Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Potential Never Realized

Elijah Dukes - Enigma
Earlier today, the Washington Nationals released outfielder Elijah Dukes thus ending the chase for realized potential:

The Washington Nationals today unconditionally released outfielder Elijah Dukes.
Nationals Senior Vice President and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the

The Nationals currently have 44 players in their big league

The often enigmatic Dukes arrived in Washington with a sordid past stowed away in his suitcases. A history of violence toward players and various women in his life – including the mother of his children – as well as a failure to pay his child support hounded Dukes for his entire career.

Dukes also created on-the-field situations. The famous incident in New York which led to Nelson Figueroa lashing out after a game and calling Dukes a number of unpleasant names.

The thing that hurt most about Dukes’ tenure in Washington though was that he really, at times, appeared to be headed in the right direction off-the-field which everyone in NatsTown thought would lead to better on-field production. That promise was never realized.

Dukes was a physical specimen with instincts you see only once in a great while; but for whatever reason (which is only known to Dukes) he never seemed to put it together and often times appeared to be less than enthusiastic about being a baseball player.

The sad thing is, if Dukes never manages to make a paying job out of the sport of baseball, this story could end really poorly – Dukes never had much of a foundation outside of baseball anyway (his father recently died in jail). I sincerely hope someone picks him up and Dukes gets another chance.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Dawning Of A New Day

Natstown is Calling it Strasmas

Let it begin.

For this franchise, today begins what we hope to be a new era. The Washington Nationals organization needs a shot in the arm like no other franchise in baseball. We have been the laughingstock organization for five years and today could signal the day we finally turn a corner and move toward respectability.

In case you’ve been living in a cave, Stephen Strasburg makes his Nationals Spring Training debut today. Strasburg is so highly touted that even ESPN (the NFL/Yankees v Red Sox Network) has even made mention of Strasburg numerous times already.

This once proud franchise of Montreal became a bottom feeder; a contract-able joke worthy of ridicule as masterfully planned by Major League Baseball. Upon failing to contract the team, MLB made the Expos play a season in Puerto Rico before moving the downtrodden remains to Washington.

The only bright spot has been that the Nats got last year’s number one overall draft pick and didn’t balk at the opportunity to take Strasburg despite his representative Scott Boras. Boras held the Nationals over the fire (as he always does with his big time clients) but eventually the two sides agreed to terms and Strasburg became a Nat.

After a reasonably successful Arizona Fall League campaign, Strasburg earned a major league invite to Spring Training.

Today is the day we as Nats fans have been waiting for since last June.

“Stras” is scheduled to pitch two innings to a roster of Detroit Tigers who – presumably – will play a majority of their expected Opening Day starting lineup against him.

Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman said he is keeping his expectations realistic. In an interview on XM-175 yesterday, Riggleman talked about what he’s expecting from Strasburg: “we’re not looking at everything the fans are looking for, we just want to make sure he learns how to handle the pressure of all the hype that precedes him.”

Riggleman also asked Nats fans to proceed with caution if they expect him to make the jump immediately to the majors. “There’s a chance [of Strasburg making the Opening Day roster] but I’m betting it’s a long shot,” Riggleman said. “The plan right now is for him to at least start the season in the minors and get a mid-season call up. That can change between now and Opening Day but as of right now, he’s probably going to get a few starts against some big league clubs in Spring Training and start the regular season in the minors.”

Strasburg has a bit more pressure on him for his start today. The Nats have looked dreadful so far in Spring Training action and it’s the pitching that has suffered the most. If Stras gets shelled, Nats fans may lose hope before we even get to Opening Day.

Good luck, Steve. No pressure or anything…

Friday, February 26, 2010

Adam Dunn Prepares For 1B By Practicing Jiu-jitsu


Pitchers and catchers weren’t the only ones in Viera working out this week. Lots of Nationals players showed up early in an effort to make some drastic improvements over the past two 100+ loss seasons.

A big part of the Nats’ problems has been team defense. And while the SABR-heads out there will tell you that there are better defensive metrics for judging fielding abilities, one still can’t help but notice the Nats led the majors in errors last season – an honor they certainly would love to pass on to another team this season.

The Nats made some defensive upgrades over last year’s opening day roster: Nyjer Morgan makes a much better defensive CF than Lastings Milledge and Adam Kennedy will certainly be an improvement over the Ronnie Belliard/Alberto Gonzalez combo and in the event Jesus Flores goes down (yet again) the Nats have a future Hall of Famer to back him up behind the plate. Three of those four “up the middle” positions upgraded in 2010 makes for a potentially better season already.

However, one other move that was made late last year was the move from LF to 1B for the man they call “The Donkey.” Adam Dunn struggled in the World Baseball Classic at 1B, but over the course of two months, Dunn showed signs of actually being able to play the position at a minimum service-ably.

When it came to covering the bag and receiving throws from other infielders, Dunn looked like he might have been playing 1B his whole life, but when he had to move and field the ball himself (whether a grounder or a pop-up), Dunn looked like a little-leaguer at times.

So Dunn came to camp looking to improve:

"I've taken a lot [of ground balls]. I don't know how many," Dunn said. "I don't even want to throw a number. It's just more learning, showing me how to get ready. I didn't even know what foot to take the first step with, to lead with…”

Fielding often starts “from the ground up” and, as such, Dunn’s been working with coaches Tim Foli and Pat Listach on his footwork. He’s also been taking Jiu-jitsu in the off-season in an effort to achieve better balance on the diamond. Jiu-jitsu – literally translated – is “the art of softness” which is essential to playing infield. Outfielders can be large lumbering oxes (or donkeys) but infielders have to have great footwork and great hands to make some of the plays that are required of them – especially on the major league level.

So between intense focus in Spring Training and his new found love for the martial arts, here’s to hoping Dunn can provide more to the Nats at the first sack than they’ve had over the past bunch of years between an ineffective Dmitri Young and an oft-injured Nick Johnson. Plus, perhaps now we as Nats fans have the possibility that Chase Utley hits a screamer down the line trying to turn it into a double when….WHAM! … he’s struck by a spinning heel kick knocking his teeth down his throat – Kung-Fu Donkey style.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Are You Ready?

Photo Of The Chosen One Courtesy of Federal Baseball

The Nationals have set a date to unveil their most prized possession: Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg is scheduled to make his Spring Training debut on March 9th when the Detroit Tigers visit Space Coast Stadium to take on the Nationals.

The Nats only expect him to go two innings (pretty standard for a pitcher’s first Spring Training outing) and throw about 40 pitches. This is just an opportunity to get Strasburg into a game to face some big league hitters for the first time.

Ordinarily, this sort of thing is not supposed to be that big of a deal, but the Nationals have staked their entire future on the shoulders of Strasburg.

Here’s hoping he performs well and here’s also hoping that we don’t take this too seriously…I mean, it’s not like he’s a savior or anything….

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Defector From The Evil Empire

Welcome To The Rebellion

The Nats made a fine move earlier today (although the official announcement won’t come until Friday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL (the Nats’ Spring Training complex) by landing former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang.

Wang was called up in 2005 and went 8-5 in 17 starts with a 4.02 ERA. What followed were two spectacular seasons where Wang won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007 going 200+ innings both years (well, o.k. he only went 199 1/3 in 2007) and recorded sub-4.00 ERA’s both seasons as well. He finished second in the American League Cy young voting in 2006.

In 2008, Wang was named the opening day starter (essentially designating him as the team’s “ace). He was en route to possibly his best-ever season until a June 15th game at Houston against the Astros. At that point, Wang was 7-2 and the Yankees were cruising to an eventual 13-0 rout of the Astros. Wang, an American League pitcher not used to running bases, tore a tendon in his right foot sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

In 2009, Wang never got going and some fear that his foot injury caused him to over-compensate for his lack of power in his legs by overthrowing in his arm which led to a disastrous and injury riddled season.

He had season ending shoulder surgery in July of 2009.

Wang worked out for a bunch of teams just like Ben Sheets earlier this year before eventually Sheets signed with the A’s.

What the Nats are hoping for here is a return to form pre-injury. Shoulders are difficult to predict on recovery – as an example, Mark Mulder just retired at the ripe “old” age of 32 due to struggles with shoulder injuries. Still, Wang’s signing could prove valuable – he certainly has staff “ace” credentials and if he stays long-term he could be a very effective #2 pitcher behind Stephen Strasburg (provided he turns out to be all the Nationals hope for). writer Bill Ladson is reporting that the details of the contract are not yet disclosed, but some (Ken Davidoff of are reporting that Wang’s deal is around $2,000,000 guaranteed with incentives to make much more (no link provided but it shows up on a google search).

If the numbers are right, this could be the steal of the century for the Nats if Wang can make 35 effective starts. And at the tender age of 30, Wang is entering the prime of a pitcher’s life and could help anchor this rotation for years to come.

In any case, Chien-Ming Wang goes from the Evil Empire to the Rebellion and just may be a very important piece in the quest for a Championship in the future.

2010 Preview

A Pre-Spring Training 2010 Preview

Well, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. I’ve taken a lot of time off because my life took a lot of my time and, quite frankly, I find bitching about baseball in January to be a tiring and tedious task.

We are, however, well into February – teams report to spring training soon and pitchers and catchers report later this week. Let’s take a look at the roster as it looks right now for the Nationals. This is not a scientific study, rather an obviously biased analysis by yours truly in an effort to see if we really improved over last season. Let’s look position by position, shall we?

Starting Pitching:

With the additions of Chien-Ming Wang (to be officially announced on Friday) and Jason Marquis, the Nats have added a couple of names that sound familiar to most baseball fans around the country. Marquis is a journeyman innings-eater – something the Nats desperately needed (especially as long as it was not Livan Hernandez…again). He doesn’t really turn the Nats’ rotation into a World Series contender but he should be able to help alleviate some pressure on the bullpen. Plus, we had Daniel Cabrera on the opening day roster last year and Marquis is DEFINITELY better than Cabrera.

Wang is the wild-card. If he’s fully recovered from Tommy John’s surgery he should be able to anchor this rotation and give the Nats an “ace” with a recognizable name. In a perfect world, a healthy Wang isn’t “ace” material, but he’s loads better than what we have. His biggest problem could be that as a sinkerball pitcher he will rely heavily on infield defense….but we’ll cover that later.

Rounding out the rotation are John Lannan and……well……..I don’t know. Could be Ross Detwiler and Collin Balester. Is Scott Olsen healthy enough to pitch? Beats me. Then there’s J.D. Martin (former #1 pick of the Indians, recovering from injury), Craig Stammen who showed he’s a bona fide starter as long as he only has to go through a lineup twice. Garrett Mock? Shairon Martis? Is Matt Chico really back? Can Stephen Strasburg step up in his first professional season and make it all the way to the bigs (boy would THAT help)? One thing’s for certain, Jordan Zimmermann will not pitch for the Nats in 2010 and that’s a big loss.

Bottom line for #’s 4 and 5 are that they will be filled by players with more questions than answers – not good for a major league starting rotation. All-in-all, I believe this is an improved rotation over last year – including the loss of Jordan Zimmermann.

Bull Pen:

This where the Nats are VASTLY improved over last year (and they’ll need to be if they can’t answer the questions about the starting rotation). Gone are bums like Saul Rivera and Joel Hanrahan and in their places are players like Brian Bruney (formerly of the Yankees) and Matt Capps (formerly of the Pirates) and both will compete for closing duties – the good news is that it appears as though both are capable. Plus Jason Bergmann has seemed to find his niche in long relief/spot starter duties and pitched well last year and lefty Sean Burnett proved to be extremely effective after the Nats picked him up mid-season last year. Tyler Clippard is also a converted starter and the Nats certainly seemed to help him find his role in the bull pen.

I’m betting the effective pitchers that don’t make the rotation will help round out the bull pen. My top guesses are Collin Balester and Garrett Mock. It is my belief that this is the key area of improvement for the Nats so far this off-season and should equate to a few more wins and a lot less blown saves.


As with the Nats last year, the question here is: can Jesus Flores stay healthy (please God, let that be a “yes”). If healthy, Flores is good enough to be the everyday catcher on a lot of rosters.

If he can’t, at least the Nats have a future Hall of Famer to back him up: Ivan Rodriguez. I won’t call him by his accepted nickname because he’s not as heavy as he once was which is what got him his nickname in the first place. Plus, I believe that his Hall of Fame career is enhanced by steroids, but I have no proof – just a hunch I have. I only hope that he can play effectively when called upon. Besides, even at his advanced age, he’s a better alternative to Wil Nieves as a starter (though Nieves makes a good backup).

So the question is, are the Nats better off with Rodriguez than they were with Josh Bard? I think so, so we’ll call it a slight improvement over last year.

First Base:

I railed on him last year, but I think the Nats’ first base prospects are trending upward this year since we have Adam Dunn on the roster and playing first for an entire year. Dunn really showed improvement defensively over the course of the second half of the season last year and turned into a – dare I say it – EFFECTIVE first baseman. I thought it would be a dumpster fire after watching Dunn play 1B in the World Baseball Classic, but he really showed he can do it. He won’t be perfect, but he’s solid over there and he’s loads better than awaiting the inevitable Nick Johnson injury. If nothing else, Dunn provides stability, for once, at the first sack – plus, his 40 homers a year helps too.

To sum up: the Nats have improved at 1B as well.

Second Base:

It looks like it’s new acquisition Adam Kennedy’s job. I would rather the Nats have signed Felipe Lopez but Kennedy was just as good as any other free agent 2B on the market this off-season. Kennedy will certainly improve the defense up the middle over the departed Ronnie Belliard. Offensively, the Nats may have taken a step back with Kennedy but they have improved defensively. Plus, all he has to do is outplay Alberto Gonzalez to keep his job. Quite honestly, if he can’t outplay Alberto Gonzalez, he doesn’t deserve to have a job.

The Nats get a push at 2B.


This one’s a toughy. Was Cristian Guzman hurt all last year or are his skills in serious decline? My feeling is that it’s a combination of both and this could be the year that Ian Desmond gets his shot. Scouts have been saying that Desmond is ready at the plate but he still needs some seasoning as a shortstop. My argument? How is a rough-around-the-edges Desmond any worse than an injured and declining Guzman? Give him the job and let Guzman play out his contract as a backup. The defense is improved up the middle with Kennedy at 2B anyway, let the kid play and he’ll work it out.

Either way, if Guzman is healthier than last year or if Desmond wins the starting job, the Nats are in better shape at SS than they were last year.

Third Base:

Ryan Zimmerman went to the All Star game, won a Gold Glove and had career highs in homeruns and runs scored and had an OPS of .888 – that is all.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that I don’t see the Nationals IMPROVING at 3B, but at least I can say “they’re o.k.” in the 3B department. If Zimm gets hurt, we’re screwed.

Left Field:

The thought is that Josh Willingham will play LF, but rumors around the mill are that Willingham could be a player they would move to improve the rotation. Willingham plays a decent LF and has pedestrian numbers (.267, 24, 61) for a corner outfielder. He’s a major leaguer, just not a superstar.

Basically, LF is a push from 2009 unless they trade Willingham and plug in one of the AAA guys like Justin Maxwell or the steady (if not spectacular) Willie Harris, then LF is a big question mark.

Center Field:

Last year we had the young, upstart Lastings Milledge playing CF. I felt bad for Milledge in the sense that he never really was a CFer to begin with and he was put in a bad spot. This year, however, we have a guy with a little less power but a whole lot more speed and defensive ability – Nyjer Morgan. Morgan allows us to keep players with some deficiencies in the outfield (like Willingham) because he makes up the ground those players can’t cover. Morgan also has the plus-type speed for a leadoff hitter but he does need to get on base more frequently – I think if Morgan struggles he’s best suited as an 8-hitter.

I feel as though the Nats improved at CF over 2009 and if Morgan can move up to the leadoff spat and put up the types of performances that allow him to stay there, the Nats have made a SERIOUS upgrade at CF.

Right Field:

In 2009, the enigmatic Elijah Dukes patrolled right field for the Nationals. It appears as though Dukes will be counted on for 2010 as well (as long as the roster remains the same). Dukes has the kind of potential that makes you think he could be the next Vladimir Guerrero – but he has the type of personal discipline that makes you think he’s the next Daryl Strawberry. Dukes looks like he’s straightened out his life which could be his biggest accomplishment – because if his mind is clear and he focuses on baseball, the Nats have a potential superstar in Dukes.

RF – 2010 = 2009 with significant room for improvement without making a roster change.


As constructed, the Nats bench looks solid. The versatile Willie Harris really could be a starter and could push for the LF job and whoever loses out the SS battle (either Desmond or Guzman) will be a great addition to the bench. The Nats also have some solid pinch-hitting bats in Mike Morse and Justin Maxwell as well as some defensive specialists in Alberto Gonzalez, Wil Nieves and Roger Bernadina (none of whom should be counted on for their bats). It’s a versatile – if not spectacular – bench.


This is the area where the Nats improved the most. It really appeared as though Manny Acta was in way over his head as a rookie manager and had no idea how tough it would really be in DC. I don’t think Acta was as bad a manager as some Nats fans feel he is, but he certainly seemed overwhelmed by what transpired under his leadership. Riggleman is a grizzled veteran of managing baseball and should be able to handle the task of building a team from the ground up.

Riggleman will be aided by new rookie general manager Mike Rizzo. Rizzo replaced Jim Bowden who reminded me more of a New York City “Rolex” watch street vendor. I don’t expect Rizzo to build Rome in a day, but judging by the moves he’s made this off-season you can say Rome has had the ground-breaking ceremony. For the first time since their arrival in Washington, it appears as though the Nats have a clear focus and direction – something most successful major league franchises have – which is nice. It finally feels as though we have a major league team to root for and Rizzo needs to be given credit for providing it.

Overall, I think the Nats have the pieces in place to win far more games than they did last year. The trick is, the Nats really avoided that major injury last year – except for Jordan Zimmermann and if you claim your biggest injury that crippled your team last year was to your rookie starting pitcher, you had bigger problems than the injury itself. I can think of two players who – if they spend significant time on the Disabled List – would ruin any chances of making any marked improvement over last year’s record: Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn. However, the rest of the roster seems to be able to sustain itself if the starter goes down (I guess that could also be seen as a drawback…).

The Nats will certainly need a few things to fall their way in order to avoid a last-place finish again this year, but the Braves did try to unload Derek Lowe, they did trade away Javier Vazquez for what essentially amounts to a 4th outfielder on most rosters (Melky Cabrera) and now comes word that Jair Jurrjens may be missing significant time. They could be hitching their wagons to the oft-injured Tim Hudson and the second year phenom Tommy Hanson.

The Mets are a mess organizationally. Beyond Johan Santana, the staff is a grease fire. The position players have tons of question marks. The Mets could be poised for a serious decline this year. And one never knows about whether or not the Marlins can continue to sustain success while selling off all usable parts for prospects.

As constructed, I believe the Nats have the potential to win 70 or so games this year – or at least avoid losing 100+ games for the third straight year. In any event, I’m ready to get Spring Training out of the way and get into playing meaningful baseball again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wh**ptee - D**

Two Cheaters Side-by-Side

I’m not going to jump up and down. I won’t.

I know the Nationals desperately needed an adequate back up catcher for Jesus Flores. I know they needed a catcher who could start for when Jesus Flores goes on the disabled list for an extended stay (like he has the past few years).

The Nats did that – and they did so by inking a sure-fire Hall of Fame catcher in the twilight of his career. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.

I put the “Pudge” in quotes not because he uses that as his nickname, rather because I cannot believe the media still has the audacity to use it. I mean, really, does this REALLY look like a guy who should be called “Pudge?”:

That doesn’t even look like the same guy. And don’t normal humans typically put on weight over the course of time. The dude’s 38 and looks like he lost 30-40 pounds in the past couple of years. This is a professional athlete who’s supposed to be building muscle and working out and he LOST that much?

If I were Carlton Fisk, I’d throw up in my mouth every time I hear that hack Karl Ravech from ESPN call Ivan Rodriguez “Pudge.”

I know it’s not been proven, I know I am only speculating and no, I cannot prove anything, but if steroids were to help any one position on the field more than any other it would be catcher – and Rodriguez played for the Rangers, the same team Jose Canseco was playing for when Canseco was handing out syringes like lollipops at a bank drive-thru window.

Again, no proof, but COME ON.

I appreciate that the Nats are trying to improve the team on the field and I honestly believe this move will help the team in a desperate need area. I will continue to root for the Nationals to improve, but I will NOT root for Ivan Rodriguez. I hope to God that Jesus Flores plays 162 games per season for the next two years and Ivan Rodriguez never sees the field. I know it’s unrealistic, but I don’t care.

Ivan Rodriguez will make the hall of Fame someday strictly because of his offensive numbers because that’s all that most members of the BBWA care about anymore anyway. They’ll overlook his laziness behind the plate in favor of that rocket arm that was bolstered artificially be steroids. They’ll ignorantly put him in failing to take into account that he probably would never have eclipsed the real Pudge for games behind the plate because the only way he could’ve possibly pulled it off was to inject himself with a substance that allowed him to do so.

Bully for you “Pudge.” You keep on sticking around and continue looking as skinny as a high-school freshman playing flute in the band while living the lie of an ex-steroid user. I’ll not root for you and I would sincerely hope nobody else in Natstown does either.