There's a saying that someone said somewhere sometime that goes something like It's easy to critique, difficult to create. Often, I feel vulnerable to this truism, and the work on this blog probably reads as its victim on a regular basis. I can criticize and rebut and even mock; however, sometimes it occurs to me that I offer little in the way of a transformative vision, as in: What would I do if I were in the shoes of the people who run the Washington Nationals, given their resources and their constraints?
Under those circumstances, what would I do differently? What would I do precisely in the same manner?
Ultimately, the question is rather unanswerable, because I'm a mere outsider. I don't know exactly what the team's resources and constraints are. I think I have a pretty good gauge, but good is not good enough here. I can't actually walk in Stan Kasten's or Jim Bowden's shoes. (Better shoes for this topic than leather pants, right?)
Consequently, the question must be reduced to simply: What would I do?
Glad you asked. Here are five opening thoughts:
Trade Soriano. Got to. The Nats aren't going to get a dollar-on-their-dollar for Soriano's 2006 performance, if for no other reasons than that: 1) he's an impending free agent, and 2) I'm not sure anyone truly believes that this season is representative of his value. A forty-homer guy? Yeah, sure, if you fudge it slightly---that's his kind of capability. But a fifty-homer guy? No.
But that's not the reason you trade him, this feeling that he's not quite as good as he's been so far this season. It's more of the first reason, but with the added rationale that he's the club's only legitimately attractive chip, the only sure avenue to acquiring players that could potentially embiggen this team's talent base in future seasons and transform a 2005 pretender club into a perfectly cromulent contender.
If the Nats don't trade Soriano, what precisely is the point of dealing for him in the first place? Some homers? Some excitement? Those are fine, but they're fleeting. Even if Soriano says he'll be back, can his word be trusted? Even if it can be trusted, can it be relied upon?
And even if it can be relied upon, what would be the point of committing lots of money to keep him on a club whose leadership has said it is rebuilding from the ground up and has not-too-subtly intimated that patience, not quickened passion, is the watchword? Think ahead a year or two: Does one really believe Soriano would be happy to hit homers in a vaccuum, for a 65- or 70-or 75-win club? I don't think so, and with good reason: Soriano, like most players out there, only gets one best shot to fix not only his future, but his present playing conditions.
Trade the rest of the guys out there if you can, especially Jose Guillen, but consider retaining Livan Hernandez. Livan might be toast. Looks like he's toast. In which case I wonder what value there is to trading toast. Will he command much at all? The rumors say he might, but I'm skeptical. If it's part of a package deal, then I'm skeptical whether Livan himself adds much to the package at this point.
The thing with burnt toast is that the grainy, burned stuff can be scraped off. Often, the toast is not salvageable, but sometimes it is. At this point, I'd be tempted to retain Hernandez and try to scrape off some of that grainy, burned stuff in the offseason.
I don't view "rebuilding" as a one-track objective, with all attention on demolishing and reconstructing with something fresher. That's a huge part of it, sure, but it needn't be the whole thing. "Rebuilding" is a process, and part of the process can be taking risks on rebuilding the value of marketable players. Through an apparent contractual quirk, Hernandez will make less money next season ($7 million) than he will this season ($8 million). I'm trusting the websites have accurate info in that regard. Either way---$7 million or $8 million---it's a hefty amount for a club committing to closing for renovations, so to speak, but it's also not a giant albatross (though it still may prove to qualify as some type of one), and a Livan anywhere near to what we've been accustomed to can provide a valuable resource for that cash: eating innings (yes, as he was supposed to this season, at least effective innings) while taking pressure off an either makeshift or young (or both) pitching staff.
If Hernandez could do that---if he can---than he would have increased his value back into an independently marketable chip next season, "rebuilt" it you might say. And if he can't, then other people have said it before me: Why do we care about the Lerners' money?
Don't fall for the Rivera/Church syndrome again. This syndrome is occasioned by the tossing back to sea of young, cheap (pre-arbitration) players who have experienced success in the big leagues in anything above, say, 250 at-bats. In other words, a decent sample comprising at least two months of regular play. Maybe Kasten will discourage this sort of mindset---hopefully he will---but it seems like the Bowden/Robinson-era Nats have invented scenarios (either by trade or by fruitless competition) whereby players of this type aren't given any sort of security to try to match their previous efforts. Now, there's no assurance that they can; maybe Church is proving this now, though it's hard to believe that a guy who tore up in the PCL in '04 and out-OPS'ed Jose Guillen in '05 has regressed this much. But even if there's no assurance, there should be some sort of presumption in these players' favor, or at the very least some sort of honest commitment and faith in them.
Take Alex Escobar. Now, we in the Natosphere love to make fun of him because a) Bowden appears to love him, and b) Escobar's a walking injury. But there are rumblings that the team's been impressed with what he's done since his return from (yet another) injury. I don't see a four-for-four game as any kind of particular evidence of his potential or future; one could cherry-pick a Ryan Church game from May 2005 for the same proposition. Yet, Escobar has indeed shown some promise (though I've heard his defense has been shaky), and if he plays regularly---and plays well---then, in the absence of the Nats acquiring a better, younger centerfielder, there's absolutely no reason why the Nats shouldn't give him the first crack of repeating the performance next year, over the course of a full season.
If he can, then great. If he can't, then you move on. But there's no sense in displacing him---and arguably undermining him---before next season even starts.
Get the games on (meaningful) television. MASN is what MASN is, and it's a joke. It's a test pattern for twenty-one hours a day, I understand. It's a bad deal for the Nats---maybe not the worst possible deal, but it's bad for the simple reason that MLB abrogated the team's right to negotiate the best possible deal according to its own interests. And now we're mid-way through year two, and the games still aren't widely accessible.
Kasten has commented that this is unacceptable, and it doesn't take a great mind to come to that conclusion. What does he do? Well, this is one of those "in his shoes" kind of things. I don't know what he does. But, to quote a line from Die Hard, we have to do something, Hans.
- Retain WTWP. It's been recently reported that Kasten opted out of an option with Bonneville's Washington Post Radio in order to explore other avenues for the radio broadcasts. This seems reasonable enough: Kasten obviously doesn't know the region extensively enough, and he wants to get a lay of the land. But, ultimately, he needs to come back to WTWP. The signals are pretty solid, and the associations with both the Post and Bonneville's WTOP all-news station represent all kinds of secondary marketing. The benefits of jumping to WTEM or a sinking WJFK or a new and sort of creepy, Dan Snyder-owned Red Zebra aren't nearly so apparent.