Sunday, October 04, 2009

Long Days Journey Into Night

The final game of 2009 at Turner Field this afternoon set Our Washington Nationals off on that long day's journey into night. 15 innings of baseball, mostly with players you don't normally see getting quality time on the field. In fact, a starting lineup fully composed of Syracuse Chiefs from this past summer in The International League. AAA Ball. Yes, Game Number 162 found Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham all on the bench for DC's Team. Chipper Jones too for The Atlanta Braves.

An arduous affair as it turned out--and fitting for two teams finishing out their seasons--both looking to transform themselves over the coming winter and make themselves better. The Hot Stove League officially began at 5:48 PM Eastern Time when Logan Kensing struck out Brooks Conrad to complete Our Washington Nationals Season. Another win to complete the schedule. An accomplishment and occurrence never before seen in the modern game. One of the dubious variety--losers of their first seven games of 2009--Washington now winners of their last seven.


But that's not an achievement to be proud of unless those Curly "W's" at the end of the season mean--WE MADE THE PLAYOFFS.

Which we obviously didn't.

Unfortunately, Our Washington Nationals are still some ways from that goal. But first on their list as this off-season begins, Baseball Operations needs to get their affairs in order. A manager needs to be found. He may be here already, but before Jim Riggleman is even close to being announced as the 3rd (or 4th depending on your perspective) Manager of DC's Team, there better be a thorough search and discovery of who exactly is out there. And who exactly is the best fit for Our Nation's Capital as our team moves forward.

This is a crucial time.

Washington needs a good hire here. A strong personality who can both protect his players and get the most out of them. Someone that expects professionalism at all times--while still maintaining the fun and camaraderie of the clubhouse. The person eventually hired doesn't have to be a Big Name. A known personality that has built a big reputation elsewhere but was fired anyway. Unless you are named Joe Torre or Tony LaRussa--retreads don't normally work out.

And if they do--not for long.

Our Washington Nationals need a manager that can not only grow with our team, but get the most of them at all times. Watching The Minnesota Twins Sunday night giving their farewells to The Metrodome in a STIRRING CEREMONY in Minneapolis was poignant (If you don't have the MLB Season Ticket Package on DirecTV you really missed out--IT WAS GREAT!!). Outside of the fine tribute to the late Kirby Puckett, the re-introduction of the beloved manager of those two Twins World Series Championships--Tom Kelly--proves a point. Not many had ever heard of Kelly before Minnesota hired him.

No one of importance other than The Minnesota Twins.

And yet, Mr. Kelly became one of the most respected managers in the game.

Washington needs to find that type of persona to bring to their game. Not necessarily someone just looking to stay in the game.

No question we also need some starting pitching. Concerns which General Manager Mike Rizzo has repeatedly addressed over the past six weeks since being named GM. Washington needs to take a hard look at their bullpen as well. Mr. "No Nonsense", Tyler Clippard, has really been a nice find. That trade with The New York Yankees for Jonathan Abaladejo may well be a steal after all. Sean Burnett proved to be a solid lefty out of the bullpen upon coming over from Pittsburgh in a trade. Jason Bergmann was effective when finally given a role. And Mike MacDougal was a decent caretaker closer with Drew Storen rising in his shadow.

But other than that--Our Pitching Staff needs more retrofitting. If John Lannan was to be joined by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann for 2010--those young guns would have been in good company on a burgeoning staff looking to breakout in The Major Leagues. Instead, JZ is gone until, mostly likely, 2011 due to elbow surgery. And Strasburg--along with Storen--will be brought up to The Big Leagues ONLY WHEN THEY ARE READY.

That leaves Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen and J.D. Martin among the rookies looking to make the roster out of Viera next season. Depending on who Mr. Rizzo is able to land on the veteran side, all three of these guys may well be fighting for just one spot--possibly two. Detwiler pitched an excellent September & October. J.D. Martin was the most consistent--despite not being a hard thrower. Craig Stammen showed potential to be an innings eater--but now is also recovering from loose deposits in his elbow.

No one knows what Washington is going to get out of those three. And that is why two solid pitchers with veteran presence are needed come next season. Just like out of the bullpen. Our Relief Pitchers were used far too much again this past season because Our Starters couldn't get past five innings on many nights. Livo did and that was too little, too late. A demand that wore down arms and exposed weaknesses. DC's Bullpen was Washington's strongest asset in the early days after Baseball Returned to Washington. Now it is one of our Achilles Heals. This situation needs to be addressed this off-season.

A transformation needs to take place.

That sort of radical change which Nyjer Morgan added to Washington's Lineup upon starting his first game on July 3rd. He became the catalyst that made Washington competitive on offense. No longer dependent on the three run homer to score any runs. Our Number 1 could steal bases, worry opposing pitchers, while playing a terrific centerfield. The Table Setter that made Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn better hitters coming behind him. When any hurler fears a stolen base, those batting at the plate will see more fastballs. And each of our batters from the 2nd spot through 5th benefited from Nyjer Morgan hitting in front of them.

A more complete lineup now still missing one of its most important parts--a starting catcher. Surgery on Jesus Flores has hindered any development behind the plate--both for Our Number 3's career and Our Washington Nationals. Flores will not be ready to fully train until approximately Opening Day. A loss felt throughout Our Organization that needs to be addressed this coming winter. Wil Nieves and Josh Bard are decent backups, but not starters. Exposed both were when placed in the lineup on a regular basis. Not a criticism of what they can't do. Just the fact that DC's Team needs more from that position.

Not knowing if Jesus Flores will fully recover by May 2010, Mike Rizzo needs to look long and hard at the backstop position this off-season. Washington is short on talent there and all options must be discussed. They are in a quandary. Flores is Washington's Catcher Of The Future--just maybe not over the first two to three months of next season.

With Strasburg, Storen, Zimmerman, Dunn, Josh Willingham, Ian Desmond, Cristian Guzman, Justin Maxwell and Nyjer Morgan all locked for next year--most all for a few years to come--the catching dilemma may be Washington's most important adjustment between now and April 5th--Opening Day next season.

Except for middle infield.

Defense at 2nd Base & Shortstop has been an issue all this past season--too many errors. Yet, despite what some like to proclaim--"The Guz" is a pretty serviceable shortstop. He may well have hurt his throwing arm late, but he makes some very nice plays. I get a kick out some so-called analysts proclaiming that Cristian Guzman has lost so much range and can't go in such a direction effectively. Then, every single other pundit jumps on board saying the same thing without really watching. Piling it on--so much so--that after a while, it's assumed the truth.

The fact is that Our Number 15 is an average shortstop, nothing less. He's no longer of All-Star Caliber in the field, but it doesn't make him a poor player. Guzman struggled down the stretch thanks to an arm ailment not disclosed until late. Hopefully, Our Washington Nationals will realize not one player that has played in DC since 2005 has hustled more in the field than "The Guz". He's a GREAT baserunner, though not patient at the plate--but still a decent hitter. A free-swinger. Whether he moves to 2nd Base or stays at Shortstop with Desmond positioned next to him isn't the point. The reality is that Cristian Guzman has been a good player over the past few seasons for Washington. His 2005 year was atypical. What everyone has witnessed since 2007 is a pretty decent Major League Player.

A contributor.

Supporters which Our Washington Nationals will need many of to overcome what today concluded as the second straight season with just 59 wins and 103 losses (102 in 2008). But The Final Score this year (2-1 in 15 Innings) signaled there is a new regime being built in The Nation's Capital. The latest Curly "W" just another number for the official record book. A figure that The African Queen and I believe will not be seen in these parts for some time.

That long journey to end the 2009 Championship Season ended this day for Our Washington Nationals. Night coming without any quit from those on the active roster. And not without thanks to Our General Manager, Mike Rizzo, who is righting a once listing ship and directing a new course--setting sail for winning campaigns in 2010 and beyond.

While The Hot Stove Season has officially begun, Sohna and I are not going to make any bold predictions of who will be traded for; or who Washington will sign. The African Queen and I trust Mr. Rizzo to make those decisions--in consultations with management. The results we will wait to see when Full Camp meets at Spring Training in Viera, Florida this coming February.

No doubt, we will be anticipating some exciting news this October 2009 through February 2010.

And remember--every step of the way--Sohna and I have been there since 2005. And we will continue to support Our Washington Nationals in 2010 and beyond. They are Our Team. It's why we go to Spring Training and provide coverage. It's why we go to every single home game, and any away game within reason, while still reporting about it. It's why we attend virtually every single off the field activity to inform you.

Our Washington Nationals are a part of our lives and Nats320 is an extension of who we are.

Today's Long Days Journey Into Night began the off-season, which could be just as interesting as this just completed schedule.

PS--For the second year in a row at Nationals Park--The African Queen made it to every single inning of every single game played on South Capitol Street. She's even outdone me in that regard. I have to salute Sohna for that wonderful accomplishment and for being a great fan!!

Today's InGame Photo--John Amis (AP)


Jeremy said...

SBF and Sohna:

I'd just like to thank you for your terrific coverage of the Nats this year. While I certainly haven't always agreed with your viewpoints, I think that this is most certainly the best "source of record" for us loyal Nats fans. As a contributor to a DC-area sports blog myself, I know how grueling it can be to keep fresh content coming and you guys most certainly do, day in, day out. Have a relaxing, restful winter, and I'll look forward to coming to you for any Nats news from the hot stove. Oh, and go Caps!!!!

Kenny G said...

You guys are great! When the wins start coming, everyone who has stuck it out, including you guys, will be well rewarded!

Jim H said...

SBF, AQ...

Congrats on and thanks for another excellent season of coverage. See you in '10!


SenatorNat said...

What major building blocks have emanated from the disaster that was the Washington Nationals, May, 2009?

First, the tug-of-war over control of the team between Stan Kasten and GM Jim Bowden ended with Bowden's departure and installation of interim GM Mike Rizzo.

The family which had resented the imposition of a professional baseball president of operations by MLB as a condition for the giftwrapping of the team to them now acknowledging that the ship had seemingly hit an iceberg and they needed an experienced captain to ride out the storm...

Rizzo, as interim, dismissing Bowden's guy in the dugout, replacing him with the old hand bench manager Riggleman; trading Bowden's "future in center for the Nats" Lastings (not for long) Milledge for Sean Burnett and, of course, Nyjer Morgan, looking like the trade of a lifetime; drafting well and signing supposed phemom Strasburg in a way that made Lerners look like accomplished, legitimate players; and dealing off Johnson, Belliard, etc. in moves designed to help unload a total net of about $22 million for 2010.

The team had some good fortune in that it brought up two very good looking and sounding prospects, Ian Desmond and Justin Maxwell who played exceeding well; not exactly Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams by the numbers, but a faint resemblance is clearly present in both instances.

We can dream now over the off-season, based on the vinettes provided by these two young players in September/October.

Rizzo having the confidence of Ted Lerner, the elder chieftan, who may have caught baseball fever with his gambit for Teixeira, winning Boras' approval, and the hands-on participation which landed Strasburg, and will be the same platform for signing Bryce Harper.

The biggest development coming out of 2009: hopefully, a keen recognition by the Lerners that they have a critical choice to make: 1. keeping the payroll at $55 million, and counting on upwards of 2 million at the gate for a team playing .450, about the same as its last 75 games; or risking it a bit by going as high as $70 million, and shooting for 2.5 million or more based on a team playing potentially .550.

I suspect the Lerner camp is divided between the son-in-laws and the scion on this choice. Thus, it will be up to Kasten/Rizzo to gently persuade the Old Man that the extra $15 million offers a much greater ROI.

The fact that the Old Man trusts the Kasten/Rizzo team to give him good advice and execute accordingly is the biggest positive development coming out of the disaster that was 2009, until changes had to made, and they started in earnest in May-Jume.

The Nationals, as they end the year with 103 losses, are not a joke - they offer hope, in fact, and the next manager, be it Riggleman (a career .450 skipper) or someone as professional but with greater upside at the helm (Mattingly?) can be excited for good reason about the team's true potential and working for an integrated professional organization.

Trust in baseball blooming every Spring. And the dawn being ushered in by the lovely African Queen. All fantastic.

Tom said...

Have great off season!
See you at the Park next year.
Meanwhile, it's time to follow les ?Bravos de Magarita starting Friday.

Tom said...

By the way Nats may be last in the NL, but Nats 320 is 1st in the blogisphere!