Monday, June 6, Noon ET
The Washington Nationals
Wednesday, June 6, 2007; 12:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, June 6, at noon ET to take your questions and comments about the 2007 Nationals.
The transcript follows.
Svrluga covers the Nationals beat for The Post and writes the Nationals Journal blog for washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."
washingtonpost.com: Today's discussion has been rescheduled for noon. Thanks.
Barry Svrluga: Hi folks. Thanks for bearing with me in this time change. I hope enough people heard we'd moved to noon to get their questions in on time.
The reason for the change: I've got to head out to the new ballpark for a briefing on ticket prices/seat locations/relocation of season-ticket holders/etc. early this afternoon. It really should be very interesting for fans, and over at "Nationals Journal," there's already quite a bit of discussion on the pricing and whether it's fair or not. Bottom line: You'll be able to buy day-of-game tix for $5. You'll be able to spend as much as $300 a game. Good seats for season ticket holders are between $50-$60.
All of this is available on the team's web site, www.nationals.com.
With that, I'll take questions on the ballpark (though I might have more answers later this afternoon), as well as on tomorrow's draft and the team in general.
washingtonpost.com: Nationals Relocation Guide (PDF)
Arlington, Va.: Barry:
You asked for questions and comments about the new stadium ...
My biggest question is: What will be the most affordable ticket in the lower bowl? How many rows will I be back? How much will it cost to be between home and either the first and third base? The upper deck is far to high to get a good view of the game. And when I go with my father, the steps look to be too steep for him to navigate.
My other big question: Which seats are going to be in the shade? One of RFK's best features is that a good chunk of the seats are shaded during the day. It makes going to a day game bearable. The new stadium has few shaded seats. That's going to make it miserable to go to a game from May to September.
Barry Svrluga: The relocation guide the Nats have put out has answers to a lot of these questions, including a complete pricing guide for season tickets and partial season tickets. It has frequently asked questions, including which seats are in the shade (most shady will be the left field line).
In the link provided by our friendly host Paul, the seating chart and pricing guide is on Page 21 of 27.
Suitland, Md.: Everyone says the Nats farm system is terrible. I was wondering how it got messed up in the first place. Which of the four reasons below do you think is the primary cause, or is it something else not listed?
1. The players they drafted weren't as good as everyone (Nats and other teams) thought.
2. The players they drafted weren't as good as the Nats thought, but everyone else knew they weren't any good.
3. The players were good, but didn't develop properly in the minors (due to incompetence/neglect/poor instruction).
4. The good players were traded away for other players who ended up not being as good.
Barry Svrluga: This has been summed up in two sentences.
1. The team, when it was the Expos, was scheduled to be contracted.
2. The management, under MLB as owners and Omar Minaya as general manager, had no interest in protecting the future of a franchise that didn't seem as if it had a future, so it traded away the farm.
Cliff Lee. Grady Sizemore. Jason Bay. Chris Young (the pitcher). All were Expos farmhands. All were dealt to other teams to bring people such as Bartolo Colon and Einar Diaz.
There have been, too, scouting and player development issues. The Nationals' drafts in late rounds were basically crap shoots because they usually got just one set of eyes on a player. Now, with a beefed-up scouting department, they expect things to get better fast.
Rosslyn, Va.: Any last-minute draft updates? Are the Nationals planning on having any last minute pre-draft workouts at RFK today?
Barry Svrluga: Yes, the Nationals are holding workouts this afternoon, perhaps for four kids (don't have names right now). It's likely not for the guy who might be taken sixth -- and I'm betting on one of those high school hitters from California, Vitters or Moutsakas (if they're around).
Keep in mind: We won't really know how good this draft is for a while. As Kasten said to me the other day -- a line he's used often -- "This isn't the NBA, where you can't draft Shaq and go to the finals." The draft has to be deep and talented and come up with some players in, say, the 10th round that develop into major leaguers.
The Nationals are bragging about their scouting staff now. And if we take them at their word and at the guys' reputations, then they could have something special. But we really won't know until these kids get into the minors and either sink or swim how good those scouts really are.
"Ryan Church" using Bergmann's laptop: Hey Barry. Boswell says I will make a fine 4th outfielder someday.
I say Boswell has gone soft in the head. I'm an everyday outfielder. I can play any outfield position. I got the best bat in the OF and I'm the best looking too. "Church on Everyday" is my slogan.
Do you agree with me or Boswell?
Barry Svrluga: I agree with Boz in this sense: On a really good team, Ryan Church is a fourth outfielder. He's helped by his versatility in that he can play all positions. He's helped by his ability to provide some pop.
Are there teams for which Church would start? Yes. He's on one of them. Are there excellent, contending teams for which he'd be a fourth outfielder. No question. Put a stud center fielder and a 40-homer guy in this outfield, and Church becomes an excellent reserve.
Washington, D.C.: So scouting actually counts for the later rounds. Everyone already knows who the potential major league players are in the first and second rounds, right? So you could just use Baseball America for those guys.
Barry Svrluga: Scouting the depths of the draft is extremely important, and that's why the area scouts -- the guys responsible for a specific geographic region -- are so important. The Nationals will do everything they can to make sure they don't miss on the top pick. GM Jim Bowden will see him. VP of baseball operations Mike Rizzo, scouting director Dana Brown, VP of player development Bob Boone, special assistant Jose Rijo and lots of cross-checkers, etc., will see the guy they end up taking at No. 6.
But when you get down below the 10th and 15th rounds, you're relying on far fewer opinions. If the Nats have talented area scouts, they'll come up with a gem or two.
(No one, though, is relying on Baseball America.)
Laurel: Barry, maybe this was discussed back when the Nats were new, but I was reading some baseball business history, and noticed how much better the National League has done than the American.
When the original 16 teams started moving after the war, the AL first moved from St. Louis to Baltimore, thus driving three AL franchises out of Philadelphia and Washington in the subsequent 20 years. Meanwhile, the NL went to the west coast, so now they're in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego while the American is in Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle. No contest.
In flyover country, the NL is in Phoenix, Denver and Houston; the AL in Minneapolis, Kansas City and Dallas. South of the Mason-Dixon line, the NL is in Atlanta, Miami and now Washington, while the AL is in Tampa and Baltimore.
Only in Canada (Toronto vs. ex-Montreal) did the American League expand better; and if the NL hadn't taken Milwaukee off the AL's hands, it would be almost a clean sweep.
Barry Svrluga: Interesting. I had never thought about it this way. I will say this, though: The lines between the leagues have long ago been blurred to the point where they are -- save for the DH -- almost indistinguishable. They share umpiring crews, so the strike zone difference is pretty much gone. They play each other before the World Series. They trade with each other and free agents skip from league to league.
I will say this, though: I'm glad Washington ended up with an N.L. team. I grew up with the A.L., but I have found that I much prefer the pitcher hitting, etc.
Silver Spring, Md.: D'Angelo Jimenez, currently toiling for our AAA Columbus Clippers, is smoking the International League at .373/.453/.582 in 128 plate appearances.
Granted he's a middle infielder, and we're a bit deep there right now. But might there be a better use for him than just letting him accumulate service time toward the rank of World's Oldest Prospect?
Barry Svrluga: He came up to the majors earlier in the year and was not productive at all, failing to get a single pinch hit. This surprised Manny Acta, who figured that such a veteran guy would be able to handle the role.
Prediction: He'll sit there until there's an injury with the big club, then he'll be called up. Best-case scenario: He stays hot, and some contending team needs a middle infielder, and he can be traded.
Fair's Fair: Ah, I was going to be a casual observer, but one of the opening posts got me going!
What MLB did to fire sale this team's talent (ML and farm system) was horrible, yet understandable, at the time. The rest of MLB owners benefited (by the money from the sale, and the dispersing of the talent). Yes, it is a year since the Lerners came on board, but it seems like the franchise should've received some contribution from the rest of the league. Even expansion franchises get supplemental drafts (exposed players) and draft picks to fill up a roster. Filling up a farm system is even more of a chore.
My opinion: MLB should've put a similar "pool" of unprotected players in a supplement for the Nats over the offseason. Not that it matters, but it's another example (steroids, cracker-jack parks, etc.) to me of why MLB has slipped behind NFL/NBA...
Barry Svrluga: Interesting observation. But I don't think the other owners thought of the Nationals as some sort of charity case. They were in an unprecedented situation, yet eight groups still deemed them worth $450 million, and it's now up to the Lerners to make the team competitive -- even with all that stuff that went on in the past making it more difficult.
Arlington, Va.: Barry -
Some comments based on my review:
- There seem to be a good number of reasonably priced (not cheap, but doable) seats in the outfield and upper deck.
- There seem to be a good number of incredibly expensive seats with great benefits if you're a major corporation and can afford $150 a ticket.
- The people that seem to have been hurt in the transition are individuals (and there are many of us) who shelled out extra to get really good seats at RFK. We stretched to get to the $30-40 seats - but felt we got really good seats in return. At the new park, those seats are $50-60. I can't imagine us affording them. Those will now go to law firms, lobbyists, and, as a result, will often be empty.
You might ask the Nats why the prices on that tier of seats went up so steeply.
On other design point. It sure looks like you won't be able to walk around the seating bowl at all. Basically, there is no "lateral" movement in the stadium -- just up to the concourse and back down. I can see that this buys them a lot of things...but it means you actually can't take a stroll around the stadium and keep a view of the field...Not critical, but something that is enjoyable at many ballparks.
Barry Svrluga: Also interesting. I, too, am a member of a group of season ticket holders in those middle-tier seats (Section 309 at RFK (and please hold your comments on why in the world you would buy tickets if you go to 140 games a year for work).). And yes, those are more expensive in the new park.
But it is the club's job to read the market. If they fill up those seats at $50-$60 per, then they have read the market correctly. It isn't their responsibility to protect the best seats for the middle-incomers.
Now, if they read the market poorly, and they don't fill those seats, then that's another matter. I think everyone expected the seats at the new park to be more expensive -- mostly because Stan Kasten was yelling through a microphone "They're going to cost more money!" I thought the bump ups were about what would be expected.
New Stadium Qs To Ponder: Hi Barry,
Per your solicitation in your journal today, I ask and offer the following:
New Stadium: My biggest concern as a current season ticket holder, besides how much tickets will cost and where I can sit, is the ability to get into and out of the park expeditiously. I am concerned my current 30 minute drive from home to RFK lot 8, and back home, is going to take a lot longer even though distance wise it will be a mile or two closer. If it is a bear, it will influence my decision on whether I continue as a season tix holder or just pick up single game tix here and there.
Attendance next year: Will be good for a year and attract fans and non-fans alike because it will be the trendy thing to go visit MLB's newest park. That will wear off quickly and as Dave Sheinin correctly states, attendance will ultimately be driven by the quality of the product on the field. Winning = fans in seats.
Barry Svrluga: On attendance: I agree with you and Sheinin, and it is why I continue to say that the pivotal year for this franchise is 2009, after the newness of the ballpark wears off and the focus for fans is completely on the product on the field.
And on your point about access and egress, you're absolutely right, and I don't know that there's a way we'll be absolutely sure how it will work until Opening Day in 2008. It's hard to imagine it'll be as easy to deal with as RFK, where behind the stadium you have easy shots to Maryland and Virginia via 295, and the District residents can filter back through the city. The Metro to RFK has both orange and blue lines, and the best stop for the new park is on the green line, which has far fewer travelers. This will be a huge focus of the first few weeks of next season.
The Spin Zone: Barry,
It sounds like Kasten talks from both sides of his mouth on selling fans on player development.
Mouth 1: "We believe in the draft and player development. We won't spend money on current payroll and the major league club will suffer, but the farm system will improve quickly."
Mouth 2: "You can't draft Shaq and go to the finals. The farm system will take 5 years to become fully replenished."
Which is it Stan? I need a major league product on the field at that new stadium. And for every top free agent you sign, you lose a draft pick.
Barry Svrluga: I think "improve quickly" is relative, and I think they won't go crazy in the free agent market until they believe they can win. But I also believe they will significantly increase payroll next season -- jumping from $38 million to $60-$70 million (though Kasten always cautions me from using real numbers in projections, because he doesn't want me to look foolish, to which I tell him it is far too late, and he knows that, and I will always put myself in position to look foolish if it helps inform the fans).
There are ways to increase payroll other than through free agency. You can trade prospects or low-salaried major leaguers for established major leaguers who earn much more. In such cases -- and the Nationals hope this happens within the next two years -- you could trade for an all-star type player who signed a huge contract with another team, and that team is now hindered by the size of the contract. In that case, you could ask that team to eat part of the contract, and therefore you end up with, say, a $12 million player for whom you're only paying $8 million.
Plus I think they'll sign Zimmerman to a long-term deal.
Short Pump, Va.: Any word yet on food at the new ballpark? I miss the chili nachos from Hard Times Cafe. Any chance they'll be back when the new park opens?
Barry Svrluga: I think we'll hear more about food in the new park in coming months. One thing, though, that's true: They are bidding it out again, so there's no guarantee that Aramark will be the concession provider. Someone with the club basically told me that Aramark is "on notice," and they have to step up their game.
There will be, for sure, more choices and better quality at the new park. RFK has some facilities restrictions when it comes to concessions. (And if you click on the virtual tour at the Nationals' web site, you see a cool restaurant in center field, etc.)
Washington, D.C.: Barry, has any Nat been fined by Acta or the team for breaking team rules, (e.g., running through stop signs at third base)?
Barry Svrluga: I do not know of any Nat who has been fined, but I can certainly look into it.
Washington, D.C.: With Cordero pitching well again, in your opinion what are the odds that he will be traded before the July 31 deadline?
Barry Svrluga: I really don't know. I was going to make a point in "Nationals Journal" today about how well Cordero has thrown the ball since he returned from bereavement leave. He looks like a different guy, what with the pinpoint control on his fastball. Last night's outing, though in a loss, was pretty impressive.
I think of the Cordero Conundrum this way: The Nationals can't lose. If someone wants to give up two stud pitching prospects (including a starter) for him, then they could trade him and shore up the weakest part of their system. If no one meets their price, then they have a guy who more than occasionally causes near heart attacks, but seems to save games more regularly than most (particularly when his head is clear).
"Ryan Church" Again: I understand your point about me being a 4th outfielder. If this team does get that stud center fielder and 40 home run guy, I'm on the bench.
But what makes Austin Kearns so special? By your description, he looks like a 4th outfielder to me, and he got the BIG contract.
So go ahead and trade me. Obviously, I'm not going to get the money due me here.
Barry Svrluga: True enough. The organization -- led by Jim Bowden -- believes in Kearns. I think he's better than what he's shown thus far this year, but still, he's got to do it, and he knows that. I think they should take the .300-30 HR-100 RBI expectations off of him and say if he's .270-25-90, that'll be good enough.
And I feel similarly about Kearns as I do Church. If Kearns is hitting sixth in your lineup, you've got a good one. If he's fourth or fifth, you're still looking for more pieces.
Not 410 feet: In checking out the relocation guide, it is the first official posting I have seen of the new field dimensions. Looks like Philly or Mediocre American Park size to me, which worries me since the team (with weak pitching) seems to benefit from the huge outfield of RFK. Are these the actual dimensions, or projections that could change? I think a bigger park makes the Nats more competitive during rebuilding, no?
Great job on the NatsJournal blog and the podcasts I check a couple times/week. We love all the work (including off the clock) you put in for us, Barry. (No, this is not your mom.)
Barry Svrluga: Thanks Mom!
Those are the dimensions. They are not quite Philly-esque, but they'll be more fair. The thing we won't know -- and the reason I don't think it's worth stressing about dimensions -- is how the ball will travel in the park. I've heard some different theories, and there are some members of the organization (including some players) who believe it will favor hitters. We'll see.
NY Avenue: So are you more excited as a writer or fan for the seat relocation process news and comment? This day is what many of us have been looking forward to for many many years. I think once everyone gets over the sticker shock we'll all be happy with the process.
Barry Svrluga: Again, I think the sticker shock is to be expected, so maybe it should just be "sticker" reality.
I enjoy both aspects of the ballpark experience -- working and sitting in the stands. I'm looking forward to both sides of it. From a selfish, sports writer's point of view, I'm disappointed the press box is so high, and that hurts in the reporting on the game. But I'm also realistic enough to know that clubs need to generate revenue wherever they can, and they don't generate revenue from the press (at least not directly) and therefore our days of having great seats are long gone.
From a spectator's perspective, I live on Capitol Hill, so I'm happy to be able to walk down to the new park just like I walk to the old one. But I think I'll like the new park much more, just because I've been to so many of the new ones and know what they can offer.
Centreville, Va.: Please, for the love of all that's holy, be smart about how you get there.
If you didn't pony up for the reeaallly expensive seats that come with one of the 1,500 parking spaces, then be prepared to wait in big traffic jams to pay too much to a parking lot attendant many blocks away from the stadium. And don't cry about it when it happens, because you were warned.
If you're coming from the suburbs to the take the green line out from downtown, be prepared for huge crowds on the platforms and in the trains, and long lines getting up out of the station- and longer lines getting back in. This is your warning.
Be smart. Try coming from further out in SW or Maryland on the Green Line. (Be safe, of course, but don't be a baby; it's not going to look great around the park the first few years, but you're fine if there are other people around.) Look into taking a bus, especially if the team provides routes from the RFK parking lots. Get there early when you can.
And please, smile about it. The stadium will be beautiful, the crowds will be large and looking to have a good time, and the money your putting out will (hopefully) eventually bring us a contender.
Barry Svrluga: Some advice, a full nine months in advance.
Walpole, Mass.: Do you have any reaction to the video Steinberg posted of Manny Acta ripping a fellow writer? He seems like an easy-going guy. Have you had any run-ins with him, or does Kasten like saving them for himself?
Barry Svrluga: Acta's very reasonable. The problem with that video is that it makes that interchange seem unusual. Managers and coaches have disagreements with us all the time, and it's usually handled in private. He had asked that all the tape recorders be turned off, but the camera kept going.
In general, if Acta has a problem with something one of us wrote, he addresses it and moves on. He has every right to do that.
Section 213, Row 12: Going to the game tomorrow, will the Nats make an announcement when they make their First Round Selection? Or will they bungle that as well?
Barry Svrluga: I think they probably will. They're having a press conference after they make that pick, too.
Chevy Chase, Md.: First, love the chats and your insights into the Nats. Second, I was at last night's game and was disturbed that Acta did not come out to argue the blown call at the plate. Don't get my wrong -- I don't want him pulling a Pinella, but I would have loved to see some real spark from him to fire up the team. And that the call was wrong provides added impetus to my point. Has Acta addressed why he didn't argue?
Barry Svrluga: I wasn't working last night, but Acta has a bit of an interesting take on arguing -- he doesn't do it much. He believes that no call ever gets changed (he wasn't at the Memorial Day 2005 game against Atlanta when Frank Robinson got that home run call turned around), and it's not worth it. It's a developing story line, though. A lot of people have noticed.
The only time I've seen him really work the umps was in St. Louis in the ninth inning when the rains were coming down, and the home plate ump called Zimmerman out on a ball several inches outside. He was yelling, "Be a professional" from the dugout.
Nook Logan: If Church is a fourth outfielder, what am I?
Barry Svrluga: Yikes. A right-handed hitter still trying to learn how to switch hit? A guy who will be replaced if the Nationals get into the CF market (A. Jones, T. Hunter, Japanese guy)?
Somerset, Va.: Hey Barry, Are we going to see the Homestead Grays uniforms this year? If I remember right, we were undefeated in them last year..
Barry Svrluga: Don't know for sure. Was a fun thing last year. I think Billy Traber out-dueled Tom Glavine in those unis.
Alexandria, Va.: The market... do you really think there is a market for the $300/seat/game baseball ticket?
Barry Svrluga: I think for a limited number of people/corporations, there probably is. I, however, won't be paying that.
Washington, D.C.: What determines which pants the players wear? I've noticed that they play better in the knickers. Last night no one had them on but Fick and he wasn't on the field and Bascik. Last year everytime Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman wore them thy played great. What does it hurt to give this a try!
Barry Svrluga: In general, a guy like Zimmerman wears the pants up in the day and down at night. But I've seen Zimm mix it up a bit. I'll ask him.
Johnson wears them like that all the time because he came up in the Yankees' system, and that's how they want you to wear them there.
Arlington, Va.: Guzman is now hitting .324; multi-hit games with doubles and triples all over the place (although only 7 RBI and 19 runs). Question is - does this mean this is the guy we wanted all along and keep him (the return on our investment) or does it just make him very marketable and we try to cut our losses and get prospects for him? Also how does he interact with teammates?
Barry Svrluga: I think the revival of Guzman is one of the more interesting subplots of the early season. He's clearly having more fun, hitting the ball harder, and is healthier than he has been.
Could they trade him? Sure, they'd love to. He's not part of the future beyond 2008, when his contract expires. But I don't think one hot month makes folks forget the .219 disaster of 2005.
Clubhouse: He's fairly withdrawn in the clubhouse, though he often plays cards with some of the other Latin American guys.
Kosuke Fukudome: I think you meant me.
Imagine all the juvenile headlines you could come up with based on my name
Barry Svrluga: Yeah, that's who I meant. And boy, that name is fraught with peril.
Relocating from 2005: I've been a plan holder since 2005 and was hoping I wouldn't have to shill out close to $8,000 (two tickets FULL SEASON) to have access to the Elephant and Donkey bar in the Stars & Stripes Club sponsored by Geico on Washington Post Live. I wish Stan the Plan would at least offer club seats at 1/2 season. This being said, the seat locations overall look pretty sharp.
Barry Svrluga: Things could still develop in that regard. If those club seats don't sell out to full season ticket people, then they could eventually be available in half shares. The bottom line: The club will take your money in whatever way, shape or form you want to spend it as long as it still has seats available.
Alexandria, Va.: Day games at the stadium during the summer can be terribly hot if you are sitting in the sun. In the configuration of the new stadium will there be some way to tell which seats will be directly in the direct sunlight during the day games? Will the Nationals provide that info?
Barry Svrluga: Nationals have already provided that info in the link above. It appears the left-field seats will be more in the shade (though for 1 p.m. starts, most of the lower bowl will be in the sun).
Hey producer: The CSS file is broken or not being referenced. We're in an ugly text-only chat right now.
washingtonpost.com: Yeah, I know. There was a glitch right before the discussion and rather than postpone things, we'll wait until after the discussion to fix it. But hey -- it should load faster, and no adds for now!
Barry Svrluga: Hadn't seen this. Hopefully it's fixed.
Silver Spring, Md.: I can't believe I'm saying this, but what are the chances of Guzman becoming part of the long-term future, now that it seems he might be able to bat above .300
Barry Svrluga: I really think that, given he'll be 30 when his contract expires, the Nationals will cut bait with him. But just as I said I thought he was one of the most interesting subplots of the early going, I think the rest of the season will be just as interesting. Can he hit .290 for a full season? As Jim Bowden said, "Some players develop late. Some players change." We'll see if Guzman's one of those guys.
McLean, Va.: Homestead Gray uniforms on Aug. 3 against the St. Louis Stars.
Barry Svrluga: McLean, you are wise. Thank you.
Lovettsville, Va.: Barry:
I love the discussions; it gives me a nice release from the enjoyable task of being a Washington intern.
I remember back when the plans for the new stadium were underway and there was talk about the possibility of putting a hydraulics system of some sort under the stands to replicate those on the third base side of RFK. Are there any such plans now?
Barry Svrluga: Glad you enjoy the chats. No, no hydraulics under those seats. And if I recall correctly, the stands in left have bounced infrequently since 2005, when it was a regular occurrence.
Barry Svrluga: OK, folks, I've got to head down to the ballpark presentation. Thanks very much for responding to the new time. As always, lots of unanswered questions.
Tune in next week, when I'll probably be coming to you from Camden Yards. Thanks again.