Bowden and Rizzo Q&A Post Mortem (Part 1)

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, September 20, 2008 | , , | 2 comments »

If you want to see the Tale of the Tape, head on over to Fire Jim Bowden. The following is Part 1 of a condensed, excerpted and analyzed pseudo-transcript and review of the proceedings held Friday at the ESPN Zone in downtown DC.

If you haven't heard yet (and if you're reading this blog, how in the world?), Friday at the ESPN Zone Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo appeared and took Q&A from fans and bloggers. It was widely anticipated and quite surprising that the team's GM and Assistant GM, a man most definitely on the hot seat and the most logical choice to take his place, appeared in the same place at the same time and took questions in the same forum from the public.

Anyway, I'll paraphrase the questions (and description of the questioner) since most of them were rambling and disjointed, provide the pertinent parts of the answers, and them some commentary on the responses. Q (Question), A (Answer) and C (Commentary).
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Intro by moderator Charlie Slowes.

Q (by Charlie): So the Nats' Triple-A franchise moving to Syracuse?
A (Jim Bowden): Some generally meaningless banter about Syracuse, the facilities, and the town, especially noting its proximity to DC "only an hour plane fight away".
C: (Bottomfeeder): Everyone knows that an organization's top prospects generally finish their seasoning at Double-A, and that today Triple-A is filled with Four-A guys and emergency injury replacements. Where the Nats affiliate with is pretty immaterial, except for how fast they can get to DC when needed.

Q (CS): To Rizzo: So you're getting ready for next season already, looking at free agents and next year's draft?
A (Mike Rizzo): "It's a very active part of the season, actually." They're putting things together in Viera, have guys going to Arizona for the fall league. "Baseball is a 12 month a year working environment now."
C (BF): Natch. We had some softballs lobbed early.

Q: (CS): Looking at young players, how 'bout that Anderson Hernandez (this would be a constant theme)? He was a lousy hitter in the Mets Triple-A this year but looks like a "completely" different hitter with the Nats?
A: (JB): "A year ago he led the PCL in hits, but he was in a difficult situation being behind Jose Reyes." "Hard to stay motivated" being sent back down after leading a league in hits [ed. also in at bats. He's Cristian Guzman light].
C (BF): Here are Anderson Hernandez' stats as a major leaguer. Here are his stats as a minor leaguer. Does he think we don't have access to these numbers? He's a lifetime .264/.310/.354 hitter in eight seasons and 3500 at bats in the minor leagues. I'm not cherry-picking here. This is his career. And he's not young anymore, he'll be 26 in spring training. Rizzo compared him (favorably) to Adam Everett.

Q (CS): How important is September for young players?
A (JB): You have to take into account the situation. Hitting against Brandon Webb is different from hitting against another call up.

Q (self-described season ticket holder from the beginning): Very disappointed in the season. Why did we bring older free agents in that failed rather than have the young guys, that eventually played anyway, up from the beginning. Wouldn't it be better to sign one huge free agent than sign all these re-treats?
A (JB): "One thing we don't want to do is rush a player to the big leagues" before he's ready. In the case of Flores, they thought he needed to have another "half-year" in Triple-A. Thought they could trade LoDuca if he had hit. "In the case of Mackowiak, of course that didn't work, but if you don't sign Mackowiak, you also don't get Willie Harris, you don't get Odalis Perez, and when you sign those kind of guys in the $850 (K) to $1.5 (MM)-ers, you're not going to hit on all of them. If you were going to hit on all of them, they're not going get $850K." As for signing one big guy, it would have to be in the model they were looking for, in his 20s, someone they could lock up for 5-6 years, that will "be part of it when we're ready to win."
C (BF): Of all the things said today, this was one of the most illuminating and confusing. Bowden said, "...if you don't sign Mackowiak, you also don't get Willie Harris," et al. We all get the idea that the team wanted to put as little money as possible into the major league team this past off-season. The only guy they signed to a legitimate major league contract was LoDuca. That's why Bowden could show some success witht he free agents. Basically, and he admits to it, it's a "throw it against the wall as see what sticks" approach. Sign a bunch of low-prices retreats. See who hits (or gets people out). Don't get saddled with a 4 or 5 year bad contract (like they did with Guzman originally). Willie Harris found a little pop, but has done essentially what he did in Atlanta last year. Odalis Perez is a 4.25 ERA guy that can look real good one night and terrible his next start.
The original questioner included guys like Maxwell and Daniel and some others, but the real question here is about Flores. What I'm about to say may make some close friends of mine angry, but Bowden was essentially correct about Flores. If they could have had someone else healthy this season to catch, Flores would have been the better for spending the year in Triple-A. Hitting, he's as ready as he's gonna be. But game calling, and game managing, he's got a LOT to learn still. Does that mean he shouldn't have been learning to do that here, like Milledge and Dukes (and yes, Zimmerman) have been given the luxury? We can have that argument all night. But Flores would have been a better catcher on the big league lever next year with a year of tutelage instead of having to produce here during on-the-job training. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong guys to carry the water this year, signing LoDuca and Estrada, and wasted $6M dollars in the process, and still had to rush Flores up anyway.

Q (Fire Jim Bowden): How did you let Aaron Crow go for less than $1M (severely paraphrased)?
A (JB): "We're not going to be (hemmed?) into a marketplace, there's a dollar value for players to sign, Brain Matusz [ed. Orioles #1 draft pick] was taken with the fourth pick in the draft and at the end of the day we offered more money than what Matusz got. We also had the leverage to get the 9-B [compensation pick] if we don't sign the pick for next year." He said it would have been irresponsible to give a draft pick everything he wanted, that it would be a bad precedent.
A (MR): It costs us 10 month of developing a player. We negotiated in good faith, but couldn't come to an agreement with the player. But we have two picks in the top 10 next year.
C (BF): My bottom-line opinion on this, after hearing everything in the past, and this session Friday, and other conversations I've had with "baseball people", is that Kasten drew the line in the sand that night and said, "ENOUGH." He was willing to go over slot, but not ridiculously so, and not set a precedent for this type of last minute extortion by over-bearing agents. The Nats have gone a long way to make Mr. Hendricks and Aaron Crow out to be the bad guy in this, but I really think the team ultimately said that this was their gig, via con dios, and good luck in independent ball. Next year's the kicker though, because if they can't sign the 9-A pick, they lose it. And for a team that will already have one of the top three picks in the draft to sign, it's going to be a tall order. They might be on the hook for $10-15 MM in bonus money for just two picks next season, depending on the guidelines by MLB and the market once it develops.

Q (CS): How difficult were the 11th hour negotiations? How is it good for the player to go to the independent leagues?
A: (MR): We "hope Crow has a great year", but it cost him a year of eligibility, and it's going to be difficult for him to recoup that loss.
Q (CS): Didn't the player lose more than the team?
A (JB): People say we walked away, the player walked away too. "We promised a September call-up", etc. The player lost more than the team did.
C (BF): It's certainly debatable as to who lost more in this. Crow is an exceptional talent, and will be right back in the top 10 in next year's draft. He walked away from almost $4M though, and that was guaranteed, the only guaranteed money he would see until he made the bigs. I guess when the season ticket renewal numbers come out we'll have a better idea how it hurt the team, because I think the Crow fiasco hurt the team more in fan relations than baseball-wise. Trying to get the average fan to pay for a sub-standard major league product touting a build-from-within strategy is fine AS LONG AS YOU SIGN YOUR PICKS. Ask educated fans what their number one pet peeve with the organization was this year, and it's gonna be Crow.

Q (4-year season ticket holder): When you scout, do base decisions on who represents the player?
A (MR): Part of the equation, but not a deciding factor. "We never walk away from a particular agent."
C (BF): Except maybe Mr. Hendricks now. As Keith Jackson was fond of saying "These two teams just plain don't like each other."

Q (Unidentified Fan): What do you look at for the starting outfield next year?
A: (MR): Competition. Dukes, Milledge and Kearns. Expecting Kearns to be the player he was two-three years ago.
A (JB): We'll look at trades, and "we'd love to have a 4-hole hitter." If we had a little more production the kids would be better off. "As for how the outfield is lined up, Manny's gotta evaluate how everything is set up defensively, maybe find out if there's an area, without getting specific in one of the three spots, maybe we have to make an outfield position change to upgrade the defense without getting specific."
C (BF): Since Bowden wouldn't be specific, let me be: Milledge is moving to left and Dukes is playing center next year. Or maybe Bernadina in center and Dukes in right. How no one in the mainstream picked up on this and reported is shocking. Milledge has plenty of talent, but he's proving that he has a hard time reading the ball off the bat, especially balls hit right at him. He makes up for some of this in his athleticism, but he's been pretty lousy in center field this season. Has it hurt this year? No. The team would have lost 95 games regardless. But if Milledge and Dukes are going to be part of the long-term solution here, they have to find out where each is going to play before they can build around them. Dukes is a singular talent, and his cannon in right is perfect. I can't even put Kearns into the discussion. If his atrocious performance this season was all due to the injury and he comes back and is a 20 homer/.350OBP guy, super. There's a place in this league, and probably on this team for a guy like that. Let's just say we need to see it first.

Q (CS): You guys had a lot of injuries. How do you know what a guy is going to give you the following year (re: Kearns, Johnson)?
A (JB): "We have to evaluate what the doctors and the medical people think about their chance of coming back. "Those are tough judgments to make."
C (BF): Basically, he said, "You never know." I'm not sure if this was a veiled reference to Kearns, Johnson, or in general. The team is saddled with two contracts at first base that cannot stay on the field at this point in their careers in Johnson and Young. They need production at first, for the time being so that this team doesn't look like a glorified Triple-A team, and for the future. Marrero's broken foot this year didn't help in that evaluation process. Wonder if Pedro Alvarez ends back up in next year's draft?

Q (Full-season ticket holder): The team stunk this year and is getting worse? Why should we continue to sink more money into a lousy product?
A (JB): "One of our goals...is to try get a big bat in the line-up." "Ideally we'd like to have a controlled player, in his 20s , that can be part of the solution."
C (BF): They're going to try to sign Adam Dunn. Really, it's a no-brainer. If Jim Bowden isn't released from service, Adam Dunn will be a Washington National in 2009.

Q (Unidentified Fan): Are you going to use some of your minor league outfield talent as trade bait?
A (JB): "One of the reasons you build up your minors system is so you can make a deal to get an impact player."
C (BF): True. But this team has no reason to be trading any of its minor league talent until it's also ready to invest in select free agents and sign their own home-grown stars to long-term contracts. We're only a very short time into a long, patience-required building process.

Q (Unidentified): We've become much better defensively in the last 30 days with the acquisitions of Alberto Gonzalez, Emilio Bonifacio and Anderson Hernandez.
Q (CS): Does this give you flexibility in the infield?
A (JB): "We feel pretty blessed that if [Guzman] were to go down for a while, we've got a Gonzalez, Anderson even a Bonifacio, we've got three guys that can play the position."
C (BF): Yes all three CAN play the position. So can Pete Orr. So can Ronnie Belliard. So can Willie Harris. I imagine Zim would LOVE the opportunity. Here's the thing to remember here about our new middle infield help: NONE OF THEM HAVE HIT AT THE MINOR LEAGUE LEVEL. Bonifaco is the most qualified. .285/.340/.362, with his defense and speed, could turn out to be a real good player. But he's not really suited for the job -- lead-off hitter -- that Bowden keeps wanting to place him in. As a number 8 hitter, Bonifacio would be a much more palatable option.

How about we stop pretenting Milledge is going to be a power hitter and let him hit lead-off. He's fast, showed in the minors to have a good OBP (.376 in 1200 ABs), and would have decent pop from that spot as well. I'm just saying. We already went over Anderson's track record. And let me say this about Alberto Gonzalez: I LOVE this guy. He's yet another Rizzo guy, originally signed by the D-Backs in 2002 as a minor league free agent. He's probably got the best range and arm of anyone in the major leagues--RIGHT NOW. But he can't hit a lick. .276/.327/.383 in 1800 minor league at bats just doesn't project. He's a classic glove guy. Again, that would be real valuable on a contending team. And I guess since Guzman is only going to get worse, Gonzalez might stick around to be used in that capacity. But should catastrophe hit Guzman again, Gonzalez couldn't save anywhere near the amount of runs on defense that he would cost the team on offense. There's a reason the Yankees let him go despite having no heir apparent for Jeter. Oh, and Gonzalez will be 26 in the spring too. These guys aren't as young as they are being made out to be.
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THUS ENDS PART ONE. I've had a long day, and tomorrow will be longer. I will post Part Deux on Monday's off-day. It's the part where I raise my voice to the GM, then apologize for it. Should be great entertainment for all.

2 comments

  1. An Briosca Mor // September 22, 2008 at 11:11 AM  

    Q (Fire Jim Bowden): How did you let Aaron Crow go for less than $1M (severely paraphrased)?

    I'm sorry. In order to qualify as even the most severe paraphrase of a Fire Jim Bowden rant, your entry must contain at least three sentences, one of which must run on interminably. You need to return to Paraphrasing 101 at the local Blogiversity of your choice for severe remedial work.

  2. Dave Nichols // September 22, 2008 at 1:52 PM  

    how about i just link it back to his blog where he paraphrases his own question?