History Lesson: A Quick Study in Futility

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , , | 9 comments »

Your syllabus:

"Nats interested in free agent Lackey", MLB.com (Bill Ladson), Nov. 17, 2009
"Rizzo says Nats still pursuing pitcher", The Washington Times (Ben Goessling), Dec. 9, 2009
"Rizzo in attendance to watch Chapman", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan), Dec. 15, 2009
"Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo Talks Hot Stove with Rob Dibble", Federal Baseball (Patrick Reddington), Dec. 23, 2009
"New Nats, Same as the Old Nats?", Nationals News Network (Dave Nichols), Dec. 29, 2009
"Rizzo reviewing Montgomery County (MD) Adult Men's Softball Free Agent List for veteran starter", The Nationals Enquirer, Feb. 23, 2010
"Nationals hope to sign veteran pitcher", MLB Daily Dish (Eli Greenspan), Aug. 26, 2009
"News from Nats Town: Nationals 'making a strong run' at Jon Garland", The Nats Blog (William Yoder), Dec. 19, 2009
"Nats were 'in it to the end' with Chapman [updated]", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan and Tom Boswell), Jan. 11, 2010
"Free agents, plaudits and poetry", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan), Jan. 20, 2010
"With Strasburg out for 2011, Nats will look to sign ace for rotation", MASN.com (Ben Goessling), Sept. 9, 2010
"Rizzo says staff ace will be Nats' No. 1 priority", ESPN.com (AP), Sept. 29, 2010
"Washington Nationals: Random D.C. GM Mike Rizzo Quotes", Federal Baseball (Patrick Reddington), Nov. 14, 2010

Bill Ladson's article on Monday, "Ace on Nats agenda as Winter Meetings near", got me to thinking how all of this rhetoric sounded so familiar.  And no disrespect to any of the writers, they're only reporting what they believe to be true at the time.

Most of these articles simply quote Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo describing his desire to bring a veteran staff ace to the Nats -- or defending why it did not happen. 

You will notice the lion's share of these articles were from 2009's off-season though.  I included a couple recent articles to prove that history seems to be repeating itself.  I only included links to Rizzo talking about acquiring talent.  I don't think it's fair to compare him to his predecessor -- yet.

Last year's free agent crop was uninspiring at best (Livo), and downright awful at its worst (Bruney, Marquis).  This is Rizzo's second shot to prove he's as good a judge of talent at the big league level as he is at scouting amateurs.

It's ok to talk about doing something.  But to be successful, you actually have to do it.  The Nats have talked a great game since they got here, but as yet have failed to accomplish anything other than sign three slam-dunk first round draft picks (Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper). 

Except, maybe, alienate a wealthy and affluent fan base.

***I understand any critique or discussion of the job the general manager is doing should come with the caveat that the ownership group has to approve any deal he wants to make.  I'll let today's Tom Boswell's column cover that.  If the ownership group truly thought the end of the season would be the time to re-sign Adam Dunn, and not mid-season or right after the trade deadline, then Nats fans have much, much worse to worry about than whether the GM signs an innings-eater for an already lost season.

Anyway, IF the Nats sign Brandon Webb, and IF he returns to anything resembling his Cy Young credentials, I'll be first in line to praise Rizzo for a job well done.  But color me skeptical that happens. 

As for trading for a No. 1-type starter?  The Nats just don't have the prospects for it.  A trade like that would gut the Nats of most of its soon-to-be-ready for MLB talent and would be be P.R. suicide, especially for one that places so much emphasis on building through the draft.

You can't say you're satisfied with taking the draft picks when Adam Dunn walks, then trade all your near-ready talent for a potential staff ace to lead a team that has too many holes to contend.

I'll offer one more link.  I think it's relevant here as sort of an ancient history lesson, as opposed to the more recent ones above.  In it, D.C.'s resident historian Tom Boswell describes how the Nationals were hamstrung by MLB that first off-season of 2005 when the team still had not been sold.  It's actually prophetic.

It's incredible to me that a) many of the issues Boswell describes still linger though the Nats have one of the wealthiest families in America at the helm now; and b) that we're STILL talking about Javier Vazquez, Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn!


  1. Jenn Jenson // December 2, 2010 at 10:03 AM  

    Ouch. Not that you don't make a thought-provoking case, Dave, but my day is happier when I'm optimistic, or at least hopeful.

  2. Dave Nichols // December 2, 2010 at 10:05 AM  

    the Nats have some young talent, which is something to hold on to.

    but it's hard to be optimistic right now, Jenn. systematically, it just looks like something is wrong with the big picture.

  3. Anonymous // December 2, 2010 at 10:05 AM  

    Hey Dave - just a side note about last year's free agent crop. I know that you're not a big fan of Livo's, but to call his results "uninspiring" is pretty seriously off. Even if you think that he was pitching lucky all season, the Nats would've been back in the 103 loss neighborhood without him and his 33 starts, 211.2 IP and a 3.66 ERA.

    The results on Marquis and Bruney were disappointing, but at the time they were signed I would have categorized them more as "uninspiring." Bruney imploded, but he wasn't a major investment. Marquis was an investment, but he got seriously injured for the first time in his career and his attempts to pitch through it destroyed his stats.

    IMO, at the time of the signings they were all various degrees of uninspiring. Looking back after the season Bruney was a disaster, Marquis was a disappointment and Livo was a pleasant surprise.

    Your mileage may vary, of course :)

    John C.

  4. Dave Nichols // December 2, 2010 at 10:14 AM  

    John, thanks for the comment.

    I used the term "uninspiring" for Livo simply because he was their fall-back option all along last off-season, there was no thought work involved at all. they always knew Livo would be there for them to eat innings. that he had a better-than-expected year is awesome, but at the time of the signing it was less-than insiring.

  5. Anonymous // December 2, 2010 at 10:25 AM  

    Agree a lot of these "trade/signing rumours" are just not realistic, but I still think Rizzo is doing the right thing. If he is going to make the big signing, he has to convince everyone that Washington is SERIOUS about building a contender. That has the unfortunate side-effect of setting fan expectations to unrealistic heights, and Rizzo is paying for that.
    Personally, I think Rizzo needs to scrap the SP acquisition and look to acquire a Brett Wallace type prospect and look at moving Desmond and Marerro. Any 21yo Pedro Martinez's out there?

  6. Dave Nichols // December 2, 2010 at 10:28 AM  

    Anon: there's plenty of good young pitching prospects, but teams treat them like gold, as well they should. every time the Nats are linked to a trade possibility, Jordan Zimmermann's name is attached. every team wants good, young pitching.

    thanks for your comment.

  7. Wooden U. Lykteneau // December 2, 2010 at 10:40 AM  

    When was the last time a top-line free agent signed with a losing, mid-market ballclub? Is it printed on that sign on Jimmie Dimmick's lawn?

  8. bdrube // December 2, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

    Not to nitpick, but Bruney was a trade for Rule 5 draft pick and not a free agent. If you replace his name with Kennedy's, however, the point remains the same.

    To me the most dispiriting of all of those headlines is Chapman. Signing him would have been a way to get potentially top tier talent at a relative bargain. Imagine him and Strasburg as the rotation's one-two punch throwing 100 MPH strikes. Instead they signed the poor man's Chapman in Maya...and so far have gotten a poor man's results.

  9. Dave Nichols // December 2, 2010 at 11:13 AM  

    bdrude: yup, i could have been a little clearer there in Bruney's acquisition. it's actually worse they gave up something of value to acquire him.

    and I agree, the Chapman thing will haunt the Nats. if you can home-grow your Nos. 1-3 starters, you're a leg up on everybody.