Monday, January 17, 2011

Week in review

Good morning, NatsTown. After a relaxing week of vacation, I'm back to work today, trying to get caught up on all the major news events that transpired in my absence. And what a week it was for the Nationals, who signed several prominent free agents, pulled off a gargantuan trade and were embroiled in too many controversies to count.

Oh wait. These are the Nationals we're talking about here. Hardly anything of consequence took place last week. My mistake.

Let's review, though, what few scraps of news did emerge...

Ten days after coming to terms on his two-year contract, Adam LaRoche finally got his introductory press conference at Nationals Park, complete with curly W cap and (oversized) jersey.

The 31-year-old first baseman appeared to say all the right things Friday afternoon, including a strong desire to sign with this particular franchise.

"There were obviously a few teams out there in the mix," said LaRoche, who was also courted by the Orioles. "I can remember telling my agent if this is at all possible, let's get this done in Washington."

While exploring his options over the last month, LaRoche sought advice from friends who had previously played in the District, including Adam Dunn and Matt Capps. Both gave strong endorsements, which tells you a bit about each player's sincerity and quality of character. Dunn and Capps easily could have trashed a Nationals club that allowed each to leave (Dunn via free agency, Capps via trade). But these guys genuinely enjoyed their time here, and they aren't holding grudges against the franchise.

As for LaRoche's role with the Nationals ... Jim Riggleman said he'll hit either fourth or fifth. Ryan Zimmerman will bat in his customary No. 3 spot. LaRoche and Jayson Werth will follow Zim in one order or another.

If you can't beat him, might as well sign him. Harris had developed such a habit for robbing the Mets of victories over the last three years, they decided to bring him over to their side at last.

It's only a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, but it sounds like Harris is likely to win an Opening Day roster spot and serve as New York's fourth outfielder. This could be a good landing spot for the veteran utilityman, who has always been at his best when he was starting two or three games per week in a variety of positions.

With plenty of injury risks in the Mets' outfield (Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran) and an unclear picture at second base, Harris figures to get playing time. And he should excel covering Citi Field's spacious outfield.

Just hope he doesn't make a game-saving catch at Nationals Park, returning the favor and prompting the marketing folks at SNY to create a commerical in which a Mets fan declares that "the Nats must HATE Willie Harris!"

The Hall of Famer and former Nationals manager had a brief health scare Thursday while attending the owners meetings in Phoenix when his heart rate shot up to 190 and he experienced dizziness.

Robinson was taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital where his heart rate returned to normal numbers and doctors found no signs of any serious problems. He was back at the meetings later the day and flew home to Los Angeles to consult his regular doctors.

It would appear the 75-year-old is doing fine now. He was in attendance Saturday night at a fundraising dinner in L.A. for the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

Stephen Strasburg's rehab continues in his hometown of San Diego, where on Saturday he hosted a charity 5K race to raise money for the San Diego State baseball program. The right-hander told reporters he's in "the best shape of my life" thanks to a rigorous rehab regimen that has him building up strength in his legs and body core.

He has not, however, been given the green light to begin throwing again. He's hoping that threshold is crossed sometime in the next few weeks, before he reports to Viera for spring training, but look for the Nationals to remain cautious with his recovery process.

"Stephen will throw off the mound when the doctors tell him he's going to throw off the mound, and not a moment sooner," Mike Rizzo told reporters after the LaRoche press conference on Friday.

Since arriving in town, the Nationals have held a winter caravan in which players and members of the coaching staff travel around to several area locations to meet fans and drum up excitement for the upcoming season. And the last two years, they've held a full-fledged fan fest at Nationals Park in late-January.

This year, though, the club has decided to hold its "NatsFest" on March 30, the day before Opening Day. According to the team's press release, the change was made "so that more fans than ever before can celebrate the beginning of baseball alongside Nationals players, coaches and team personnel at Nationals Park."

I'm not sure I agree with that line of thinking. In the past, the event was held on a mid-winter weekend. Now it will be held on a Wednesday. The club hasn't revealed any specifics, including times, but it's hard to believe more fans will attend this year's event than the previous two.

If it's held during the day, how many fans are going to get out of work to attend? How many parents are going to let their kids skip school for this? Don't forget that 40,000 people are going to have to skip work/school the following day for the 1:05 p.m. season opener against the Braves.

Seems to me the change in dates practically ensures fewer fans will be able to attend, not "more fans than ever."

Now, there is one significant benefit of holding the event in late-March instead of late-January: The entire team will be there. In the past, only a handful of players attended. Now, everyone who makes the Opening Day roster has to be there, because they'll be conducting a mandatory workout at the ballpark (open to the public). So you should have an opportunity meet every player on the roster, not only the select few who attended in previous years.

That said, it should be noted the Nationals stand to save money with this change of dates. When the event is held in the winter, the club foots the bill to fly players in and put them up for several nights (one possible reason why only a handful of players generally attend). By holding the event on the day before the season opener, when the entire roster was already scheduled to be in D.C., there's no extra cost to the organization to set up player appearances.

Many of you have been asking about my coverage plan for 2011. I was hoping to announce details by now, but there's still one last thing holding this up. Fortunately, that will be cleared up in the next couple of days, so I'll finally be able to share details later this week.


natsfan1a said...

Welcome back, Mark! We missed you. Um...about that mess in the basement: I didn't do it. It was that way when I got there.

Re. the news recap: as you all know, I don't usually do predictions, but I'm going to go out on a limb here. Willie Harris will slay the opposition in Mets intersquad games this spring. You heard it here first. :-)

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Mark...About that broken front door...We honestly didn't have anything to do with it. I saw the whole thing. The neighbor's kid hit it with his Zamboni, and I'm pretty sure afterward I heard him say, "Bulls-eye." Honestly, we didn't have anything to do with it. Honestly.

natsfan1a said...

(And that was metaphorically speaking re. Willie, of course. I wish him well, but not against us.)

In other news, glad to hear that Frank is doing better. Hope that SS will listen to the docs and take it slow with his rehab. I saw a note somewhere indicating that the Nats Fest would be in the afternoon, so it would mean taking off work/school for many. Not the best timing, imho.

Section 223 said...

Welcome back, Mark. Hope you had a well deserved rest.

The NatsFest being held just before Opening Day is a total crock. It seems they simply didn't care enough to put one on this time. Winter interaction is about getting through the void. That is just bad staff planning or higher up decision (much like the Opening Day fiasco last year). I see the team getting better because they have a GM in charge who knows what he is doing. I just wish they would find someone on the "other side" of the business to take care of the fans. Very unprofessional in my opinion.

NatBiscuit said...

Snarky. Feels like spring!!! Welcome back.

TimDz said...

Mark, I guess you didn't tell 1a and Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter about those hidden cameras...

And still no word about who is removed from the 40 man roster...not sure why this is bugging me, but it is...

NatsJack in Florida said...

Welcome back Mark.... Need to find our how bad we want Jerry Hairston. Otherwise, I'm just bidding my time till Spring Training. I'll be over on that Friday, Feb. 18 to watch my first work out.

Ernie said...

Did anyone else watch the video of the Post's "Business of Sport" forum? Snyder and Leonsis dominated the talk, but the reps from the Lerner group that attended seemed really out of place. The others were talking about business and challenges and mistakes, and the Nats folks (Robert Tanenbaum and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum) mostly seemed to be talking PR points, especially about the development around the stadium (talking as if it is all going swimmingly).

I am not in any way a Snyder fan, but I was shocked to see him look much more savvy than the Nats ownership. Leonsis made me wish he owned the Nats as well.

I'm not about to buy into the "Lerner's are cheap" talk, but if the team ownership is truly that self-satisfied and uncritical, I'm definitely willing to believe that they truly are unaware of the effects of holding "winter" event of NatsFest the day before the season starts. The two simply did not strike me as the types who have run a service- or customer-oriented business.

I'm really not trying to start the standard "Lerners suck" whine-fest. However, I was floored by the difference in persona.

Mark'd said...

I hear Rizzo is working on a big deal trade. What are you hearing?

Anonymous said...

I'm really not trying to start the standard "Lerners suck" whine-fest. However, I was floored by the difference in persona.

I don't believe that Rizzo is for one moment cheap: see Marquis, Wang, and Werth. Rizzo also said, "no, I am never satisfied".

That's enough for me.

SonnyG10 said...

Welcome back Mark. Good to read some good writing for a change. I must say my fellow bloggers kept me entertained in your absence.

JaneB said...

Welcome back Mark! We're glad to have you, and glad to know the path forward for you is ironing out. And we're counting the days till pitchers and catchers.

The vodka bottle in cupboard? Mostly water now.

Mark'd said...

Ernie, the Lerner daughter was telling the story of the Fathers Day 2006 game vs the Yankees and thought it was a tie score when Zim hit the Walkoff. Earth to Lerner, that was in the Top 2 greatest games in Nats history, get the facts straight.

I don't mind the rest as the Lerners aren't great orators and don't want to be out there in the public. I like better that they are improving the team. Better late than never.

Rob Dibble's Ghost said...

Just out of curiosity, does anyone else think that the lack of a caravan and "real" NatsFest this year might be a result of Stan's departure? He seemed to be a big player at those events, and maybe no one assumed the responsibility for organizing them this year, until someone in a staff meeting said "oh, S***!", so they threw this March 30 thing together out of desperation. That's what I think, so I hope they learn from this mistake and bring back and even bigger and better series of events next year. We'll see...

Feel Wood said...

"This year, though, the club has decided to hold its "NatsFest" on March 30, the day before Opening Day. According to the team's press release, the change was made "so that more fans than ever before can celebrate the beginning of baseball alongside Nationals players, coaches and team personnel at Nationals Park."

I'm not sure I agree with that line of thinking. In the past, the event was held on a mid-winter weekend. Now it will be held on a Wednesday. The club hasn't revealed any specifics, including times, but it's hard to believe more fans will attend this year's event than the previous two."

Re-read the press release, Mark. They're not saying that this new event will outdraw the previous winter events. They're saying that more fans will be able to celebrate the beginning of the season than have been able to in the past. That's true, because they never before have had an event on the day before Opening Day to celebrate the start of the season.

Also, the format of this new event appears to be quite different than the format of the winter events. In: Watching practice, using the whole ballpark, all 25 players there. Out: Boring speeches in the club sections, long autograph/photo lines, not much else. The new event sounds like an improvement to me.

Sunderland said...

The Reds signed Joey Votto, buying out his 3 arbitration years.
In 2010, Votto earned $525,000.
In 2011, he'll begin making an average of $12,667,000 per year.

Surprised the Reds didn't go 4 or 5 years and buy out one or two of his free agent years.
Aside from cost certainty, not sure what this contract does for them, since he would be under team control for the next 3 years anyway. With or without this contract, he's due to be a free agent after the 2013 season.
But it's hard to argue with Walt Jocketty. He knows what he's doing.

When the Rockies signed CarGo to a 7/$80M deal, at least they bought out his first 3 years of free agency along with his arbitration years. These kind of terms make more sense to me.

N. Cognito said...

I understand a lot of people might not like the Wednesday Fanfest, but I'm not going to get upset over them trying something new.

sjm 308 said...

Feel Wood - had not thought of that aspect but now that you mention it, most of the talks were basically "feel good" although I did like George Will the one year I heard him (I went in with a huge prejudice and left understanding he was still conservative but loved baseball). This might actually be fun, watching a practice in seats we never get to sit in. Also another reason to flaunt retirement.

Glad you are back Mark, get that trade worked out please.

Go Nat!

josh f said...

I'm most upset about losing the Hot Stove Luncheon, assuming that it won't be part of the FanFest day. That was definitely one of the highlights of last year for me, and I can't understand why they wouldn't do it again, except that they just didn't plan ahead.

Will said...

The way I see it, is the Reds looked at Ryan Howard as what to expect.

Howard was awarded $10mil in arbitration in 2008, which was 2 years removed from his MVP season. Votto, just coming off his MVP season, would expect to make something similar (granted slightly higher due to inflation) to what Howard was awarded, and then make more each of the next 2 years. By the time he'd be eligible for free agency, he'd probably have made at least the same amount of money.

With that said, I do think it's surprising that the Reds weren't able to add a year or two onto the deal. It seems pointless as it is to guarantee Votto that money, especially if he gets injured or fails to put up numbers like last year.

Will said...

Also, word is the Nats signed Alex Cora to a minor league deal. He's the utility middle infielder we've been looking for, but I'm not sure he was the best option out there.

Sunderland said...

We just traded Willie Harris to the Mets for Alex Cora?

Jenn Jenson said...

Josh, I'll also miss the Hot Stove Luncheon more than anything, and I agree that failure to plan had to be at least part of the issue.

Here's hoping the new and improved NatsFest is truly new and improved, and that the Nationals follow it up with better baseball and a season filled with terrific fan and community events. A gal can dream ...

DFL said...

As LaRoche likes to hunt and fish, I would suggest to him that he might like to move to some place like Kent Island rather than live in the District.

As for Riggleman's plans for hitting Werth fifth, the manager should reconsider. Werth is the fastest of the sluggers and should hit third while LaRcohe should bat fifth.

John C. said...

Welcome back, Mark! I'm glad you got some time off to recharge. I'm glad that the Nationals didn't get involved in controversies and especially that they didn't sign a big-money free agent - the Yankees did that with Soriano, and that contract is just asinine on a variety of levels. Although it did lock up the #21 pick for the Nationals, since Soriano was the last Type A that was graded higher than Dunn.

As for Cora, that's OK I guess. I think they should still make a run at Jerry Hairston, Jr. He's younger, a better hitter, can play outfield in a pinch and has a WS ring from playing with the Yankees in 2009.

Sunderland said...

Will, good thoughts concerning Votto contract and Ryan Howard, thanks.

DFL, Riggleman is too respectful of Zimmerman to consider any notion of moving Zimmerman out of the 3 hole.
This is one of the issues with Riggleman. It's awesome that he respects veteran and such, but he takes it too far.
It's why he played Guzman when he should not have last year, and it's why Pudge will catch more games than he should this coming year.

From the LaRoche press conference:
Jim Riggleman said Jayson Werth and LaRoche will hit fourth and fifth, though it hasn't been determined yet which player will hit where. "Adam can be productive in several different spots. I think we will just let spring training determine whether we will go with (Ryan) Zimmerman-Werth-LaRoche or Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth. We can play around with it."

Anonymous said...

As I posted in another thread, I am very disappointed about the Wednesday afternoon Natsfest. I've already gotten approval from my employer for time off for Spring training and opening day -- I'm very hesitant to ask for another day off in March. Many parents are going to be reluctant to take their kids out of school two days in a row.

I thought the point of events like a "Natsfest" was to have some baseball in the middle of winter. I also will particularly miss the January Hot Stove Luncheon -- it was tremendous fun and a good time to get to mingle with the players.

I hope they have a separate event for the season ticket holders early in the season on a weekend like they did last year so that those of us who have to work on a Wednesday afternoon can have some Natsfest fun.

Mark'd said...

Jenn Jenson, I checkeds out your Blog. Good stuff with some great suggestions. Not a big fan of ABM of his typical debate taking a view counter to the obvious position.

Jenn Jenson said...

Thanks Mark'd. And I think ABM is relatively harmless. He cared enough to read and come back and comment more than once, and there's something to be said for that.

ABM said...

Mark'd, not a big fan of demonizing people just because they don't happen to agree with you. Last time I looked, even though this is the Internet it still is America. Think about that before you start pigeonholing people who think differently than you.

N. Cognito said...


Anonymous said...

The Hot Stove Luncheon was sold out two years running, and in my opinion should be reinstated next year as a mid-winter event. Admittedly, without a Fanfest or Caravan scheduled around it perhaps only a few players or so would attend. But that would be fine with me if the front office and managers/coaches took part ln this very popular event with season ticket holders.

BinM said...

A reported $900k+ for Cora on a NRI minor-league deal? Boras just put another notch in his belt as the ultimate con-man / puppet-master. Incredible.

N. Cognito said...

"The Chicago Cubs have traded left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to the Washington Nationals for three minor league prospects -- two pitchers and an outfielder, according to two major league sources."

JaneB said...

This is not a snarky or rhetorical question: how does Gorselanny help us AT ALL?
2010 7 9 4.09 119 1.50
Career 36 37 4.68 411 1.49

Seems to me we sorta have him already, but his name is John Lannan. Help me out here.

Les in NC said...

I have to agree with you JaneB, and personally I like Lannan more than any similar pitcher we could bring in.

Doc said...

Cora is an older, and lesser Hot Rod Willie. Gorzelanny is a journyman, at this point in his career.

Last good year for Gorzelanny was 2007, when he pitched a 200+ innings. He doesn't really offer anything for the Nats that they don't have now, as JaneB has noted.

HHover said...

JaneB - The non-snarky answer is that the team used to have one John Lannan and now has two.

Gorz. obviously isn't the top of the rotation guy Rizzo said he was looking for, but he seems a pretty reliable candidate for the middle to bottom of the order. Esp since neither Gorz. nor any of the other candidates look like 30-start, 200-inning guys over the course of the season, the Nats are going to need a number of 4-5 starters.

The trade isn't bad in itself, it probably means the Nats won't be adding another SP before Opening Day. And if this is the best, and all, they're going to do, then it's kinda depressing.

Anonymous said...

I think they're worried about Marquis and Livo, not to mention others who have to/hope will progress.
Seems like just trying to get a steady arm in there somewhere.

Mark'd said...

Yes, the Gorzelanny trade is what I was referring to at 11:34 this morning. Done deal.

TimDz said...

MLBtraderumors says that Micheal Burgess was the word on the two pitching prospects.

Anonymous said...

The pitching prospects are A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks.

Quakrbackr said...

The Nats Fest/ STH Luncheon decision is an abomination. Pretty much every other team (about 25) has major winter events and brings significant portions of their team in to multi-day events (e.g. pujols, holliday, carpenter and wainwright and 40 others in SL, or Konerko, Dunn and 20 other in Chicago, or Mauer, Morneau and 50 others in MN-- where they had 6 weeks to find a replacement venue for the Metrodome-- and pulled it off.)

NatsFest the last two years has been great. Went with my wife and kids and about 8 other families the last couple years- the kids loved it. Sadly, this year, none of them will be able to go because it is a SCHOOL DAY.

The Hot Stove luncheon was the best event they had for STH- it consistently sold out in hours. I get the feeling more and more though that they just don't value STH. It will be interesting to see if the team's STH base has sunk to the point where we get four digit attendance like CLE, FL, and PIT. I can see some ATT: 9,332 at the bottom of the box scores in '11 for Nats home games.

And to the poster who suggests this is a new event-- it really isn't-- they've allowed STH in early to watch BP and have players sign autographs before the exhibition game at least 2 of the last 3 years, so this event will essentially be the same as that- except there won't be an exhibition game.

At the end of the day, the mantra should be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Of all the things that are screwed up on the non-baseball operations side of things for the Washington Nationals Baseball Club, on which the new COO could focus his energy, the winter events should have been at about number 233 on the list.

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