Things I learned about the Washington Nationals this week

-Nationals majority owner Ted Lerner looks at the team’s books. According to Mark Lerner, son and principal owner, in Thursday’s Washington Post, [Ted Lerner] "checks every expense sheet, because that’s how you find out where mistakes are being made."

Who wants to a mistake in front of him? I made a huuuge mistake in front of my boss once. Worst feeling in the world. Even worse to make it in front of full-fledged Republican.  Oh yeah, Ted Lerner is not too wild about the free agents signings during the past 90 days. He thinks they’re out of control. The Plan is still in full effect!

-How much is an Alex Escobar worth? Apparently, $530,000 this year. Some PayDay. It’s $430,000 more than 100 Grand and $530K more than a Zero. All this typing makes me want a candy bar.

-Nook Logan is the everyday center fielder going into Spring Training. Call me in early March when this matters. I know there’s some statistical rationale why this might be a bad move but I’m not ready for it just yet. Speaking of Nook, I want to have a Nationals player nicknamed Cranny. There’s a PR campaign the Nationals could do: a product placement with Thomas’ English Muffins. Breakfast food and baseball go together like ginger ale and hockey!

-Skipper Manny Acta, Center fielder Nook Logan, and pitcher Michael O’Connor, who will not be part of the team’s opening day roster, did the 2007 Nationals Winter Caravan Tour around the Washington DC area. They met people, signed autographs and gave interviews. This tour seemed weird since most of the appearances this week were during daytime hours. It also got me thinking……

Why didn’t these guys go to Baltimore or even Howard or Anne Arundel County? Does Peter Angelos have a tracking device on all Nationals players? Is Howard County the border?  I would’ve loved to see an N.W.O angle (wrestling reference to the 1990s faction New World Order or could mean the Nationals World Order) where they went to Baltimore and spray-painted the DC logo in various places to start a “local” rivalry.

-Steve Traschel and Mark Redman aren’t in the mix.  Gosh darn it! All the talk of having the league’s worst rotation has me bummed out.

– Thomas Boswell invented a new word-tragicomic. Okay, I didn’t learn this from the Nationals but it’s worth mentioning. Boswell’s Friday column pretty much demands the Nationals upgrade their starting pitching situation by Opening Day. At least that’s how I perceive it.

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State of the Nationals Address

I got the inspiration for this blog a couple days ago. I saw it on television. I forget which channel; it might have been on all of them.

This Base For Rent’s State of the Nationals Address

My Fellow Nationals Fans,

This is the third year of Major League Baseball’s return to our nation’s capital, a fact that gives all Nationals fans a reason to be thankful.

The year 2006 saw the Nationals make great progress off the field.  After several years of Major League Baseball’s ownership, the Lerner Group was awarded ownership of the Nationals. The fans received some much-needed food and entertainment options not seen during the team’s inaugural season. The Racing Presidents made their debut and were a hit with the fans. RFK Stadium got a powerwashing and an overall touch-up. Now if they can only something about those seats (laughter from the crowd).

Also in 2006, Team President Stan Kasten came on board and quickly became the face of the organization. Jim Bowden continues as general manager to make the deals in the best interest of the Nationals organization.  Or so we hope.

In 2006, Nationals fans witnessed Alfonso Soriano’s 40-40-40 season. I want to thank Soriano for his great season. He helped me win my fantasy baseball league. I wish him the best of luck in Chicago. Ryan Zimmerman became a fan favorite in 2006 with his late-inning heroics and just missed out on NL Rookie of the Year.

(applause)

The Nationals organization said farewell to manager Frank Robinson, who guided the team through the difficult transition of relocation from Montreal. The franchise should be forever thankful for Robinson’s efforts.  While I am disappointed Frank will not be part of the Nationals organization in the immediate future, I am pleased to see him join ESPN as a baseball analyst especially for the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut.

(long standing ovation)

Washington selected a new manager in November. Manny Acta has proven to be quite the popular guy around the Washington DC area.  A veteran baseball man, Acta brings enthusiasm and a fresh spirit to the organization. He is a hero in his native Dominican Republic. Acta and the Nationals will grow together into a competitive team before too long.

Washington’s minor league system continued to improve in 2006 through wise draft selections and trades. While the minor league system still has a ways to go to before it can be compared to some of the league’s top minor league systems, I am confident in the strides made at this juncture.  Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola, Kory Casto and Colton Wilhelms are just some of the names that should grace Nationals rosters in the coming years.

The year 2007 will see the Nationals continue to grow. There are a couple of starting positions up for grabs going into spring training and the competition should be interesting. The wins and losses may not truly reflect the strides Washington will make during the 2007 season.  The end goal has not changed. The Nationals will stay the course and follow The Plan set forth.  If they do, victory will be at hand in due time. If not, the fans will let the Nationals brass know their displeasure. There will be accountability.

During these times, the Nationals must not forget the fans. Fan experience should not be sacrificed for any reason. Less than sterling customer service is unacceptable (standing ovation).

In today’s age, there is a lot of pressure to win now.  The free agent market is a minefield in which the Nationals must be careful not to pay too much or offer too little, as either avenue is unwise.  The Nationals should invest in free agents wisely. I believe this can be done. In the coming years, I look forward to the Nationals joining the free agent market as a fiscally wise team.

The next year will bring a truly long-awaited treasure with the opening of the Nationals new stadium. All indications are the stadium is on schedule for April, 2008. Each day, more progress is made on the stadium which will be a tribute to all those who worked day and night into making the stadium a jewel of our Nation’s Capital. (applause, no standing ovation)

I am confident in the Nationals long-term plans. Its presence in the Dominican and Venezuela will show Major League Baseball and Nationals fans the Nationals are serious about establishing a long-term baseball outside the United States. The new stadium will bring in more fans as the team continues down a road of rebuilding followed by success. Ryan Zimmerman will certainly be a cornerstone of this organization not only on the field but in the community.

In conclusion, Nationals fans, we must continue to support our squad through these growing pains because the benefits that await us at the end of this road will be worth it.  Thank you very much! (standing ovation).

Tomo Nohka for the Nationals

Former Montreal/Washington pitcher Tomo Ohka is taking his talents to the American League signing a 1-year, $1.5 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Mlb.com’s article says Ohka could as much as $3 million in performance bonuses.  I would like to know what these bonuses are.  Finishing below a 4.50 ERA?  180 innings? 10 wins? 30 starts?

He’s joining a team that had one of the league’s best offenses last year and took second in the AL East, a shocking accomplishment considering the 1-2 stranglehold the Yanks and Sox have had for the past several years.

Ohka went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA last season with Milwaukee, but injuries limited him to just 18 starts. A partial tear in his right rotator cuff kept Ohka on the disabled list from May 3-July 17, but the injury wasn’t severe enough to require surgery. He also suffered a hamstring strain late in the year. I’m worried right away about a pitcher who doesn’t require surgery for a partial rotator cuff tear. If he passes the physical, I guess it’s a moot point.

Washington traded Ohka to Milwaukee during the 2005 season. He had an 11-11 record with a 4.55 ERA in 40 games for the Brewers in 2005 and 2006. It had been rumored the Nationals were among a short list of teams rumored to be in the running for Ohka, a report that was refuted earlier this week. Last month, the Nationals offered Ohka a contract well below market value.

I’m not wild about average pitchers from the NL moving to the AL. I guess Ohka (48-57 lifetime with 4.04 ERA) soon will find out if his 1-year gamble pays off. If not, Washington can always take him back in 2008 at bargain basement prices.  Ohka would’ve been a decent option for the Nationals 2007 rotation-an actual veteran pitcher with big-league experience.  I guess that’s not part of the plan.

Bits and Pieces of Nats News

Felipe Lopez and the Washington Nationals met in the middle and agreed to a 1-year deal with $3.9 million Monday.
Lopez, who will move to second base this season, filed for arbitration requesting $4.1 million. The Nationals offered $3.7 million. He ends up with a $1.2 million raise from 2006. Not too shabby.

Lopez, who is expected to bat leadoff this season, batted .274 overall in 2006, with 11 homers, 52 RBIs and 44 steals for the Reds and Nationals. No multi-year deal, eh? Read into that what you will. Maybe they iron out an extension during the season or let him loose in the free agent market in 2008.

Ramon Ortiz, Washington’s only pitcher to hit double-digits in wins last year, has a new employer signing a 1-year deal worth $3.1 million with the Minnesota Twins Monday. Ortiz is expected to be a No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher for the Twins, who are without two of their starters from last year-Brad Radke (retirement) and Francisco Liriano (left elbow surgery; out for 2007). Ortiz went 11-16 with a 5.57 ERA for the Nationals last season. Ortiz is 0-3 lifetime with an 8.00 ERA at the Metrodome. I wish the Twins luck with Ortiz. Sure, he can eat up innings but the ERA? Ouch.  If Ortiz tanks it, the Twins have a couple of talented young arms (Matt Garza and Scott Baker) ready to replace him.

When Brian Lawrence throws a pitch in a 2007 regular season game for the Colorado Rockies, it’ll be one more pitch than he did as a Washington National.

Lawrence, who suffered a torn labrum and rotator cuff during last year’s spring training and was never heard from again, joined the Rockies Monday agreeing to a 1-year deal worth $750,000 ($500K base salary) with a $250K buyout club option for 2008. 

The Nationals paid Lawrence a base salary of $3.5 million in 2006. There was a club option for $7.5 million for 2007 and a buyout for $550,000. The Nationals bought out Lawrence deal owing just $125,000, while San Diego paid the rest.

Lawrence is known as a groundball pitcher which should help him in the thin air of Denver. Lifetime at Coors, Lawrence is 4-2 with a 4.72 ERA in nine games. Apparently, he lived there as a youngster and still has family there.  I don’t know why I added that but I’ll leave it in anyways.

Lefty pitcher Michael O’Connor isn’t a part of the Nationals starting pitcher rotation logjam come spring training. Whew! That’s one crossed off the list.

The Nationals Farm Authority is the premier site for all things related to the Nationals Minor League system. On Friday, NFA interviewed Nationals Director of Scouting, Dana Brown, who has racked up some crazy frequent flier miles during the offseason. Great in-depth interview.

That big game not involving baseball

Since the MLB news is a little slow today, I thought I would type some letters to the Super Bowl teams offering my heartfelt congratulations on making it to the big game.

Dear Indianapolis Colts,

When the Patriots took a 21-3 lead in Sunday’s AFC Title Game, I changed the channel and didn’t watch the game again. The thought (and pain) of another New England Super Bowl was too intense at the time. Honestly, I was thinking if I stopped watching that might give you guys some good karma. So the Mrs and I watched an old Heroes episode on our DVR and then she watched Desperate Housewives. I surfed the net for any baseball news and checked nfl.com for the occasional updates. I noticed the game became close in the second half. Heck, I didn’t even know the final score when I went to sleep.
I noticed, Colts, when I woke up Monday morning that you had come back and won. Congrats!  I also wanted to thank you for knocking off New England. I think I speak for most of the free world in saying another Patriots Super Bowl would not have been fun. Still, the Patriots put up a great fight and easily could be going to Miami.

In closing, the Mrs and I want to send our congratulations for making it to the Super Bowl. I might even watch the whole game! I know your city and its fans are quite proud. Good Luck in Miami!

Sincerely,

This Base for Rent

Dear Chicago Bears,

Da Bears! Da Super Bowl!

It’s fun to say isn’t it?  Congratulations on a job well done. Your team was truly the best in the NFC this year and proved it Sunday. Sure, the Bears weren’t the sentimental favorites like New Orleans but you guys still showed why the best team is representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Your offensive line was just outstanding. They didn’t give up a sack as the Bears runners averaged 4.5 yards on the ground.  You guys played smart football evident by committing just one penalty and zero turnovers.

Your defense rose to the occasion when the game got close but that’s no surprise really. The special teams played great as well.

While the Mrs and I have no vested interest in which team wins, I know your city and its fans will be pulling for you on Feb. 4.

Once again, please accept our congratulations and good luck in Miami.

Sincerely,

This Base For Rent

MLB and DirecTV! A match made in heaven?

Here’s a scenario that might play out real soon.

It’s late March and a baseball fan goes to order MLB Extra Innings through their local cable provider. The fan has trouble ordering the service and finally places a call to their cable company.

The cable company kindly informs the fan that MLB Extra Innings is not being offered anymore. The MLB Extra Innings package is being offered only through DirecTV, as part of the exclusive agreement the satellite provider and MLB struck earlier in the year.

The frustrated fan has options. A) MLB.tv’s broadband service, or B) miss out on seeing baseball games from across the country entirely, C) Order DirecTV, D) listen to games on XM Radio.

Earlier this month, Sports Business Journal reported that Major League Baseball and DirecTV were in “advanced talks to make the satellite television company the exclusive provider of MLB Extra Innings.” It’s a story I’ve been writing, researching and monitoring for a couple days now.

The news in Saturday’s New York Times (subscription required) is that MLB is close to announcing the official deal in which DirecTV will pay MLB $700 million over 7 years.

For Major League Baseball, it would mean shutting out an estimate 750,000 cable subscribers to the baseball package (according to SBJ), which airs as many as 60 games per week during the baseball season.

This move would come as a disappointing to baseball fans who have enjoyed watching baseball games nationwide.  The DirecTV subscribers have had the MLB Extra Innings package option since 1996.  The cable viewers, who have the MLB EI option since 2001, will be shut out of the package and will have to rely on baseball from the regional sports and national networks. 

Fox baseball is airing 26 Saturday games this year, something that’s been needed for a while. In fact, this is the first year since 1989 that their will be a game of the week televised on the season’s first weekend.

ESPN will still air Sunday, Monday and Wednesday night games this year. TBS’ Sunday Game of the Week is still a year away. The one problem with these is that the freedom to watch the game of your choosing is hampered.  Saturday Fox games result in blackouts to the Extra Innings baseball schedule, a result of the Fox’s agreement with MLB. 

I can think of two reason’s MLB is doing this move

1) Extreme confidence that the mlb.tv package, which generated 1.3 million subscribers in 2005 (according to multichannel.com’s article), will have increased subscriptions in 2007. MLB.tv’s package is attractive to people since it’s a little more than half the price ($79.95) than the $170 Extra Innings package.  For those who opt not to see these games through television for whatever reason, this package is ideal. Still, I’m not convinced the EI removal will result in people coming over to mlb.tv in mass quantities. The blackout policy won’t change one iota. I applaud anyone who has the dedication to watch these games from their computer.

2) The amount of money they’ll get from DirecTV will offset any losses to the Extra Innings removal from cable. $700 million sounds like enough! Don’t forget MLB’s revenues and attendance were at record highs in 2006.

I don’t know how many people will jump to DirecTV for simply the baseball package. Some people are faced with dish challenges such as location and condo/apartment restriction. I live in a condo that faces a courtyard and does not get clear access to the sun. Also, I have restrictions regarding satellite dishes. My wife and I also are quite happy with our cable provider and while EI is great, I won’t change cable options just for baseball.  Other people can’t because they have their cable company providing bundled services-cable, internet and phone.

Personally, my baseball viewing will be okay. I have the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network with my cable service so I can watch the Nationals games all season.  ESPN and Fox can fill in some of the gaps but there’s so much that will be missed.

The combination of a MLB’s frustrating blackout policy and the possible MLB/DirecTV move could force fans to tune out and drop out.

Saturday AM Notes

On the field, Jose Rijo was most remembered for winning two games and earning Most Valuable Player honors in the 1990 World Series.

Off the field, Rijo’s most valuable work may be what he’s doing for the Nationals organization currently.

Friday’s Washington Post featured an article about the Nationals’ ongoing attempts to bring Dominican Republic ballplayers into the organization. Click here it’s worth a read. 

The main thing I get from this story is the following: Jose Rijo has been quite valuable to the Nationals with his popularity in the Dominican and his baseball academy. His presence has given the Nationals an inside edge in establishing a foundation in the Dominican. The Esamilyn Gonzalez signing last year was a crucial one because it showed the Nationals were serious about signing talent in the country.

If I lived near Viera, Florida, I would be excited that Spring Training tickets went on sale this morning. I do not so I will be content to read box scores or see the occasional spring training game on MASN.