Archive for the 'Washington Nationals' Category

2006 Preview: Troubled Nats are MLB’s black mark

This is Part One of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the state of the Major League Baseball owned Washington Nationals. Yesterday, I looked at the White Sox’s attempts to repeat at World Champions. Tomorrow, I’ll look at baseball’s worst team, and it’s not one from Florida.

The Washington Nationals are in trouble, and it is all Major League Baseball’s fault. While Commissioner Bud Selig is basking in the glow of success cast by the World Baseball Classic, the Nationals situation – a story that should be a bigger scandal – grows worse with every passing day.

To recap, Major League Baseball bought the Expos in 2002 when the Expos owners bought the Marlins and the Marlins owners bought the Red Sox. In 2004, MLB announced that the Expos would be moved to Washington, DC. Meanwhile, every few months, Bud Selig promises to find an owner for the Expos/Nationals. First, it was going to by Opening Day 2004, then the All Star Break, then after the World Series, then Opening Day 2005, then late April, late July, the end of the regular season, and November.

As Selig looks everywhere for an owner, Major League Baseball went about antagonizing the Washington, DC city council to the point that a stadium almost wasn’t approved. A few weeks ago, the Nationals finally got their stadium approved, and it is supposedly going to be ready by Opening Day 2008. Meanwhile, Selig said an ownership group would be in place shortly after the stadium deal was finalized.

Guess what? No owner. The Nationals are in trouble.

So while this saga reflects poorly on Major League Baseball, it has left the Washington Nationals organization in shambles. First, this is a team with a farm system that hasn’t produced much talent since the late 1990s. With no money in the bank, the Big League executives haven’t been able to secure big bonus payments to high round draft picks, and they haven’t been able to recruit foreign talent.

In 2005, the Nats were ranked 26 out of 30 by Baseball America. When the 2006 list hits the Internet at some point this week, the Nationals won’t be any higher and could fall to 28 or 29. For the Nats to see some improvement in their system, they need an owner in place before the amateur draft this year. An owner would enable the Nationals to spend the bonus money on players who can make an impact.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Nationals’ system however. Ryan Zimmerman, last year’s first round draft pick, will be starring in RFK Stadium this season. If his Spring Training is any indication, his presence will make Nationals’ fans forget Vinny Castilla’s 2005 season ever happened. After a two-home run game yesterday, Zimmerman has 7 homers on the spring and an offensive line of .329/.382/.700. While his defense has been some cause for concern, his bat will fill a void in an offensively-challenged lineup.

At the Major League level, the Nationals are in trouble. They have been hit with injury after injury this season. They lost key relief pitcher Luis Ayala to an arm injury that would have happened even if he had not participated in the World Baseball Classic. Before that, they lost their projected third starter Brian Lawrence to a season-ending arm injury. Lawrence was supposed to replace Esteban Loaiza who signed a three-year deal with Oakland this winter.

With this key pitchers out, the Nationals’ bullpen is weaker. Plus, the rotation will be relying heavily on Russ Ortiz and Pedro Astacio. If Spring Training is any indication, the Nats better hope for a miracle or a AAA replacement player. Combined, Ortiz and Astacio have been downright horrible. The two have combined for 35.2 innings, giving up 57 hits and 30 earned runs. They’ve walked 14 and struck out 16.

But every cloud has its silver lining. One more “key” part of the Nationals organization may miss the entire season with an injury, but in this case, the team is lucky. Cristian Guzman may be out for the year with a shoulder injury. Cristian Guzman was so bad last year he actually took runs and wins away from the team. He had a VORP of -9.6, ranking him last among all Major League short stops, and an MLVr of -.270. With this injury, the Nationals will be forced to improve. The worst they could do is plug in someone with a VORP of 0, and already, they would a better team.

In left field, the Nationals are in trouble. Already, one supposedly marquee trade has blown up in the Nationals’ face. I have already written extensively on the Soriano saga. But this is not a positive situation for the team or the second baseman/left fielder. It just shows how rudderless the team is.

Off the field, the Nationals are in trouble. A walk around Washington, D.C., reveals approximately no signs that baseball season is starting this weekend. There are no ads in the Metro for another exciting season of Washington baseball. The television rights debacle created by Major League Baseball’s desire to placate Orioles owner Peter Angelos is now attracting the attention of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). And a story in yesterday’s Washington Post suggested that the Nationals business will suffer because, in the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists won’t be taking their Hill clients to the expensive seats at RFK Stadium.

So as the 2006 season dawns, the Nationals are clearly a team in trouble. They are a sagging, struggling team, facing two more seasons in a subpar stadium that is, in my opinion, the worst facility on the East Coast (and probably in all of baseball). They have no ownership and little hope for the future.

Hopefully, 2006 will finally be the year when Major League Baseball sheds itself of ownership responsibilities, and the Washington Nationals can finally begin the long, hard climb back toward respectability. It would be nice if they weren’t in trouble all the time.

Spreading the blame for the Soriano soap opera

Blame everyone week continues here on Talking Baseball. After yesterday’s indictment of Tony La Russa and his involvement in the Steroid Era, I want to turn my attention to baseball’s – and the District of Columbia’s – latest soap opera: the Alfonso Soriano/Left Field Saga.

So far, what we know is that the Nationals acquired All Star Second Baseman (which is a voted honor and doesn’t always reflect reality) Alfonso Soriano from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and Armando Galarraga. Soriano, 30, has shown flashes of brilliance in his career. He has the rare combination of speed and power. However, he has no plate discipline and seems to have problems staying focused during the course of a game.

When the Nationals landed Soriano, they did so with the intent of turning the poor-fielding middle infielder into a left fielder. Soriano, however, would have none of it. He announced in December that he would not switch to the outfield. Despite his erratic fielding, he takes pride in considering himself a second baseman. He reiterated this stance numerous times over the off-season and has maintained this stance since 2001 when the Yankees tried him in left field for a few days.

Yesterday, this conflict came to head. Soriano, back in Viera for Spring Training after the World Baseball Classic, refused to take the field with his name penciled in as the left fielder. He was pulled from the game before it started, but the incident is not over.

According to Nationals GM Jim Bowden, Soriano will be in the lineup later today as the starting left fielder. If he does not take the field then, the team will attempt to place him on the disqualified list. The disqualified list is a barely-used list maintained, as far as I can tell, by the Commissioner’s Office. A team can request a player be put on the disqualified list. If the Commissioner approves this request, that player does not accrue playing time or money for the duration of the time on the list. The player can then be removed from the list when he agrees to play for his team.

For Soriano, landing on the disqualified list would probably be nothing less than a disaster. Soriano is a free agent after this season. If he were to sit out the season over this dispute – an unlikely outcome – he would not become a free agent, and he would not collect the $10 million coming to him this season. His reputation as a self-centered player, already fairly entrenched, would grow. Because of these extreme circumstances, I would expect to see a very unhappy Alfonso Soriano take the field in Jupiter later this evening. He won’t like it, but he will be there.

So as this debacle plays itself out, who’s to blame? It’s not as clear-cut an issue as it seems on the surface.

First, Alfonso Soriano is by no means innocent in this saga. His refusal to switch positions after his employer has asked him to do so shows just how selfish he is. He is not a very good second baseman, and everyone in baseball has recognized that. He knows that he is more valuable to a team as a power-hitting second baseman than as a 25-home run left fielder, and I suspect that his looming free agency is playing a role in this tale.

Yet, it shouldn’t. When Soriano hits free agency in eight months, I think he will find himself to be a lukewarm commodity. He will be nearing his 31st birthday with his most productive days behind him. He has the “unfocused” tag attached to him and is quickly adding “selfish” to his list of adjectives. His on-base percentage has been woeful, and he is a horrible lead-off hitter. If his power ends up being a product of Texas rather than of his ability, Soriano probably won’t even see the $10 million he is set to earn this year.

Furthermore, Soriano’s stature in the game is declining. He takes pride in his Dominican roots, but he was benched during the WBC due to his fielding and hitting failures. He tried to impress everyone with his handling of second base during the tournament and failed. His is a sinking ship.

But for all of Soriano’s faults, he is not the only one who comes off dirty in this tale. Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden is on the hot seat for this one. According to reports in yesterday’s Washington Post, Bowden knew that Soriano did not want to switch positions. He made the trade against the urges of others in the Nationals organization and did so knowing that the Rangers knew Soriano would not switch positions. Furthermore, Bowden did not attempt to speak with Soriano or his agent before the deal was made. Rather, he waited until after Soriano was a member of the Nations to broach the subject.

So now, according to The Post, members of the Nationals organization view the trade as “a mistake.” The Nationals are in no position to trade Soriano. They have a $10-million problem that they need to get off their hands and do not have much bargaining leverage. It’s doubtful they would get a player who could replace Soriano in name or ability.

So as both Bowden and Soriano can shoulder the blame, what happens next? In all likelihood, we’ll have resolution tonight. Soriano will either take left field this afternoon or he will be placed on the disqualified list. If I were in charge of the Players’ Association, I would urge Soriano to take the field. The last thing baseball needs now, on the eve of negotiations over the Basic Agreement, is a power struggle between Major League Baseball and one of the game’s more popular players in both American and the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, it would behoove Jim Bowden to take this is a lesson. As the Washington Times pointed out yesterday, the next few days will determine Bowden’s future in baseball. Either this trade will make him look foolish or he will be able to negotiate a settlement with Soriano.

As this conflict rushes headlong to a conclusion in a few hours, baseball fans are left with another example of a short-sighted trade. While some fans are quick to signal out Soriano as selfish, there is plenty of blame to go around. Jim Bowden dropped the ball on this trade, and Soriano should reevaluate his priorities.

MLB pulls a fast one on District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., is a city of extremes. Dwarfed by the Federal Government and monuments honoring this country’s founders, it’s easy for the millions of tourists that pass through the city to ignore the deep-seated social problems.

The District is one of the most racially segregated urban areas in the nation. It contains some of the fanciest neighborhoods, home to the wealthiest, most powerful men in America, just a short walk away from the most neglected slums in the country. While some of the most prestigious private schools in the nation call D.C. home, the public education system in the Nation’s Capital is routinely underfunded, and the public library system is in shambles.

Enter Major League Baseball. After the 2004 season, Major League Baseball decided to move the struggling Montreal Expos out of Canada and back to the United States. One of the cities vying for the honor of its own Major League Baseball team was the District of Columbia. The District, which last played host to a Major League game in 1971, was chomping at the bit for a baseball team. Little did the residents realize what landing the team would mean.

In their relocation efforts, Major League Baseball, the once and current owners of the Washington Nationals née Montreal Expos, clearly had the upper hand. With four areas competing for a team, the big wigs in charge of relocation could demand certain terms from the city that ultimately won the team. If the city failed to make good on the deal, well, three other areas are still interested in landing their very own Major League Baseball team.

For Major League Baseball, one of the key terms of the deal was a publicly-funded stadium. Never mind that Major League Baseball would be awash in cash from the sale of Washington Nationals. Remember, MLB bought the Expos for $120 million and could sell the Nationals for upwards of $450 million. Never mind that a potential buyer may be willing to split the costs of the stadium.

No, for those running the show at Major League Baseball, the relocation of the Nationals presented these executives with an opportunity to flex their political muscles by demanding that the city to which they graciously award a team foots the bill for the new stadium this team requires. When MLB picked Washington, D.C., MLB executives were put to the test. Could they manipulate the City Council under the shadow of the federal government into paying for a pricey stadium that most economists agree would not return tangible economic benefits to the city?

Boy, were those executives ever up to the task. Originally, Major League Baseball negotiated the agreement with Mayor Anthony Williams. Mayor Williams agreed to the ridiculous condition that the District of Columbia would pick up the entire cost for building a stadium priced at $535 million along with nearly $20 million in renovations to the Metro stop that would service this new stadium. Major League Baseball, the organization that stands to net over $300 million when they finally sell the Nationals, would contribute zero, zilch, nada to this plan.

Well, surprise, surprise, the City Council, um, actually agreed to this deal. Then, a few of the pro-stadium council members were voted out of office, and the stadium negotiations devolved into the soap opera that has played itself out over the last year.

On Sunday, just hours before this stadium case could have gone to arbitration, Major League Baseball signed the latest iteration of the lease. On Monday, the Mayor signed the lease, and on Tuesday, the council, which seems to be receptive to this deal, will vote on the lease. Groundbreaking on the [Insert Corporate Name] Stadium could begin right around Opening Day 2006.

So after all of that political wrangling and back-and-forth between the Council and Major League Baseball, it’s reasonable to assume that maybe the Council worked out a better deal. Maybe Major League Baseball is going to help defray the costs of the stadium construction so that the Council can focus on pooring money into its school system or sagging infrastructure. Right? Right? No, sorry, you’re wrong.

In the latest version of the deal, Major League Baseball is completely and utterly screwing over the District of Columbia. The new lease limits public spending on the project to $611 million. Major League Baseball has offered to throw in a whopping $20 million to aid the project. Meanwhile, MLB was firm on its point that the new owner would not be asked to contribute to the project. Who cares if the new ownership group is willing to help pay? Don’t even think about it, says Major League Baseball.

In another twist, Bob DuPuy, the number two guy in Major League Baseball, asked the council to agree to a provision requiring the city not to enact any legislation that violates the term of the lease. When asked to elaborate, DuPuy could not.

Notably, the lease terms do call for contributions if the project costs more than $611 million. At that point, Major League Baseball or the new Nationals owners or someone else will step in with the money. You can bet that MLB will be putting full pressure on the architects to keep the cost of the stadium under that spending cap. Heaven forbid MLB spend its millions to build its own facilities.

So in the end, Major League Baseball gets its sweet deal. They get their publicly-funded stadium from a city that certainly could use the money for nearly anything else. The owners stand to profit handsomely from the deal, and the jury is still out as to whether or not this new stadium will revitalize an area sorely in need of revitalization.

In my opinion, this saga should have been more of a scandal. While it garnered its fair share of headlines, Major League Baseball was busy dealing with the steroid scandal, and the media glossed over the stadium debate. With this sad chapter in the business of baseball fading into the past, hopefully, Major League Baseball can now get to work on finding an ownership group with pockets deep enough to rebuild the Washington Nationals into a contending baseball team by the time the new stadium opens up in 2008. For $611 million in taxpayer money, the District of Columbia certainly better get a winner and soon.

Stubborn heads prevail in Manny trade talks, Nationals stadium fiasco

Two stories that have long dominated the Hot Stove headlines have seemingly reached new high points this week. Manny Ramirez’s trade demand and the trade talks may be receding into the past while Major League Baseball’s attempts at procuring a free stadium paid for by the District of Columbia are heading toward arbitration.

The big news of the day comes to us from ESPNdesportes. The Spanish-language arm of the Worldwide Leader in Sports is reporting that no hay cambio, according to Manny. Luckily, they’ve provided an English language translation, and we can all see that Ramirez has decided that there is no trade. Instead, the enigmatic slugger is “going to take things easy and focus on his career.”

To this, I say good riddance. If this announcement with Manny is enough to end this drawn-out soap opera of a story, I will be relieved. For months this saga has gone on without end. Some people say that Manny is unhappy with Red Sox management; others say marital strife may be pushing him out of Boston. Either way, I guess Manny’s internal debates have kept him from focusing on his career.

Now that he’s done talking about being traded and now that he plans on staying in Boston, I hope everyone else plans on dropping this subject forever. Enough ink has been spilled and enough bandwidth wasted on Manny being Manny that it’s not worth it anymore. Good bye, Manny. Whatever you do, enjoy it.

So while one stubborn, strange player’s saga comes to a close, the conflict between the City Council in Washington, D.C., and Major League Baseball may be coming to a head. Because the council did not approve the lease agreement between MLB and the city before the previously-negotiated and signed-upon deadline of December 31, 2005, Major League Baseball as the owners of the Nationals has decided to pursue the process that could result in a binding arbitration decision.

To me, this move does nothing to help Major League Baseball earn supporters on the DC council. If MLB and DC decide they cannot reconcile their differences, a three-member panel will decide the case. The panel could decide to levy a fine against DC for violating the terms of the lease agreement. Or the panel could decide that the city must pay for the stadium and cost overruns. I cannot imagine too many people being thrilled with either decision. While Mayor Anthony Williams may be prepared to resubmit the lease to the council in two weeks while avoiding arbitration, the reality is that Major League Baseball, by taking the first steps down the arrogant path toward arbitration, may be hurting their cause.

Right now, Major League Baseball wants the city to assume any cost overruns for the stadium the city is paying to build for MLB’s $450-million team. This hardly seems like a fair deal for any city let alone one wracked by as many problems as the District is. Meanwhile, MLB refuses to sell the team before stadium funding is in place because they feel the funding increases the value of the team.

As I’ve said before, Major League Baseball has locked itself into this public-relations nightmare. They can’t really save face in front of the council, and it would in fact be best for the team, the city, and everyone involved if Major League Baseball sold the team now. They have ownership groups in place; all Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, has to do is send the sale to a vote in front of the 29 other co-owners of the team.

With independent ownership in place, the City Council could wash the bad taste of the bungled MLB negotiations out of its collective mouth. While the council is not blameless in this debacle, both sides could virtually start over at square one. A group devoted to building a baseball presence in DC would probably find a way to help the city cover cost overruns, and the council would be receptive to such an idea.

Sadly, the likelihood of this positive outcome is about the same as the chance that the Royals will win the World Series in 2006. Meanwhile, as the saga of the stadium lurches toward a conclusion, we can only hope that cooler heads will prevail so that DC can save some its money and MLB can repair its tarnished reputation as an organization out to bilk communities out of as much money as possible.

DC, MLB feud a primer in bad business decisions

Major League Baseball, one of the world’s most popular professional sports leagues, is a lucrative multi-billion-dollar global business. But for all of its success, MLB certainly hasn’t handled the relocation, sale, and stadium construction project for the league-owned Washington Nationals with grace or aplomb.

In fact, I could even go so far as to call the current state of things in the Nation’s Capital an unmitigated disaster. Let’s review.

Right before the 2002 season, with contraction ostensibly on the mind, the 30 Major League Baseball owners collectively purchased the Montreal Expos in a deal that saw ownership teams rotate from Montreal to Florida and from Florida to Boston. The cost: a paltry $120 million.

As the owners and players’ association hammered out a new basic agreement in 2002, contraction slid off the table. However, it was clear from attendance figures that Montreal could not sustain the Expos. Whether this was because of an apathetic and poor ownership group or fan dissatisfaction, the world will never know. But for a few years, the Expos’ owners worked with a few locales to find a new home for the Expos.

On September 29, 2004, the day of the last Expos game in Montreal, Major League Baseball announced that Washington, DC, would be the new home of the Montreal Expos. One aspect of the move would eventually prove highly contentious. Major League Baseball worked out a deal with the “winning” city that the city would have to guarantee a stadium for the new team. This is a point of contention that could prove to be MLB’s undoing in the District of Columbia.

Over the last year, Major League Baseball and the Washington City Council have played politics. And they’ve played it poorly. Three council members in favor of the stadium deal were voted out of office. No lease has been ratified by the council. Currently, the mayor of Washington is calling for a new stadium while Marion Barry, an entrenched but troubled DC politico, claims to have enough votes to shoot down the lease. Major League Baseball won’t pay more than $20 million if the stadium construction suffers from cost overruns. Meanwhile, estimates by the city’s financial officer has the cost of the stadium up from $535 million to nearly $700 million.

It’s a bloody mess, and that capsule summary doesn’t even begin to address the complexities and backroom dealings that have gone on between Mayor Anthony Williams, Major League Baseball, and various members of the D.C. city council. But details aside, there is little doubt that this debacle could have turned out well for both groups.

First, Major League Baseball is certainly to blame. The owners know that when they finally sell the rechristened Nationals, they should pull in upwards of $450 million. Spread among the other 29 teams, that’s $11.38 million per team. Nearly everyone could afford their very own Johnny Damon! So of course, these businessmen wanted to ensure themselves the best possible team. While this money could have gone to a privately funded stadium, that plan wouldn’t have made much business sense to a bunch of owners driven by their desire to see a better bottom line.

While the owners have stood firm in their insistence that a stadium be secured before selling the team, the team itself is suffering under their watch. The team’s lack of an owner means that no money is available for free agents, and team leaders are leaving for more lucrative pastures. Esteban Loaiza, a mainstay of the 2005 Nationals rotation, jumped ship for a fairly low sum of $7 million a year. The ownerless Nationals were priced out of the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes and don’t have the resources to field a competitive team next year. In the tight NL East, this team has a near-lock on fourth place.

Meanwhile, the owners were supposed to be in place by the All Star Break, by the middle of August, the end of the regular season, the start of the playoffs, the end of the World Series, before Thanksgiving, before 2006, before the next presidential race, before I retire. Currently, fans aren’t siding with Major League Baseball. No one is sympathetic to a money-making business trying to have someone else pay for its facility. The Expos/Nationals will continue to flounder and will continue to lose fan support as this saga drags on.

Next, Mayor Anthony Williams carries his fair share of the blame. Why would Williams negotiate a deal that forces the District to fund the stadium with no help from local counties and other states? After all, the Nationals do draw a significant number of fans from the Maryland and Virginia areas. It’s not fair for a city with high crime, high poverty, and poor schools to foot a $535 million stadium bill to go along with another $100 million in upgrades to the existing public transit system. In fact, Mayor Williams allowed Major League Baseball to claim an upper hand that it didn’t really have. Had Williams stood firm on a claim that MLB had to find private funds for the stadium, chances are that the move still would have gone through.

Finally, there is the city council. They’re in danger of losing the Nationals. Now, I don’t think the council should accept a bum deal. Instead, they should take a firm stand against this lease but do so in a way that encourages MLB to find an owner and find the funds to build the stadium. There are ways to procure funds that don’t involve bilking the D.C. taxpayers for years on end.

So then, how would do I think this whole debacle could have been avoided? Easy.

I think the owners should have sold the Nationals as soon as it was decided that Washington, D.C., was the team’s new home. With a new ownership group in place, the council could have worked out a deal for a stadium that involved public and private funds. The new ownership team could have built public support by investing in the team and showing Washington that they had a potential winner on their hands. With an ownership group in the place, stadium talks would have wrapped up by now.

Currently, the situation is worsening. Some of the groups bidding for the team have told council members that they will cover the cost overruns, but Major League Baseball is telling potential bidders to stay quite on the issue. They want to squeeze every last cent out of Washington, D.C.

In the end, this saga should serve as a warning to other cities. Don’t let Major League Baseball stick its talons into your potential tax coffers. At the same time, the cities should learn that stadiums built with public funds do not deliver on their lofty economic promises.

So as this tale stumbles to the finish line and either a stadium deal is reached or the process goes to arbitration, the failed sale of the Washington Nationals is one more black mark on Major League Baseball. Too bad this one’s happening in a city whose leading political institution already has its regulatory eye on professional sports. There’s nothing like giving your critics more ammunition.

Soriano-to-Washington trade a big whiff for Nats

Alfonso Soriano, more than anyone else in Major League Baseball, hates walking. Who knows why, but one thing’s for certain, no one walks less than Soriano, the latest member of the Washington Nationals. In 3490 plate appearances, Soriano has just 157 walks.

With a career on-base percentage of .320, Soriano, who led off with the Yankees, has long defied normal expectation. While Soriano is often an all-or-nothing, home run-or-strike out hitter, he has a career .500 slugging percentage, and his .512 mark last season was good for third among all second basemen.

With such drastic numbers, Soriano is an enigma when it comes to attempting to assess his worth to a team. He had a VORP of 47.8, placing him fifth among second basemen. But his WARP-3 (a measure of how many wins above replacement level a player contributes) of 4.9 placed him squarely in the middle of the pack among those at his position.

Now, it seems, the Washington Nationals have acquired this enigma. In a trade for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and a player to be named later, Soriano moves from Texas to Washington. It also seems that Soriano will be moving from second base to left field. This move slightly decrease Soriano’s value. He falls to the bottom of the pack among left fielders in on-base percentage and his slugging would be seventh among left-fielders.

Furthermore, Soriano, who turns 30 in January, won’t be enjoying the cozy confines of Texas anymore. This, more than a position move, could have a negative effect on Soriano’s production. This year, Soriano’s home-road splits illustrate a compelling story. In Ameriquest Field, he hit .315/.355/.656 with 25 home runs in 311 at-bats. On the road, Soriano hit just .224/.265/.374 with 11 home runs in 326 at-bats.

So now what happens when Soriano is playing all of his home games in RFK Stadium without Mark Teixeira and the rest of the high-powered Texas offense in front of him? A quick glimpse at some raw park factors could clue us in to Soriano’s future. Ameriquest was number two big leagues behind Coors Field in inflating scoring all around. The Rangers hit 153 home runs at home, compared to 107 on the road. That’s an astounding 50 percent more home runs at home than on the road.

Meanwhile, RFK in the Nation’s Capital wasn’t nearly as friendly. The Nats hit just 46 home runs at home and 71 on the road. So RFK dulled home runs by nearly a third for the Nationals.

Soriano, a big fly ball hitter, now moves to RFK where his Ameriquest home runs will become RFK outs. He, along with his low career OBP, join a team that was in the bottom third of the league in terms of getting on base last year. He’ll slide into a line up with very little protection in a team that isn’t expected to finish higher than fourth next year.

Long gone are the days when Soriano could hit with Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Hideki Matsui behind him. Gone are the days when Soriano could hit behind Michael Young and Mark Teixeira. Now, at the age of 30 and with one season left before free agency, Soriano will face his toughest challenge yet. He’ll want a large contract after this year, but he has to play in an extreme pitcher’s park in left field instead of at his normal position. He won’t be thrilled about switching positions, and a player of his make won’t be successful in Washington.

While the Nationals with GM Jim Bowden love making moves, I sometimes wonder why the brain trust of the Nationals decided that Soriano would be a good fit. He isn’t, and I expect him to struggle mightily in 2006.

Meanwhile, in the same week, the second baseman with the lowest on-base percentage – Alfonso Soriano – and the second baseman with the highest on-base percentage in 2005 – Luis Castillo – were both traded. I can only wonder if that’s ever happened before.

First in war. First in peace. First in the NL East?

After a month-long hiatus from writing that took to me Europe and back, I have once again rejoined the world of baseball writing. In my absence, Jason Giambi rediscovered his stroke, Scott Podsednik beat out a field of more deserving players for his one inning the field during the All Star game, and Bobby Abreu finally garnered the recognition he deserved by belting a season’s worth of home runs during the derby in pitcher-friendly Comerica.

As the pennant races loom, I am going to look at two pieces of news surrounding the suprising Washington Nationals.

Nats look to bolster lineup

First up are the first-place Washington Nationals and their efforts to improve their injury-laden team. The Nats shipped right-hander Zach Day to the place where pitchers go to die, Coors Field, along with J.J. Davis for Preston Wilson. Wilson’s reputation as a player far exceeds his production, and it will be interesting to see which Wilson arrives in D.C. in the midst of an exciting pennant race.

Wilson, at 30, is something of a mid-level power hitter. Except for last year when he missed most of the season due to injuries, Wilson has never hit fewer than 23 home runs. Twice he has hit over 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. But in seasons during which he hits fewer than 30 home runs, his RBI production drops precipitously. He’s maintained a career slugging percentage of .481, a career average of .265, and a career on-base percentage of .333.

The Nationals are banking on Wilson to return to his 2003 form. During that season, his career best in all offensive categories, he hit .282/.343/.537 with 36 home runs and 141 RBIs and seemed to be on the verge of stardom. Injuries struck in 2004, and this year, he’s at .258/.322/.491 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs.

However, much of Wilson’s success this year comes at home, and these numbers should have raised a red flag in the Nationals’ front office. On the road this year, Wilson is hitting just .224/.280/.411 with 5 home runs. During his break-out year in 2003, Wilson hit 40 points lower on the road than in Coors and slugged 100 points lower. It is doubtful the Nationals will get the player Wilson was at Coors field.

That doesn’t mean Wilson won’t contribute to the Nats’ playoff run. He will give the lineup more depth and experience. When Nick Johnson returns, the Nats will have a very solid middle of the order with Wilson, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, and Johnson. Whether those hitters can get them to October will depend as much on the rubber, golden arm of Livan Hernandez and the continued success of Jon Patterson than on anything else.

Baseball and politics just don’t mix

In other Nationals news, Major League Baseball is in the process of selling off one of its hottest commodities. As they have received bid packages from numerous groups looking to buy the Washington Nationals, politicians on the right side of the aisle have begun to grumble about the process.

It seems that noted Democrat donor George Soros is among one of the groups bidding for the Nationals. Soros gave nearly $20 million to various organizations supporting the Kerry campaign in 2004, and Republicans were none too thrilled to see his name pop up again. In response, Tom Davis (R-VA), the Congressman who gained national attention for grilling baseball sluggers on steroids in March, has warned baseball over allowing Soros to win the bidding, and Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) has threatened baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Ostensibly, these Congressmen claim that Soros’ support of decriminalizing marijuana would tar a sport already rocked by one drug scandal. But Davis was more blunt in saying that baseball has to make friends with people on power right now. “This is not the way to make them,” he was quoted as saying in various news outlets. Meanwhile, these same politicians have no problem praising the bid of Republican donor and one-time Nixon stooge Fred Malek. Malek investigated the “Jewish cabal” Nixon thought was hiding out in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I guess Marge Schott wasn’t up to that task.

But all of this brings me to one point: Politicians just shouldn’t threaten baseball owners over partisan politics. If the Congress wants to remove baseball’s antitrust exemptions, there are numerous other ways to accomplish that goal. If Congress wants to regulate drug use among athletes, that is there prerogative. But members of the majority party shouldn’t be threatening baseball because one potential owner is a big supporter of the opposition party. Once upon a time, Republicans were all about keeping their noses out of businesses and the actions of private individuals. Now, they are threatening baseball because of partisan politics.

It’s chilling when members of the current majority party start threatening baseball ownership over partisan politics. What’s to stop them from going after another big Democratic sponsor Peter Angelos? I don’t see Democrats jumping down George Steinbrenner’s throat for donating to the Republican Party of Florida, and I shouldn’t see members of Congress from either side of the aisle engaging in openly partisan maneuvering just so their guy gets to own the local team.

Baseball tolerated the steroid hearings; Republican and Democratic owners alike shouldn’t tolerate Davis’ and Sweeney’s threats. May the best bid win the rights to a franchise ever-increasing in value.


RSS River Ave. Blues

  • Offense wastes Tanaka’s gem, Yankees drop series opener 4-1 to Athletics May 27, 2017
    Source: FanGraphs I miss offense. I miss the days when the Yankees were putting up like seven runs a night and smacking dingers like Gary Sanchez circa August 2016. Those were the days. It was called April. The bats were mostly silent Friday night in the series opener against the Athletics. The final score was […] The post Offense wastes Tanaka’s gem, Yankee […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 45: Will the Real Tanaka Please Stand Up? May 26, 2017
    Masahiro Tanaka has been one of the worst starting pitchers in Major League Baseball this year. That isn’t hyperbole, either – Mike went into great detail about his struggles earlier this week. And he seems to be getting worse, with a 10.50 ERA/9.36 FIP since he shut out the Red Sox on April 27. Tanaka […] The post Game 45: Will the Real Tanaka Please Stand […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • 2017 Draft: Jake Burger May 26, 2017
    Jake Burger | 3B Background The 21-year-old Burger is a St. Louis kid who went undrafted out of high school, but has since developed into one of the top power hitters in the country at Missouri State. He is currently hitting .346/.459/.693 with 20 home runs and more walks (38) than strikeouts (30) in 52 […] The post 2017 Draft: Jake Burger appeared first on […]
    Mike Axisa
  • 5/26 to 5/28 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics May 26, 2017
    Mother nature gave the Yankees a much-needed respite yesterday, splitting their twenty games in twenty days down the middle. Their series against the A’s now represents the first game in a ten-in-ten stretch, which is far less daunting. The Last Time They Met The Yankees visited Oakland for a four-game series this time last year […] The post 5/26 to 5/28 Ser […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Power and Wins (May 22-24) May 26, 2017
    Bronx Bombers Born Again The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2. Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least […] The post Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Powe […]
    Katie Sharp
  • Mailbag: Wade, Hand, Berrios, Greinke, Tanaka, Robertson May 26, 2017
    There are 13 questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions. We get a lot of them each week, so don’t take it personally if yours doesn’t get picked. Keep trying. Many asked: Talk to me about Tyler Wade. […] The post Mailbag: Wade, Hand, Berrios, Greinke, Tanaka, […]
    Mike Axisa
  • DotF: Mateo has huge day in Tampa’s doubleheader sweep May 26, 2017
    RHP Brady Lail has rejoined Triple-A Scranton, reports Matt Kardos. The RailRiders have been short a starting pitcher since RHP Bryan Mitchell was called back up a few days ago. Lail solves that problem. RHP Colten Brewer was sent to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for Lail. Triple-A Scranton was rained out. No […] The post DotF: Mateo has huge day i […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Thursday Night Open Thread May 25, 2017
    The Yankees were rained out today, but not even rain can stop HOPE Week. Today the Yankees held an event at Yankee Stadium to benefit A Moment of Magic, an organization dedicated to helping sick children by “restoring the magic of believing at a time when a child needs to ‘just be a kid’ and […] The post Thursday Night Open Thread appeared first on River Ave […]
    Mike Axisa
  • 2017 Draft: Bubba Thompson May 25, 2017
    Bubba Thompson | OF Background Thompson, 18, attends McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Alabama, where he plays both baseball and football. He’s a good quarterback recruit who received Division I scholarship offers for both sports, though he committed to attend Alabama, where he’ll play baseball only. Odds are it won’t matter. Thompson is expected […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act May 25, 2017
    There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week. Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. […] The post Finding a second gear after a sizzli […]
    Steven Tydings

Blog Stats

  • 62,416 hits