Posts Tagged ‘Ted Lerner’

Baltimore’s Disastrous Season

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

This wasn’t suppose to happen. When Baltimore Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote against moving the Montreal franchise to Washington, D.C. — on December 3, 2004 –he was confident the new Nats would be as incompetently run as the old Expos. He had reason to be optimistic. The Nats of 2005 looked like an impoverished third world trustee: poor, and destined to stay that way. Not only had the Expos’ farm system been looted by MLB’s appointed overseers, the Nats’ new owners were a Selig-annointed tight-fisted bunch of bean counters who knew nothing about baseball. Selig’s strategy was clear: the last thing baseball needed was a winning franchise in Washington to muck-up baseball’s New York-Boston license-to-print-money axis of television revenues. As for Bud’s pal Peter — well, he could be paid off and then (pockets bulging with dough) praised for being one of MLB’s self-sacrificing boys. In that order. Angelos was only too happy to comply, imposing “the worst TV deal in all of sports” on the Lerners that was the equivalent of the requirements imposed by the IMF on a debt-ridden South American state. I swear. By the time the Nats took the field at RFK, the team looked like an Angelos step-child, to be brought out on occasion as proof of his all-American sacrifice, but never successful enough to be bragged about.

So, how’s Peter doing?

The Orioles are mired in one of their worst seasons ever, their fans are staying away in increasing numbers, Angelos has picked a fight with franchise legend Cal Ripken and the truce between the team owner and former Baltimore Sun beat writer Ken Rosenthal has broken down. Let’s start at the top. The O’s are 5-18 and sinking fast. Their best infielder (Brian Roberts) is injured, rising young star (Felix Pie) is out until at least June, the team has one (count ’em, one) young good starter (Brian Matusz) and free agent starter Kevin Millwood is a bust. The bullpen is a disaster (expensive closer-to-be Mike Gonzalez is injured), and manager Dave Trembley’s post-game appearances are now watched by masochists who get their kicks by seeing middle aged men break into tears. The savior was supposed to be Andy MacPhail, who Angelos hired to be the O’s head of baseball operations, but the otherwise talented MacPhail is now apparently on the hot-seat, the result of the O’s April meltdown. “When a team continues to founder like this,” one Baltimore Sun beat writer opined, “eventually the mobs with the pitchforks and flaming torches show up at the front office and demand change.”

Ah . . .  well . . . “the mobs” are already there. Savvy Birds Watcher and influential Birds’ Blogger Nestor Aparicio, who led a 2006 fan-based “Free The Birds” movement (complete with black t-shirts and a walk-out of an O’s game), implies that while good ball clubs are “strong up the middle,” good franchises are strong at the top. Which is to say: the problems with the Orioles start not on the field, but in the front office — with Peter Angelos. “It’s hard to argue with the promise of Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz,” Aparicio recently wrote, “but virtually every other facet of the organization is still inflicted with the cancer of Peter Angelos and his values, strong will and old-world vindictiveness and deceit regarding everything from the banning of free speech in the media to jacking up ticket prices to taking away scalp-free zones to shunning the legends of the team’s heritage and brand.” Many, many others agree. B-More Birds Nest defines Angelos [pee-ter ~ ann-gel-ose] as “1) to ruin baseball, to make it uninteresting, 2) a lawyer who should be sued for false advertising, and 3) a d–che bag.”

For Nationals fans, the spiraling failure of one of baseball’s proudest franchises brings some odd solace, as well as a sense that the arc of the universe does (though rarely) bend towards justice. The Nats are no longer the mid-Atlantic’s orphans, the O’s no longer dominate the “we’ll show you how it’s done” tone of MASN “Battle of the Beltways” broadcasts and (compared to Angelos), the Lerners look absolutely enlightened. From top-to-bottom, the Nationals are the more competently run and better franchise. While O’s fans are busy plotting ways to walk away from baseball in Baltimore, the Nats are anticipating sell-outs for a revived team that has better pitching, hitting, speed and defense — and a closer who’s not on the DL. Think of it: five years after baseball’s step-child showed up at RFK, the premier baseball franchise in the region is not the Baltimore Orioles, it’s the Washington Nationals. But Nats’ fans shouldn’t be too proud, or too happy. Not only were we once the worst team in baseball, but the MASN deal means that Nats’ fans are actually subsidizing this mess.

Nats’ Draft Now A Success

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The details of the Strasburg signing are now becoming known. The San Diego State righthander has signed a four year contract for a total $15.1 million guaranteed, with a $7.5 million bonus and $7.6 million in salary. The contract includes a number of unreported incentives. There are unconfirmed reports that the Nationals had weighed in with an offer somewhere in the range of $12.5 million, before upping the total in the waning hours of Monday, just before the trading deadline. This would contradict reports that the Nats had put an offer of between fourteen and sixteen million dollars to Strasburg agent Scott Boras this past weekend. Team officials met with Strasburg several weeks ago and were impressed with him. The Nationals front office is touting the deal — it is the lead story on both the MLB and the Washington Nationals’ team website. With the signing the Nats have completed their most successful draft: signing 13 of their first fifteen picks.

Speaking by telephone to Washington, D.C. sports radio 106.7, a Baseball America reporter said that he had talked to Strasburg, “who seemed out of breath but clearly pleased” that the signing had been completed. The reporter said that Strasburg told him that agreement with the Nationals was reached at 11:58 pm on Monday, just two minutes before the signing deadline. Nationals Journal reports: “For weeks, the pitcher and the organization had been locked into the highest-stakes contract negotiations in amateur history, and the 11th-hour deal left both sides on edge as the midnight deadline approached. Deal done, Strasburg will begin his professional career, and the Nationals will enter an era very much tied to the career of their newest, richest player.”

Despite the recent Nationals team success — a record of 21-20 since July 4 — the signing of Strasburg was seen by many baseball commentators as a litmus test for the struggling franchise, particularly after the Nats failed to sign last year’s top draft pick, pitcher Aaron Crow. As late as Saturday, Nats President Stan Kasten was expressing doubts that the deal would get done. “With 48 hours to go, I simply have no idea whether we’re going to be able to reach a deal,” Kasten said in an interview with the Associated Press. The signing of Strasburg has given the franchise and its owners reason to celebrate: the team has made a huge, but not bank-busting commitment to the team’s future. There was no question the pressure was on the Nats: NBC Washington was breathless in its use of adjectives: “By midnight tonight, Nats fans will know whether the team they follow will have squandered away a second consecutive first-round draft pick.” Squandered? Well, maybe. But maybe not. The question for the Lerners is whether the calculation they made will be worth it: should Strasburg not pan out or get injured, the Nats ownership may feel that the only thing squandered was the money they spent for no return. 

Strasburg may well be a once-in-a-generation talent — a pitcher who can immediately jump from college ball to “the show” (a Ryan Zimmerman of pitchers) — or he could be like those other pitchers drafted with the first overall picks who made their way to the big leagues in their first year: David Clyde (drafted in 1973) and Ben MacDonald, drafted in 1989. We won’t know until we see him pitch for the first time at Nationals Park, and we won’t know even then. But this we do know: owners that want their teams to compete in the majors pony up. The Lerners had to show that they knew this and were willing to spend the money to play with the big boys in New York, Boston, Philly, L.A. and Chicago. Nats fans should be overjoyed. After months of saying they were committed to putting a better team on the field, and spending the money to do it — the Lerners showed they meant it.  

Mark Lerner Congratulates Stan Kasten on Strasburg Pick

Mark Lerner Congratulates Stan Kasten on Strasburg Pick

Nats Vs. Chops: An Exchange

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The second in a series of exchanges on match-ups between teams in the NL East has been posted on NL East Chatter. Wally at FishGuts is the questioner, and he kind of puts it to CFG — asking at one point whether it bothers Nats’ fans that the team is now constantly referred to as the “Natinals.” Oddly, I felt compelled to defend the Lerners in my answer, noting that a family that is such a success in business didn’t get that way by not paying attention to the details (obvious evidence to the contrary). Now I know there are a lot of Nats’ fans who won’t like that, but here’s the rule — especially when it comes to the NL East: all of this stuff stays here. And this is a franchise worth defending.

And I go the other way on all-world pitcher Stephen Strasburg. “Are the Nats going to “show him the money?” Here’s my answer:  “Yeah, sure. We’re going to show him the money. The question is, will he take it? I think the Nats are committed to making a bank busting offer to Strasburg – topping any amount paid to any draftee ever. But that might not matter. It may be that the Scott Boras agenda is to use Strasburg to transform the dollars paid to draftees. So any offer might be dead on arrival. Which is too bad: because the owners will get blamed. But I think I would break ranks on this and defend them. Strasburg questioned the way the team was run and said he might play in Japan. Here’s a kid who’s never thrown a pitch in the majors, and he’s in the position to judge how a team is run? To turn down a payday that will make him rich? I don’t like threats. Bust the bank. Fine. And I hope he takes it and turns into a star. But if he doesn’t take it, he can play for the Hanshin Tigers.” 

Matt Fournier of Braves Baseball Blog is much less expansive, but on target. He praises the acquisition of Nate McLouth, but says that’s not enough. “The team needs speed,” he says. He’s right. Watching the Braves go through an inning is like watching a snail make his way to water. Chipper Jones is entering his last and slowest years and Braves’ outfielders are not exactly fleet of foot. But Matt praises the Braves’ surprise find — second baseman Martin Prado: “I had heard of him before this year, but never saw him play consistently enough to see what he was truly capable off,” Matt says. “I honestly don’t think he is a one year wonder, he has shown signs of being a a reliable fielder and consistent hitter. I think he could be the teams second baseman for a good amount of years.” And which pitcher is Matt the most afraid of in the Nats’ line-up? His answer is predictable, if poignant — John Lannan. That’s right. Unfortunately, Braves hitters seemed to handle him just fine last night.