Washington Nationals' future is bolstered by key front-office signings

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unless you're the Yankees and can buy titles, the core of any baseball franchise is not its starting rotation or batting order. Over time, you are your organization.

Before spring training, the Nats probably will sign two free agent starting pitchers and a couple of bullpen arms. They might trade for a middle infielder, too. But from a long-term view, the Nats have signed their most important offseason class, even though the average fan might not recognize a single name.

Roy Clark, Ron Schueler, Davey Johnson, Kasey McKeon, Jay Robertson, Johnny DiPuglia, Doug Harris, Bryan Minniti and Jay Sartori will change the Nats' future more than a couple of 12-game winners. When the regular season ends, most front-office employees become de facto free agents. The Nats, their hands tied since the day Jim Bowden left as GM, started signing. Since then, the Nats have added 17 men, constituting a dozen full-time slots.

"We have had a great offseason," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. Before you even sign a free agent? "Exactly," he said.

Were the Nats understaffed before? Yes. Did the presence of the controversial Bowden hinder the hiring of more top talent? Probably. Have the owners decided to spend on an area where results are hard to quantify and that some "Moneyballers" think is just dead weight? Absolutely.

The Nats have taken a stand. When they trade, draft or sign a free agent player, "We want our eyes and the numbers to agree," Rizzo said. "But we'll lean toward the scout."

"These are guys who sit in ballparks at every level, watch games and talk to other scouts," President Stan Kasten said. "It sounds trivial. But in baseball, there is nothing more important. They are the wise old owls."

Once you say such words, even when you add that the Nats give just a 65-35 weighting to scouting over modern statistical analysis, you are going to have quality scouts lined up to work for a team with which their talents will be respected, not inspected.

Even 30 years after the creation of the first new stats, including one of mine, the line between number nerds with Ivy League degrees and scouts with decades of bleacher splinters is as bright red as the Mason-Dixon Line. If you say you believe in both (obviously the only sane approach), eyes narrow.

The day the Nats took the "interim" title off Rizzo, whose dad is still a beloved scout (his radar gun probably pointed at Stephen Strasburg right now, even if he's only walking) the Nats couldn't hide their stripes.

"They know this is a baseball shop," said Rizzo.

A thinly staffed team, a chance for more duties, an open checkbook, plus the presence of Rizzo and Kasten, enabled the Nats to sign front-office brain power, including two of the game's best administrators.

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