Spring training has only been underway for about a week and already peaceful little space coast stadium seems ready to take off.
Everything seemed to be going so well when the club finally got a free agent signed, Adam Dunn, for a contract that was very Nationals friendly. But since that afternoon there has been a severe lack of something very important in the baseball filled chaos that is Florida spring training; leadership.
It started off simply enough, last years opening day starter Odalis Perez refused to come to camp and instead said he would hold out for a new contract. Happens all the time, this is the NFL right? We do see these types of holdouts a lot in a sport like football. A player signs a contract years ago, has outperformed that contract, and with the high risk of injury of the sport believes he deserves to be payed at the level he is now playing.
Well Perez signed his contract this winter....less than a month ago. Perez had been waived by the Nationals after the season ended because they believed he would want more money than they were willing to pay. Both teams got caught in a bind, Perez couldn't find a home, the Nats couldn't find starters. The compromise was made, and Perez was given a chance at a Major League contract...fair enough right?
"It's odd," Nationals President Stan Kasten said, "It's a first time for me. I don't know what's behind it."
It's good to see that the president of the club has no ability to take charge of this situation. Allow me to translate:
"Huh...this is weird."
No action, no releasing Perez or setting an example to his club that this type of me first team second attitude is unacceptable. No, instead Kasten is content with just sitting around to wait and see if it's gonna be okay.
This was only the beginning of the Kasten quotes. Following the Esmailyn Gonzalez fallout he was just plain angry, but far from professional:
"I'm not exactly sure how to refer to him, so for now I'll just call him 'the Player to be named later..An elaborate scheme..I'm angry. I'm very angry. We've ben defrauded. And make no mistake: this wasn't a college kid with a fake ID. This was a deliberate, premeditated fraud, that involved bribes, along with falsified hospital and school records."
We could all feel his frustration, in fact most of us felt the same way. But while this tirade was entertaining it was oh so empty. Who's accountable? Who's to blame? What's the plan stan?Natstown is looking to you here, and you are throwing a tantrum.
The truth is that nobody will take responsibility for Esmailyn. In a Chico Harlan article with Gonzalez's agent, Stan King, King blamed society saying Gonzalez had to be the victim.
"I don't know where the origins of this thing are. It seems to me this thing is much too complicated and involved for a 19 - or 20-year-old from an impoverished neighborhood to pull off. He may have been duped himself."
"He sounded remorseful," King said (of Gonzalez). "He sounded contrite, He sounded relieved, as if this weight had been lifted off of him."
So if it wasn't his agent's fault, and it wasn't Esmailyn's fault...someone had to blame. What of that shady 'handler' down in the Dominican. You know...the guy who took Esmailyn into his home, fed and clothed him, trained him, and introduced him to the Major League scouts. A nice guy right? Let's not forget the $230,000 commission he gained in the process.
An ESPN the Magazine report by Jorge Arangure Jr. however cites Basillo Vizcaino as blaming Major League Baseball for this whole fiasco:
'What is most troubling for MLB's office in the Dominican Republic is that Lugo(Gonzalez), according to Vizcaino, passed the age investigation requests of at least three teams -- the Nationals, the Yankees, and the Redsox. Two baseball sources said that the Redsox and Yankees received reports from MLB that confirmed that the player was 16 in 2006.
Vizcaino said in each instance baseball investigators, who are sub-contracted by MLB visited the player's supposed hospital of birth, the player's supposed school and his hometown of Bani to interview people and to review documents. Each time the player's identity was confirmed, though major league officials were skeptical.'
Well apparently neither Stan King nor Kasten are to blame, nor his Dominican handler or the scout that founded him Jose Rijo...nope it's Major League Baseball. An easy target to say the least, you'd be hard struck to find ANYONE who is happy with the MLB right now. If that won't work I'm sure someone on the team will blame it on minorities, the rich, the poor, or the Halle Bop comet.
But I'm not buying it, and neither is the FBI who took notice when it realized that some recent Dominican prospects signing bonus money could not be found...anywhere. It let to a major investigation on a bonus skimming scheme that led to the Feds investigating Nats scout Jose Rijo and general manager Jim Bowden.
But Bowden has more pressing matter currently. He has been the General Manager of a team that has gone 284 -363 under his tutelage and currently is put together like a grab bag of McDonalds happy meal toys.
The club has seven outfielders and one legitimate starting pitcher. The Nats made their biggest free agent splash ever by signing Adam Dunn, but their next best hitter already plays Dunn's best position. Now at third string at first base is Dimitri Young who shouldn't really be anywhere except at maybe a Hooters wing eating contest, but certainly not here. The Nats had a great opportunity to trade this surprise All-Star in 2007 and in a sense cash in on a winning lottery ticket, instead they are now paying him $5 million dollars to likley start the season in the minors.
Good call Jim...Good call.
I think Yahoo Sports columnist Tim Brown put it best when he said:
"The Nationals don't win ballgames, they don't fill their new park (apparently they don't even pay the rent on their new ballpark), they accessorize their roster with misfits and then they don't avoid some very humiliating episodes. What they really need is stability, followed someday by credibility."
By the way anyone here from Stan Kasten recently?
"Thanks for writing," Kasten said in an email to ESPN's Arangure Jr., "But I wont be talking about this anymore for a while."