Organizational Rankings: #28 – Washington

Okay, so they won’t be celebrating this ranking in the nation’s capital, but this actually does represent a pretty significant improvement from last year, when I considered ranking them behind a few colleges and the East Cobb youth development program out of Georgia. That they were able to climb out of the 30th spot is an accomplishment, considering the hole they were attempting to climb out of. There is still a really long way to go, but progress has been made.

Obviously, drafting and signing Strasburg helped. They now have a pair of franchise players, as he will team with Ryan Zimmerman to give the club two guys to market like crazy. But the improvements in 2009 didn’t end there. The Nyjer Morgan trade was terrific, giving the team a legitimate center fielder who can also hit a bit. They also added Josh Willingham without surrendering much in return, and while he’s getting a little long in the tooth for a rebuilding team, he should be a nice trade chip this summer.

But, that’s going to be the key. Washington did a decent job of adding low cost assets last year, but they have to recognize that they’re still completely rebuilding, and they have to be willing to flip those assets when they have the chance. Forget the extension of Adam Dunn – they should be trading him, not signing him long term. There just isn’t enough talent in the Nationals organization to contend any time soon. They need to be stockpiling assets that they control for multiple years at below market rates, and guys like Dunn and Willingham don’t fit the criteria. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez, Adam Kennedy, and Jason Marquis don’t indicate that it’s a priority for the Nationals either, and that’s too bad.

There are pieces in place that could be the foundation of a good Washington team. The park is nice, the ownership is willing to spend some money, there are some quality young players, and the new front office has done enough encouraging things to give fans some hope, but it’s going to take patience. They can’t veer from the rebuilding path. Rizzo and his staff have to commit themselves to the future, because the present isn’t going to be very pretty.

If they do, better days are ahead. If they get lured into an extension for Dunn and fail to capitalize on the tradeable assets they have, it could really set them back. This is a big year for the Washington front office. They’ve got some big decisions to get right.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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JR
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JR

Not that this is what the article is really about, but their stadium is nothing special. The sight lines aren’t that great, all of the detailing that should have been finished in April of ’08 remained unfinished in September of ’09, the upper deck is too steep and withdrawn from the field, the first base line faces two parking garages, and there is no view of the river and only a nominal view of the Capitol.

Also, the premium seats behind home plate, which is what gets most of the off-field attention on tv, are mostly empty for every non-Yankees/Phillies game. The team has finished in the bottom 1/3 of attendance every year since the first year in DC, and although DC is a bandwagon town (like the Caps love), with the oft-frugal ownership and the poor TV and radio deals they have, it’s hard to imagine the revenue improving significantly enough to put a product on the field that people will come out to watch en masse.

Additionally, with the location of the stadium far away from the people who actually go the games, it’ll always be easier for much of the potential fanbase to drive to Baltimore. If the Orioles can contend in the next 2-3 years, the future market for DC becomes even smaller.

Casadilla
Guest
Casadilla

I have to agree with pretty much your entire critique. They are in a no win situation, and didn’t belong in DC in the first place. The DC-Baltimore region just cannot support 2 baseball teams that aren’t going to stay competitive year in, year out.

Just one comment though, what town isn’t a bandwagon town? If your team sucks, people eventually stop caring. It’s happen even to the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Temo
Member
Temo

As I mentioned below, DC really isn’t watching the Orioles… AT ALL. The way the geography of the area is laid out, it’s hard for any team in Baltimore to have a presence outside of Maryland and maybe Delaware, whereas DC has a large presence in Northern Virginia, which is very ripe for the picking in terms of acquiring fans.

If you consider the NFL, the Ravens have a very localized (yet passionate) audience, while the Redskins make a killing off out-of-town fans, especially those in Northern Virginia. And those folks in Northern Virginia rarely travel to Baltimore to support anything from there.

JR
Guest
JR

I meant bandwagon in the sense that combined with the other economic realities (radio & tv, scope of the brand), it’ll be hard for the Nats to generate revenue and grow their brand without stringing winning season together, and since that’s not in the foreseeable future I don’t know when that’ll happen. If Baltimore’s emergence happens first, it could siphon off a new generation of fans that haven’t become attached to the Nats.

One more major thing: the Nats, as far as I could tell, have done little until the last year to reach out to the Black community in DC. Given their stadium location, they need better advertising and outreach into a city that’s 55% Black. They missed a major opportunity by naming the team Nats instead of Grays, which is significant in a city where a large percentage of the Black community are Cowboys fans instead of Redskins because the Redskins were the last/among the last to integrate.

David Appelman
Admin
Member

I’ll second the sentiments if you’re in NOVA or DC, going to Baltimore is not easier. I live right on the orange line and it’s a no-brainer for me to go to a Nats game over the Orioles, especially with the insane traffic on 495 on weekdays.

Driving to RFK was very easy and even though it was a total dump, I kind of liked it anyway. I don’t think the new stadium is awful either, it’s just nothing special.

Temo
Member
Temo

JR: As a Braves fan, I can tell you that there is no easy way to reach out to the “Black Community”. The Braves’ last hope seems to be that they will develop an elite African American ballplayer in Jason Heyward.

JR
Guest
JR

I agree that going to an O’s game is not in the cards for anyone living on the NOVA side, or most places inside the district. However, once you start getting to places like Friendship Heights or Takoma/Silver Spring and beyond, a lot of people would rather drive to Baltimore. The exception is living up there, but working downtown.

Omar
Guest
Omar

As a representative of Black Baltimorians I must say that I fully endorse the Washington Nationals over the Baltimore Orioles.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I actually disagree regarding your last paragraph. For anyone living in DC, or in Arlington, Alexandria, and even Fairfax, or for folks in MD along the metros, it is MUCH easier to get to Nationals Park than up to Baltimore. I’d rather a 20 minute train ride than a 90 minute car ride any day.

As for all of the issues people have with the stadium, please. Its a stadium. Do you go to a ballpark for the stadium? Yes, maybe the first time you go to a game at Fenway or to Wrigley. Or maybe if you try to hit up a stadium if you’re in town on business and you want to check it off your list, but that doesn’t keep casual fans away.

You are right though that DC is a town that is, Redskins aside, a front-running/bandwagon town. The Capitals are all of a sudden the hottest ticket in the world. Why? Because they’ve got the best hockey player in the world and one of the best teams in the NHL. Wizards hype took over a few years ago before Gilbert, Jamison, and Butler all had separate injury issues and everything that has happened since. People here, for the most part, just don’t care about any team that isn’t a contender.

Temo
Member
Temo

The bandwagon argument is silly. For one thing, wouldn’t you think less of a town that had the best hockey player in the world and DIDN’T get excited over the team?

And New York is basically the only place in the US that will support a losing basketball team (maybe Oakland too).

I don’t think DC is any more bandwagon-y than any other city, for the most part.

B
Guest
B

Maybe?! That’s all we get? Over the past 16 seasons counting this one, we’ve made the playoffs once in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, and we’re still 10th in the league in attendance this year! Give the Bay more credit than a maybe, c’mon!

Omar
Guest
Omar

Is Ovi better than Sid the Kid?

Will
Guest
Will

You make several good points. The stadium is nothing special. It’s nice, but it doesn’t have that x-factor that will hold up after the “new car smell” wears off in a few years. They also blew it by not maximizing the potential of building a stadium blocks from the Capitol and putting in those horrible garages instead of putting them below ground or putting some sort of facade on them.

However, I do dispute your claim that DC is a bandwagon city. It’s just a city that doesn’t care much for its crappy teams with the big exception being its football team. The Redskins have the longest sold out game streak in the NFL in the largest stadium in the league, despite being pretty terrible for the last 20 years.

Also, I’m not sure how the location of the stadium is a problem. They are the Washington Nationals after all, not the Fairfax Nats or the Gaithersburg Nats. The stadium is metro accessible and parking isn’t convenient at any urban stadium. Besides some people in Howard and upper-Montgomery County, I don’t know who else in the DC area has an easier time getting to O’s games, and I’m not sure these were ever the people who were actually going to the games.

JR
Guest
JR

That was based on my own preference: I lived in Bethesda for three years, and on the weekends, it’s a 45 minute metro ride to Nats Stadium (not sure if weekend trains are still running 20 minutes apart like they were for most of ’08 and ’09). I’d rather hop in the car and drive the 30 minutes to a (much, much) nicer and less expensive park. Plus, getting crammed into an overwhelmed green line car was not my ideal experience (again, personal preference).

For people further north and northeast (meaning northeast along the Beltway), it’s even quicker to get to Baltimore. I know Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights are different stories, but most of the other time it’s not that bad to get to a game up there.

As for DC’s bandwagonness, the best evidence I can give is the anomalous attendance spikes for the Caps in ’99 and ’09, and the huge valleys for the other nine years.

Will
Guest
Will

Fair enough, though I can’t say I’ve ever made it from Silver Spring to Baltimore in anywhere close to 30 minutes for a 7:00 Orioles game.

Regarding the Caps, I think you’ve overstated their bandwagon case. I only have the numbers from 2001, but between 2001 and 2004, their attendance never dropped below 14,700/game, and averaged closer to 16,000/game over the 4 years.

It was lower after the strike, but they were also one of the worst teams in the league. However, their attendance records were comparable to the Blackhawks and Bruins, but I don’t think you’re going to call Boston and Chicago bandwagon fans just because they didn’t come out in droves to support their shitty hockey team.

JR
Guest
JR

In case anyone still checks this, this is where I got the numbers from: http://www.andrewsstarspage.com/index.php/site/comments/nhl_average_attendance_since_1989_90/118-2008-09

I didn’t check every year’s numbers, but it jives with attendance numbers I’ve seen on ESPN. It shows a huge drop starting in 2000 and culminating in ’06-07. Attendance was even mediocre during the ’07-08 season — until well after Glen Hanlon was fired. And no one, NO ONE, wore Caps attire until the ’08 playoffs. I can’t blame the people who had to deal with the 90s logo, but when they went back to the classic the shirts weren’t bad.

As for 30 minutes to Baltimore, maybe that’s low but on a Tuesday or Wednesday night you can make it from the Conn Ave exit on 495 to Baltimore in 45 minutes, which is the same as taking the metro down to Nats stadium from Bethesda station.

Omar: Ovi, every day. It’s all in the game.

Keith
Guest
Keith

Jr said: “…the premium seats behind home plate, which is what gets most of the off-field attention on tv, are mostly empty for every non-Yankees/Phillies game.”

When I attended last year, those seats weren’t empty. They gave them to returning Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans, who were introduced to a standing ovation. The management isn’t totally stupid from a marketing standpoint.

JR
Guest
JR

They gave the second tier of seats above the stone wall to the returning veterans, which is a great gesture. However, the seats in the lowest tier, spanning two sections directly behind home plate, are typically empty unless the Yankees, Phillies, etc are in town.

As for the management not being stupid from a marketing standpoint, I did enjoy the free cone and player outings on Mondays at Gifford’s.

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