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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Long toss: What should we make of the off-season signings?

By Washington Post Sports

Our post on the Sun's report that the Nats' were a finalist for Justin Duchscherer prompted some interesting comments on the blog last night. Many focused on how we should judge the Nationals' signings this off-season, particularly when it comes to middle of the road players. This one by McKinley2 was noteworthy:

Not sure why people complain about the Nats not spending money and then complain about bringing in "lightning in the bottle" retreads and bounceback opportunities. These are all stopgap solutions that only cost the Lerners money in hopes that some will pan out. If signing Marquis for $15M meant the Nats fell a $1M short to the Reds on Chapman, then it's unfortunate. But having 5-10 #3-5 starters vying for spots in the rotation this year tells me that the organization understands that they have to placate the fan base by putting the best team on the field they can without compromising the future or systematic player development. Even if they don't engender optimism for 2011, I don't see any of these signings or rumored associations as negative.

It's time for a little long toss: Do you agree?

By Washington Post Sports  | January 31, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
Tags:  Nationals free agent signings, Nationals free agents, Washington Nationals offseason  
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Comments

I have no idea what the point in that post is.

I have no problem with the lightning in the bottle attempts, as those are the moves that make contenders out of also-rans. Carlos Pena's Rays career is an example. But they need to be part of an overall scheme that has credibility.

Anyway, the bottom line to the Nats is the bottom line. The club has no reason for not doing more on an annual basis to make the big club better. Payroll on a club like this should easily be $20M higher every year (the Brewers can outspend the Nats by that amount every year?). The organization has not been willing to assemlbe quality rosters and it has kept the club's progress toward contention to a crawl.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

" Payroll on a club like this should easily be $20M higher every year (the Brewers can outspend the Nats by that amount every year?)."

And easily outspend the Brewers on overslot draft picks last year. Easily. One, who they hope will be a solid top of the rotation power pitcher. He is in fact one of Keith Law's "sleepers" for 2011. In years past just the opposite was true? Rizzo and brain trust have convinced ownership to invest heavily in the draft. And that is very high risk/high reward. Certainly, Strasburg had a huge effect on that.

The Nats have moved up to 19 from 24 in organizational rankings by Keith Law, while the Brewers drop to 30 after the Grienke trade. With three top picks in a very rich draft the Nats have put themselves in a decent position (given the braintrust they hired as in Clark, Kline, and Minniti) to improve even more.

How does that translate to the big club? Let's see what happens to KC and Tampa Bay in 2012 and beyond. Both could conceivably have lower payrolls than the Orioles. Want to wager on where they will land in the standings?

Rizzo still needs one more top of the rotation starter. Last year the hope was in Strasburg and one of the gaggle of promising prospects (most of whom have now become too old to be considered prospects) would step forward. This year he knew he couldn't rely on them. Gorzelanny is one answer to that ... he isn't a 'retread'. They still need another. The problem is that "other" could cost them their advancement in organizational ranking.

K-Law:

"19. Washington Nationals
This represents a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM. He inherited a farm system that couldn't begin to fill the major league team's needs. Ownership opened its wallets beyond the first pick in August, adding three more players in the team's Top 10."

"But what truly sets the Royals apart, and not just this year but from prospect lists of years past, is their stable of left-handed pitchers. Southpaws are harder to find and valued very highly by most front offices, meaning the Royals have promising arms for their own use as well as a hoard for future trades if they find themselves in the running for a playoff spot. They've acquired those arms every which way they could -- mostly through shrewd drafting (Mike Montgomery in the sandwich round, Chris Dwyer in the fourth, John Lamb in the fifth), but also through trades and on the international front, where they've become major players since Moore took over. "

Moore started w/ KC in 2006

Crasnick:
"Go back a few years, and Minnesota's Terry Ryan and Colorado's Dan O'Dowd were routinely pilloried until their minor league operations began churning out talent in abundance. They're living proof that nothing makes a general manager look smarter than a loaded farm system."
"Above all, development has become an organizational mantra under Moore, who broke in as an area scout with Atlanta in 1994 as a disciple of the highly respected Paul Snyder and Roy Clark. "

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The key part of the post, to me, is this phrase: "placate the fan base by putting the best team on the field they can without compromising the future or systematic player development."

That may finally be the case in 2011 but it definitely wasn't true in the past. Think of Mike Bacski in the rotation, Joel Hanrahan being shoved into the closer's role and Lastings Milledge batting cleanup (and playing CF). That's why people are so skeptical to believe things are different now. Payroll is still lower than necessary, given the Lerners' resources and the revenue they're currenlty generating, but it does seem like they've finally tried to assemble a competitive team, within limits, while waiting for the farm system to fully kick in.

Signing Werth to the contract he got makes no sense otherwise; he's not going to sell tickets on his own. They obviously did the deal with the idea that more such moves would follow. They came close this winter but no luck. I still wouldn't be surprised to see one more major move (probably a trade) before the team breaks camp.

At the very least, they've got a team with no embarrassing weakness. It doesn't have any areas of greatness, either, but still Rizzo has worked hard to push the team to a level of competence. That's a start.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 31, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

But they *do* cost more than money.
They cost a spot on the 40 man roster.
They should cost a spot on the 25 man roster at some point.
And they cost opportunity. Last year, we had a hard time finding innings for our guys who were trying to make the rotation. It's gonna be the same this year. Adding another rehabbing, unproven arm on a one year deal makes little sense.

And note that it is a good sign that Duke picked to play somewhere else. It means that he sees his chance at making the 5 man rotation is better elsewhere than it is in DC. It's affirmation that we have more depth of reasonable quality than some other teams do.

Posted by: Sunderland | January 31, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I think Mike Rizzo has done a good job in balancing making the team more competitive while building the farm system. The true gauge of this year will be whether the young players have the break-out seasons this team needs: Desmond, Espinosa, JZimm, Storen, Ramos. If those guys become the players the brass think they can be, then getting to .500 should be doable, and in turn make the team all the more attractive to FAs, especially with the return of Strasburg and the arrival of Harper. The goal this year SHOULD be playoff contention and the minimum should be 8/10 game improvement.

Posted by: Handsome_John_Pruitt | January 31, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

The Nats have shown a willingness to overpay/overslot for the right free agents. Players who are either under 30 solid top-of-the-rotation starters with good velocity and fast, athletic position players. I believe this will continue to be the case. It started with the bidding war for Mark Teixeira, continued with Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth, and even Zack Grienke.

Hopefully, they will get more and better chances as time goes by.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"The true gauge of this year will be whether the young players have the break-out seasons this team needs: Desmond, Espinosa, JZimm, Storen, Ramos."

Totally agree with Handsome_John. I would add one other guy to this list: Bernadina, who despite being the most senior member of the organization is only 26. If these guys (or at least some of them) step up their play, this will be a different looking team, a .500 team.

The difference is that, finally, a decent number of legitimate major league prospects are playing on the major league roster. That's a Nats first.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 31, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Gotta love Natinal fans making excuses, day-after-day, as to why it's okay that the Naitnals stink and will continue to field a terrible product for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for the entertaining reading, hahahahaha.

Oh, and obviously no one at the WaPo associated with this blog has any problems with any of my entires, what with me still posting here and all.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | January 31, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Funny how the Post calls this "long toss". To me, this blog posting seems more like a punt.
And yes baltova, John Pruitt is not only Handsome, but on this day, he is also poignant. Nice one Poignant_John_Pruitt.

Posted by: Sunderland | January 31, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

peric -- Aside from it being several years late, I have no problem with the Nats moving to shore-up the farm, of course, but it is not enough on its own. No club wins on its farm alone.

The Nats need to spend on the MLB roster on a level that runs with their market and the Division.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm more hopeful about the Nats today than I was this time last year. That's all I need. Naysayers are going fling poo that's what they do, but I'm satisfied with the team I'm following. That's Rizzo.

Posted by: Berndaddy | January 31, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

"I have no idea what the point in that post is."

Pretty obviously another Raju Narisetti gimmick to gin up clicks for the online WP product. They just did a similar post over on wizards insider (and caps insider, and probably every freaking blog on the site).

Annoying. Let the blog writer do the posting and leave out the phony question-posing garbage.

Posted by: joebleux | January 31, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Can we just get one thing straight here: the Nationals & Mike Rizzo TRIED to raise the payroll this year. The wallet was open, but there's still not enough faith in the organization to get every player we want to come here just by waving money around. "Gosh, if we'd only offered guys more money, then ZOMG CONTENTION THIS YEAR!" is simply not a statement that has any basis in reality.

Given that fact, I'm feeling all right about the off-season moves. This was hardly a stellar free agent class to begin with.

Step by step, people. Step by step.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | January 31, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Step by step.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | January 31, 2011 2:07 PM

Why would someone reference a crummy TGIF show from the mid-90's on a Natinals blog?

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | January 31, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

There is much to criticize in the way the Nats (and the Expos before them) were run in the years leading up to this off-season, but taking (as one must) the situation that Rizzo found himself in (and leaving aside the decision to let Dunn go, which was made during the 2010 season), I think he did a reasonable job.

He was candid about the need for starting pitching, and made a major effort to get Grienke -- in fact, offering a trade that we may someday soon be grateful was never consummated. Greinke turned it down. Otherwise, SPs don't grow on trees and it's not clear to me that there's anything else they could reasonably have done via trade or free agency.

Unable to achieve their main goal, they strengthened the team at the margins, improved defense, and picked up a serviceable starting pitcher (Gorzelanny).

It is not going to put them in contention, and it probably won't even get them to .500. But it's a step in the right direction, building toward a time when it will be possible to attract more FAs (without paying ridiculous Werth-level premiums), and also a time when some of the team's other prospects (Harper et al) plus Strasburg are playing at the Major League level.

A lot of time was wasted 2005-2010, and a lot of goodwill squandered. But I can't fault Rizzo, or even the Lerners, for this off-season. And, with expectations suitably in check, I can't wait for Opening Day!

Posted by: Meridian1 | January 31, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I had no idea that the Lerners were down to their last $15 million with the Marquis signing so they couldn't come up with another $1 million for Chapman. Now I feel that I've been judgmental. They've spent every last cent and we'll just have to go with that.

Posted by: markfromark | January 31, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

The offseason signings and failed attempts to trade/sign new players is a step in the right direction. The team has improved on paper from last season, but have they improved enough to get out of the basement on the NL East....I hope so...but probably not. :(

Posted by: markfd | January 31, 2011 3:03 PM | Report abuse

If I'm not mistaken, the bidding for Chapman was closed and the Nats were #2 behind the Reds. Most acknowledged that the Nats put up a very generous offer for Mr. Chapman.

As for the remainder, the key metric is wins and losses. Riz has started to turn that ship around. We bottomed out, basically for two years running at 59-60 wins. Last year, we got up to 69. Riz didn't throw money after FAs for the sake of it. While I would have preferred that Dunn was re-signed, the Werth signing and other middle of the road fill ins (LaRoche, trade for Gorzo, etc ...) are ok stop gaps while the young talent pool develops.

The DRays are the best example of a team that slowly accumulated talent and is now a consistent contender. The key differences are (1) we have owners with deeper pockets who could (should) make better effort to retain young talent and (2) we don't play in a division with the NYY and BOS. The Phils have a maybe 2 year window and the Braves are coming on, but the division is certainly winnable down the road.

Consider that the non-bros. Zimm, SS, Harper, Espinoza, Desmond and Ramos are all still young and the other arms in the minors are still developing, the team is on the right track. If we get to 72-75 wins this year, add strategic pieces during the '11 offseason, the team could be a legit contender in '12 ...

Posted by: terrapin31590us | January 31, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"Funny how the Post calls this "long toss". To me, this blog posting seems more like a punt."

Typical Kilgore typo. It was supposed to be "lunch toss" - which it is.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 31, 2011 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Some notion that the Nats tried to spend more on payroll this year, but were unable to do so, is pretty crazy. No one else determines what the Nats spend.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Some notion that it even makes any difference what the payroll is would be even more crazy. All that matters is the quality of the players on the field, not how much it costs to get them there.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 31, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Some notion that it even makes any difference what the payroll is would be even more crazy. All that matters is the quality of the players on the field, not how much it costs to get them there.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 31, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Some notion that it even makes any difference what the payroll is would be even more crazy. All that matters is the quality of the players on the field, not how much it costs to get them there.

Posted by: FeelWood | January 31, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Quick and dirty:

- MLB FA signings were Werth, Hairston, LaRoche, Coffey, and Ankiel. That's 2 starters, 2 bench, and 1 reliever. I think they were good signs. No starting pitcher, but a legitimate star in Werth and good supporting cast members.

- MLB Trade acquisitions were Rodriguez and Gorzelany (plus Brown). Decent, but unexciting - but also not expensive in terms of what we gave up.

- Add 2 Rule 5's and about a dozen minor league free agent signings.

You can certainly complain about what was not accomplished - Lee, Dunn, Grienke, Garza, etc... - but I don't see a basis for criticizing what was accomplished.

As for Duchsherer and others like him - Webb, Wang, Bonderman, Young, etc... - grab a couple if you can, but we've finally gotten to the point where desginating for assingment actually means putting talented players at risk. Maybe Severino and Atliano go next and both could end up on another teams 40 man. Heck, Atliano could be the Pirates 3rd starter.

Posted by: natbiscuits | January 31, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Feelwood -- you really think that payroll does not matter? As if the quality of the players on the field has no relation to their costs? Of course all that matters is the quality of the players, but quality players generally come at a premium price.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

DFH, it's frustrating to hear you argue that the payroll is too low. Rizzo opened the Lerners checkbook this winter but the top free agents turned him down, with the exception of Werth. And, part of the reason we have a low payroll is that the Nats are not currently locked into any stupidly expensive long-term deals.

So, where were the Nats supposed to spend their money? Which players do you think they should have signed that they didn't? Should they have offered $20m/year to Brandon Webb so you can feel better? Or do you think they should just give every player on the 40-man a $5 million bonus and then put out a press release about how they expect to compete for the WS next year because they have a Mets-like payroll!?!

Posted by: cpedigo | January 31, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Again, @dfh21,

Payroll matters. But also WHERE YOU PUT IT. AND WHO DECIDES. And in the end WHO GETS IT? Let's start with 15 milllion non-returnable bonus for Stephen Strasburg. 10 million non-returnable bonus to Bryce Harper. They over slotted AJ Cole to the tune of around 1.1 million, Robbie Ray for 700K. This is Rizzo, Clark, and Klein.

NOT Sideshow JimBo:

BA's John Manual courtesy of Expo's fan P. Reddington:

"I think [the caller's complaint] is a valid criticism and I know he works there on the network, but I didn't think Jim Bowden did a great job running that franchise. I don't think he did a great job running their scouting and player development, and that was one of the things that got him fired. Obviously the whole "Smiley" Gonzalez shenanigans and that was a joke...You know, Jim's track record in Cincinnati was bad, and when he left, the Reds have gotten better at player development, so I think that's a fair assessment of the Nationals, and I think Mike Rizzo is better scouting and player development than Jim Bowden was and you'll see better results under Mike Rizzo."

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

dfh21: Payroll matters, but only when players accept an offer (Marquis & Pudge in '09, Werth this year). If free agents or trade possibles are treating the team like their offer was in confederate dollars (De la Rosa, Greinke this year, Teixiera in '08), then all the money at Rizzo's disposal won't be enough to bring that player under contract in DC.
---------------
In response to Kilgore's post, I think Rizzo has taken some positive steps in the off-season to strenghten the defense & bench for the Nationals. The pitching held steady, imo, but could see improvement with Gorzelanny, a healthy JZimm & Detwiler, and a physically better-prepared Maya than what we saw in 2010.

Posted by: BinM | January 31, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

... now, the bullpen could be another story completly. Fans (& a number of pundits) thought the team had a solid bullpen back in '06-'07 with guys like Colome-Ayala-Rauch-Rivera-Cordero manning the 'critical' innings. The wheels came off that fairly quickly, IIRC. This years' bullpen could quickly turn into another train-wreck, unless Burnett-Clippard-Slaten-Storen can duplicate their 2010 results.

Posted by: BinM | January 31, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Guys, on the payroll issue, he money matters. Clubs that make the post season with bottom 10 payrolls for years at a time are few and far between.

The Nats have lacked the will/skill to produce anything close to a winner makes them have to pay a premium to convince players to come here -- that is a problem they created. They tilted the playing field against themselves by waiting 5 years to assemble anything resembling a decent club, or even a decent farm.

Rizzo did not chase any top flight FA's last year -- none. They spent years going cheap in the draft, cheap in the front office, doing nothing internationally and bargain basement shopping for stopgap adds to 100 loss clubs, so now when they finally get serious about trying to lure FA's or Zack Grienke we should not be giving them some benefit of the doubt because it is hard to sell the big-time losing on the cheap organization they created to players who actually have a choice and want to win.

That being said. I like Werth, LaRoche, Ankiel, Stairs, Coffey and Gorz, and I think that Wang might be a nice surprise. The club should be deeper all around and much improved and Rizzo may not be done yet. And this off-season's work will likely help the club land players they want in the future - build it and they will come. Just don't complain that they won't come if you have not done much in terms of trying to win. Until very recently the Nats have not really even tried to win; take a look at the opening day rosters for the club over the years and you'll see that is undeniable.

Anyway -- BinM I agree on the bullpen, coming into 2009 it looked like a strength, did not work out that well. And last year's strong results had a lot to do with Capps and Peralta. I like the guys they have for 2011, though I would have liked a guy with some serious closing experience added to the bunch -- lots of pressure on Storen to be "the" guy when he may not be ready for the role.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 6:59 PM | Report abuse

"Rizzo did not chase any top flight FA's last year -- none."

That is completely false. According to ESPN Werth was a top 5 free agent. According to Fangraphs his WAR was 5.0. On the Nats only Ryan Zimmerman is higher with a 7.2 and he is I believe fifth or fourth overall.

Then there's Cliff Lee and Zack Grienke for starters.

Please start with facts. Thank you.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 7:15 PM | Report abuse

" lots of pressure on Storen to be "the" guy when he may not be ready for the role."

They also now have Henry Rodriguez, Elvin Ramirez both coming off good winters. IMHO Sean Burnett is now enough of a veteran to be considered more than BinM's crap shoot. And there's Coffey. And, if all things work out, Livo will join them in Batista's role. It should be a good mix.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

I think the moves this offseason have by-and-large been positive, and might be enough to move the Nats out of the NL East cellar. The addition of Werth and LaRoche are huge defensive upgrades in OF and 1B, and Gorzelanny provides a reliable arm to the rotation.

Improvements to the defense, starting pitching, and bullpen should make this team better than the 2010 Nats -- especially if young players like Desmond, Espy, Bernadina, and Ramos can take a step forward. And hopefully the moves aren't over yet.

The Nats still need a credible leadoff hitter/center fielder. Maybe Morgan can put it together, but I wouldn't bet on it. And they could also use a top-of-the rotation starter. They have a surplus of catchers and bullpen arms. So there would seem to be the pieces to make another trade before the season starts.

Posted by: js_edit | January 31, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

"Rizzo did not chase any top flight FA's last year -- none."

Apologies! Mea Culpa. I think you were referring to 2009. In that case I believe your statement is correct. I got a bit confused since it is just now 2011.

They were hyper-focused on getting the farm system restarted. Look at how devastating the previous years had been up until Strasburg and Storen. 2007 under Bowden was particularly damaging, the penchant for drafting high risk/high reward high school players hurt the most that year.

Via P. Reddington BA's, John Manuel: "I know that in 2007, when the Nationals had extra picks, we thought they had a really good draft. In fact, I believe when we did our Draft Report Cards that fall we called it the best draft...because of their depth and we liked some of the younger guys they took*. The thing is all of those guys pretty much flamed out. They took a lot of high school arms that year. I think the only guy that really worked out of that draft, was Jordan Zimmermann. Ross Detwiler's okay, he's got a chance, but other high school pitchers like Jack McGeary and Josh Smoker we were excited about did not pan out."

Then there's this from KLaw circa 2006:
"About a month or so after Dayton Moore took over as the Royals' GM, he told me that he was alarmed to find how little pitching inventory he had in his new farm system and that addressing that vacuum would be a major priority for his front office."

For Rizzo it wasn't just pitchers (although they were the most critical part) it was also position players, player development, scouting. THERE WAS NONE. And he was still technically 'interim'.

Uhhm Where the bejeesus would you start @dfh21 or would you wring your hands and sign decrepit old players way past their prime for 10 million and up? Knowing that the really good ones probably wouldn't come because of the franchise reputation?

My understanding is that reputation improved with the signings of Strasburg and Storen. But, it takes time ... for Dayton Moore its been five long years ... and he really won't reap the harvest until next year probably.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

This was the Nats best off-season ever. And we have to remember this was only Rizzo's second at GM. Unfortunately we all had to suffer through the JimBo era that lasted way too long and probably should never have existed in the first place.

The Nats finally look like a major league ballclub with legit major leaguers filling every spot on the 25 man roster. I give Rizzo credit for doing everything in his power to fill the teams needs this offseason, its not his fault Lee took less to go to Philly or Greinke vetoed the trade.

Also the Nats were right not to resign Dunn. He is not a national league player. The best thing for the Nats and Dunn was for him to move to the AL. And Adam Laroche was the best plan-b.

If next years offseason is as good as this one and Bryce Harper is as good as he thinks he is then we will be competing for the wildcard in 2012.

A 2012 rotation of:
Oswalt
Strasburg
Zimmermann
Gorzalanny
Lannan

2012 lineup:
Morgan/Bernardina
Desmond
Harper
Zimm
Werth
Laroche
Espinosa
Ramos/Flores

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | January 31, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Payroll matters, dfh21? Then riddle me this, Batman. Who won all the individual payroll awards last season? Which team took the World Series of Payroll? Where in the Post are the daily payroll leaders and the payroll standings printed during the season? When's the next election to the Payroll Wing of the Hall of Fame? Who are the all time leaders of payroll? And finally, if it's payroll that matters why do they even bother to play the games?

Posted by: nunof1 | January 31, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

peric -- that is framing the issue unfairly. The Nats's choices were and are not limited to old players way past their primes for $10M and up.

The Nats have only recently gotten their act together on any player personnel front. The drafts of the last two years, the Maya signing, Stras and Harper, this off-season's adds of Werth, LaRoche and Gorzelanny: all good stuff, big steps in the right direction. But, to answer your question, I wish that Rizzo had been aggressive last year. Think about how very little he added to a back to back last place and 100 loss club going into 2010 -- it is hard to believe in retrospect.

He waited. Why? I have to think that it is the budget -- he had to get some contracts off the books first before he could add in earnest. Payroll matters. And when Rizzo's club is in a big, rich market in a new publicy financed park, demanding high ticket prices and all, why they would not take on payroll above a bottom 5 in the game is something that Zack Grienke may have asked himself.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 8:14 PM | Report abuse

nunof1 -- the Yankees are the undisputed champions of payroll, the 27 WS trophies are at least somewhat connected to that fact.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 8:22 PM | Report abuse

"Even if they don't engender optimism for 2011"

This will be the 6th season in a row that the Nats are two years away from competing. Stan used to say Anderson Hernandez, Garrett Mock, and Matt Chico were all "important pieces", and that the Nats would be loaded with pitching by now.

The new strategy of waiting for saviors to mature is going to run into a little problem if Zimmerman decides he actually wants to play for a winner after 2013. This means the Harper/Stras/Zimm combo might be together for just a season and a half.

But I'm sure in 2015 there'll be Kool-Aid drinking Nats Journal posters talking about how the team will be ready to compete in 2017.

Posted by: tgt111 | January 31, 2011 9:03 PM | Report abuse

@dfh21,

If you're Rizzo and you are starting from scratch ... what do you do? As an interim GM his hands were somewhat tied to decisions by the Nats board plus Stan. The board is probably going to think in terms of the bottom line. Nevertheless Rizzo managed to get the Lerner's to sign Strasburg, followed by Storen.

Once the interim label was removed he rapidly went into action to hire who he felt were the right people to rebuild the farm system, scouting/player development. The farm system is what feeds your team into the playoffs. For this he hired Roy Clark who is deemed a foremost expert to be an assistant GM. He probably is about as good as you can get.

This year he pursued multiple high end free agents while continuing to move to rebuild the farm system. He signed both his first round and second round picks and overslotted to get two promising high school arms. This draft promises to have even more talented pitchers both high school and college, perhaps the richest in recent memory. He is set up to take advantage of that ...

perhaps not in the same position as Friedman. But then Friedman's system, even THOUGH WAY LOWER pay roll in Tampa Bay, he managed to get two key free agents in Johnny Damon and Manny to come on board. He lost two of his top picks as a result of signing them but still has ELEVEN! Originally, they had 13. Many wondered if they might skip better talent to avoid having to pay high bonuses? You know I don't think the Nats would do that this year under Rizzo. I think they would sign them all while picking the best.

I'm not sure why the Lerner's went with Bowden. I suspect he is a con-artist and slick, quite adept at convincing new owners that he can get them to the world series on a dime instead of a dollar. My sense is that Stan opposed this and was overruled.

I guess they learned the hard way and we suffered. You can't cry over spilt milk. So, many studies have shown that living in the past can lead to negative thinking, negative attitudes, less success and an unhealthy lifestyle. In other words its time to move on. If KC can give Dayton Moore 6 years the Nats can give older and wiser Mike Rizzo his five. And I believe he will make the very best of those five years.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 9:06 PM | Report abuse

...the Yankees are the undisputed champions of payroll, the 27 WS trophies are at least somewhat connected to that fact.

Posted by: dfh21
==========================================
True, that.

But suppose the Nats had gone into the FA market this winter bound and determined to match the Yankees payroll.

1) Would they have gotten Lee, Greineke, and others?

2) Would they have filled enough holes to suddenly become the team to beat in the NL East?

I think the answer to both those questions is "no."

So why spend a gazillion dollars to get great, when you have to get mediocre first? You can't put together a $200 million payroll if the players don't want to come here.

If the Nats are respectable this season - say 75-80 wins - and Strasburg is lighting up radar guns again in September and Harper hits eight homers when he's called up in September, do you think anyone will invoke their no-trade clause against the Nats? Do you think the Nats will still have to overpay to get good FAs?

I think this is an improved team, and I would be not at all surprised to see them win 75 or 80 this year with what they have. Rizzo tried paying top dollar, but if top dollar isn't enough to get your top players, then you try to get the best talent you can, and when the team improves, be ready to spend when and where it makes a difference.

Posted by: gilbertbp | January 31, 2011 9:08 PM | Report abuse

BTW, while discussing payrolls, note the Mets' payroll this season will be around $140-150 million. Look at their team and look at the Nats and tell them there's a real difference between them. If there is (and with Santana out for half the season, I don't think there is), there's not an $80 million difference.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 31, 2011 9:14 PM | Report abuse

The progress of the Washington Nationals is sort of a circular argument, much like the chicken or the egg, as Rizzo recently referenced.
Dating back to 2002, the Loria/MLB ownership in Montreal under Beinfest & Minaya as GM's, systematically "gutted' the team & farm system, hoping for the Selig-suggested contraction that never happened. The result was a franchise pawned off on novice owners (the Lerner group, for a large league profit), crippled by a lack of system depth, but having a high-profile Pres/GM combo in Kasten & Bowden.

The .500 W-L record in 2005 proved to be an anomaly, as injuries exposed the complete lack of ML-ready players within the system. As the team slowly regressed, the front office continued to throw band-aids on what was now a gushing wound - (Draft choices for players w/'tools' or "high upside", FA signings for 'experienced' players (you know the names), and trades for more of the same that didn't work out the way we hoped overall. Let's just call 2006-2009 our "Years in the Wilderness", and just move on.

With Rizzo as GM, at first blush at least (1.5 years at the helm), has helped restock a woefully inadequate minor-league system to the point that it is feeding the Nationals roster with some ML-ready players on a regular basis.

Again, remember your history, otherwise you are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: BinM | January 31, 2011 9:16 PM | Report abuse

peric -- I have no idea what Rizzo could have done better last year with the interim tag and all, but I think that it is pretty clear that he was playing within payroll restraints that made his job much more difficult than it should have been.

I don;t want to sound like I blame Rizzo for not having chased any big FA's after the 2009 season; I think that the Lerners were not interested in a substantial payroll increase, so Rizzo got what he could and took some flyers on position changes and rookies and such. He was in a bad position.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 31, 2011 9:20 PM | Report abuse

"peric -- I have no idea what Rizzo could have done better last year with the interim tag and all, but I think that it is pretty clear that he was playing within payroll restraints that made his job much more difficult than it should have been."

@dfh21,

Its not clear to me that he was 'constrained' by payroll in 2009. I don't think he has a clearly assigned payroll for 2009. I think what he did have was a crippled organization still trying to hang onto worthless assets ... or guys who didn't really fit in the National League. He found himself overruled by "the board". Let's face it there were probably a bunch of Bowden-ites loyal to JimBo who resisted changes that would make him (and them by osmosis) look bad.

I believe he was constrained more by a lack of authority. Once that changed he started to do things differently. Sometimes he wasn't the most politically correct in how he handled players plus the media and he had to learn to craft his public image as well. It was a learning experience.

By picking Roy Clark, Rizzo knows history as he started with the Nats in 2007 and his description of the system at the time? "Worst than the Diamondbacks in their first expansion year."

IMHO, Bowden, not the Lerners was the worst thing that could possibly happen to this franchise after the Minaya years. The absolute worst thing that could possibly ever happen. The Lerner's as rookie owners really didn't understand baseball, the sport or the business all that well. Keeping Bowden was their biggest mistake up to this point.

Every single expert across the board pretty much says the same. They are mostly all objective!

The Yankees had some ridiculously bad, lean years before Steinberg took over. Years in which the old Nats were the better AL team. So, the Yankees were certainly not immune to bad ownership, bad management. Far from it.

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Meant to say Steinbrenner ...

Posted by: periculum | January 31, 2011 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I don't agree with McKinley2's comment. There is a conflict between appeasing impatient fans in the short term and building a championship team in the long term.

Signing mediocre veterans doesn't just divert limited resources, as Sunderland points out, it has a very real opportunity cost. It denies playing time to young players who have a chance to develop and prove themselves capable of being part of a future championship team.

Rizzo, and Nationals fans, need to be patient and stop worrying about whether the 2011 team finishes in 4th or 5th place. That doesn't matter. What matters is doing everything possible to make sure the team, eventually, has a legitimate chance to compete for a championship. Otherwise, the team risks being stuck in mediocrity for a long time.

Posted by: Dynatic | February 1, 2011 4:28 AM | Report abuse

There was obvious significant financial constraint in 2009.
Look at the draft picks after Strasburg.
You'd either have to accept that Rizzo and team decided that Storen (#10 overall pick), Kobernus (#50) and Holder (#81) were the best prospects available at the spot the Nats drafted them, or you gotta decide that that the Nats were financially constraining themselves.

They were either dopes or cheapskates.
I don't think they were dopes.
Ergo - they were being cheap.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 1, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Keeping Bowden was their biggest mistake up to this point.Posted by: periculum
===============================
IMO it was the second biggest. Letting Frank Robinson go was sinful/stupid.Probably was Bowden's doing which added to his destroying of the team. Acta + Riggleman together do not equal Frank. Can you see either of those guys taking on Scosia? We are going to need someone like him ASAP!

Posted by: bosco3 | February 1, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I don't really see the opportunity cost. I'd rather see the Nats top prospects honing their skills at Syracuse or at levels below rather than learning/struggling at the major league level. Years of service consideration aside, good teams always seem to benefit by not rushing guys in their system to the majors (or undermining their trade value by having them underperform at the major league level if they're brought up before they're ready). 1 or 2 year signings fill the gap and, if necessary, can be more easily shed without too onerous a fiscal hit on the team's financial situation. But after the past 3 years of excessive losses and visiting fan invasions, both patient and impatient Nats fans want today's Nats to be as good as they can be without compromising the Nats of tomorrow. I believe Rizzo and the Lerners are delivering on that concern without creating conflict between the team's present and its future.

Posted by: McKinley2 | February 1, 2011 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Dynatic -- I don't think that the club should worry about being stuck in mediocrity as it has never reached that high level of play to begin with.

Patience is not what is needed here; we gotta go Egypt on these Mubaraks! Take to Half Street by the thousands (ok, maybe the hundreds) and demand they spend in the draft every year, demand they ink international talent, demand that they trade (i.e., take on salary) for players that will both enhance the club's ability to win now AND make them viable down the road (LaRoche, Werth, Gorzelanny fit that bill).

The owners have had years to do it their slow low spending way, which has produced very little. Yet in a short time with a more rational approach Rizzo made great strides -- the club needs to be more urgent with the new approach, they need to do more soon.

We're going into year 5 of losing to beat the band with the Lerners. The owners are no longer new to the game, Rizzo has been in charge for almost 2 years and was a high level executive with the club before that let's not forget, the club is in the bottom 5-6 clubs in payroll every year inexplicably and is delivering last place clubs every year with a midling farm on the way. They do not deserve patience.

Maybe Rizzo has been severely held back due to the management structure, his relative newness to the job or the Lerners not wanting to spend or some combination, but those factors should not buy the club a license to keep losing for years to come. That rewards the bad behavior that got this club so deep in the hole to begin with. It is well passed time for the Nats to step it up and get it done -- put a team on the field this year (and every year) that has a chance to win.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 1, 2011 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Here's hoping the Post grabs McKinley's 8:35AM post and asks us to dissect it again.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 1, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Dynatic, I couldn't disagree more with this comment:

"Signing mediocre veterans doesn't just divert limited resources, as Sunderland points out, it has a very real opportunity cost. It denies playing time to young players who have a chance to develop and prove themselves capable of being part of a future championship team."

"Signing mediocre veterans" doesn't "divert limited resources." The Nats' payroll is still low, even after signing guys like Werth. We don't have a single example of the team saying, "We wanted to sign that guy but we're out of money." We don't have a single example of the team not signing a draft choice because they don't have the money. They've got enough money to do what they need to do, the resources aren't that limited.

Second, as for this, "It denies playing time to young players who have a chance to develop and prove themselves capable of being part of a future championship team:" who has been deprived of a chance to play over the past few years? I must have missed those future superstars who've withered on the vine while we watched Mike Bacik and Lavale Speigner and Kevin Mench.

Most of the contracts given to the current "mediocre" veterans (who are a little better than mediocre, to be fair) doesn't keep the Nats from spending money on developing young talent and it won't keep that young talent from getting its chance when the time is right. These contracts are the kind of things you do go give the fans their money's worth while they wait for the good players to show up. It should have been done three years ago.

Posted by: baltova1 | February 1, 2011 10:53 AM | Report abuse

>>But after the past 3 years of excessive losses and visiting fan invasions, both patient and impatient Nats fans want today's Nats to be as good as they can be without compromising the Nats of tomorrow. I believe Rizzo and the Lerners are delivering on that concern without creating conflict between the team's present and its future.

Posted by: McKinley2

Boy are you in for a shock when the starters get their brains beat in constantly and there's no help coming up from the minors. I guess you could hold a candlelight vigil for Sammy Solis to come up, but he just got drafted.

Posted by: Brue | February 1, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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