As the Nats Turn… (by Bledsoe)

Since the Braves have decided not to field a team for the foreseeable future, I thought readers might enjoy another episode of our favorite soap opera, AS THE NATS TURN. When we last left our story:

  • The three-peating Nats had gone from a sure WS ring to a barely .500 team, while sporting one of the highest payrolls in the game
     
  • The Nats traded in the stretch for a clubhouse cancer closer who ended the season, in a scene that will be played forever and ever, world without end, his hands wrapped around the throat of the NL MVP and Nats’ Golden Child in the dugout (the Nats removed Papelbon’s jersey from display in the stadium stores in the middle of a game)
     
  • The Nats fired the feckless Matt Williams as manager, while retaining the equally feckless Mike Rizzo as GM
     
  • The cheapskate Lerners offered their first choice candidate as skipper, Bud Black (the pitching-savvy manager they need) a deal so insulting that he cut off negotiations with them
     
  • The Nats then hired journeyman manager Dusty Baker, who was quite available, having been freed of his duties in every previous job held
     
  • The Nats spent the winter chasing a number of high-to-mid-range free agents, virtually all of whom decided to sign elsewhere
     
  • Their Golden Boy MVP is openly rumored to be gone to the Yankees as soon as he hits free agency in 2018.
     

So what has transpired since then? Same old same old. The Nationals have put their brogans on the stand, and the Washington toady sportswriters are falling over each other to get in line to lick. As Kevin Bacon screamed in Animal House, “ALL IS WELL!” Two prominent examples:

First, Adam Kilgore posted this article, the thesis of which is that Scott Boras, Supergenius, invented in 2009 the “tanking” strategy that the Nats have deployed to perfection and has been or is being widely imitated by such teams as the Phillies, Astros, and our Braves, among others. The Nats’ recent success, Kilgore asserts, is directly caused by their adoption of this groundbreaking Boras stratagem, bringing them Harper and Strasburg, who are the primary engines of the Nats’ juggernaut.

This story had to have been spoon-fed by Boras’s people. In an effort to pretend that this is some sort of Moneyball New Age thinking, Kilgore employs the tried and true journalistic practice of adopting a conclusion, juggling the data to support the conclusion, and ignoring all facts that inconveniently disprove the conclusion. A few problems with his thesis:

  1. Anyone over the age of 30 who has followed sports even sporadically knows Scott Boras didn’t invent tanking, and the idea that he did, or this is some sort of atom-splitting event in GM strategy, is embarrassing to whoever asserts it. Tanking for draft picks has been going on for as long there have been draft picks in any sport. Tanking was such a problem in the NBA that the NBA draft lottery was expressly created to decrease the reward for tanking. Thirty years ago.
     
  2. The Lerners didn’t need any advice on tanking; their natural stinginess had already tanked the team. They took over a 91-loss team in 2006 in midseason. They immediately cut the payroll in half to $37 million and lost 89, then lost 102 in 2008. According to Kilgore, Boras’s brilliant epiphany of tanking was in conjunction with the Nats’ pursuit of Boras client Mark Teixiera, i.e., the winter before the 2009 season when Tex was a free agent. The Lerners were well versed in tanking by then.
     
  3. Getting Strasburg and Harper as draft picks wasn’t the reason for the Nats’ success, such as it is. The Nats won the division twice, in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, Strasburg was their 3d best starter (behind JZimmerman and Gonzalez); in 2014, their 4th best (Fister, JZim, Roark). Before last season, the word “bust” was being openly used in DC (unfairly perhaps, but he was viewed as good/inconsistent but not remotely justifying the hype as the No. 1 pick overall). Same with Harper. Before Harper’s monster season last year, his career high in RBI was 59. Heck, he only had 350 ABs in 2014. Yes, he had a monster 2015, which resulted in the Nats barely finishing above .500. Rather, the guys who played key roles in those division winning years were either free agent acquisitions (Span,Werth, Laroche, Fister) or guys who were drafted before the Lerners even took over (RZimmerman, Desmond) or right after they took over (JZimmerman). Not Harper and Strasburg, who just happened to be Boras clients, though.
     
  4. Their top prospect, Lucas Giolito, considered the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, wasn’t acquired by tanking, but by good scouting and some luck – he was drafted No. 16 after a .500 season by the Nats in 2011.
     

Other than that, it’s pretty much true.

Tom Boswell, probably the king of the Nats-colored glasses, posted this gem of wishcasting. Boswell claims that the guy who choked Harper in the dugout on national television is actually genuinely contrite about the episode and may very well be a team leader now. Meanwhile, even if the Nats clubhouse is a tinderbox of jerks and bad feelings, Dusty Baker is just the man for the job, as he “got MVP years from both Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who fought and hated each other through six successful years with Dusty.” “Just have more fun” is Dusty’s mantra, allegedly.

A few problems, Boz:

  1. Papelbon isn’t sorry. When the Nats suspended him for four games after the Choke, he immediately filed a grievance to have the suspension (i.e., the lost pay for those games) revoked. And he hasn’t withdrawn it.
     
  2. paps

  3. Papelbon is as far away from a clubhouse leader as possibly exists in MLB, and Boswell’s attempt to pass off this tripe and expect us to eat it is simply astounding. This is the guy who flipped off his own fans in Philly and spent most of the season openly agitating for a trade. The Phillies couldn’t wait to unload him.
     
  4. The way Dusty Baker “handled” Barry Bonds was to let him do whatever the hell he wanted to, bringing his personal drug dealer, personal videographer, personal trainer, personal masseur etc. into the clubhouse, having four lockers and his own personal recliner and flatscreen, etc. As a result, the entire Giants team hated his guts, leading to the famous non-celebration of Bonds’ 500th HR, when not a single Giant would come out of the dugout to greet him. Baker’s inability to control the clubhouse led to the Giants’ letting him go after the 2002 season. He went to Chicago, where his inability to control the clubhouse, notably Sammy Sosa, led to the Cubs letting him go (Sosa more than once left the stadium in the middle of a game). Saying Baker is the man for the job because of his “experience” dealing with clubhouse cancers like Bonds and Sosa is like giving the captain of the Titanic command of a vessel going to the North Pole because of his “experience” dealing with icebergs. This is going to be a poopshow.
     
  5. Dusty didn’t play a role in milking MVP years from Bonds and Kent; no manager does. If they did, they’d have to also take the blame for not getting MVP years from the same players. This is sportswriter horsepoop. Bonds got his MVP years from BALCO, and Dusty was merely along for the ride.
     
  6. Dusty Baker’s history of failing to win important games is too long to list here. But the ‘93 Giants swoon (losing division to us by one game), 2002 WS loss (up 3 games to 2, with a 5-0 lead in Game Six), 2003 NLCS loss (up 3-1, lost three in a row), and 2012 Reds swoon (lost last six RS games, then WC game) are on his resume.
     
  7. The last thing the Nats need is “to have more fun.” One of the reasons they flopped so badly last year was that they spent far more time clowning around than playing crisp, fundamental baseball. There was little accountability or consequences under Matt Williams’s tenure for making boneheaded mistakes, which unsurprisingly flourished as a result. Most of the Fun Without Fundamentals Bunch (Gio Gonzalez, YEscobar, Werth, Harper) are back, and a good chewing out is what they could use, not “more fun.”
     

Again, other than that, it’s pretty much true.

There is often a positive “new manager” effect, which is due perhaps as much to relief over the escape from the doubt and turmoil from the old regime as to any earthshaking changes the new guy brings. It could happen with Baker too. But those effects are generally short-lived. I fully expect this season to continue the circus that is the Nats, particularly with the addition of the laissez-faire and generally clueless Dusty. It remains to be seen. But it might give some comic relief from a depressing season for Braves fans.

88 thoughts on “As the Nats Turn… (by Bledsoe)”

  1. Nice work.

    Sigh… it’ll be yet another season of rooting against certain clubs.

    But, I’ll still take the Nats over the Mets. I have to live & work with these people.

    Truth be told, nothing will bother me too much this season, as long as the NL East winner doesn’t win its last game.

  2. Bledsoe…my bad

    rolling block slides ban – did you all know? i thought i had a scoop! first one ever in verse.

  3. @2,

    Was just reading about that. How odd–he has an offer in hand, and then he turns it down to take 2 guaranteed years instead of 3 and at a significantly diminished annual salary. Just what are the Cubs cooking up there?

    For what it’s worth, I don’t want Jorge Soler.

  4. @10 Based simply on the eye test (read: me watching Jorge Soler punish baseballs in the playoffs) I think there’s a decent chance he’ll be a productive power bat this season, albeit one with a pedestrian BB/K rate and not-particularly-good defense.

    If given the option between, say, Soler and Olivera, I’d choose Soler.

  5. Ah, I didn’t know the Bravesjournal fantasy plan to get Soler involved trading Olivera for him. That changes everything. I’m on board.

  6. Interesting – Cubs GM Theo Epstein went on record this morning to deny that they were going to trade Soler. That’d mainly leave Soler and Schwarber to platoon in LF, though I suppose the Cubs could have Schwarber play C occasionally.

  7. @10, Everybody who’s signing now — and getting much less than they thought they should, no doubt — wants an opt-out to test the market next offseason, when the FA class looks to be weak and they could be the best option out there. That’s the deal with Fowler.

    This is relevant to the Braves, if you think we’re going to spend to contend in 2017. We’d be bidding against lots of teams for basically only Strasburg, assuming we’re shopping for an impact player.

  8. To get Soler here is what may barber says would go down:

    Cubs Get: Jered Weaver, Houston Street and Lucas Sims
    Braves Get: Soler, Kaleb Cowart, Jason Hammel and Wilson Contreras
    Angels Get: Julio Teheran, Cakes, Zach Bird and Mallex Smith

  9. A 2017 line up of:

    Inciarte
    Swanson
    Freeman
    Olivera
    Soler
    Garcia
    Contreras
    Peterson(or whomever)

    That might be fun.

  10. It might be, until the other side of the inning when we get to see who’s dead meat on the mound for the day.

  11. 6, 7 — You’re right. I forgot when Dusty went to the Cubs. That’s the year he infamously ran Prior and Wood into the ground.

  12. So here is what I’ve learned so far from the Braves’ MLB site. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything and if I got the gist of the most recent articles.

    Beckham is in the best shape of his life and ready to OPS around .800 at 3rd

    Francouer is in the best shape of his life and will revitalize his career in Atlanta – expect an OPS around .850

    Swisher is in the best shape of his life and will also revitalize his career – 25 home runs, .850 to .900 expected OPS.

    Markakis is in the best shape of his life and will most likely hit about 25 homers.

    I would like to go out on a limb and say if those things happen, the Braves will win the division. Let me also go out on a limb and say that those things will not happen.

  13. @29 Copied straight from one of the headlines:

    – Norris moves past odd year, learns from it as well. So expect a 15 win season with a 3.50 era.

  14. I love the “Frency could have gone a lot of places,(Toledo Mud Hens,Hanshin Tigers, LG Twins, Sultanes de Monterrey…) but he picked us.”

  15. @31 – If those things happened I stand by my prediction of a division title. My reasoning is that the only way this could happen would be that we are in an alternate universe where bad players are good. Norris would be a Cy Young candidate in this universe and we would battle the Phillies for the division title.

  16. So are we prepared for the Phillies rebuild to happen quicker than the Braves’? It’s been great making fun of the Phillies fro the last few seasons, but the Ryan Howard nightmare punchline of a contract is almost over. Both Braves and Phillies should hit rock bottom this summer. With their financial resources far outpacing that of the Braves it will be easier for them to get back on top.

  17. braves14’s rotation projections to start the season:

    1. Teheran
    2. Norris
    3. Wisler
    4. Perez
    5. Blair

    I don’t think Banuelos is durable enough to be a starter. The jury is still out on Folty. There is no upside to putting Kendrick or Chacin in the rotation.

  18. @37 — Money is nice, but there’s nothing to spend it on next offseason. Besides, the Braves are going to have a pretty decent chunk of change themselves, assuming Liberty lets them keep it. Between the Braves and Phils, it’s going to come down to whose farm system is more productive, and the Braves have a pretty significant edge there.

    @38 — Agreed on Kendrick, but Chacin has some upside. I also think they have to at least give Banuelos a chance as a starter — Perez is who he is, but Banuelos has a chance to be actually something useful.

  19. There is a lot to gain from having Chacin or Kendrick in the rotation. If we can get one to two good months from them they are trade bait and they keep us from having to push one of our prospects. As noted above, Chacin being useful is much more likely than Kendrick.

  20. John Coppolella
    occasionally trades for a flop of a fella
    Managing the General
    seduced by particular talent that’s largely ephemeral.

  21. Ratso Rizzo
    he was quite possibly a stymied schizo
    Dustin Hoffman to a T
    it’s midnight, cowboy, can’t you see?

  22. Ian Desmond signed with the Rangers to play left field. Wonder if he’s regretting turning down that $100 million extension offer from a few years back?

    In actual Braves-related news, I believe that signing locks down the draft order (give or take some of the competitive balance picks being traded around), so the Braves pick at 3, 41, 45, and 81 in the first 100 picks.

  23. Gotta’ love the Terrence Moore column “Francoeur is first-ballot Good Guy Hall of Famer”. Is there a Keltner list for this?

  24. @55,

    -Was he the most punk’d player on his team?
    -Yes
    -Was he the most punk’d player in his league?
    -Probably

  25. We wouldn’t have lost a first round pick because we will pick in the top 15. On the other hand, our second rounder is #45 or so, which is a pretty high pick.

    So $8 million plus the value of that pick for the chance that Desmond rebounds at the age of 30 to somewhere close to the 4+WAR player he was for 3 straight seasons from 2012-2014, AND stays healthy, so that we could flip him for prospects. Put that way, it seems like a lot to risk for such a possibility.

  26. Any ATL rotation predictions need to include bullpen and Gwinnett rotation predictions, too. An ATL rotation that includes Norris, Kendrick, and Chacin will force starters into the bullpen.

  27. @64

    Maybe. I think you will see most of the younger guys at Gwinnett and not the pen. I could see the Williams and/ or ManBan in the pen

    Weber, Manban/Williams, Jenkins, Newcomb and Blair

  28. Kendrick is the one I’m unsure about on the list above. Does anyone know what he is guaranteed if he makes the ML club? I can see us using him for a while until Folty or Banuelos or one of the other prospects is ready, but I don’t see us putting a lot of money into this.

  29. Teheran, Wisler, Norris, Kendrick, Chacin, Perez, Weber, Manban, Folty, Jenkins, Newcomb, Blair, Sims … that’s 13 starters. And what about Casey Kelley? And isn’t John Gant getting close to ready for AAA?

    Anyway, I’m guessing one of Kendrick or Chacin in the rotation but not both.

  30. I think Kendrick gets released. I didn’t really expect him to truly factor into the team’s plans unless he impressed in Spring Training. There seems to just be too much fruit on the tree to give a buncha starts to a guy with a 4.63 ERA who had an ERA of 6+ last year.

  31. seat painter’s take:

    MLB Rotation

    Teheran
    Wisler
    Norris
    Chacin
    Perezii

    Gwinnett

    Newcomb
    Blair
    Jenkins
    Weber
    Banuelos

    DL

    Folty

    Released

    Kendrick

    Mississippi

    Sims
    Gant
    Ellis

    If the Bills and/or Chacin struggle early, then Blair, followed by Jenkins gets the call to the Bigs. Newcomb gets a Sept. 1 call-up. Sims, then Gant, moves up to Gwinnett to replace the call-up. ManBan gets stretched a bit in Gwinnett, but may get a bullpen call with Folty, when he is ready to return.

  32. @68

    I think Kelly is an interesting name to follow. I think he winds up in the pen somewhere. He could be a steal if he is healthy and has figured it out.

  33. @70 – That makes sense. I could also see Banuelos or even Kendrick making the team as a long reliever. Given that rotation, the long reliever may be the most used pitcher we have. Again, the only way I see Kendrick making the team is if he has an amazing spring and one of our other guys has injury concerns. Given the injuries and suspensions over the last few years, an injury concern with one of the pitchers listed above in addition to Folty, is a pretty good bet.

  34. Without calling attention to it, Martin Gandy called us a 100-loss team on his blog post. I don’t think he’s exaggerating or off the mark.

  35. We lost the best pitcher from an already horrible team, and did nothing for the offense. It’s not a huge stretch to think we’ll be even worse than last year.

    Nobody knows how many games and innings the younger prospects will get with the big club. That’s really the only x-factor that could swing the balance towards a better season.

  36. We could improve significantly relative to last year and still lose about 100 games, given that we overachieved by 8 or so wins last year.

  37. What we do and who we unload at the break will decide if we lose 100 games. Playing the Marlins and Phillies a bunch will prevent the team (as currently constructed) from losing 100.

  38. I think we have too many starting pitchers that have potential for us to lose 100 games. We have about 6 options for our 4th and 5th starters and we should find 2 that are decent by the end of the year. I’m also expecting improvement from Wisler. If we somehow find a stable rotation by August (it doesn’t have to be that good), I can’t see us losing 100 games – especially since we play the Marlins and Phillies as noted above. We were 21-17 against those teams last year.

  39. Outside of Teheran our whole rotation is made up of #5 type starters at best. If we don’t lose 100 that’s successful

  40. Losing 100 games is nearly as hard as winning 100. The Pirates were miserably bad for twenty years, and they only lost 100 twice in that span. The Marlins sell off their major league team every other year and run as close to a minimum payroll as they can get away with, and they’ve lost 100 games once in the Loria era. That’s not to say it never happens or is impossible, but blithely predicting it before the season starts is basically the same as arrogant Nats or Cubs fans calling 100 wins; just coming from the other direction.

  41. If we go 19-19 against the Marlins and Phillies, our record against the rest of the league would have to be 43-81. Given this team, that’s not impossible, but I don’t see it happening. Given our bullpen improvement and improvement of our starting 8, along with a more stable pitching staff by the end of the year, I think 65 to 70 wins is realistic and 75 wins is not out of the question.

  42. I’m fine with losing 100 games. Might as well go for it. I’m for anything that gets our actual prospects some second-half playing time.

  43. I don’t think the Braves will be any better than the Phillies. The Phils picked up some good prospects in their trades last year, and they appear to be closer to ML ready. Their rotation certainly can be better than ours. They will have Franco all year. I expect him to put up big numbers this year.

  44. @84 I’d say the Phillies look a little better for 2016 than the Braves because they got a bunch of promising contributions last year from young guys (Franco, Herrera, Nola, Eickhoff) who are likely to be good again this year, whereas the Braves’ next sources of greatness are all conjectural at this stage. All in all, I’d say Braves’ future looks brighter than the Phils but the high-ceiling talent the Braves acquired is either too young to meaningfully contribute this season and/or fell flat on their faces last season (eg Wisler, Folty) which took a bit of shine off their respective stars.

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