowden is his reputation for arrogance among the other front offices. He seems to only do business with a certain number of teams, and maybe that hamstrings him when he really wants to go all out for a player that's on a team whose GM dislikes him. I have a hard time believing that the Red Sox, for instance, would do much business with him after his inflated demands for Cordero when their bullpen was in trouble. It was common knowledge that Bowden's demands were ridiculous. It's ok to deal with Cincy, but what about the really good teams?

Posted by: Brue | September 19, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

What about trying WMP at first? If the surgery is successful, he remains a power threat, and I'd like to see what a healthy WMP can do (and I'd hate to see him doing it somewhere else in the NL east). But in the outfield he's a liability (Willie Harris saves more with his glove than even a healthy WMP could with his bat). Think of him as a faster but less polished Prince Fielder; certainly he can match the exploits of Dmitri, PLoD, or Ronny B at first, and outhit Kory or Aaron Boone. Obviously we have to build through trades, FAs or Rule 5 steals (Zimmerman, Lannen and Balester are the only Nats signees on the the field), and help from minors is still years away.

Posted by: clarquito | September 20, 2008 7:43 AM | Report abuse

I was there, and I was the guy who asked about acquisitions in the off season. Bowden said that he would use trades and free agency to upgrade, particularly in getting a left handed power bat in the lineup. I asked him point blank if free agency was really an option for him with this team, and he said "absoloutely".

As far as the outfield goes, I definitely got the impression that Rizzo was not a big Milledge supporter. Not from what he said specifically, but by his tone and body language when he was talking about him. Rizzo spoke with great hesitation and shifted uncomfortably when discussing Milledge as part of the club long term. I came away thinking Milledge is not going to be here long.

Posted by: Ray | September 20, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

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