Zimmerman’s field trip to Miami

Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman will be at a place where most football fans, passing or devout, dream about being.

He might not get recognized that much considering the amount of athletes and celebrities in attendance for the biggest football game of the year.

Zimmerman is expected to attend Sunday’s Super Bowl in Miami. How did he get his seats? Where are his seats? No clue. Not the foggiest idea. Nationals catcher Brian Schneider will also be in attendance at the game.

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that this time last year Zimmerman was watching the Super Bowl in some place other than Detroit.

Then again, Zimmerman’s life has changed some between Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLI. 

When Zimmerman is in Miami, he represents a lot more than himself.  He is the face of the Nationals, the cornerstone of the team’s future if you will. Who else you do want? Stan Kasten or Jim Bowden? So far, Zimmerman has projected a calm, level-headed demeanor. It’s a trait that has served him well.

Still, Miami during Super Bowl week is a crazy place.  The mixture of nightlife, people, sunny weather and more people will be something Zimmerman hasn’t seen much during his young life. Think of it as an Upscale Spring Break with money, rich people, nice buildings, great nightlife and nice beaches but without the college smell and cheap bars.

I decided to give the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up some tips about surviving Super Bowl weekend. 

-Remember you play for the Nationals, not the Yankees. Think about this when you’re on the town. Miami isn’t cheap.  Don’t be spending A-Rod money on an R-Zimm salary. The Mrs told me martinis go for $20. This isn’t Old Ebbitt Grill or Ozio.

-When there are athletes and celebrities, there are paparazzi. Sure, they won’t R-Zimm from D-Zimm (Don Zimmer) so don’t give them a reason to know you. In other words, stay out of trouble. Remember, we Nationals bloggers are evil folks. The last thing you need is to end up on The Smoking Gun website. Keep your nose clean.

-Have fun. Heck, you deserve it. You had a great year last year. Don’t have too much though.

-Try to convince people we’re not a bad baseball town. Keep it positive and upbeat. When people say we’re going to stink, tell them “we’re going to surprise people this year” or “we’re going to open some eyes.” You know, something generic. I guess most people in Miami wouldn’t know a National from a National Bohemian. You’re our baseball ambassador this weekend. Promote us. Heck, you did a great job in the Post article about the 2007 lineup. Anyone who can say they’re happy to have Felipe Lopez AND Cristian Guzman batting ahead of you in the lineup with a straight face is pretty good. Lopez I’ll give you. Guzman I’ll wait on. 

-If Paris Hilton or some other well-known attractive starlet or celebrity comes up to you and makes small talk, run in the….screw it! If she talks to you, remember most of us married National loser fans will be living vicariously through you at that moment.

-If someone comes up, asks for an autograph and says you were great in the Royal Rumble, don’t get mad. Although, if you ran into Randy Orton, that would be freaky.

-Dude, you’re at the Super Bowl.  I’ve only known one person in my life to attend a Super Bowl. You’re at the most watched televised sporting event in the world. Great job getting tickets.  Honestly, though, I think too many people are picking the Colts. I’m bucking the trend and picking Da Bears.

This year, Zimmerman will be interviewed often since he is the face of the Nationals. He’s likely sound bite No.2 behind Manny Acta. In good and bad, someone will interview him. At times, the questions will be lame, repetitive and stupid. It’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old, to handle pressure that should be placed on a 32 year old. Zimmerman did great last year but the expectations bar was set low. On April 2, the 2006 records will mean nothing.  Last year’s success is expected to be duplicated. I like Zimmerman has the goal in mind of a 100 RBI and not home runs or batting average. Great thinking by a No. 3 hitter.

Zimmerman represents a nice pattern in the Washington sports scene. All four major sports teams have recognizable faces as their leaders. The Wizards have Arenas, The Caps have Ovechkin and the Redskins have Chris Cooley or Clinton Portis.

I hope Zimm has a fun time in Miami. I hear the Mojitos and Cuban Sandwiches down there are great!

Austin’s New Deal

So much for Austin Kearns going to arbitration.

Kearns and the Nationals agreed to a 3-year deal Thursday afternoon. Kearns will make $3.5 mil in 2007, $5 mil in 2008 and $8 mil in 2009.  With the deal, Kearns avoids arbitration, which was scheduled for Feb. 7. Kearns’ deal has a club option for 2010 worth $10 million or a $1 mil buyout.

Kearns has patrolled right field for Washington since coming over from the Reds in an eight-player trade on July 13, 2006 trade.  Last season, he batted .264 and established career highs with 33 doubles, 24 home runs, 86 RBI and 76 walks in 150 games with Washington and Cincinnati. As a National, Kearns batted .250 with 12 doubles, eight home runs and 36 RBI.
The 150 games were the most played in Kearns’ career.  His previous high was 112 games thanks to injuries.

Kearns will likely assume the cleanup spot while Nick Johnson recovers from a broken femur. Kearns is the third Nationals starter in the last year to avoid arbitration by signing a multi-year deal joining catcher Brian Schneider and first baseman Nick Johnson.
John Patterson and Chad Cordero are the only Nationals eligible for arbitration this month. Patterson’s hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12. Cordero’s is set for Feb. 20.

Nice to see Tony Armas has a new employer.

The Nationals had wanted to sign Kearns to a multi-year deal as the Nationals brass has seen the power-hitting outfielder as a key element to Washington’s future.

Arbitration All-Stars

Happy First Day of Arbitration Hearings!

I composed a 25-man roster of players who started today arbitration-eligible and without their 2007 salary set in stone. I threw this list together on the quick so apologies for any omissions. Here’s the MLB link to an article explaining the arbitration process (including a Q and A). Honestly, this roster could contend with most MLB teams. The outfield group isn’t the strongest but the infielders and starting pitchers look quite good.

2007 Arbitration All-Stars

C:  Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins. The 2006 AL Batting Champion (.347 average). He made $400,000 in 2006.  The Twins offered $3.3 mil,  $1.2 mil less than Mauer’s request of $4.5 mil.

1B: Justin Morneau – Minnesota Twins. The 2006 AL MVP (.321, 34 HR, 130 RBI. He made $385,000. The Twins are offering $4.4 mil. Morneau is asking for $5 mil.

2B: Freddy Sanchez – Pittsburgh Pirates. He played 23 games at second base in 2006.  The 2006 NL Batting Champion (.344 average). Pittsburgh offered $2.15 mil. Sanchez is looking for $3.1 mil.

SS:  Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers.  Hall is being moved to the outfield in 2007. In 2006, he provided a lot of pop at shortstop with 35 home runs and 85 RBI. Hall wants $4.125 mil. The Brewers are offering $3 mil.

3B: Miguel Cabrera – Florida Marlins.  Cabrera finished second in the NL batting race at .339 along with 26 home runs, 114 RBI and scored 112 runs. He made $472,000 in 2006. In 2007, he will break the bank. He’s looking for $7.4 million. Florida is offering $6.7 million

OF: Reed Johnson – Toronto Blue Jays. Solid leadoff guy for the Jays. He finished with a .319 batting average and scored 86 runs. Johnson is asking for $3.6 mil. The Jays are offering $2.5 mil.

OF:  Austin Kearns – Washington Nationals. In 2006, Kearns hit 24 home runs, drove in 86 runs and scored 86 runs as a Red/National. He wants $4.25 mil. The Nationals are offering $3.65 mil.

OF:  Eric Byrnes – Arizona Diamondbacks. The man with the mlblogs website named after him wants $5 mil, the Dbacks are offering $4.25 mil. Byrnes finished with 26 home runs, 25 stolen bases, 79 RBI and scored 82 runs for Arizona in 2006.

DH:  Michael Cuddyer – Minnesota Twins.  Cuddyer had a career year in 2006 with 24 home runs, 109 RBI and 102 runs scored. Cuddyer wants $4.25 mil. The Twins are offering $3 mil.

Reserves:

Corey Patterson-OF-Baltimore Orioles. He batted. 276 with 16 home runs and stole 45 bases for the O’s. Patterson hopes to get a $4.6 mil payday for 2007. Baltimore’s request was $4 mil.

Adam LaRoche- 1B-Pittsburgh Pirates. The new Pirate, LaRoche batted .285 with 30 home runs and 90 RBI for his former team, Atlanta in 2006. LaRoche wants $3.7 mil, the Bucs are offering $2.8 mil.

Brian Roberts – 2B- Baltimore Orioles. He scored 85 runs and stole 36 bases while batting .285 in 2006.  O’s are offering $3.8 mil. Roberts wants $4.6 mil.

Johnny Estrada – C- Milwaukee Brewers.  Batted .302 with 71 RBI last year for Arizona, Estrada is asking for $3.9 mil. The Brew Crew is offering $3 mil. 

Pitchers:

SP: Carlos Zambrano – Chicago Cubs. In 2006, Zambrano went 16-7 with 3.41 ERA, struck out 210 but walked 115. Zambrano is hoping to hit paydirt with an arbitration-record $15.5 mil in 2007. Chicago’s offer is $11.025 million.

SP:  Aaron Harang – Cincinnati Reds. The only Red in the arbitration game this year, Harang is asking for $5.5 mil. The Reds are offering $4.25. Last year, Harang put forth is best pro year going 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA, striking out 216 and walking 56.

SP:  Erik Bedard – Baltimore Orioles. Bedard is asking for $4 mil, the O’s are offering $2.7 mil.  Bedard, a 15-game winner in 2006, finished with a 3.76 ERA and 171 strikeouts.

SP:  Brett Myers – Philadelphia Phillies. Myers went 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA, 189 K’s and 63 BB. He’s looking to make $5.9 mil for 2007. The Phils are offering $5 mil.

SP:  Claudio Vargas – Milwaukee Brewers. Vargas went 12-10 with a 4.83 ERA in 2006. The Brewers are offering $2.15 mil, $700,000 less than Vargas’ request ($2.85 mil).

SP:  John Patterson Washington Nationals. Patterson didn’t pitch much for the 2006 Nationals with elbow and forearm injuries. He went 1-2 with 4.43 ERA in 40 2/3 innings of work. Patterson is hoping that his 2005 season (9-7, 3.13 ERA, 185 Ks) will be enough to get him a bump in pay to $1.85 mil. The Nationals are countering with $850,000.

RP:  Todd Wellemeyer – Kansas City Royals. Hey, you need long reliever. Wellemeyer is one. In 2006, He appeared in 46 games going 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA in 78 innings. Wellemeyer wants $740,000 this year. The Royals are offering $565,000.

RP:  Kevin Gregg – Florida Marlins. A middle reliever, Gregg struck out 71 in 78 1/3 innings for Anaheim last year.  He went 3-4 with a 4.14 ERA and appeared in 32 games. He wants $700,000. The Marlins want to give him $575,000

RP  Oscar Villareal – Atlanta Braves.  He went 9-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 55 innings of work for Atlanta. Villareal is asking for $1.3 mil, the Braves are offering $860,000. Solid middle reliever.

RP: Geoff Geary – Philadelphia Phillies. Another nice year from a middle reliever. Geary went 7-1 with a .2.96 ERA last year for the Phils. He wants $925,000. The Phils are offering $750,000.

RP: Juan Rincon – Minnesota Twins. The primary set up man for closer Joe Nathan, Rincon went 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA striking out 65 in 75 games last year for the Twins. He’s asking for $2.4 mil. Minnesota is offering $1.6 mil.

CL: Chad Cordero – Washington Nationals. The Chief. The man of flat-brimmed cap fame. Cordero is asking for $4.15 mil, the Nats are offering $3.65 mil. Last year, the Nationals closer saved 29 games finishing with a 7-4 mark and appeared in 68 games.

Time to talk about Church

Ryan Church is ready for a big year. Manny Acta has confidence Church will be the starting left fielder on April 2. 

Church told the Washington Post “this is the year I prove everybody wrong.” And to start 2007 off on the right note he is leaving today from his suburban Cleveland home for Viera, Fla., to get an early start on spring training. Position players are not required to arrive until Feb. 18. Then again, he could be leaving early because its Florida and not Ohio. I mean that from a weather standpoint only.

Church uses the old athlete adage of something to prove. He sure does have something to prove-to himself and the organization for starters. Last spring, Church bottomed out hitting just .200 and was sent to AAA New Orleans to start the season. He went back to Washington, AA Harrisburg, then New Orleans before recalled in late July. In 71 games with the big club in 2006, Church batted .276 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs.

“I was devastated, and it affected my whole year," Church told the Post of his demotion to New Orleans.  "I was just like the other guys down there that don’t belong there, and I sure . . . didn’t belong down there. But it was my fault.

“I learned all last year. I’m mentally tough now, beyond belief. I’ve been basically through all my trials. Last year, I couldn’t deal with going up and down, all that stuff. I’m that much more confident now, and I’m just looking forward to getting down there and getting started,” Church told the Post.

My thought after reading this quote was he has to be mentally tougher. It’s not a choice. Church is coming into this spring training not only playing for job but his future in the nation’s capital. 

There was speculation about Church’s future during this offseason when he did not play Mexican Winter League ball.  He was subject to trade rumors as the Mexican ball situation seemed to spell the end of his time in the Washington organization. Church addressed that topic in the Post story.  Church said he and his agent were interested in going to Mexico but the Mexican club has signed another outfielder.  Instead, Church went to a vision specialist to improve his tracking the baseball. Church’s weakness for breaking balls is well documented.

The long debated question is not Church’s potential but whether he’ll show it on a consistent basis.  His 2005 and 2006 combined numbers read as follows:  282 batting average, .359 on-base percentage with 19 homers and 77 RBI.

Decent stats but let’s see it over a whole season. This would be the season to do it.  If Church could average those figures, he could be a good fit in the No. 6 spot.

Acta put his faith in Church telling the Post “if the season started tomorrow Church would be the starting left fielder.”

It’s a nice show of confidence in Church but is it premature?  Church seemed to have the starting center field job entering 2006 spring training too. The best thing Church can do is win this job early in spring training with a great work ethic, good attitude and even better play.

Church might be the manager’s vote but he still has to bust his hide during spring training. He’ll be competing against Chris Snelling, Alex Escobar and Nationals two-time Minor League Player of the Year Kory Casto.

I thought Church was going to be dealt during this offseason but it seems for now he is staying and will get the opportunity again to prove he can be the Nationals starting left fielder.  If he’s matured, we’ll see it. If the vision specialist helped, we’ll see that too (no pun intended).  If he’s improved, we’ll know it. If he doesn’t improve, his time in Washington might be running out.

Big year? I think it’s more a make-or-break year. 

New stadium, cold weather

Ryan Zimmerman made his first steps inside the new stadium Monday. So did Nook Logan and Mike O’Connor. The three Nationals were joined by several members of the media, including a few bloggers, as they scoped out the new, unfinished digs of the yet-to-be-named stadium.

The weather was ideal….for winter.  Temperatures were in the 20s and the terrain was muddy.  Hard hats were required obviously. Still, the event, part of the Nationals week-long Caravan, gave the players a chance to meet and thank the people on the front lines of building the new stadium.

There is a great link that allows people to see the updated progress of the park.  On the site, there are two cameras options (Camera 1 and Camera 2) and a time select option on the left to see time of day. On the upper left hand of the page, there is an option for the specific date to get a feel for how far the project has come.

Miss Chatter at Just a Nats Fan was able to sneak away from work to see the progress first hand Monday. Even better, she brought her camera for all the festivities. If you like pictures of steel, dirt and concrete, you’ve come to the right place.

Schedules, Stan and Service Charges

Looking through the Nationals 2007 schedule, I noticed a couple interesting items. 

A Minnesota-Washington series for the first time since 1971.  The Twins should’ve waited three years on the Walter Johnson bobblehead doll night.

     Washington could face four future Hall of Famers this season, two of whom (Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine) are closing in on 300 career wins. Johnson could go in the series finale in Washington between the two squads on April 8.  Johnson is slated to be Arizona’s No. 2 this season.  Arizona and Washington both have seven games in seven days to start the season.  The Nationals could promote the future Hall of Famers who could be coming to town this year (Johnson, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Barry Bonds) just in case attendance decreases again this year.  The marketing plan worked with the old Washington Bullets: Come see Jordan, Magic and Bird plays the Bullets.

         The Nationals luck out by having the two World Series teams come to Washington this year, a first for the city. St. Louis has to come to town (part of rules).  Still, Detroit coming to town for three is an added bonus.

            Look out, boys and girls; Stan Kasten is doing a Live Event Chat Wednesday at mlb.com. Some questions I think will come up include: The Plan, the new stadium, the expansion of the scouting department, Soriano, the lack of quality pitching in the starting rotation, and when will Nationals single-game tickets go on sale.

The last question is mine. I just want to know for Opening Day purposes and for my birthday (April 5) so I can to go to the Nationals Ticket Office the day they go on sale.  I just left myself open for a lot of punch lines. The rest of the games I can go to the box office the day of the game so I don’t have to pay the service charge and handling fees. I don’t think the Nationals will be selling out the joint in ‘07.

            Several years ago, I used to work for a national ticket company (there’s only two main ones that come to mind).  I took calls nationwide for tickets to MLB games. One of the first things I learned in training was (and for most of us it’s a no-brainer) buying tickets at the box office cuts out the middle man and eliminates the extra fees. The service charge is a per-ticket fee and the handling fee is a one-time fee for the entire order. Ticket companies got to make their living somehow.  I try to avoid the $3-$4 service charge and $2 handling fees at all cost even if I have to drive a little more (or take Metro in DC) to get there. To pay face value is golden. 

            However, I realize that stadium box offices aren’t on every block like Starbucks. Also, the out of town crowd have no choice but to go to the phone and computer for tickets. The convenience of buying tickets at home is great. Nothing is better than going to your computer and buying tickets. There’s the option of going to an outlet near the home/work and buying them there as well. I also realize my mindset is Washington-focused. For those in New York, Boston, Chicago or elsewhere in the country where sellouts could actually occur, the tickets are a little harder to come by. Do what you gotta do!

            I noticed the Chicago White Sox have a 13-game plan known as the Ozzie Plan. Each game is a little different-check the link. If they had that plan in Washington, I would be inclined to go for that type of setup. I think having your minimum game plan be a 20-gamer is far too high for the Nationals especially coming off a season where the attendance dipped 20% and expectations are low for 2007. The more options the better.

Sunday Nationals home games to start 30 minutes later; fans have more time to read the sunday paper

This week, the Washington Nationals set official start times for their 2007 home games.

One noticeable difference is that Sunday afternoon games will start at

1:35 p.m

, 30 minutes later than previous seasons.

"We thought it would be worth experimenting to allow a little more time for those fans who would be coming from church," Nationals President Stan Kasten said in Saturday’s Washington Post. "We’ll see how people like it. We regard it as an experiment."

Apparently, This Base for Rent has learned that the time change isn’t just for fans. The Nationals players and coaches have been asked to attend their respective places of worship. 

“Lord, we need all the divine intervention we can get this year,” said one member of the organization. “A little guidance from up above would certainly do some good in 2007. Everyone is picking us to finish dead last in the NL East.”

However, churchgoers weren’t having it.  One person said the time change makes no difference.

“It could be

2:05

, we’re just not interested in Nationals baseball after church,’’ said one churchgoer in Northern Virginia who declined to disclose his name. “Although from what I read, the Nationals might need some salvation this year.”

This Base For Rent asked a Washington official does going over to Ryan Church’s house for early Sunday breakfast qualify as attending church. The answer was met with a stern look, a roll of the eyes and uncomfortable silence.

The Nationals will play eight weekday games including a July 4th contest against the Chicago Cubs at 12:05 p.m. The starting time should give fans who want to attend the game and attend the Mall enough time to find an inch of land to stand or sit to watch the fireworks. All other weekday games are

1:05 p.m.

including the Labor Day game against Florida.

Three of the day games are in April-the season opener against Florida on April 2, the series finale against Florida on April 4 and the series finale against Philadelphia on April 19.