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Thread: Boswell about Nationals ownership

  1. #1
    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
    Winton Place

    Boswell about Nationals ownership

    I don't usually check the Washington Post sports section, so I missed this Tom Boswell column about the ownership in DC. I don't think this has been posted already.

    Slow-Moving Construction

    By Thomas Boswell
    Saturday, January 24, 2009

    I'm not quite mad as hell. And I can probably take it a little longer.

    However, my fuse is getting short when I think about the Lerners' poor stewardship of the Nationals. In a week or two, if the Nats have refused to spend appropriately on free agents to improve an abomination of a ballclub, while accepting the largesse of a city that paid $693 million to build them a ballpark, then I may go Howard Beale nutty on somebody. I've already canceled the Nationals season tickets that I waited 37 years to buy.

    The Lerners, who haven't made a serious offer to any major free agent since they failed to get Mark Teixeira last month, need to show that they deserve to be entrusted with the Nationals.

    Does the family, led by billionaire developer Ted Lerner, understand the game as much as it loves it?

    Do the Lerners appreciate the precarious state of their relations not only with fans, but with their own executives?

    Do they have any idea, after a lifetime of erecting buildings, of how to build a team? Team president Stan Kasten does. But do they? By all indications, his advice is heard but not heeded.

    And, most important, are they totally tone deaf to the indignation of a town that, after 33 empty years, is now given an inept team and an owner who won't spend, even in a dream market for free agents, despite the fact that, by 2010, he may field the lowest payroll team in all of baseball?

    The Lerners have not spent appreciably to improve their major league roster in nearly three years as owners. They couldn't sign their first-round draft pick, ninth overall, last summer. International activity is nearly nil.

    Meanwhile, their farm system, which moved up to No. 9 in baseball a year ago, has now flopped back into the bottom third, according to Baseball America, the industry standard. First-round picks Ross Detwiler, Chris Marrero and Colton Willems have regressed. A good plan has to operate at all levels at all times, including the big leagues.

    In baseball's fifth year back in Washington, it is time for a city that has waited so long and paid so much to be offered a product at Nationals Park that is worth the $29-a-ticket average cost, plus pricey food and parking.

    During a time of recession, baseball remains the best value in professional sports. Except in Washington.

    Ted Lerner is a fine man in my book. Self-made but unassuming, philanthropic but tough, devoted to the Nats in theory but in practice perhaps out of touch with the whirlwind of frustration and perplexity that swirls throughout his organization.

    Lerner did an impressive job of courting Teixeira. High marks. But that was last month. Nobody thought the Nats had much chance anyway. The test was always what the Nats would do after Tex said, "No."

    So far, the Nats have disappeared from the offseason stage just when they had shown the first signs of being a player. Ten days ago, it appeared that inactivity was a negotiating ploy. Now it's a worry.

    Last Opening Day, Lerner asked me, "How long before we have to win?" I joked that, since the new park looked beautiful, he probably had until about the seventh inning.

    Back then, the Nats, internally, thought they might be a .500 team. Injuries, and a 162-game reality check, proved that to be a major delusion. Only bad-to-the-bone teams lose 102 games. The Nats now embarrass the Expos, who only lost 102 once in their last 35 years in Canada. The old Washington Senators only lost 102 games once from 1910 until they split for Minnesota.

    Whatever the causes or excuses, you just can't be this bad and then do nothing. It's shameful.

    "I don't think the owner wants to do anything," said a veteran executive in another organization. "The Nationals act like they're the Marlins, stuck in an old stadium."

    Is this a premature, unfair reading? We'll find out fast. Everybody in baseball assumes the quality free agents left on the market probably will be signed by the end of next week.

    Baseball isn't, "I want Teixeira or I won't pay." It's making an honest run at Teixeira, as the Nats did, then settling for very fine, but imperfect players.

    Such as? A slugger who's hit 40 homers in each of the past five seasons. And a steady 190-inning starting pitcher. And a solid reliever with a low ERA in 2008. And maybe even a Gold Glove second baseman who hit .305 before an injury.

    In other words, if the Nats were properly run, they might sign slugger Adam Dunn, pitcher Randy Wolf (12-12), reliever Joe Beimel (2.02) and perhaps second baseman Orlando Hudson, too -- all within the next handful of days. Or Dunn, Jon Garland (14-8) and Juan Cruz (2.61).

    Such combinations, which would transform the Nats into a presentable team, are not just theoretical. They are absolutely feasible.

    That's how sane the pricing of free agents is right now. That's how tiny the Nats' payroll is, especially when $18.5 million falls off after 2009 when the contracts of Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young end.

    Right now, the Nats could probably pay something above market price -- a necessity for teams that lose 102 games -- and land Dunn and Wolf for three years at $12 million and $10 million per year, respectively. Beimel and Cruz earned $2 million each last year. And Hudson has seen his market value shrink to the point where a low-guarantee, high-incentive contract may suffice.

    Late last season, Lerner told me he was cool to Dunn, put off by his strikeouts and deficiencies in left field. And Lerner doesn't change his mind easily. Dunn, 29, who made $13 million in Cincinnati last year, is key. He's not Teixeira, but he's very much what the Nats need -- a lefty bat -- for almost $150 million less in total dollars at risk.

    His on-base percentage was ninth in the National League last year and his OPS a stellar 15th in baseball. He's a durable machine, with the ability to produce 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks. A 6-foot-6, 240-pound force can change a whole lineup, helping hitters in front of and behind him. He and Ryan Zimmerman already are good friends. And Dunn can switch to first base if Johnson, who's only played 38 games in two years, can be traded or gets hurt again.

    What sensible alternative do the Nats have? The raw, galling fact is that if the Nats do not sign Dunn, plus a starter and reliever, the 2010 Washington team almost certainly will have the lowest payroll in baseball. How do you justify that? Economically, Washington is not even one of baseball's harder-hit regions.

    The recession, which surely bites the Lerner family's construction business, is not an excuse for inaction. Rather, it's an opportunity. Economies revive. But the chance to hire quality players at fair prices -- even including a "Nats Stink" premium -- will pass.

    If the Nats think they can wait until February and get steal deals, it's not going to happen -- not for them anyway. The three outfielders who signed bargain contracts recently, $8 million to $10 million for Pat Burrell, Milton Bradley and Raúl Ibáñez, all signed with first-place teams.

    Read my lips: Pennant contenders get a discount and can wait to act. The worst teams always pay a premium and have to strike preemptively. It's a law of nature.

    The Nats' experienced baseball people are writhing in frustration as the clock ticks. Are Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden standing on the same ledge? "If they do nothing again this offseason, then common sense tells you that, sooner or later, Stan is gone," said a veteran executive.

    Once, Lerner told me proudly that Shirley Povich attended his wedding. I always admired the way Shirley held his fire, withheld judgment as long as reasonable and gave people a full, fair chance. But I suspect that, wedding guest or not, Povich would be reaching one of his long-considered conclusions about now, saying, "Okay, Washington has done enough and waited long enough. It's time for the owners of the city's ballclub to do their part."

    Whether he would have felt that way or not, I certainly do.
    “In the same way that a baseball season never really begins, it never really ends either.” - Lonnie Wheeler, "Bleachers, A Summer in Wrigley Field"

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  3. #2
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Oct 2000

    Re: Boswell about Nationals ownership

    Boswell on the Nats and the Caps (Hockey for the unenthused)
    Meet the New Nats. Same as the Old Caps.

    By Thomas Boswell
    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    In the bottom of the 11th inning of a 10-10 farce of blunders at Nationals Park yesterday afternoon, a shroud was put over the field. Okay, a tarp. At the sight of the Nats and Astros bullpens, the sky had laughed 'til it cried. The remnants of a crowd of 19,328 -- symbolic of a drop in attendance this season by almost one-third to a next-to-last-in-baseball average of 19,403 -- splashed toward the subway and parking lots.

    Eventually, this game was suspended and will be resumed in progress in Houston in July. Ha, make Texas watch it! Now, the Nats can leave town for an eight-game trip to the anonymity of the West Coast where they will not be met, in the words of Manager Manny Acta, with the "negativity and sarcasm" that has so far engulfed their 7-17 season.

    "Go Caps," said Acta, as a sincere farewell. Little did he know the irony.

    In the Caps' first season in '74, the team explained its grand designs to Washington. With hindsight, it sounds painfully akin to The Plan that now bedevils the "Natinals." The Caps said they'd be bad for a few years. But be patient, please. They'd develop young talent. With a new Capital Centre arena to boost revenue, plus the great sport of hockey selling itself to a novice NHL town, the Caps would soon be a rich perennial contender.

    What could go wrong?

    Soon, the Caps were the worst team in hockey, the laughingstock of the '70s. For nine years, they couldn't even make the 16-team playoffs. Then, when they did, the Caps spent the '80s being dubbed the chokers of April. The Caps' hardcore fans, enough of them to support a franchise, loved the team. But nobody else cared. The media, knowing a stock joke when they saw one, played the Caps for chuckles, just like the Nats now.

    So, the Capitals lost the capital for 33 years.

    Do the Nats want to follow that road? Can the Nats afford to lock their image in place as the worst team in baseball, as the player-to-be-named-later, mess-up-anything "Natinals"? If the Nats think they are not in danger of "losing the town," as the Caps once did, they only have to look at their own box scores. After a packed-house Opening Day, their crowds are down to a bemused group of hard-core enthusiasts, just the kind who used to sustain the Caps.

    Some of them suspect, hard as it is to believe, that the Nats are fairly close to being fairly decent. "I'm the one in here in this room. I like this team. We're a couple of arms in the bullpen and a legit number one starter away from competing for the playoffs," Acta said yesterday. "We can hit right now. As the year goes on, we'll field better than we have. And we have four good young starting pitchers that many teams would love to have."

    But a franchise that only appeals to the die-hard faith of true believers has picked a brutal path. Right now, the Nats only fill half the seats in a pretty park where the paint is barely dry. They have standard excuses, like their record (worst in the game in '08) and second-season syndrome in a new park. But all of baseball, even with the recession, is only down about seven percent in attendance; the Nats are down more than 30 percent.

    Is the problem Washington? It's much too early to tell. Just four years ago, playing in RFK Stadium, the Nats averaged 33,728 per game in their first year. That's more than Cincinnati or Pittsburgh has drawn since 1901. Tampa Bay and Kansas City have never had a season that good. The A's and Twins franchises have each done it once since 1901 and the Tigers twice. The Marlins have won two World Series but had only one better year. Whatever D.C. eventually turns out to be as "a baseball town," it's not going to be 29th.

    But this season's numbers are more than ominous. If the Nats wants to avoid another dangerous step down the old Caps path, then they must act decisively. They should start next month by drafting Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall -- then sign the San Diego State right-hander with the 100-mph-plus fastball. In the Nats' minds, as almost every scout, he will either be, or become, the legit No. 1 that Acta wants.

    The price may break the old record for a draft pick of $10.5 million by several million dollars, but it needs to be done. Pitchers make risky high picks. Since the draft began in '65, no pitcher taken in the first 10 overall picks has had a Hall of Fame career. Kevin Brown and Dwight Gooden are closest. Against that are arrayed many great hitters including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Mark McGwire and Frank Thomas.

    Next, the Nats need to admit to themselves that looking out over the next several years, they don't have a top-flight closer, or perhaps even setup man, in their entire organization. Yesterday's blown leads of 8-4 after six innings and 10-9 in the ninth are the latest evidence. Facing a problem doesn't solve it, but it opens the way. Making a trade, signing a free agent or using their No. 10 overall draft pick in June for a young closer is needed.

    Teams constantly rewrite their internal history after major personnel changes. Sometimes, new bits of truth leak out, sometimes, just new mythology. In the case of departed Jim Bowden, a new tale is being told. The Nats now note how the ex-GM boosted every player he'd acquired, sometimes leading the team's owners to think they didn't need to spend for free agents when they only had to wait for fabulous prospects.

    View this with plenty of grains of salt. But as soon as acting GM Mike Rizzo replaced Bowden, he called a red-flag meeting to say the Nats' bullpen was a potential disaster. Within a day, the Nats signed free agent Joe Beimel, their only effective late-inning reliever, who comes off the disabled list today.

    "When we brought up Jordan Zimmermann, that was probably the last player we had in the system who was ready to make a big impact right now," Rizzo said. "We probably have 10 real prospects -- about average. But there's no more help coming quickly."

    The Nats don't think they need much help. To a man, including the guilty relievers, they look at five games worth of blown saves and, like Acta, say: "We should have about 11 wins. Then nobody is making jokes."

    "This is the best hitting team I've been on," said Ryan Zimmerman, batting .333, on pace for 33 homers and 124 RBI. Adam Dunn, on pace for 45 homers and 130 RBI, plus better health have transformed the lineup. So far. Elijah Dukes is on track for 118 RBI. The Nats now project to 784 runs, an improvement of 143 runs over '08. To stat geeks, that's worth 15 more wins. Or it would be to a team with a bullpen.

    As the Caps discovered long ago, once you get an extreme reputation for being inept or comic, nobody cuts you many breaks. Your internal views of progress are discounted.

    "Everybody loves winners," Acta said. "I understand."

    Or, to be exact, teams that are within sight of winning. A year from now, with Strasburg, with the development of rookie pitchers Zimmermann and Shairon Martis and with a better bullpen, the Nats could begin to rebuild their fan base.

    But if, like the old Caps, they dawdle, they could be in the wilderness a long time. The Nats are in their fifth season in town. A window of opportunity is a horrible thing to waste. If empty seats could talk, they'd say it's closing fast.

  4. #3
    Posting in Dynarama M2's Avatar
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    Sep 2000

    Re: Boswell about Nationals ownership

    A DC baseball team is struggling? I am shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that.
    Raisel Ghul, the Demon's Head

    Make that a thing.

  5. #4
    Moderator cumberlandreds's Avatar
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    May 2003
    Sterling VA

    Re: Boswell about Nationals ownership

    I knew all I needed to know about this ownership group when they decided to retain Bowden as GM. The Nats were better off having Bud running the team.

    I almost went to that game on Tuesday that Boswell talked about. I'm glad I didn't now knowing how it ended.
    Last edited by cumberlandreds; 05-07-2009 at 01:31 PM.
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