The New Nationals

Over the weekend, the guys at Fire Jim Bowden got the result they’ve been asking for – while he resigned instead of being publicly canned, Bowden is out as general manager of the Washington Nationals. While he was able to survive 100 loss seasons and a reputation in the game as one of the least liked front office people around, he couldn’t sidestep the mismanagement of the team’s Dominican operations and the scandal surrounding Jose Rijo‘s academy and the signing of Esmailyn Gonzalez.

So now, the Nationals have to pick a new leader, a new direction, and try to right a ship that is honestly quite damanged. Despite a new park, fans haven’t responded by paying to watch a bad team, and the farm system isn’t brimming with young talent ready to lead the team into the future. The roster is a mix of underachieving outfielders, overachieving outfielders, correctly achieving outfielders, a couple of backup outfielders, and some role player-type outfielders in camp on minor league contracts. There’s also a couple of pitchers hanging around.

For whoever inherits the GM job, whether it’s Mike Rizzo, Tony LaCava, or someone else entirely, they’re going to have to make some significant adjustments quickly. This roster just doesn’t make a team, and there are too many pieces that just don’t fit together. The Nationals need to shuffle some pieces around.

That starts with Nick Johnson. In the last year of a three year contract that has seen him barely take the field, he’s owed $5.5 million for 2009 and then will hit free agency. He just doesn’t fit into the team’s future plans in any way, shape, or form. Meanwhile, the signing of Adam Dunn made an already crowded outfield even more confusing, and his defensive limitations really should keep him from having to chase fly balls around. In short, Dunn needs to play first base, which puts Johnson out of a job. The new GM would be well served to find a spot for him on another roster, even if it means picking up some of his contract in order to get a potentially useful player at another position in return.

Once you get Dunn out of the outfield mix, the logjam frees up a little bit – Milledge and Dukes play when they’re healthy, with Kearns/Willingham/Harris splitting the remaining outfield spot between them. You’d hope that Kearns plays well enough to re-establish some trade value in the summer, so getting him playing time should be a priority.

And, speaking of the summer, perhaps no decision will loom bigger for the Nationals than how to spend the #1 pick in the draft this June. Stephen Strasburg is everyone’s number one prospect, and while he’s going to demand significant money, the Nats just aren’t in a position to pass on him. When you’re attempting to re-establish credibility for your franchise, and there’s a consensus top talent available in a draft where you have the pick of the litter, you have to take that guy. The new GM would be wise to make that a prerequisite for accepting the job – he has to have ownership approval to draft and sign Strasburg this summer.

It’s not going to be an easy job patching the holes that Bowden put in the ship, but it can be done. It just has to start quickly.

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Matt B.
Guest
Matt B.

What’s the over/under on the Nats relocating?

mojowo11
Guest
mojowo11

They’ve played one season in a brand spanking new stadium. The odds of this team relocating in the near future are basically zero.

Matt B.
Guest
Matt B.

How was attendance in the brand spanking new stadium? They’ve tried in this market, it doesn’t work for baseball…

Stephen Colquitt
Guest
Stephen Colquitt

They lost more games than anyone and still outdrew a third of the league, including the AL champs…

Matt B.
Guest
Matt B.

Comparing your attendance to the Rays is like comparing MSFTs balance sheets to Enron’s.

They barely drew 29,000 with an exciting new stadium.

The Jays outdrew them, they haven’t played meaningful baseball in over a decade.

joser
Guest
joser

As a percentage of capacity (the fairest measure), that brand spanking new stadium ranked #15, so exactly half the teams (including Colorado, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay) did a poorer job of filling their available seats than the Nationals did. It’s less meaningful to compare on a raw attendance basis since markets and stadium capacities differ, but it’s pretty notable that the Nationals significantly out-drew Baltimore — in both raw/average attendance and percent-of-capacity terms — in what is an overlapping market (and without the benefit of 18 home games against the Yankees and Red Sox). They’re a long way from returning to their inner Expo-ness, and though the trend is obviously not good there’s nothing there that can’t get fixed by a competent new regime. Most notably, the only sizable business in the country that’s growing at the moment is the Federal Government, so those luxury suites are going to remain valuable perks for the K Street boys to throw around.

If you want to talk about a team relocating, look to Oakland. Now that their Fremont stadium plan has completely fallen through, all the options are on the table. The most likely scenario just has them moving further down I-880 to San Jose (over the Giants’ objections, but just ask Angelos what that’s worth when MLB decides it wants to accommodate a team), but giving the financial realities faced by every level of government in California they’re not getting any funding to build a new stadium or even fix the old one. And it’s not like there’s a lot of corporate money floating around either. They’ll tough it out in Oakland for the time being, but Wolf may be looking in every corner of the country for a better deal.

Based on attendance, the team that really needs to be put out of its misery is the Marlins. But the best way to do that involves a simple owner-dectomy to get rid of the same evil SOB who drove the Nationals into the ground when they were the Expos… and around we go.