Wednesday, June 4, 2 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; 2:00 PM
Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, June 4 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.
A transcript follows.
Chico Harlan: Greetings. Thanks for chatting. If you've come here for advice on traveling with your pets, you're in the wrong chat room.
Leesburg, Va.: Purely and simply this is not a major league quality team. In the four years this team has been here, it has gotten progressively worse. None of the many moves made by Jim Bowden has paid off. The decisions to let true major leaguers like Livan Hernanez and Alfonso Soriano go are proving to be disasterous. The assurances by Stan Kasten that the team is building its minor league system seem empty. There is no visible evidence that this is true. The injury excuse is laughable. The six hitters on the DL have a combined batting average of .216. The six of them only account for 135 hits, but they have 117 strikeouts.
The only major league aspect of this team is the price of a ticket. The time has come for the Lerner's to invest in this team.
Is there any realistic chance that there will be changes in the management stucture of this dreadful team (specifically GM and hitting coach)? Is there any realistic chance that the Lerner's will invest money on players?
Chico Harlan: Changes -- certainly nothing imminent. A franchise would be foolish to react so quickly with changes in the front office. You evaluate a GM based purely on what's happened during a wretched last couple of weeks. You need to take a longer view. So long as the Lerners and Kesten believe that Bowden is building this team from the minors up -- and all indications are that they think he's doing just fine -- the Nats record/offensive miseries/injuries/etc won't have much bearing on job security.
I agree that those on the DL provide a convenient excuse, almost too convenient. Even with the services of every last one of them, the Nats are probably a fourth or fifth place team. But that was expected this season.
As for your final question: Yes, I think this offseason the team can make a splash. That in itself is a risk, of course. Look across baseball this year, and the disasterous FA signings outnumber the beneficial ones.
Washington, D.C.: Are the Nationals intending to spend serious money on signing international players not eligble for the draft? I recall the team made a splashy signing in 2006, but since then things have been fairly quiet on the international front.
Chico Harlan: Are you talking about scouting in the Dominican and in Mexico? If so, the Nationals are unlikely to do anything flashy. That's not the way such players typically enter an organization. They're signed way early, and then they grow into stars like any other young player. If you're looking for flashy international signings, that might come if the Nats ever decide to chase a high-profile Japanese player. And I know for certain that the Nationals would consider making a play if they felt it could work. (That could be a stand-in for a more traditional FA signing.)
Section 416, aka The Alps: Is it just me, or are the Nats playing as though they know they won't be held accountable for their poor play? It seems that a major shake-up is needed and for Acta to get in players' faces. I believe in this manager, but his managing style seems to be suited for a team full of tempermental stars - not for a team of underachievers. Does Bowden/Acta have anything in the works? Will the hitting coach be the fall guy anytime soon?
Chico Harlan: Tough to say. I see a few signs now and then of players who aren't exactly giving 100 percent effort all the time. Even some lazy baserunning, showing up in the clubhouse at 4:30 instead of 3:30, stuff like that. But I'm not willing to make the leap and say that Acta is dealing with his team in the wrong manner.
The easiest way to lose a clubhouse is to be a fake. Acta is not a yeller and screamer. Maybe he has a breaking point -- I'm still waiting to see it -- but he hasn't reached it yet. And for now, patience is the man's gospel.
Tucson, Ariz.: Chico -
Now that Zimmerman is on the DL, the season is officially over for the Nats -- how soon before we see some of the top prospects in the organization playing in the majors?
Also, any insight on who the Nats will pick in tomorrow's draft? Hopefully some hitters...
Chico Harlan: Among the names you might see the Nats select: Gordon Beckham, a SS; Kyle Skipworth, a C from California; P Tanner Scheppers, just to name a few.
Throughout the organization, there's no question they have the greatest need for bats, and more specifically, for hitters in the middle infield.
Then again, as I wrote about Monday, it can be foolish to use a first-round pick to address a need at the major league level. In back-to-back years, the Dbacks took Upton and Drew -- both SSs at the time. Why? They figured one of them would eventually have to move or be traded. You take value, and then worry what to do with it later.
As for the other part of your question... I'm still not convinced that the injuries with the Nats right now will open the floodgates to a youth movement. Look at Zim's injury? Who do they bring up as his replacement? Another guy without super-prospect potential, Kory Casto.
If the glut of injuries so far haven't provided the excuse to go young-young-young, nothing will. At least not until far later in the summer.
Washington, D.C.: From: Jesus Flores
Is it settled yet that I can stay here when the other catchers come back? I'm way better...
Chico Harlan: Dear Jesus,
Your teamates want you to stay. And not just because you bring great Venezuelan take-out food to the ballpark to share. Right now, you're the best bat in the lineup. You have to stay. You will.
Sec 114 Row E: Cheeks,
If I could curse in here, I would.
The Nats didn't "let Soriano go" -- the Cubs signed him to an 8 year contract that will likely be an albatross for the last 2-3 years of its length.
Soriano was exciting, but don't forget, weren't the Nats 71-91 with Soriano and Livan?
Chico Harlan: Let me also add, every franchise -- every single one -- has a star now and then who leaves and flourishes. That's baseball. Right now, I could build a division-winning lineup out of former Pittsburgh Pirates, maybe even former KC Royals.
So, lamenting Soriano and Livan makes little sense. The problem isn't that they left. Problem is what they've got.
Sports is a lose-and-replace business.
Calvert Street: What are your thoughts on the play of the recent call ups from AAA (Sanches, Manning, Casto, Langerhans)? If you had to choose the next player from the minors we will see, who would it be?
Chico Harlan: Langerhans has been adequate; he's certainly been reliable enough for the time being. The team likes his defense.
I'd rank Sanches above Manning right now. Too many walks and long balls for Manning. He's getting a long look, though, because the team really needs a lefty in the pen.
Too early to know on Casto.
I wouldn't want to predict who they call up next from Class AAA, if only because it's been proven that they aren't just working off a list of the organization's best prospects. It's more like they're grabbing spare parts.
Washington, D.C.: With Zim officially on the DL and Perez possibly missing his next start, I'm starting to worry for Milledge and Guzman. Everyone else that started on Opening Night has done time on the injury list. While some have not been a bad thing (Lo Duca who?), others are worrisome (Nick "learn from my patience at the plate" Johnson).
Chico Harlan: Having any involvement whatsoever with Opening Day seems to have been a curse. It's a wonder that George Bush hasn't torn a rotator cuff yet.
Washington D.C.: Have you heard anything regarding the status of Lenny Harris? I understand that there are injuries, people have slumps, and that there are young projects...but could there be something else here? Is there any reason to seem purely reactive in our approach rather than taking a proactive step?
Chico Harlan: Lenny Harris is still the hitting coach. Haven't heard anything that makes me think this is tenuous, either. But he's learning on the job, and that's strikes me as a situation this team cannot afford right now. Harris is an engaging guy, and I know that many of the young players enjoy working with him. (That ought to count for something, if only because it encourages them to take extra time in the cages.) In the last weeks, Milledge has gone out of his way to commend Harris.
Still, so long as the entire team struggles to hit, Harris's capabilities will be in doubt.
Springfield, Va.: I agree with the "best player available" sentiment to a point. But if a middle infielder with top 15 talent is available, the Nats need to jump on them. Players do change positions, but very very very rarely do you see anyone shift from anywhere to 2B or SS (unless they came from the opposite, SS or 2B).
Chico Harlan: Especially if he's a college guy, somebody you could have in the big leagues 1-2 years down the road, ala Zimmerman. (Who advanced even more quickly than that.) If you see such a clear line from draft day to the big leagues, all posturing should go out the windown. Just pick the guy and say, "He's our 2B/SS of the future."
Silver Spring, Md.: Adrian Alaniz is undefeated (8-0) in 11 Carolina League starts. How fast do the Nats see him moving along this season and next?
Chico Harlan: I could very easily see him move up to Harrisburg quite soon, but for this season, nothing beyond that. (If you've noticed, Harrisburg -- not Columbus -- is where the team stockpiles its main talents anyway.) See how it goes in Class AA and then you make the decision about next season.
Alexandria, Va.: Ryan Wagner was playing in extended spring training all this time and turns out to be much closer to ready than anybody thought. Just wondering why Wagner's recovery wasn't on the media's radar...
Chico Harlan: He'd been working out the entire time down in Florida. I believe yesterday was the first time he'd been at Nationals Park all season.
Of course, that's no good excuse. Just because he's out of plain sight shouldn't let him slip from the media's radar. My apologies for contributing to the ignorance.
Silver Spring, Md.: It's good to know that Jesus Flores escaped Friday night without a concussion.
My question, echoing Will Carroll on Baseball Prospectus, is how the Nats could know so quickly that no concussion had been suffered. Here's how Carroll puts it:
". . . Flores was later cleared without a concussion diagnosis. I'm very curious to know how the team did this; was it a simple neuro exam in the training room, or do the Nats have a more advanced system, like ImPACT or SAC?"
Chico Harlan: Very interesting question. I'll publish this without an answer, only a promise to find out.
SWDC: What's the atmosphere in the clubhouse like right now? Before during tough stretches, there still seemed a bit of chippiness...but I'm not sure I see that with this club. Is it the injuries or the new faces that are affecting the chemistry?
Chico Harlan: Chemistry doesn't strike me as a standalone problem. It's dangerous to draw a line between losing and chemistry. Granted, a winning team will have a more enjoyable environment, and that breeds camaraderie. But it's not like the Nats clubhouse some morose black hole. The players hang in their little groups (the Latin players, the starting pitchers, etc.) but that's pretty typical, I'd imagine.
The one thing that might make the Nats clubhouse somewhat unique, and maybe not so chipper: They have a critical mass of guys who are either 1.) quite young or 2.) not young, but very new to the big leagues. Especially now, because of the injuries. I think there's some nervous energy around; people are wondering, how much time do I have here?
Arlington, Va.: Your spelling seems better than Svrluga's (damning with faint praise, I know), but it seems like you aren't getting through as many questions during the 1st half hour of this chat as he would have. Which one of you is the faster typist? Is he still looking over your shoulder as you transition to the Nats beat?
Keep up the great work, BTW. Your gamers and Journal entries are, if anything, more engaging than the games themselves.
Chico Harlan: My spelling is miserable. I'm glad you're not spotting too many slip-ups. I really wish this typing interface that the squiggly red lines that MS Word gives you.
But right now, by way of explanation, I am a terribly inefficient creature. I don't have the background knowledge of somebody who's covered the beat for three years, so many answers of mine require some checking, some momentary research, etc. Once the institutional knowledge builds up, I'll be way better at these chats.
Seriously -- I appreciate you sticking with me for the time being.
Rockville, Md.: Why do the Nats consider developing the farm system and fielding a competive major league squad as mutually exclusive? There are many other teams out there that seem to do both.
Chico Harlan: I don't see them as mututally exclusive, once the pipeline between one and the other connects. But right now, that influx of talent is all around Class AA... and poised to move up within a year or two. Then, and only then, do you have a true stream of talent that runs from top to bottom, something that the organization will then have to maintain.
Right now, the major league squad is waiting to reap the benefits of moves made at the foundation. The Nationals' actual team will be the last element of the organization to feel the boost of these young guys. Of course, that's the only part that really matters.
Anonymous: Why isn't Manny playing Dukes on a regular basis? His power and average are dissapointing, but he's drawing walks (OBP higher than Zimmerman's), and he makes things happen once he gets on base. It's not like Willie Harris or Rob Mackowiak are lighting the league on fire. I don't get it.
If they aren't going to play Dukes, why not send him to Columbus? How is he going to get better on the bench?
Chico Harlan: Dukes hasn't played every day in the last week only because Manny is desperate for any way to shake the team out of this slump. For a few days there, he was going with an all-out spare parts lineup w/Harris, Langerhans, etc.
By my opinion, though, Acta has shown good patience with Dukes, whose productivity has risen, but is still quite minimal. He'll keep seeing regular at bats; don't worry about that. There's no trip to Columbus in his future.
Washington, D.C.: It may still be too soon, but do you expect to hear anything inside the clubhouse on Felipe Lopez's efforts last night? That and the weather certainly set a tone (not to mention hitting the batter) in the first inning. While we are on the subject, any thoughts on Felipe in general? Maybe everyone dogs it now and then, but his seem to be pretty apparent at times and not what we want on a young team.
Chico Harlan: Yes, it will be an issue to press. I agree -- his effort on that play sets a dangerous precedent if it isn't addressed. I'm not sure what Acta will do, but at the minimum, a benching sends a message. The danger when you have, first, an inexperienced team and, second, a team in the midst of a real miserable stretch is that poor effort spreads from one to many, like mold. So this has to be handled right now, before it spreads. Once I'm back at the ballpark tomorrow, I'll sniff around. In the meantime, maybe Kilgore can get some answers today.
Silver Spring, Md.: Forgive me for being cynical, but I don't see how the "small tear" in Zim's shoulder is not a really serious matter.
Isn't this the same kind of thing that has shut guys like Cristian Guzman (and Ryan Wagner, and any number of other pitchers) down for a season or more at a time?
Chico Harlan: Nobody has dismissed this injury -- at least since it's been diagnoses -- as a trivial matter. Bowden has said that some people do not miss much time with it, but he's also acknowledged that some people require surgery. Yeah, a labrum tear can shut people down. The worst kind of labral injury can end a pitcher's career.
With hitters, it tends not to be as serious; that's the only temporary good news for Zimmerman.
Once these orthopedists more closely analyze the injury, we'll know just how "small" it really is.
Springfield, Va.: We don't need a lefty in the pen. Why not? Because none of the lefties we have in ML or AAA can get lefty batters out! O'Connor's career OPS against while facing left-handed hitters is .732. Chico's is .854. I can't find Manning's minor league splits, but seeing him give up homers to Adrian Gonzalez and Jody Gerut makes me want him to never pitch in the Majors again (unless it's against us).
Chico Harlan: A dearth of candidates to fill a hole doesn't mean the hole itself shouldn't exist. A good team needs a lefty coming out of the pen. A bad team typically has a bad lefty coming out of the pen. Still, you gotta try to find somebody.
Nosebleed seats (Seriously! Those seats are high): I'm a partial plan holder and I intend to go to all the games on my plan. I also plan to attend some additional games (as I already have). Win or lose, I will still go to games. But, please give me some hope that I will see some wins when I am there. We seem to no longer have a team that loses, but rather a losing team.
Chico Harlan: Hope? This team will probably have most of its pieces back in early July. Who knows if that will translate into wins, but it will certainly imbue the team with some interesting dynamics...
- Which vets immediately get their jobs back?
- How do the young guys and bit guys (who've been playing every day) readjust to reduced roles, if that indeed happens?
- How does Cordero look?
- Can Kearns redeem himself?
- Does anybody play well enough to make himself valuable as trade bait?
Just to name a few. By my judgment, that is all compelling.
Pittsburgh: Don't you miss covering a team with a long, storied heritage -- like, say, the Pirates? (And, on a different sport, how 'bout those Pens?)
Chico Harlan: I'll take this one last, and then dodge the ire.
I never covered the Pirates; when I worked in Pittsburgh, I did feature stories (sometimes for sports, sometimes not) and covered the Penn State football team. I had a chance to cover the Pens once upon a time, but passed it up, mostly because the NHL was coming off a strike and I didn't have good faith in the league's future -- especially in Pittsburgh.
Obviously one ping pong ball changed all that.
Pens win tonight, lose in gm. 7. That's my gut feeling.
Chico Harlan: Again, folks, thanks for the questions. Had more than I could get to, which is either a credit to your curiousity or a discredit to my speed-writing. We'll talk again next week.
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