Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2:15 p.m. ET
The Washington Nationals
Wednesday, September 19, 2007; 2:15 PM
Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 1 p.m. 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
Barry Svrluga: Greetings, folks. You want to see the Hindenburg reincarnated? Come on out to RFK tonight and see the Mets. Yikes.
Just finished a "lunch" with Stan Kasten. He hosted some media types out here at RFK for an informal get-together -- at which the highlights, I suppose, are that he doesn't have a goal for attendance next season, he encourages people to take Metro to games next year, and he thinks that signing big-money free agents is "perilous."
So there you have it.
The Disenfranchised Nation's Capital: Good morning, Barry! I went to the game last night. Two related subjects: In your opinion, are the "real" Nats the currently competitive team who have played around .500 since mid to late May? Or are the real Nats the team which appeared monumentally bad during the first month of the season? What should we expect out of the gate next year? Additionally, should management have sought to sign other veteran players to bolster the roster early on? If the team had played around .500 all year (which seems conceivable in hindsight), the Nats would almost certainly sold more tickets for this year AND next year to date. In short, did management unwittingly undermine the team in 07 and 08 by not earnestly seeking to field a "competitive product" at the start of this year? Thanks. You do a great job! Acta is hands down Manager of the Year!
Barry Svrluga: I think you'd have to say, in any reasonable assessment, that a sample of 117 games -- I believe they're 59-58 since May 11 -- is a truer test than the first 34 games, in which they went 9-25. They were god-awful that first month-plus, and what has happened has been a pleasant surprise for the whole organization.
Now, does that mean they're palpably closer to their stated goal -- winning a World Series? Hard to say. One of the things I'll try to analyze in the paper and in Nationals Journal in coming weeks is the progress made. What pieces do they have that are true pieces of the future?
I think Acta will get lots of votes for Manager of the Year -- third-place votes, particularly if they finish with 72 wins, or one more than they had last year.
Washington, DC: Not a question, just a comment:
I was hanging out near the dug out before last night's game. I got the chance to interact briefly with Justin Maxwell, Manny Acta and Mike Bacsik. I don't know about other players, but these three could not have been nicer or more friendly. Even though Manny wanted to get some dinner, he still signed balls/hats/shirts and spoke with us fans. Maxwell and Bacsik were all smiles and just seemed happy to be there and get to talk with the fans. It really touched me, as a fan, to see their attitude towards us. I felt very appreciated by all of them.
Barry Svrluga: That's a very good story. You happen to have stumbled upon three of the nicest players on the team. Bacsik seems to really enjoy interacting with the fans, and he's a real baseball historian/nut. Maxwell seems like a genuinely nice young kid, and Acta is still appreciative just to be in a uniform.
Only five more days to see them.
Foggy Bottom: Why is Bowden so fixated on having Guzman play again this year? What's his status?
Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting question. Clearly, Bowden wants the shortstop back out there. I watched him personally wheel the screen out to the mound for Guzman's BP session yesterday.
There are several theories, not sure if any make absolute sense: He could be trying to motivate Felipe Lopez, who has had a poor season and might need to be reminded that, with Guzman and Ronnie Belliard, this team has other middle infield options. He could be trying to get a few hits for Guzman to prove to other teams he's healthy if someone (unlikely) wants to take his $4.2 million for 2008 off his hands.
Who knows? Tough one to answer.
Sec 309, Row 3: Wow, what a great season. So nice to see the naysayers put to shame this year! And as I'm looking down our expanded lineup, it makes me happy to see that we've got some promising talent coming up from the farm (Did you see how far Maxwell crushed that near-HR last night??). Given what you have seen from the team's mainstays (Schneider, Lopez, Kearns, Rauch, the RZA, the Chief), the unexpected talent that will probably be sticking around for a while (Young, Belliard, Nook, Chico, Hanrahan/Lannan), and the up-and-comers that came up Sept 1 (Maxwell, Munoz), where does Bowden need to spend time and (hopefully considerable) money this year to get a winning team next season? Do you think a .500+ season will be in the cards next year?
Barry Svrluga: I just don't know. If they win 72 games, then yes, the logical step would be to improve by nine or 10 and get to .500. But I'm not sold on the pitching they supposedly have. Joel Hanrahan? Don't think so. Matt Chico? Maybe, but he has a lot of improving to do. Internally, they believe he's at best a No. 5. John Lannan? Possibly, but a scout I talked to believes he's not quite ready. Tim Redding? Hmmmm.
Plus, they're last in the league in runs scored. If Kasten's not going to pursue a game-changing free agent -- and it certainly appears that's the case -- then they'll have to trade for a big bat. Adam Dunn? Possibly, but they'd almost certainly want to negotiate an extension before they do that, and that's basically signing a free agent.
Kasten did say this within the last hour: He believes that trades are far more likely to be used as a way to improve the team than free agent signings. But what does this team trade? We'll see.
Riddle Me This: How does the compensatory draft pick rule work? If the Nats had not traded Ray King, and he then left via free agency at the end of the season, would we have gotten a draft pick for him? If he leaves the Brewers and goes somewhere else, will the Brewers get a draft pick?
Barry Svrluga: No. You have to perform at a certain level to be categorized as a Type A or Type B free agent -- the kinds that bring compensatory picks. King does not qualify.
Cleveland Park: Isn't the general price structure for Nationals Park rather high, especially in the lower deck? Since you're in Section 309 of RFK, do you plan to renew with similar seats for next season? If so, what's the amount or percent of your increase? Thanks.
Barry Svrluga: Indeed, they are expensive tickets. My group is actually moving up closer to the field (a vote of the group wanted good seats), so yes, it'll cost more.
The whole seating/price structure is a calculated risk by the team. They have to try to figure out how to maximize revenue but also lure people into the park. They're gambling that charging those prices won't drive people away. I asked Kasten today if the "premium seats" behind home plate are sold out, and he said no. He refused to give any estimates of what he thinks would be a good attendance number for next season, but suffice it to say, they need to draw more than they're drawing this year -- whatever the prices.
Harrisburg, Pa: Just a comment: As a long-suffering Phillies fan, many thanks for the number the Nats are doing to the Mets. Keep sticking it to them!
Also, could you suggest to Manny Acta that he should rest all his regulars in the upcoming series against the Phillies, and give "the kids" Washington brought up a chance at playing at the major league level? Thanks.
Barry Svrluga: Alas, I was thinking of a scenario in which the Nationals play the Phillies right back into the race by beating the Mets, then drum them out of the race by beating them over the weekend.
Acta: One reason you haven't seen Detwiler in a game at home is because he's big on the "integrity of the game," meaning he wants to put his best lineup out there -- and best pitchers available -- in an effort to win as many games as possible.
Section 108: Hello Barry, You said in the journal that Omar Minaya had quite a look on his face when the Nats scored 12 unanswered runs Monday....How was he looking last night?
Barry Svrluga: Couldn't see him. He changed his box. Karma, I suppose.
RFK, Section 308: What's the probability that the Nationals offer parking at RFK with a shuttle bus to the new stadium? Isn't this a viable and reasonable alternative?
Barry Svrluga: I think that is a probability, actually. It might make sense for people coming from Maryland. One thing Kasten just pushed: Metro, Metro, Metro. Translation: Parking could be disastrous.
A River in Egypt: Kasten "doesn't have a goal for attendance next season"? Yeah, right. Why does he bother to talk to you guys if he's just going to lie like that? Probably a dumb question, I know.
Barry Svrluga: Ah, it's as if I asked a question to my own chat.
Svrlugaville, Md.: Kasten Lunch - Let the double talk begin. Signing free agents is perilous, said just months after promising to spend. And no attendance goal? Sounds like a large case of CYA going on. I really appreciated Kasten's honesty earlier - now he appears to be no different than the 535 blowhards employed on the Hill. Sounds to me like he's giving up.
Barry Svrluga: He did say this: "There's no mistake. We need to add players."
Section 425: Good Afternoon Barry,
Thank you for these chats! They are always humorous and informative. I wondered what the chances of getting Mark Texiera next year? That assumes that the Braves don't resign him. They may feel that they gave up too much to get him to let him walk. MT is from Severna Park, and there has always been talk of him going back to the Orioles. Well we're only 20 minutes in the other direction!
Barry Svrluga: Teixeira is signed through 2008, so any pursuit of him would have to come after that. He has Scott Boras as an agent, which is always an indication that the client is going to get absolute top dollar -- and not sign for sentimental reasons such as where you grew up.
Would the Nationals be interested? Kasten said, "We'll talk to everyone." But his stance on free agents seems very hard-line, and I would tend to doubt they would pursue a free agent of Teixeira's caliber/price.
Washington D.C.: Do you think the Mets are dead? They don't look like a postseason team to me.
Barry Svrluga: Wow, they've been embarrassing the past two nights. Monday night with the four errors and another horrible misplay on the come-backer to Sosa, then last night with Maine's implosion. The bullpen looks fried, the lineup beat-up. It is possible that, if this meltdown continues, they miss the playoffs completely. Ouch.
Laurel, Md.: From where I sit (the outfield) it looks like Justin Maxwell is a true prospect. I think that the Nationals should fast track him to AAA to begin next year, meaning Brandon Watson is expendable, think we can get anything for him?
Barry Svrluga: Brandon Watson has been cast off for free by three organizations (Washington, Cincinnati, Detroit), so I think the chances of getting anything in trade is non-existent.
Trades Not Free Agents: Did Stan suggest what on earth of value the Nationals have to trade?
Barry Svrluga: I found this interesting as well. He said the Columbus and Harrisburg rosters don't have anybody of impact on the rise (not exactly breaking news). So they'd have to trade prospects from the low minors, which means other people have to believe in their pitchers as much as they do.
I'm having a hard time getting my mind around how they're going to improve by not signing free agents and having very little of value to trade. But that, of course, is because my mind is not as nimble and adroit as Stan Kasten's.
DC: Have they found a sponsor for the stadium yet?
Barry Svrluga: Not yet. Kasten said he wants to have it done by Opening Day 2008, but there's no guarantee that would happen.
No Attendance Figure Goals - Take The Metro: Wow. SK has got to be kidding. Sure they have attendance figure goals for next year, at least. Isn't he the guy who says you have to have 3 million fans a year to make a go of it? That's an average of 37K per home date. And the Metro, eh? Only the Green Line where RFK is serviced by the Blue and Orange lines. Will they run enough trains to get folks out of there quickly after a game? Free agents are perilous. Hope that doesn't mean they aren't going after any. Not going to win a WS without some. Jeesh.
Barry Svrluga: He corrected me on that "three million to pay the freight" thing. He said it could be two million, 2.5 million or three million.
It was rather amazing that he claimed not to have goals/projections for attendance.
15th and L: What non-answer did Stan give your with regard to the status of relocations? Are they on track for "late fall"? Will the process be fair as advertised, or will the Carvilles and Russerts be given top priority once again for the really good seats?
Barry Svrluga: The process should conclude, he said, in "four to six weeks, sometime in November." He added: "It's moving along. It's just time-consuming."
The process is supposed to begin with people like me, the Class of 2005 (those who bought season tickets in 2005) and work its way through chronologically. Now, folks like Carville and Russert bought great seats in 2005, so they'll likely have a good place in line.
But Kasten clearly believes one of the most significant headaches in this regard will come from the premium seating. Because the best seats behind the plate -- a huge wedge or pie piece -- are the "premium" (read: ridiculously expensive) seats, that means folks who had regular seats behind the plate at RFK but don't want to bump up in price will be moved to the baselines. That would displace some people who want seats there, etc., having a trickle-down.
I do believe they'll try to be fair about everything. I don't believe, ultimately, that everyone will be happy.
Gonna Look Bad....: If come Opening Day in April of 2008 when those $300 tickets behind home are empty for many of the nights...
Barry Svrluga: Really, really, really bad.
Alexandria, Va.: What's the knock on Nook Logan? Every news column that discusses next year cites the need for a center fielder. Why? Nook is a ball hawk, is fast and exciting on the bases, and hits reasonably well for average. Seems to me the only thing he lacks is the long ball but his speed and ability to stir things up on the bases goes a long way toward compensating for that.
Barry Svrluga: Logan's defense actually is substandard. He does a great job going back on the ball and tracking them down in the gaps. But he breaks back on almost every ball hit to him, thus allowing many balls to fall in. His arm is not strong. It is weak.
He also needs to learn to draw more walks. His career batting average is .270. That's fine. Better than anyone would expect, actually. But his career OBP is .317. That's not going to cut it. A guy like that needs to get on base 35 percent of the time -- at least -- to really cause enough problems.
Sunday's Events @ RFK: Barry,
Because the Nationals Marketing Department, if there is one, does not want to let us know what is going on before or after the game this Sunday, can you please tell us? All I have heard is that the game is now at 12:05. Will there be a ceremony before or after the game, if at all? If before the game, when should we be in our seats? Will there be former players (Senators, Redskins, Dips )? Will the one hotdog that was actually cooked and warm at one time be on display for us all to see? Will George Washington be presented with his ring for being this seasons Presidents Race winner? Thanks for your help.
Barry Svrluga: Ah, yes, I can tell you. It is something I learned from the incredibly informative and learned Stan Kasten:
The game starts at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, thus allowing folks to get out to FedEx or in front of a TV for Giants/Skins. Beginning Thursday, merchandise in the team store will be half off. They will have T-shirts for the first 35,000 fans on Sunday (which, apparently, means everyone gets two (kidding)) which will be commemorative RFK editions, and there will be nine Washington Senators on hand, including Frank Howard.
They will also show video tributes/clips on the jumbo(mini)tron, and they will have raffles for the shirts off the backs of the players. They'll have a postgame ceremony in which they'll dig the plate out of the ground for transport to the new park -- though they don't know if that'll be the plate for next year. "I will tell you, regrettably," Kasten said, "we didn't use our home plate enough this year."
It all sounds fairly cool. Hope it's a nice day.
Sec. 526, Row 3, Seat 1: Former Nationals manager Frank Robinson is in town this week. Is there any chance that the cold war between F. Robby and the team could thaw, perhaps allowing Frank to be properly honored by the team when it moves into the new stadium?
Barry Svrluga: Last I talked to Frank, he's not ready. The club apparently keeps an open door to him, but I'm not sure this will ever heal. Robinson is fairly stubborn, and the club is not going to give him a meaningful, paid position. We'll see.
Burke, VA: Could you send a copy of your tapes from the Kasten lunch to one of the bloggers? I bet a few of them would have a field day deciphering all that double talk.
Barry Svrluga: I'm thinking of transcribing the whole thing and putting it on the Journal. Y'all could just dissect it from there.
Silver Spring: Metro/Parking:
Have they considered Shuttles to/from Metro Center, Union Station, Rosslyn, etc?
I don't think taking Metro to the park as it stands now (a single line) is really a viable option.
Barry Svrluga: There is much to be discovered about how that area will handle the crowds next summer (assuming there are crowds). The Metro stop -- Navy Yard -- will be expanded by then, but you're right about one line. One great thing about RFK is you can take blue or orange, and the riders are theoretically split between the two.
I personally like Chad C., but frankly, he is too shaky as a closer. I was there Sat night against the Braves and he promptly loaded the bases with Chipper Jones at the plate. How many of his saves have been by 'three up, three down'?
Barry Svrluga: I'm going to look into this. I promise. But you're right: He generally puts guys on -- 98 base runners in 72 innings this year. I thought he was going to go 1-2-3 last night, but before I could look up, there were three straight singles and the tying run was on third. Yikes.
Barry Svrluga: Here's the Nationals' lineup tonight, before I can get it on the Journal:
Logan -- 8
Lopez -- 6
Zimmerma -- 5
Pena -- 7
Kearns -- 9
Belliard -- 4
Fick -- 3
Flores -- 2
Chico -- 1
Barryland Terrapin: Barry,
What is your honest gut reaction to Justin Maxwell as a potential mainstay in the Nats lineup down the road?
And are you still a non-believer in Wily Mo despite his constant improvement since arriving in DC?
Barry Svrluga: I haven't seen enough of Maxwell to draw a conclusion, other than to say he is built like a real athlete. I was absolutely certain that his ball to left field was gone off the bat last night (caught at the wall). You could argue that he could/should have three homers, because he hit a drive to right field in his first major league at-bat that went to the warning track, and he had a grand slam in Miami.
Wily Mo: I've been impressed with his willingness/ability to go to right field. I'll be more impressed when he stops swinging at bad breaking pitches.
Forestville, Md.: Could we have the Presidents race for the one warm hot dog?
Barry Svrluga: I shall inquire.
Trade The Bullpen: Jim Bowden needs to go out and sell every last piece of his excellent bullpen to the Collettis and Krivskis and Hendrys of the world.
Bullpen pieces are unpredictable and random, but GMs happily overpay for them. (See Orioles, Baltimore.) The Dodgers' season just ended yesterday on game killing HRs given up by their two best bullpen guys (Broxton, Saito). Get busy Jim!
I was far from a Jim Bowden fan when he was fired, but at this point I believe he can restock a bullpen from scratch just fine.
Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting point, and that's why the two hottest commodities for the Nationals at the trade deadline were Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch. Keep in mind, though, one problem the Nationals had in dealing Cordero at the deadline -- some other teams see him as a setup guy, and the Nationals use him as a closer. It's hard to find a price both sides can agree on when they can't agree on what the commodity is.
Tune Inn, Capitol Hill: What's your assessment of how Patterson and Johnson fit into plans for next season? And if Johnson is healthy, what does that portend for Young?
Barry Svrluga: Hello, Inn. I will be stopping by after Thursday night's games to pump a few tunes out of your juke box and see if you have anything cold to drink. Join me.
Patterson: There are some people who believe the Nationals will not tender him a contract, then try to sign him to an incentive-laden deal that will pay him for goals such as innings pitched or games started. He is arbitration eligible after earning $850,000 this year. I am of the mind that he's worth bringing back because I don't think the club is over-flowing with pitching yet, and if you capture his capabilities, you could get a good season or two. Lots of people disagree with me on this point.
Johnson: I find this to be one of the most perplexing things about the season. Nick swears he'll be back. The club swears they expect him to be healthy. Yet they have Dmitri Young signed for two more years and $10 million, and despite what some have suggested, Young IS NOT PLAYING LEFT FIELD next year. I think Johnson, if healthy, is much more helpful to the lineup, which would make Young the highest paid switch-hitting PH in the league -- unless they could trade him.
Phithydelphia, Pa.: If Manny is so concerned about the integrity of competition, why is Robert Fick still in uniform?
Barry Svrluga: Acta talked about Fick a bit yesterday. He's had a "tough year," he said, and I'm sure that was a reference to his mother passing away earlier in the summer. Fick is not delusional: He knows he hasn't performed, and he knows his career is at stake. This is not how he envisioned going out.
Capitol Hill, DC: Barry,
What's the inside scoop on a Teddy victory at Sunday's game?
Barry Svrluga: Dave Sheinin is trying to score an interview with Teddy in the next couple days, and hopefully we'll see in Sunday's paper.
"What does this team trade?": I hate to say it, but they have two better-than-decent catchers, and the Mets have none.
Barry Svrluga: That is a fair point. Schneider has two years and $9.8 million left on his deal. Would a contender want a defensive-minded veteran guy at that price? This team is not trading Flores. Or put it this way: I'd be shocked if they did.
Anonymous: Does Kasten get how judgmental (and smart, and used to BS from politicians) DC baseball fans are? If he doesn't sign a $10m a year player this offseason, fans will be HOWLING.
Barry Svrluga: I would put it this way: If he doesn't make significant improvements to the roster and increase payroll, fans will be HOWLING. I will grant him that he doesn't have to sign free agents. He just needs to improve the team/show a commitment/etc.
It will be fascinating to follow how he and Bowden do that. If they do not, the fans have reason to raise heck, because they will have gone back on a promise.
Downtown: Why do you have to be sarcastic about attendance in every post. Just answer questions and report facts. You can be funny but you are beating a dead horse let it go.
Barry Svrluga: I think that attendance is a hugely important issue to this franchise. Season ticket holders are the lifeblood of any professional sports team, their first source of revenue. If this team is going to compete for talent and compete on the field, they must -- MUST -- draw fans. They cannot languish in 25th place, as they are now.
Sorry for kicking Secretariat a bit. I just think it's one of the many issues that will determine whether the Nationals are ultimately successful or not.
Wilymo, Pena: Barry,
I know common sense suggests the Nats have to do something in free agency to prove they're serious about fielding a competitive team next season, but I find the current crop of free agents overpriced and underwhelming. Any chance the Nats just stand pat?
Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting point, but I'd answer it two ways. The current crop of free agents is, in fact, flawed and shallow. Kasten said when he thinks back on last year's free agent crops, he thinks most of those deals didn't work out or the guys were overpaid, etc. I don't think there's any way they'll pursue long-term deals with any of the (lousy) pitchers on the market this winter. The quality of the commodity they're buying will absolutely impact their decisions.
But that doesn't mean they'll stand pat. They will more likely have to get involved in some creative trade discussions.
Bratislava, Slovakia: In a recent posting you mentioned that one of the Nats' coaches would be the manager of Licey this winter. Do the Nats have a formal relationship with Licey?
Barry Svrluga: No, they don't. Tim Tolman will be the manager of the team this season, the 100th anniversary of the storied franchise based in Santo Domingo. Acta managed for them in the past. But the Nats don't have a formal relationship there.
(John Patterson, if he's ready to pitch winter ball, will pitch for them, though.)
knewitallalong: Jim Bowden said of John Patterson's surgery, "Clearly there was a major problem that had to be resolved." You have implied all season that there was nothing really wrong with Patterson (mysterious injury, "Magical Mystery Tour", etc., etc.) Are you now satisfied that there WAS something wrong with his arm? An unusual injury to be sure, but one that caused his arm to hurt even when he took a deep breath or yawned. Since the blood vessels constricted the nerve, the more he exercised, the more it hurt. Do you now believe that he had a REAL injury?
Barry Svrluga: When players in a clubhouse can't perform for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, suspicions always arise. Did the guy go to a slew of doctors across the country and spend time in a hyperbaric chamber in Canada (where, I suppose, it's a hyperbaric chamber)? Yes, he did. Was this unorthodox? Yes, it was. Does that mean he didn't have a true, real injury? No, it doesn't.
It'd be great to see Patterson back to the form of 2005, when he was the closest thing the Nats had to an ace in the second half.
These two nights have been great. Love this team, and am really proud of them.
What did Marlon Anderson do to get in trouble?
Also, you will be writing for the Nats again next year, right?
Barry Svrluga: Yeah, fun nights at the yard the past two nights. Certainly makes tonight's Matt Chico-Mike Pelfrey matchup intriguing.
Anderson: Got ejected over the weekend against Philly.
Next year: I write for the Post, not for the Nats. I'm sure I will be writing a lot of Nats-related stuff next year even if I'm not the day-to-day guy.
Final Game: Any truth the the rumor that they are going to cut Screech's cap of his head for the last National Anthem just so that old chatter of yours can say goodbye to the old stadium in peace.
Barry Svrluga: Oooh, a juicy rumor. I'll get on it.
Nat Dreaming: Can you describe for us a plausible scenario of player development and roster moves that could enable the Nats to make the playoffs in the coming few years?
Barry Svrluga: This is the crux of it, isn't it?
One thing that has to happen, and which Kasten addressed today: The group of minor leaguers they have must mature and develop to the point where they either help the major league club or are viable trade chips coveted by other teams. Given the team's approach, the scouting and player development side must come through.
Barry Svrluga: OK, that's it. Time to head to the clubhouse.
Come on out at some point this weekend. It should be fun.
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