Saturday, January 20, 2007

Finishing Up With Todd Jacobson

Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Livan Hernandez, Nick Johnson, all players that have caught the eye of the fans during the first two seasons of the return of Major League Baseball to Washington. Yet, there is one player that seems to carry a dark cloud around him, at all times. A fan favorite to some, and an Over The Hill prospect to others, the Washington Nationals, Ryan Church has been an enigma with this team. Personally, I have liked him since the very first exhibition game, that cold March day in 2005, when he powered out an Upper Deck Home Run at RFK Stadium. For sure, he has not been consistent, has trouble with off speed pitches, but the Nationals never seem to give him a chance to prosper.

As I finish up my conversation with Todd Jacobson from The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, we begin with Ryan Church. Why does it seem the Nationals don't want Church?

"Two years ago, some people on the team felt he could have played through some injuries. He got himself into the doghouse, a little bit, then. He didn’t have a good spring this year (2006), he struggled. His numbers look great, but, I never got the feeling, watching him every day, he was a 20 homer guy, although the numbers say, over 500 bats, he is. You never got the feeling he was an 80 RBI Guy, which his numbers say he is. He’s very streaky. He’s not very consistent. And, I believe he would admit that fact."

But, are the Nationals being fair with him?

"I think he has been jerked around a little bit. It would be interesting to see what he would do if they would say, ‘Hey, you got the job for two months. This is going to be your job. We believe in you. You are the guy’. It would be interesting to see how he would react to that, and whether that would help him. He certainly has a lot of tools. A lot of fans love him because he does have a great swing. Pretty good outfielder, not as good as Nook Logan in center, but he is passable out there. A lot of factors have hurt him. Injuries did a lot of that. The Organization wanted him to go to Mexico. He didn’t want to do that. He does need to work on hitting the breaking ball, as he did get exposed this past season."

What about the Mexico situation, when Church did not go as the team planned?

"He didn’t go to Mexico, but he claims he is going to be working with an eye specialist—to allow him to recognize the pitch a little sooner. So, maybe that will help him more than going down to Mexico. I am not sure, if the Mexico idea was a good idea, in the first place. A lot of players have gone down there and not enjoyed it. I was talking to Robert Fick, when he re-signed. I said (to him) ‘Have you ever played winter ball anywhere?’ He said ‘Yeah, I played in Mexico for ONE DAY.’ He went down there and saw all the facilities and said ‘I am not going to do this’ (not worth it). I believe the culture shock I experienced in the Dominican, the players get as well. I went to a Winter League game in the Dominican and the facilities were not that great. I am sure the players are affected as well. So, it would be tough for a Major League Player to eat his pride and go to Mexico--relive A Ball (low minors), maybe worse."

You mentioned Nook Logan--are the Nationals serious about him being the everyday centerfielder. I just don't see it?

"Logan hit .300, but it was deceiving. He did work on his bunting and he did bunt a lot more, than in Detroit. Personally, I am surprised that Manny (Acta) has named him the starting centerfielder. (SBF-I would give Alex Escobar every chance to win the centerfielded job) Until he stubbs his toe. I feel bad for Escobar. He is a great talent. You see it when he plays. But, if you can’t get over the injuries, Washington can't wait, and the Nationals are being pretty patient with him. He’s (Escobar) got to figure It out. He is a better player, and more of a ceiling than Logan does in centerfield. Unless Logan learned to hit in that last month (of the 2006 season), I don’t think he can keep it up and do what he did in September."

Alot of fans have discussed the fact that, if the Nationals are going to be a bad team for the next year or two, while rebuilding, why not just break up the entire team, except for Ryan Zimmerman and trade every single veteran. Your thoughts?

"I think their lineup is not bad. I am not convinced that Felipe Lopez is the leadoff hitter. There are some holes. Leftfield and Centerfield are still question marks. There is a good core of players there. Its not just Zimmerman. If Johnson comes back healthy, he’s a good corner first basemen. His on base percentage (OPS) is through the roof. Kearns is a good outfielder. Lopez is a good building block. (Brian) Schneider, this will be important year for him. I don’t think you need to blow up the whole team. There is a decent core. (John) Patterson is a good guy to have. But, they are going to be bad this year (2007)"

After the Nick Johnson collision, Austin Kearns was mentally out of it over the last week of the 2006 season. Will the incident have a long term effect on his play?.

"He (Kearns) was affected by it. He’s a level headed guy. I am not sure if he’s rattled by it. He knows he didn’t try to hurt Johnson deliberately. I thing he feels bad, but I don’t think it will affect him long term. Major league players, for the most part, have a good ability to distance themselves from distractions. Austin seems to be a consistent and level headed guy."
(SBF-But, has Austin adapted to being in DC?) "Not quite yet. This year, having a full year starting in Washington, will help him a whole lot. He was rattled by the trade. He had only known Cincinnati. He was fairly uncomfortable last year."

How about Felipe Lopez--was he as shocked by his trade to Washington?

"His wife is from Maryland. I was surprised talking to him (Lopez) after the trade. He was anticipating it. So, he was not as surprised as Kearns. For Kearns, it was completely out of the blue. I said ‘Did this come as a shock to you’ Lopez said ‘No, I thought I was going to get traded.’ He saw the writing on the wall. They (Cincinnati) was going to move him, because of the numbers he had the previous year. And, they (The Reds) needed bullpen help. He was preparing for it. Austin was just shocked by it."

Of course as a shortstop he was very inconsistent and terrible at taking the throw at second on a steal?

I think moving him to second base will help him. He's an offensive talent. He makes the tough plays in the field, but it’s the easy balls right at him, that he botches. I think he will adapt well to second base. And, He will not be taking that throw anymore (on the steal), playing second."

Since we are on the topic of the Reds and the trade with Washington, does Cincinnati General Manager, Wayne Krivsky have any leg to stand on, in complaining about Gary Majewski's shoulder problems?

"I don’t think so. He pitched 9 games with the Reds. I don’t think they have much recourse. They (Reds) want the Nationals to throw in another player. I don’t think they want to give Majewski back. Its not like he’s done for his career. I believe the matter will blow over. (The Reds) are not going to get the trade reversed. Majewski did have some (cortisone) sbots. I wish I was lawyer and had access to all the information. If The Nationals were hiding something, they were wrong. But, I don’t think they were (hiding information). I am very surprised its gone this far. This is not the first time a player has been injured soon after a trade. Its happened in baseball since the 1800’s."

Yet, over the past two seasons, many Nationals players have gone down with injuries, injuries that, at first were just minor day to day things, then the next thing you know, those same players are gone for months, and then, out for the season. Does this have anything to do with Team Trainer Tim Abraham resigning recently.

“Tim said he did it for family reasons. He and his wife had a kid a short time ago. But, certainly when they (The Nationals) had so many injuries, the team got rid of Bruce Thomas (Team Doctor), too. So, I think there was some concern, from up above, that maybe, we can go in a different direction, when it comes to treating these injuries. I think when you are going in a different direction medically, this might have been the best way to go for them (The Nationals). But, to be fair, from what [Abraham] told me, I talked to Tim 2 days after it happened, he did say it was more of a family thing. The travel and all was getting to him."

Outside of Alfonso Soriano, no Nat performed at such a high level as Ryan Zimmerman. Were the players pissed off that Ryan did not win the Rookie of The Year Award?

"[Robert] Fick was shocked, but players don’t get pissed off about things like that--fans do. I think everyone was surprised he didn’t win the award. But, it was a year where Hanley Ramirez (Florida Rookie of the Year) had a real good year, too. It’s a shame, that 20 years from now, we are going to look back and say ‘Zimmerman was NOT THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR!!’ I talked to Fick that day (of the ROY announcement), he couldn’t believe it. Zimmerman had such a good year. He was so mature. He was the best rookie. Hanley had great numbers, too. But, if you watch him (Zimmerman) every day, you would really have to say Ryan Zimmerman was like an 8 year veteran out there. The things he did defensively, the things he was doing in the clutch, things that can’t be quantified with numbers. [Ryan] wanted to win it. He’s a competitor, he’s human. He wanted it. "

Since I mentioned Soriano providing all the excitement last season, along with Zimmerman, can you tell me whether he really liked playing here, or just couldn't wait to leave, feeling The Nationals were a "Rinky Dink" operation?

"I think he was being sincere when, he said, he liked it (here in DC). But, I think when fans hear a player say they like it here, I want to stay here, never in the long run, will it will trump the money. He got along with his teammates. He and Nick (Johnson) knew each other well. Their lockers were right next to each other. They were friends from when they were in New York. He’s not really a prima donna, where he needs to be in New York. He did not want to go back to New York. He wasn’t going there, although people thought he was going to. I don’t think he believed [The Nationals] were a rinky dink operation.
If someone offered me double my salary, I would probably go. So, I don’t fault athletes for getting as much as they can. Everyone is human. Everyone wants to do the best for family"

Obviously, The Nationals let Soriano walk, for not only money, but also because, over the long haul of rebuilding the franchise, Alfonso did not fit into their plans. What do other players, those from other teams, and their agents, think about playing in Washington?

"Talking to agents, they will talk to the Nationals now. A year ago, no one did. AJ Burnett (Blue Jays Starter) was never going to come to Washington (last season), no chance. They (The Nats) were in on the discussions, but, without an owner. No way anyone was going to come here. Now, with The Lerners and Stan, there is someone you can actually talk to, people treat them differently. They are almost on level ground right now."

When and if the need rises, do you see Washington going after, and even, overpaying for a free agent?

"When we need Sid Breem, we are going to get Sid Breem. When we need Terry Pendleton, we are going to get a Pendleton to fill out those needs---Kasten has talked, ad nauseum about these type of things. When the need comes, The Nationals will go out and fill in those complimentary pieces. I don’t know about overpaying though. They certainly will pay market rates."

Now its time for The Lightning Round--questions I asked Todd, that I felt needed to be answered, but haven't really fit into the previous posts.

What young player has impressed you the most?

Kory Casto has really impressed me for the past two years. He’s just a solid player. He does everything right. He took the move from 3rd base (to left field, due to Zimmerman) in stride—adjusting well. Two years ago, he was the Carolina League 3rd Baseman of the year-defensive 3rd basemen, named by the Managers. I would like to see him win that job (in left field for 2007) and see what he can do for a full year."

One of the first moves as New Manager of The Washington Nationals, Manny Acta hired two of his friends as coaches. Both Coaches have never instructed on the Major League Level. Are they good hires?

"(Tim) Tolman (new 3rd base coach) has a good reputation as a really good teacher. With him, that was probably a really good hire. He’s been around for a long time. He is a former Major League Player, has major league experience. (Bullpen Coach) Rick Aponte can be a really good conduit for the latin players. The Bullpen Çoach position is really hard to mess up. I don’t know much about Aponte’s reputation. He’s well thought of in the Dominican. Manny thinks of him as almost a Father figure. So, I think, throwing a bone to bring your buddy in, may well, turn out OK."

Who is faster--Nook Logan or Bernie Castro?

"Bernie Castro looks faster. We (The Press) had this conversation in September. If you put them side by side, Logan wins by 10 steps in a 60 yard dash."

And, finally--we end with this: How badly are The Nationals hurt by the MASN TV deal?

"I am sure Stan (Kasten) is a businessman, and, I am sure he resents it."

Todd Jacobson, the Washington Nationals Beat Writer for The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star was more than generous with his time. We had never met previously, but, he was more than willing to talk with me. I couldn't thank him enough. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, I can revisit All Things Nationals with Todd--again.

And, I hope you enjoyed reading the posts with Todd.


Anonymous said...

A great two weeks on the Nats320 Blog. Thanks Todd for your open commentary. Thanks SBF for going out of your way to find two good interviews. Now it's time to talk with the players. Ryan Zimmerman will be accessable all week. . .

Screech's Best Friend said...

Tom: I am working on it--depending on my REAL WORK SCHEDULE. Keep your fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

Great series Nats320. Thanks!