The Brisket is still real, and it's still spectacular

When you ain't got nothin', you go with what you know. It's been a quiet Hot Stove season for the Nats thus far, keeping in mind it's still early. In the meantime, and if you're in the immediate DC metro area, you've now got two additional opportunities to get the I HEART CURLY W Dangle Earrings you've always wanted.

* * * *

Can you rephrase that?

Stan Kasten recently gave a fairly staid yet vaguely obfuscatory interview with Nats.com. Kasten never seems to reveal too much in these interviews---unless the subject is player agents, of course---but the truth of the matter is that there's not too much to reveal at this time. Nevertheless, one of his comments reminded me of something, so that's where I'll go:

MLB.com: What I mean by "this kind of money" is, do you see the Nationals giving a player eight years, $136 million or five years at $50 million?

Kasten: I can't answer a question like that in a vacuum. There are times when someone has a greater value to you than he might have other times. For instance, if he is the last piece of your puzzle, you might extend yourself more than you would otherwise. Right now, we are still at the building phase. We are being very aggressive in building things that we can do. But when we get to another phase, we will try to do the things that are appropriate for that time.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally---probably the latter, since this is a rather intuitive concept---Kasten is reflecting what former Baseball Prospectus writer Jonah Keri once called the Success Cycle. In Keri's view, "[this] cycle is a baseball continuum on which every team resides." A team measures its place in the cycle by performing a self-assessment of its talent in the majors and the minors:

  • Can the players in the organization, mixed with a few trade acquisitions and free agents the team could reasonably sign, yield a competitive team?
  • More precisely, can the team expect to compete while its current core of major-league players remain productive and under contract?
According to Keri, an honest and accurate organizational appraisal carries great importance:
Recognizing a team's place in the cycle is perhaps the key element in any team's game plan, because it drives decision-making. If a GM misreads his team's place in the cycle, he may get overaggressive and commit too much cash in an effort to win before a core is in place, and quickly fall back to the rebuilding stage. On the other hand, being too passive with a team ready to win can cost the franchise a shot at a pennant.

Keri recognized three positions on the Success Cycle: 1) rebuilding, 2) building, and 3) competing. I believe all but the most foam-fingerish among us can rule out the third slot. Some among us believe the offensive core is sufficiently fine that some added depth to the pitching staff could lead, if things broke right, to a relatively competitive team; this position is evocative of the building stage. And then there are others among us who believe "added [pitching] depth" is more accurately restated as "any pitching depth," and the club is clearly in a rebuilding stage.

It is obvious where Kasten believes the team is: Rebuilding, and it's gonna be a long road back, baby.

The Success Cycle is closely associated with competitive positioning, however, and it does not expressly anticipate other factors such as---oh, I don't know---the ownership being cheap. That's the fashionable charge against the Lernastens, and there's probably some merit to it, at least in the short term. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Viewing things dispassionately, there's little need or motivation for them to pump much money into player payroll, considering the team still has another season to go at RFK Stadium, which can't be said to be much of a money-maker. (I mean this compared to the new park, of course; as others have pointed out, the 2005 Nationals turned a sweet profit playing in RFK, and it's quite likely the Nats were profitable enough this past season, too.) Whether as pretext or subtext, the rebuilding theme exists, was foreseeable, and is presently justifiable.

At any rate, the Success Cycle model might be too rigid, as another former BP writer, Derek Zumsteg, concluded. But we can all agree it's advisable to be honest and accurate about one's place, and to act accordingly. And part of that appraisal, in the Nats' case, is that the pitching stinks and isn't a tremendous bet to get better on its own. Some people say the Lernastens are cheap, and some people say they're smart. For now, both propositions are probably correct. At the end of the day, however, cheap and smart might not be that far apart---at least for now.

Anyway, it's still early, and I have a feeling the Nats will do a few make-good signings while not committing ridiculous amounts of good money chasing after bad. In other words, something for everybody.

But you'll note I haven't really said anything here. Kasten's not the only one who can do that, you know.

* * * *

I Pledge . . . NOTHING!

You think the Lernastens are cheap? What about my boy, Franklin Haney, my early pick for crazy old Southerner owner of the Nats. (Haney's not into Texas oil, like the guy from the Simpsons, but Tennessee is sort of close enough.) Well, when it comes to Nats-directed charity, yeah, Haney's proven sort of cheap. And now the Nats Foundation is suing him for it:

The suit claims that Haney committed breach of contract and fraud by reneging on a pledge to contribute over $400,000 to the charity during the Nationals' Sept. 29, 2005 annual charity ball. . . .

"Haney negotiated with the foundation to be allowed to publicly announce his pledge before an audience he believed was crucial in selecting the Nationals' owner," said Geoff Gitner, the attorney representing the Nationals' Foundation. "He wanted to be perceived as community-minded and a person of stature. Despite getting all he bargained for Haney has turned his back on the charity and his obligation." . . .

"Haney believed his pledge would earn him support with Major League Baseball, the district government and the media", said Gitner. "The court will now decide whether Haney's promise was a ruse and whether Haney, after receiving the publicity and stature he sought, should keep his commitment."

The Nats Foundation wants Haney to pony up the pledge amount and---oh yeah, did we mention $4,000,000 in punitive damages? It's okay; everybody does it.

Anyway, generally speaking, it's hard to create a legal obligation out of merely saying, "I promise to give you some dough." The law school example I remember was if Bart Simpson merely told Homer J. he was going to give him a week's allowance, if Bart didn't come through Homer couldn't choke him---or successfully sue him, either. As the Washington Times article on the lawsuit notes, something more is required:

To prevail in the lawsuit, legal analysts said the foundation likely will have to prove that it provided something to Mr. Haney in exchange for his pledge.

That "something" is called consideration, the basis of a bargained-for exchange. Consideration can be tangible or, at times, intangible. Providing a basis for publicity or exposure can serve as consideration. Thus, as the Times article recounts, "[t]he foundation claims that it allowed him to speak at the gala, thus providing him a platform to boost his stature in the D.C. business community." In other words, we scratch your back, and you give us $400,000.

Maybe it's a winning claim, and maybe it's not. I don't much care. It's rather clear Haney's word isn't worth much of anything, anyway.

* * * *

Really, Try the Brisket!

  • The estimable Marc Nomardin of BP (as well as SBN sister site Beyond the Boxscore) recently penned a player profile of the dearly departed Alfonso Soriano. The profile is comprehensive and generally complimentary of Soriano's skills. Marc notes the spike in Soriano's walk rate and includes among hypotheses the possibility that the Nats' No. 2 hitters contributed to the increase. Just because the reference is timely, I'll note I recently took a similar look, focusing mainly on Royce Clayton's influence. By the way, the Cubs unveiled Soriano today. Well, not literally---"introduced to the Chicago media" might be a better way of putting it.
  • John Sickels (also of an SBN sister site, Minor League Ball) recently crystal-balled Ryan Zimmerman's career. You might be happy to know it lasts until 2025, and it's all for the Nats. Among the highlights: 446 homers, nearly 3,000 hits, and a presumptive MVP in 2013. Beltway Boys doesn't much know how Sickels came up with that, but doesn't much care: Apparently, it's very close to BB's earlier Zimmerman prediction. Hey, if real life shakes out that way, I think we'll all take it.
  • Recently, I posted on Ryan Church's struggles with an 0-and-2 count. (Yes, it's the same link as the Clayton one above. No, I don't know why I popped in the link a second time.) Actually, the way I framed it, struggling doesn't quite describe things. It's more like Church was the Lusitania, his bat was Captain William Turner, the pitcher was a U-Boat, and the pitch was a torpedo. Bang, zoom. Perhaps I hyperbolize.

    At the time, I didn't have much of a basis of comparison for Church's 0-2 struggles. An .048 average in '06 (and .082 career average) just seemed kind of bad, you know? And, compared to some contemporaries selected at random, it pretty much was. But now, thanks to the Book Blog (hat tip to yet another SBN sister site, Lookout Landing), we have some context. On an 0-2 count, the average hitter has a .167 batting average. Not stellar, as you'd expect, but not nearly hopeless, either.

  • Speaking of former Nats (just kidding, just kidding), Tomo Ohka wouldn't mind coming back to DC now that Frank Robinson's gone (though, of course, there are denials about the Frank part). As teh OMG notes, however, he could be out of our league, salary-wise. What, no demand here for Ramon Ortiz II: This Time It Counts Just as Much as Last Time? Tough crowd.
  • Arbitration season is almost upon us, and Biz of Baseball (Maury Brown, President, a subsidiary of Maury Brown Worldwide & Intergalactic) has a neat arbitration primer for our edification. Also, check out a link to the arbitration-eligible Nats: Cordero, Escobar, Keans, Lopez, and Patterson. More on this subject in the near future.
  • Brick reviews the Bizarro MVP concept and then reviews this year's MVP awards (bizarro in their own right). He concludes two earlier (far earlier) MVP selections are even more bizarre. One of those was Marty Marion, who posted a 91 OPS+ during his MVP season. Marion, like Mickey Cochrane a decade earlier, compiled 18 fewer win shares than the league leader.
  • My choice for Stat of the Day (or maybe of yesterday, when I posted this at BPG):
    In a matter of a couple weeks in June of 2005, the Nats traded Ohka for Junior Spivey (bad luck) and just before that let go of Claudio Vargas for nuthin' (it's been done; we won't revisit it). Since then, the two have won a combined 32 games (32-27, actually).

    Since then (let's say 6/3/05, when Arizona selected Vargas off waivers), Livan Hernandez was obviously our big winner, right? He won 15 games as a Nat from then until his trade. Sort of; Tony Armas has also won 15 games as a Nat since 6/3/05.

    Add those guys two guys up, and you don't even equal the total number of wins that Ohka and Vargas have given other teams since their departures (plus a couple weeks before Ohka's trade to Milwaukee). That's as close as you get, Livan and Armas, two fewer.

    Based on this factoid, I make three conclusions: 1) the team didn't think much of Ohka and Vargas; 2) they've done sort of okay since leaving; and 3) that's as good or better as any two starting pitchers have done for the Nats since they left. No matter how you slice it, that's sobering.

And that's about all for now, folks. Don't forget to start selecting your thank-you card for Bud Selig. It's never to early to say I love you.

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