Friday, April 17, 2009

Smells Like Fish

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke look on as the Washington Nationals lose again in extras, 3-2.

You wanted to believe didn't you? Was it when the Nats got a beautiful, clutch, 2 out, opposite field hit from Anderson Hernandez to take the lead in the 4th? Or was it before that when Alberto Gonzalez, who would fittingly have 3 hits but make a crucial mental error in the field and strike out to end the game with Dukes in scoring position, knocked in Flores with a double? It could have been while the Nats protected that precious 2-1 lead into the 9th. Or possibly even, in fact I'll even admit to this case, when MASN favorite Bob Carpenter mistakenly called Elijiah Dukes double a homerun in the bottom of the tenth. Unfortunately, that ball got stuck in the wall rather than go over (nevertheless, an enormous feat of strength that shouldn't be overlooked). And unfortunately, you have no reason to believe. These are your Washington Nationals.

Just a short 5 hour car ride away, the fans in the Bronx got treated to a show this afternoon as their captain christened their ballpark in a similar way that our "franchise" player christened ours. However, the sentiment, and even "aurora," around both events is drastically different. Everyone in the Bronx expects that moment to be the first of many to come in that ballpark. Will we ever see a moment like ours again at Nationals Park?

Bad teams find a way to lose. That is exactly what the Nats did tonight as they wasted a great performance by John Lannan (6 1/3 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts, and only one walk) versus a Marlins' club that came into today 2nd only to the Cardinals in runs scored in the NL. They found a way to lose. The Nats turned 12 hits into only 2 runs, left 21 men on base, struck out 10 times, and wild man Ryan Zimmerman made his 3rd throwing error of the season. Its the second week. And despite themselves they had a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth.

Until the bullpen, who management decimated for no apparent reason the past few years, let Nationals' fans down again. To illustrate, take the curious case of Emilio Bonfiacio. GM whiz Jim Bowden decided to trade Rauch for Bonifacio last summer to then move Bonifacio for a corner outfielder and a starting pitcher that frankly isn't all that good. Then, coming into the season Nationals' management hoped to move a corner outfielder, odd man out Josh Willingham who was acquired 3 months earlier, for middle relief help. Did anyone call Arizona asking for Jon Rauch? Good luck with that Mike Rizzo. Rizzo is going to need all the help he can get as he attempts to do what another well covered man in Washington is hoping to do. Build successful, well managed programs that produce cost-effective results. This is no simple task.

The Nationals' management must continue to skimp on payroll because of their vast amount of relative payroll that is wasted in under-performing veterans. Dmitri Young is on the books this season for $5.5 million. This is money flushed down the toilet by Nationals' ownership. Nationals' fans will be lucky to see him on the field in any capacity, let alone make a difference with the vast amount of corner outfielders/first basemen. Even if he gets on the field he lacks power and is an atrocious defender. On the basepaths he is slower than molasses, and although he is a great guy and a valued leader, possess no real role or value to a club with the roster composition of the Washington Nationals. And yet, he's one of our highest paid players.

Austin Kearns is making a whopping $8 million this season to be an overhyped, underperforming, lollygagging, roadblock to either Elijiah Dukes or Lastings Milledge. Kearns has never been able to perform on a consistent basis in his two stops, first in Cincinnati and now in Washington. He is an overrated defender with a mediocre arm and has shown no signs of "turning the corner" as the Nationals would have you believe. This will be his last season seeing close to regular at bats in the MLB.

Christian Guzman is also making $8 million dollars this season to be an overweight shortstop with questionable range. Not to mention that seemingly because of his weight he can not run anymore, which restricts his value to a one-dimensional slap hitter who possesses no threat on the basepaths. The Nationals are painfully slow on the basepaths as a result of this. They are not good enough offensively to play station to station, and thus will hit into an enormous amount of double plays and unproductive outs this season.

All three of these players received an extension under Jim Bowden. The writing was on the wall when all three of these players accepted those extensions. Jim Bowden chose not to see it. Oh and just as an FYI, here's a quick run off of free agents in the class of '08 who play similar positions and make less money than their Nationals' counterpart: Jason Giambi, 1 year- $5.25 mil, Bobby Abreu, 1 year-$5 mil, Orlando Hudson, 1 year- $3.8 mil, Orlando Cabrera, 1 year- $4 mil. How different would this team look with 3 of those 4 rather than the Nats' trio?)

This team can not contend when you pay players that are clearly not elite players, superstar level money. The Nationals' have committed a combined 21 million dollars this season in Dmitri Young, Christian Guzman, and Austin Kearns. Not to mention they had to pay Willy Mo Pena 2 million to take his act anywhere else and Daniel Cabrera 2.6 million to walk every batter in sight. If your doing the math along with me, and I'm sure you are, that's a combined 25.6 million of the Nationals' roughly $58 million dollar payroll.

And yet the Nationals' skimp of free agents. They state that they can not afford to dip into the free agent market in pitching. They claim that they can not afford to throw Mark Tiexiera another $20 million over 10 years, which essentially would be $2 million more per year, a small price to pay for a true franchise player. They cut cost and deliver a mediocre, at absolute best, product for loyal Washington fans. They have the money, they just waste it. This city would turn out in numbers for a good product. They would have plenty of money to re-invest into the ballclub if they would invest their assets wisely. Watching that last out was painful for the result, and the limited amount of people that seemed to care when it happened.

Our nation awaits in difficult times for a change that is so desperately needed. In many of those great cities, baseball acts as a pleasant distraction to the state of affairs in our nation. In our nations' capital however, it is a painful reminder as we wait in the hopes of the changes that have been promised.

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