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Thursday, May 21, 2009

In search of answers

One of the highlights of my former career was being the Heisman Trophy chairman for the state of Virginia. I got to choose the voting panel from the state. In 1993, I was invited to the ceremony and got to sit on the dais. The speaker that year? O.J. Simpson.

I bring that up not to "pimp" the highlights of my former career. I am going somewhere with this, honest. The Heisman selection system is one of the most criticized things going and many of the complaints are legit. I told those who called me to complain that but added something else: Don't complain about something if you can't offer a viable alternative. The Heisman system isn't perfect. Give me a better one.

So that's my backdrop for the rule I'm about to break. Something is wrong. Something is broken. Something needs to be done. I ought to just shut the hell up becuase I can't offer any concrete solutions. Ah, but that would be so unlike me. I'm not going to shut up.

I was in the house for last night's disappointment. The place was buzzing beforehand with the news of Stammen up, Cabrera to the pen. A little excitement in the air. At the end of the night, it was just another shake-your-head defeat that left me a lot to think about on the long drive home (I am getting too old for these up-and-backs). Allow me to share some of the thoughts and questions.

*Is it Manny? I'm still not in the fire Manny camp but I get the feeling those on my side of the line are getting smaller in number. Some of the callers on the post-game last night were very pointed. One even asked Byron Kerr what he thought. Byron sidestepped it nicely. I'd still like to see what Manny could do with a full deck but I'll admit up front I'm growing more concerned about the way he's handling his current deck. But, here's the key: Even if you are on the Manny-must-go train, is there a better alternative available? Don't change just to change.

*Is it Randy St. Claire? I'd be more inclined to make a change here. I think we've put St. Claire on a pedestal that he hasn't earned. What makes him so great? Give me the name of one pitcher he's developed. Is Jason Bergmann better now than he was in 2005? Not at all, it doesn't seem. Why not? I think Bergmann and Zimmerman are the only players to have appeared in at least one game every season of the Nats. Rob Dibble, who knows pitching, hasn't questioned St. Claire directly that I've heard. He does question (often) the mental approach the Nats' pitchers take to the mound. That speaks volumes to me. But again, is there a better alternative available?

*You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s**t. Could the Nats really be any worse if they chucked most of the bullpen and grabbed replacements from a variety of sources including those currently unemployed (Villone seems to be working) and your minor-league system? They say you can't fire the players. Why not?

*Bear with this story for a minute. My daughter played field hockey for a school that had a tradition of being awful. She was part of a large group of sophomores kept on the varsity. The thinking was they could go down to JV and win but keeping them on varsity would expose them to the level of play they'd need to achieve. The next two years they were really good. So if Detwiler and Stammen aren't getting rocked out of the building, why not let them learn and develop on this level. Keep money and arbitration clocks and that nonsense out of the equation for a moment. The team is 11-28. It probably couldn't be worse if it tried. Why not let them learn here? Is that totally crazy? I like the four rooks and Lannan rotation.

*Eight relievers? C'mon. Chuck one. Having 13 pitchers basically limits you to three bench players, assuming you save your backup catcher. Another bad pitcher doesn't make a bad bullpen better.

*Do you not at least try to buzz one at 97 mph by Adam LaRoche? I'm not down on Nieves for failing to block every single ball in the dirt. Throw them down there and one is going to get by every now and then. I am a bit disgusted that he couldn't get a bunt down. Do they work on that stuff?

My next trip up is Saturday and I'm eager to see Detwiler pitch. I hope the Nats aren't staring a 10-game losing streak in the face. The above-mentioned caller flat-out asked: What if the team goes 0-11 on this homestand? Laughable? Not really, they're already seven games into that. If that happens, doesn't a change HAVE to be made. Yeah, I would think a change HAS to be made in that case.


Anonymous said...

I'm not in the "Fire Manny" camp either. But last night, for the first time I started to waiver. Sure he's been dealt a crappy hand. However, good managers get more out of a team than their talent suggests. It doesn't seem like that's happened here since the first year with Frank Robinson.

An Briosca Mor said...

Firing Manny at this point would amount to nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Sure there might be a short-lived bump with a new guy in charge. (If you're lucky, that is. Just ask the DBacks and A.J. Hinch about that.) But the real problems with this team are not going to go away if they fire Manny. We all know what those problems are, too. Forty percent of the starting rotation and 100% of the bullpen. Defense is an issue too, but really in the broad scope of things it's minor.

Fixing the pitching will take time, and it can only be done by the front office, not by Manny. Is Rizzo really the man for the GM job? It's hard to tell, because certainly right now he's focused on the draft above all else (i.e. basically doing his old job under Bowden) while being distracted by the other parts of the GM job (trades, roster moves, etc). That's not a good situation. This team needs both a full-time GM as well as someone to do what Rizzo used to do full-time. Hopefully the reason we haven't heard much from Kasten lately is that he's busy trying to find the right guy, which would be either a new GM with Rizzo going back to his old job, or a new guy to do Rizzo's old job when Rizzo becomes the permanent GM. That's the move that needs to happen as soon as possible, because once it's made then all the other necessary moves can start to fall like dominoes. Among those other moves would be the decision as to whether or not Manny Acta stays after this year or they bring in a new manager.

Groundskeeper Willie said...

I'm all for firing Manny. But I'm also coming around to your views on St. Claire. Don't know what he's done. Dibble has talked, not only about the pitchers mental state, but also that they:

1. Don't establish the fastball. They're all about the friggin slider.

2. It appears as though they don't get warmed-up enough before games. That would account for the bad starts - especially for the young guys. I think this one can worked out though.

DeezNats said...

Mike: I was the caller who asked Byron whether he thought an 0-11 homestand would get Manny fired and also asked him if he thought he should be fired. As you point out, he eloquently sidestepped answering the question. I could almost hear him thinking, "c'mon, pal, you're putting me in a tough spot with that one." I regretted asking it almost immediately (about whether Byron thinks he should be fired and not whether Manny gets canned for an 0-11 homestand). The way Byron sidestepped it told me what he thinks but can't say. I've noticed quite a change in the call in show recently; not nearly as much toeing the party line as there used to be. They've been pretty openly critical of the team.

MikeHarris said...

The former newspaper guy in me is proud of how direct you were in asking that - straight to the point. Good work.
No need to feel bad. Byron is a pro and knows those questions are coming and knows how to sidestep them while at the same time revealing some things.
You can only sugarcoat 11-28 so much. I haven't listened to Charlie and Dave in a while but the TV guys, in the booth and pre/post game, are getting more harsh by the day.

Speaking of Charlie, check FJB's recent post. I wish I'd heard that!

bdrube said...

I've been in the Fire Manny club ever since the 1-10 start--the third year in a row it was obvious the team wasn't ready to start the season. Sure, this team is at a huge talent disadvantage, but that doesn't allow me to forgive Manny's mismanagement and howlers such as lifting Detwiler in the fifth for Cintron and resting Dunn the day before an off day and allowingthe Giants to pitch around Zimm with a 30 game hitting streak on the line (grrrrr!).

If you believe in accountability he has to go. Doesn't matter who the replacement is...this season is lost already. I think you are right about Saint St. Claire as well. Put in an interim manager for now and clear the decks for next season with a new manager and GM. It can't possibly get worse (can it?).

MikeHarris said...

It can always get worse.
I didn't think it could get worse after last season and it daggone sure has.
They were, what, 9-25 to start Manny's first season. 3-0 before the bottom fell out last year and now this disaster?
Yeah, that's some poor starting.

An Briosca Mor said...

"They were, what, 9-25 to start Manny's first season. 3-0 before the bottom fell out last year and now this disaster?
Yeah, that's some poor starting."

Yes it is. But after the 9-25 start in 2007 they managed to turn it around for a 73-89 finish. That's 64-64 .500 ball over the last 75% of the season. Last season I think they hit 9-25 as well, but didn't turn it around. So was it Manny in 2007 and not in 2008, or the other way around?

Now they're off to another terrible start, and this season is as lost now as the last two were at the same point. Okay, you fire Manny now and replace him with an interim guy. What do you gain at the end of the season? If the interim guy succeeds, is it because he's like 2007 Manny? If he fails, is it because he's like 2008 Manny? Who knows? Given that, why not ride Manny out for the rest of this season and see what happens? Let Manny be his own interim guy. At the end of the season, you either have two positive and one negative data points on him as a manager, or vice versa. Either way, you at least then know enough to make a decision on whether or not you want him back in 2010.

Yes, the season is lost right now. But it could still be turned around, and Manny has as good a chance of doing it as any interim guy would. Really, it's the players who will decide it when it all comes down to it.

Ryan said...

@ABM: Is the season lost or can it be turned around?

Personally, there's no question. It's a lost season. This team MIGHT win 55 games. Not looking good.

The question is...what's the best way to go about mananging a lost season? From a manager's standpoint and a GM standpoint.

Do you make a few changes you normally wouldn't or grind it out and prepare for the future?

An Briosca Mor said...

Whether or not you think this season is lost and cannot be turned around depends on what your expectations were going in. And the only expectations that matter are those of the FO. I don't think they expected it would be this bad, but I think the problems are exactly what they expected - except maybe for the bullpen, which probably was a surprise.

What's the best place to go from here, from a manager and GM standpoint? As I already said, get a full time permanent GM. It all springs from that - including the question of who should be managing this team next year.