Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals

Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.


Chico Harlan: Good afternoon, folks. I'm up here in the press box at Citizens Bank with an apple and some string cheese to snack on a lot of questions to get to. So, off to the races...


DJ: Please tell me the following won't be here next year: Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Jim Bowden, Lenny Harris, Pete Orr, Joel Hanrahan, Aaron Boone and Jesus Colome.

Chico Harlan: Of all those on your list, Hanrahan has the best odds of being here next year -- and frankly, DJ, I don't understand why he deserves much scorn. Some scouts I've talked to even in the last days are convinced that Hanrahan has the best stuff on Washington's entire staff. He CAN become a decent closer. I'm not saying it'll happen, but it can.

Working off the list you provide, I also think Kearns and Pena will at least be around when the season opens. Speculation about Bowden and Harris is building, obviously, as the season continues to fall apart.

I'm not speaking specifically of anybody here, but it's hard to imagine this team entering 2009 without some major changes.


Met hater: When I was watching the games between the Mets and Nats, it looked like there were more Mets fans than Nats fans. Please tell me I am wrong.

Chico Harlan: I got the sense that the Nats fans out-numbered the Mets fans, but the NY faction was louder. Plus, they had more to cheer about. In the ninth inning, only the Mets fans were left. The place sounded like Shea.


Aaron Crow: Smart move or dumb move? Who to blame? Stan? Bobby? Hendricks brothers? Crow? Everyone?

I have no idea if Crow is any good or not - no one ever knows. But two years into the Lerner ownership, I see nothing but CHEAP written all over the team. The Post story on Sunday indicates that there were very little verbal conversations until the last 72 hours. I find this hard to believe.

Still, part of me says good for the Nats. Why put up with $$ demands from unproven players? If you are lucky, a first rounder becomes a regular for your team. Many do not pan out. Every few years one turns into an all-star or even better. But not many.

Chico Harlan: Sure, a frightening percentage of first-rounders do not pan out, but with Crow, the Nationals had found a player who was not that far off from pitching in the majors. I have yet to find a person in baseball who disagreed with that assessment. He might have never become a No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher, but he most certainly would have made a mark on the '09 team. Had he signed, Crow would have become the team's best prospect in the entire organization. Drafting a HS pitcher -- somebody who needs 3-4 years in the minors -- requires far more guesswork, and is always more random. With Crow, the question would have been more along the lines of: Can he pitch in the big leagues?

Even for a first-rounder, that's rare to get.

Who's to blame? Everybody. Crow's agents tried to play the Boras game and couldn't get the deal. The Nationals thought they could bring Crow down to meet their number and guessed wrong.

Both sides are worse off for the future. I'd say, though, that Crow loses more. Just slightly. The Nats get a compensatory pick, so they've offset their development by 10 months. Crow will have to go through another year by impressing people with his performances in Fort Worth.


Sacramento, Calif.: Okay, so I've looked at the salaries of all the 2008 Nationals and things could look promising in 2009 if the Lerners are willing to spend a few bucks. With losing the salaries of Lopez, LoDuca, Estrada, King, Ayala and Cordero, that is a lot of "dead money" gone. If they can be creative and trade dead weight Johnson, Young, Pena and Kearns that would be over $20 million off the 2009 payroll. Going heavy after Teixeira and trading some of the stockpiled young pitching for Holliday could make the lineup an actual force. Please, please, tell me there is some type of plan to make the 2009 team at least competitive. Thanks.

Chico Harlan: They won't be able to trade the four players you mention, Sac. Especially not Kearns and Young. If the Nats are going to open the coffers for a big free agent, it will have to come with an increase in payroll. Not enough money is coming off the books with Lopez/LoDoca/et al to even pay for the Teixeria's breakfast.


Anchorage, Alaska: Hey Chico...

I have read a lot (mostly in The Post) about the negotiations between the Nats and Aaron Crow... and it seems that the Nats did everthing reasonable to get a deal done with Crow. Admittedly, most of what I have read has been quotes and reporting from the Nats front office, but the Crow camp has been rather silent on the issue, with a few exceptions.

My question is, do the Nats (and by this, I mean Bowden and Rizzo) believe that Crow ever intended to sign for anything other than a deal that he wouldn't have gotten anywhere else? In other words, was the signing standard higher for the Nats than some other team?

Chico Harlan: Nobody I've talked to from the Nats is under this impression -- that Crow's asking price jumped specifically because he didn't want to play for Washington. And Crow, the real person to ask here, declined the chance for an interview when I talked to him most recently. This is really what I wanted to know from him.

I think there's a chance that Crow had some misgivings about this franchise, though. If he'd really wanted to play, he wouldn't have let a difference of $500,000 stand in the way. In the end, that's nothing compared to his potential down-the-road earnings.


Arlington, Va.: Chico,

50 wins this season--is that doable, or just wishful thinking on my part?

Chico Harlan: Just as background, I believe when we did this chat last week somebody asked about the 60-win mark. That sounded at the time like a fair over-under. Now it's one week later, and the Nats still have 44 wins. (in 126 games.)

So you're asking:

Can they go at least 6-30 the rest of the way?

I'm thinking you can count on that without too much wishful thinking.


Section 129 Row KK: The Nats are fundamentally and very bad team right now. They make poor fielding choices, most of the team can't hit .250, the pitchers can't throw first pitch strikes, and all of that is just for starters. Fundamental issues like that have to be placed at the feet of the manager. How long do you think Manny has to right the ship? I'm sure he'll last the remainder of this season and into next, but will they give him all of next season or is there a point where they realize he's doing a poor job as well?

Chico Harlan: I am fairly certain Manny is back for next year. It's tough to give the manager too much blame for this, even though, indeed, we see so many fundamental miscues night-to-night. Some of those are from players who are out of position. (Ronnie Belliard at SS, for instance... or earlier, Lo Duca at 1B.) And some are just the result of minor league caliber players being pushed into starting big league roles.

The manager, remember, delegates much of the day-to-day coaching. If most of the team can't hit .250, that falls more on the shoulders of Lenny Harris than it does Manny Acta.

The manager sets the tone, really. Acta has chosen to combat all of the losing with a very vanilla, calm, patient approach. You might even call it milquetoast. But I think part of that comes from a realization: He doesn't have the talent right now. No amount of yelling and screaming and team meetings would turn these guys into winners.


Tucson, Ariz.: Chico,

I envision Willie Harris as a Tony Phillips/Chone Figgins type of player for next year.

He should play everyday, but use his versatility to play different positions giving the starters a rest...

Any chance that happens?

Chico Harlan: It should. The team will has very tentative plans to go to work on a contract extension for Harris, I've heard. Last I spoke with Harris's agent, no substantive offer had yet been made. But there's no question the team wants Harris back for next year. On your ideal team, Harris isn't a starter, obviously, but he's so versatile that he probably lets you carry an extra pitcher.

One of the few bright spots in this season.


Minneapolis: Okay, someone's gotta ask.

How long does the losing streak continue? Even dozen? Baker's dozen? Cheaper by the dozen?

Chico Harlan: The thing is, it should have ended last night. The Nats don't get many games like that -- some timely hitting, a decent start -- and still, they wasted it. The Phillies haven't been hitting the ball at all this month, though, and fans/media here were talking before yesterday about how they thought the Phils would lose a game in this series.

Now, they're talking sweep.

Let's say the streak snaps after 12. That means they finally get to Jamie Moyer, the pitcher in the finale here tomorrow.


Leesburg, Va.: Has Bowdwn ever put together a team that has finished better than .500?

Chico Harlan: He has, Leesburg. He was GM in Cincinnati starting in the 1993 season and ending in the middle of the 2003 season. By my quick count, four of those teams finished above .500, one finished at an even .500, and one (in 1995) won the division. But the team was in the middle of its third consecutive losing season when Bowden was fired.


Arlington, Va.: If the Nats can't sign Crow, how sure can we be they will spend the money for two top 10 picks next year including potentially the No. 1? This could turn into a Pirates situation who passed on Matt Wieters to select a projected No. 4 started due to simple cheapness.

Chico Harlan: Well, the Pirates responded to the Weiters debacle by overhauling their front office and this year playing the deadline perfectly, wrapping up Pedro Alvarez (pick No. 2) right at the deadline at a price that seemed reasonable, given the market. (I believe his bonus was $6 million.)

I'll be honest -- the Nats have no choice but to pay next year. Their leverage will be hurt in negotiations, in part because the team cannot afford to miss on its first-round picks two years in a row. No organization -- but especially one that's in desperate rebuilding mode -- can afford such a bruise, both in terms of PR and in terms of the minor league talent pool.

So they have to pay. They'll have to pay a lot.


Rockville, Md.: What's the vibe your getting from around the major leagues regarding the Nats?

By the way, you're becoming a phenomenal beat writer. I enjoy reading your stuff regardless of wins or losses. Keep it up!

Chico Harlan: First of all, Rockville, I really appreciate that. Thanks so much.

The vibe from around baseball on the Nats? ... Indifference. And that might be the worst state possible. Some franchises are loathed, some are loved, but very few are so forgotten on a national scale.


Tucson, Ariz.: Chico,

The Dodgers are in a dealing mood...any chance Belliard is sent to LA for more prospects?

They need help in the middle infield and Belliard doesn't fit the Nationals' model, since he's a talented veteran.

Chico Harlan: The Belliard deal to LA can't happen. Once a player is claimed off waivers, a team has 48 hours to swing the deal. Baseball keeps its waiver list FBI-level private, so there's no certain way to know when, exactly, LA put in its claim on Belliard. But it happened last week -- probably some time Thursday. That window to acquire Belliard has closed.

Especially now that Casto has been sent down, the Nats will be using Belliard at first base. He's not a long-term piece, obviously, but he's better than anything else they have there.


Alexandria, Va.:"Sounded like Shea"...does that mean there were planes overhead every three minutes and hawkers cursing each other while they dodge the trash in the aisles?

Chico Harlan: At least it didn't look like Shea outside, where it's only good to be if you need to have a tire repaired.


Arlington, Va.: What's the over/under number this offseason for free agent acquisitions who were once in a Reds uniform?

Chico Harlan: Lower than the over/under for players who were once in a Dbacks uniform.


Springfield, Va.: So the millions they're not spending on Crow ... that gets added to whatever their planned budget for next year's top pick is right? I mean $6M has got to be the opening offer now yes?

Chico Harlan: For the first overall pick, you mean? This year, Tim Beckham, a high school shortstop, got $6,150,000 as the first pick from the Rays. The market for Strasburg will be higher, almost certainly. Maybe $7-8 million; that's my initial thought. (Just a guess, though.) So the Nats better use that saved money on Crow to get ready. Plus, they'll need another $2.5 - $5 million for pick No. 10.


Vienna, Va: Chico,

Yesterday on XM, Kennedy and Dibble said the Nationals are the "purgatory of baseball".

What do you hear outside of Washington about this team and it's execution of the plan?

Chico Harlan: This ties in well with the earlier question about Washington and its place in baseball. Washington's place is in the very darkest corner of public awareness. Those in the sport have recently used the team for joking purposes, even. Right at the July 31 trading deadline, Texas Rangers P Eddie Guardado was informed by his manager (while taking a steam bath) that he'd been shipped to the Nationals.

According to at least one account, an irate Guardado soon huffed into a conference room to ask his GM about the deal.

But nobody could keep a straight face.

They were just pulling a prank.

Tell me -- is that a sign that the Nats have become purgatory? Or even something worse?


Chicago: Not to get all meta on you, but even if the Plan calls for a long period of losing (mission accomplished), the team should still act like losing is unacceptable. In other words, even if the Plan requires a horrible losing season like 2008, the Nats should still fire Bowden or do something equivalent because, let's face it, a market like Washington is simply not going to care about a team this bad. It's like when a manager gets himself thrown out of a game to fire up his team -- it's not the specific call or umpire he's upset about, he just needed to go through the exercise for the greater good.

Chico Harlan: Interesting thought, Chicago. We see it more often in baseball with managers -- they're fired not so much because they've failed, but because the team needs a clear, public, emphatic way of starting fresh. Heck, teams looking at long periods of losing will do that and even make a marketing pitch out of it. New faces = new energy... that stuff.

Can the same trick work if the front office is revamped. Yeah, probably it can. It might not have a long-term effect on fans' willingness to see losing baseball, but it will spike interest in February and March.


And another thing...: Any chance the Nats saw that they were in the Strasberg derby, and saved this year's $3.5 million for next year?

Chico Harlan: No, because they don't just need Strasburg for next year; they need to sign another top-10 pick, too.


Chico Harlan: Thanks again for the questions this afternoon. Really enjoyed the chat, and sorry I couldn't get to more of them. We'll talk next week, and reassess the over-under on wins.


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