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Washington Nationals 2006: Now With Frank Robinson (Again!)

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If nothing else, our Washington Nationals are unique. They have 29 owners, but they have no owner. The general manager, the man fingering the red player personnel button, is essentially a temp-employee. The manager finishes the season, hangs around, gets ostracized but doesn't get fired, hangs around even longer, and only now gets rehired, mid-way between the end of one season and the start of a new one.

One could reasonably see this coming, given that the ownership situation still hasn't be resolved. (Ha! There's nothing yet to resolve!) Nevertheless, despite the dormant state in which our little MLB spendthrift ownership has left us, the major players still provided a bit of drama:

The decision, though, was agonizing for both sides, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Some high-ranking Nationals front-office members occasionally became frustrated with Robinson's strategic maneuvers.

Robinson, in turn, has expressed frustration with the Nationals' situation, including in an interview in November in which he said the club was "at a disadvantage" because it didn't yet have an owner.

Concurrent with Robinson's return, the Nats also announced a vastly different coaching staff would assist the ol' skip in '06.

Gone:

  • Don Buford (first base)
  • Dave Huppert (third base)
  • Bob Natal (bullpen)
  • Jack Voigt (roving instructor/fill-in color analyst)
Surviving the carnage:
  • Randy St. Claire (pitching)
  • Eddie Rodriguez (bench/bunting)
A special category is designed for hitting coach Tom McCraw---now ex-hitting coach Tom McCraw, to be technical about it---who is also gone, but with attitude. Upon learning the news, McCraw replied with an old guy version of "Yeah, whatever dude":
"It's their money," McCraw said yesterday. "They can do what they want with it. I have no bitterness. I've had a hell of a run - something like 35 years on a baseball field."

Apparently, Bodes might retain McCraw as a scout---but, you know, McCraw wants to hear what Cap'n Leatherpants "has in mind" first. He must be in demand.

Alright. So, what do I think?

Fine by me. Stability is good, and many of my concerns (okay, criticisms) about him, especially in longer posts at my old blog, aren't really applicable at the moment. The team hasn't been sold yet, it has no particular direction at the moment, and Robinson isn't really standing in the way of too many developing guys---or at least he won't in 2006, because there aren't many of them, anyway, and the one or two guys who need playing time will hopefully have clear shots without veteran interference.

Specifically, there is no Vinny Castilla to play ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, out of respect for Castilla's veteran status. There is no Preston Wilson to play ahead of (hopefully) Ryan Church or Marlon Byrd, in an inane (but fulfilled) attempt to get Community Service up to 90 ribbies. There are no young, serviceable pitchers with fragile psyches to run out of town anymore, because . . . well, Frobby ran all of those guys out of town already.

But you get my drift. Will the team contend in '06? Maybe, perhaps, sort of like last season---but most likely not. If not, what's the point of replacing:

  • a Hall of Fame figure who is respected by many (if not exactly well-liked by some within the game), with
  • some guy?
Not much point, as far as I can see. Who's going to take this job right now? Can you imagine replacing Frank Robinson with some retread-happy-to-have-a-job like Art Howe? Right.

Plus, in four seasons, Robinson has two winning campaigns and a break-even one. Less distinguished guys have been retained, despite less distinguished records. Moreover, maybe the ken of next year's squad will be more sufficiently recondite, given Robinson's strategic aims. At the very least, maybe Alfonso Soriano won't be caught in as many failed hit-and-run situations as Brad Wilkerson.

Speaking of Wilkerson, Robinson extended a very gracious gesture in his comments to the media today on behalf of a player who, even considering his poor season, was never fully appreciated by many Nats' fans and is still being criticized in absentia:

Robinson also offered his first comments about the new-look Nationals, who will be without pitchers Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loaiza, lost to free agency, and outfielder-first baseman Brad Wilkerson, traded to Texas last week for four-time all-star Alfonso Soriano. Robinson called the losses "three big holes."

"Soriano certainly adds another element to this ballclub," Robinson said. "So we're a little better there, with some more power and speed. But you also have to remember what Wilkerson brought to the table. It's an awful lot. I don't know if fans understood what he meant to this ballclub. I know what he meant to me as a manager. You can't replace guys like that."

Just like Alec Guiness, that Robinson is. Genuine class.

We should be mindful of that next June, when the team is 10-15 games below .500 and Robinson's days are numbered.

__

I'd love to claim that the Natospherian hivemind is set to "Super Groupthinky" on this Thursday, but there's a pretty good diversity of opinion.

Nationalz is pumped:

Much love to my man. I know a lot of people think the Nationals did well in the first half of last season despite Frank being the skipper, but I think he is awesome and that is that.

Nasty Nats understands and approves, too:

The Nats need some stability somewhere. This is already Frank's team. The players, at least those who were around in 2005, already know Frank and what he expects. Recently signed Robert Fick is excited to play for him. Throwing a new manager in the already muddled situation would make things worse. . . . Frank makes plenty of poor managerial decisions. He's a crusty ol' curmudgeon. But he's the captain of the ship, and it's the right move to bring him back.

Capitol Punishment isn't going to light a victory cigar, but there's some what you might call "respectful acceptance" at work:

I'm happy for Frank. I may not think much of him as a manager, but I respect what he's done and what he's had to put up with in his long career in baseball. I just wish he knew how to adapt his in-game strategies to the talent he has on the roster, instead of blindly assuming that all players can steal and that bunting and hit-and-runs are optimal strategies. Still, he's earned at least one more year with the club. Lord knows he's put up with enough crap over the last few years.

Nats Triple Play is less enthusiastic:

With both Robinson and Rodriguez back, the in-game strategy will be virtually identical to last year. While it doesn't make any sense to saddle a manager with a bench coach he doesn't like, it makes even less sense to bring these two back as a team. Expect plenty more hit-and-runs and sacrifice bunts. Let's hope Marbert Fickerson has as-yet-untapped Jamey Carroll-esque bunting ability.

Marbert Fickerson. Heh. That's good.

Anyone else? Not yet, I guess.

Oh, and before I forget: Wish the Birthday Pimp a happy, happy birthday. As for presents, he likes Japanese wrestlers, cute little pigs, and Baseball Prospectus subscriptions.

[editor's note, by Basil] Several of these bloggers have noted optimism that Mitchell Page, who is credited with doing wonders with Marlon Byrd, will sign on as batting coach. Page, of course, has battled his personal demons and seems to have turned the corner.