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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No, thank you

By now I'm sure most of you have heard the sad news that the Washington Times made it official - sports is not part of its new look and the sports staff was laid off. Friday is the final day for the section.


Mark Zuckerman, part of the Times' Nats beat squad, wrote a lovely farewell blog this evening. Give it a read.

And then join me in saying thanks to Mark, to Ben Goessling, to everyone else at the Times. As I noted in my earlier post about the Times, they were the underdog and they played big. Dan Steinberg of the Post noted as much in a blog post he did earlier today. They competed well and won their share.

They did the Nats right, the way a paper has to do a major-league team. With print and online responsibilities, a baseball beat is too much for one writer to do well and maintain any sort of sanity.

I don't know Mark and Ben all that well, having just made their acquaintance last season. I know enough from reading them and seeing them work that they are the type of people I loved to have on my crew when I was managing a sports department. They worked hard, they enjoyed what they did, they worked hard some more. They seemed to make a good team, essential on a shared beat like that one.

They'll end up somewhere good, I'm sure. If I was still in a position to hire, I'd take both of them right away along with many others at the Times. I was in a notes sharing group with Patrick Stevens, the Maryland writer. Trust me, he churns out more good information in a day than most do in a week. I've known Ryan O'Halloran since his days with the newspaper in Newport News. I've known David Elfin for years and years. John Taylor, the assistant sports editor, has become a good friend. Thom Loverro is a voice Washington doesn't need to lose. I could go on and on and I'm sure I'm leaving some out. It's a deep and talented staff.

Sadly, more papers are cutting than hiring these days so it may take a while for everyone to find a place. It may take a move or two.

I'd love to see the Post snap up a few of the Times gang and expand their coverage in certain areas - like the Nats.

I wish everyone there well and I'll say it again: Thanks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Matt Capps, come on down (please)

Buster Olney is as good a reporter as there is covering baseball today, so I feel pretty good if his sources are telling him Capps will become a Nat.

I'll feel better when the deal is done.

One year? That puzzles me a bit. Not that the Nats would offer that. They're probably convinced Drew Storen will be ready by 2011 and see Capps as the Bridge to Drew.

But Capps is young (26) and has a good history, last year notwithstanding. You'd think someone out there would come up with more than two years.

Maybe he doesn't want that. Maybe he wants one year to get himself on track and go cash in somewhere. Maybe other teams don't want to go higher than that, either, preferring to see if the pre-2009 Capps returns.

The Washington Times weighs in with some information about why one-year is preferable on the pitcher's side of things.

Whatever, I'll just be happy to see him a Nationals uniform in 2010. Maybe Storen will be ready by August and Capps will be the guy who turns into some prospects?

Yeah, yeah, I know. Let's get the guy signed first before wondering when he'll be traded.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A very happy holiday

I have no idea what's under the tree for me. I haven't been very good this year, so I have no right to expect much. I think I'm getting a pair of shoes I've had my eye on, a couple of books, that kind of thing.

If this report comes true about the Nats and Matt Capps, well, Mike Rizzo will certainly have earned his Santa Claus stripes from me. I gave Rizzo a "B" in my recent poll - I'd upgrade that to an "A" right now, even without Capps. Put a plus by it if Capps is delivered.

Mike isn't exactly dealing from a position of strength. A team that has hit the 100-loss mark twice in a row isn't going to get the huge names available. Just the way it is. But in addition to the two drafted pitchers who have everybody excited, he's added Bruney, Marquis and catcher Pudge Rodriguez to the mix without giving up any of the future (or present) core of the team. He didn't have to give up Willingham to get pitching. He didn't have to trade prospects.

If Capps comes aboard, too? Not to sound all Harry the Homer here but I don't see how we could have reasonably expected more from the offseason. I don't think the Phillies are quaking in their boots just yet and I don't think the Yankees are figuring out how to deal with D.C. come Series time. But there are reasons to really like the direction the team is moving. I haven't thought to myself, "Oh, they'll get there" too much the past two years. I'm thinking that now.

Marquis is a solid starter who will win double-figure games and he's been on winners. Don't think that doesn't count for something. I like the addition very much.

What's left? Has Mark DeRosa signed somewhere yet? Orlando Hudson? I'd take one of those two. Or neither. It's already been a fine offseason. Capps makes it even better.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The answer appears to be 'yes' with Marquis

You'll recall, faithful readers, that I mentioned Jason Marquis as "the" guy the Nats should pursue when the team said back in August it was going to go after a veteran free agent pitcher.

Well, either they have or haven't agreed to terms with him, depending on which report on is accurate. (see below for update, it seems the deal is done)

There's this from Byron Kerr:

Nats to sign Jason Marquis (updated)
By Byron Kerr on December 21, 2009 1:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) has learned that the Nationals will sign starting pitcher Jason Marquis. The 31-year-old starter went 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA with the Rockies last season before becoming a free agent.

There's this from Phil Wood just 37 minutes later:

Don't put Jason's name on the marquee just yet
By Phil Wood on December 21, 2009 2:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
As Maxwell Smart used to say, "Missed it by that much..."

There are reports that the Nationals and free agent right-hander Jason Marquis have come to terms on a contract, but my own sources say it's not yet a done deal - but very, very close.

Hmmm. The "reports" Wood mentions are from the same site for which he's writing. I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Sounds like it WILL happen though, and I guess we'll know soon enough. The Nationals Journal I just viewed says it is all over but the shouting (and physical), two years for $15 mil.

UDPATE - All hands are on the same wheel at now - Wood says the deal is done and Marquis will be introduced tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bob and Debbi returning

In case you missed it on - Bob got a two-year deal this time so we won't have to go through the "will he/won't he return" thing next winter.

So the broadcast teams are intact. The big media question that remains is who gets to cover the team for the Post? And will be Times be around - at least its sports section - to cover the team at all?

Four youngsters I hold in high regard have told me they are interested in the job and have sent materials to the Post. I suspect they are four of many. If any of those four get it, we readers/fans will be OK.

The Times hasn't made anything official yet regarding its sports section, but I don't know anyone who thinks it will still be around when the paper reorganizes or regroups or reinvents itself or whatever it calls whatever it is trying to do.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's all making sense now (sadly)

This is what I feared when I heard the Nats were going to offer a contract to Wil Nieves - something is wrong with Jesus Flores.

My buddy Wil Yow was at the VCU-Richmond basketball game on Saturday. He's a Nats fan and a Rams fan, two points in his favor. We were talking about this. The only way you offer Nieves is if you know something's wrong with Flores. No offense to Nieves, I love the guy. Met him at the original Starbucks in Seattle. Saw his first home run, the one that beat the Cubs. I think he's a solid defensive catcher and I'd take him as backup for life, though I prefer a Rodriguez-Flores combination.

If Flores is indeed going to be ready, as we were told during the Pudge PC, does it make sense to sign Nieves to a contract that figures to be well above the $455,000 he earned last year? Aren't there cheaper alternatives available? Or can you go the Scott Olsen route and non-tender him, then bring him back for less?

Did something happen to Flores between the PC and now that caused this shutdown until February? I kind of doubt it. I don't want to accuse anyone of being less than truthful with us but we have quite the history of injury B.S. to support those fears (most notably Z-one-n being day to day for about two months and Z-two-n needing to shut down now instead of September but he's fine. Or needs Tommy John).

The actual story now up on makes it sound a lot less worrisome - almost makes it sound like a "shut down" is part of the plan.

I still don't like it. Something doesn't sit right. Maybe "shut down" is just a poor choice of words? Let's hope so.

Flo is a poor man's Pudge in Waiting if he can ever get healthy. I love his presence out there, I'm as comfortable with him at the plate in clutch situations as I am with Z-one-n, Willingham or Dunn., If his career is getting short-circuited as it seems to be, I will be very much bothered.

As for Olsen, I love that move. Clearly worked out in advance, the contract allows Olsen to earn what he'd probably get through arbitration if he can stay healthy and effective and pitch a full season. If not, the Nats are on the hook for a lot less money.

Great move, applause to the front office for working that one out.

But my mind is consumed by this latest Flo news. Worrying. It's what I do. It's in my blood. It doesn't make me a bad person. It just gives me ulcers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts from the Pudge PC

Major ups to my man Dave Nichols from Nationals News Network for asking the question I really wanted to see asked: (paraphrasing) What do you know about Jesus Flores?
If Pudge is getting two years and $6 million in large part to help guide Flo into greatness, I would hope he's at least familiar with his soon-to-be protege. Pudge was well prepped for that one and handled it fairly well. I didn't expect a full breakdown of strengths and weaknesses.

My pal Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times (for now and hopefully a long time but who knows?) posted a list of questions before the presser that was pretty good. I'm copying those questions and giving my thoughts on the answers received. Feel free to add comments if you disagree (or agree).

1. Why is Pudge willing to accept a backup/part-time role when he's been a starter his entire life? Will he be content to watch from the bench once Jesus Flores is healthy? Doesn't sound like he is, he said "everyday" a lot during this thing. He said he can't go 162 games (duh) but never said anything like "At my age, I better keep it around 80." He at least gave me an idea for my new poll: Who catches more in 2010, Pudge or Flo? I'll bet anything that Pudge votes Pudge.

2. What does Rodriguez already know about the Nats' young pitching staff? Can he rattle off names like Lannan, Detwiler and Stammen, or does he still have no idea who those guys are? Well-prepped again was Mr. Pudge, though I'm not sure he could pick any of them out of a lineup. He did at least seem to know they existed.

3. What exactly is Flores' status? Does the club truly believe he'll be ready for spring training, or is there legitimate concern he won't? All is well, we're told. Will be ready for the start of spring training, which means he's ahead of schedule. Not so sure I buy all that, pardon me for being a bit jaundiced about injuries and the Nats. Assuming he is A-OK, I'm quite fine with him playing a bit less than the normal frontline guy and Pudge playing a bit more than the normal backup. Save a little wear and tear on Flo, never a bad thing.

But, again, my big takeaway from watching today is the word "backup" is not in Pudge's mind. Not sure it's in others' minds either. I found it interesting that Mike Rizzo said he was most certainly using Pudge's presence as a lure for free agent pitchers. Good idea - though I'm not sure a backup catcher is that much of a lure.
Unless he isn't the backup.

This whole thing makes for an interesting spring training story line, as if there weren't enough already:

*How's Cristian Guzman adjusting to 2B?
*Is Drew Storen going to stick?
*Is Stephen Strasburg going to stick?
*Will Javier Vasquez start the opener (once he's acquired for Willingham)?
*Who plays left once Willingham is traded, Justin Maxwell or Roger Bernadina?
*Pudge or Flo? Who's No. 1?

Still waiting

The e-mail said today's press conference would be on MASN at 1 p.m., but the Washington Times update later noted it had been moved back to 2 p.m.
It's 2:15 and I'm watching "lowlights" of Steelers-Browns.
Holdups happen but they also always make me curious.
Do we have a problem? Did the physical not go as expected? Did Pudge read the fine print and say, "Who is this Flores and what do you mean backup?"
I suspect all is well but idle time lets my mind run amok.
Plus, anything is better than watching Steelers-Browns a day later.
When did the Steelers become the Redskins?
Where is Pudge??

MORE scenarios as we continue to wait:

PUDGE: What do you mean, the Nationals? I thought you said the Yankees?
BORAS: No, no, I said a team that beat the Yankees. Might have said "a team that beat' real low

Lost on the subway?

The city changed the locks and they can't get in the press room?

Why am I still looking at Brian Kelly here? Ugh. At least it isn't Steelers-Browns.

They stopped at Five Guys for lunch and the line was long?

They dropped by to see Barack first and lost track of time?

OK, I'll shut up now. It's 2:42 p.m. and the PC has started. It's "another benchmark moment for the Nationals franchise" we're told. I'll have more later. There's one question I'm eager to hear asked.

QUICK UPDATE - It sure doesn't sound like he's expecting to be a backup. It sure sounds like he's said "everyday basis" a few times.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rule 5

Here's my thought on Rule 5: It's like that coin-operated game where you put in your quarters and move the hooky thing around and watch it lower and try to grab a prize.

Usually, you'll come up with air. Sometimes, you'll come up with something small. Once in a great blue moon, you'll come up with something good (see JimBow the Blind Squirrel's acorn in Jesus Flores).

So I pay little attention to what goes on with Rule 5. Flores is the only one who proved worthwhile for the Nats, right? Levale Speigner will always have his Santana moment but would anyone do that again? Not sure I can name any other Rule 5ers. The 2005 season was almost over before I realized the Nats had a Rule 5er on the roster. Can't even remember his name. I do remember he hit a home run and one of the papers wrote a story about some of the veterans buying him a suit. Blanco? A 3B or something?

I do so hate to lose Zech Zinicola, not because I think he has a chance to be the next great thing. I just love the name and all the possibilities. Double Z. Z Squared. Top (ZZ? Get it? OK, so it's pretty weak). You can't have too many guys whose last names begin with Z.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And we're off

One day of winter meetings, two new players and no departures. I can't wait to see what this day will bring. I read somewhere - Nationals Journal? - the player to be named will be a pick in the Rule 5 draft.

I spent most of yesterday trying to shake cobwebs out of my old brain and figure out why Brian Bruney stuck out for some reason other than pitching. It finally clicked. He was the guy who got into it with K-Rod early in the season, I believe while he was still on the DL. Video (not very good video) here, story here.

So our man Bruney has a bit of a big mouth. Can he pitch? At this point, I think he's an upgrade over the Saul Rivera we saw last season, so I'm willing to look at it with an open mind. That bullpen has kind of become like the live well on a bass fisherman's tournament boat. They can catch five a day, so they catch five and then start replacing them with bigger fish. Bruney's a bigger fish.

MacDougal, Clippard, Burnett, Bruney. There's four keeper fish. Storen? Who am I missing here. Is Bergmann a keeper fish or one you throw back?

As for the Pudge thing, I at first thought the Nats had signed me. That's among the nicer things I'd been called. Hey, it's an easy mix-up to make. I've caught before and he's about my age. Save for 13 or so gold gloves and multiple all-star appearances and some athletic ability, we could pretty much be the same guy (although he does have hair).

No offense to former Nat Brian Schneider (or it is Snyder, where's Don Sutton?) - that's who I was convinced the Nats were going to sign and this is an upgrade. I hate to see Wil Nieves go because I like the guy so darn much, but this is an upgrade. Pudge as your everyday catcher now? An upgrade over Bard/Nieves but not what you want. Pudge as a backup? I can live with that.

My concern is about the mentor thing and his mindset toward being a backup. Does he have any history of "ment-ing?" Does he have a real desire to do so? Sure, he'll say he does and gush about Flores in the first interviews we read. Does he mean it? Because, without the right attitude in a spot like that, his presence can cause more harm than it can do good. I trust the braintrust checked all that out. I hope.

We'd all be thrilled if Flores turned into a Pudge type catcher. During those healthy periods he's had, he's shown some great flashes on offense and defense. If he's of a mind to do so, Rodriguez can be a tremendous asset to Flores. He can truly make Flores better and I'm not sure we could say that about many available catchers.

I also wonder how well he'll handle a backup role. Is 40 games going to be enough if Flores does manage to stay healthy?

I didn't pore over the available catchers as well as I should have, so I can't comment with any authority on whether this was the best option available (like that's ever stopped me). Is it? Who else should the Nats have tried to sign?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Condolences to Elijah Dukes, family

This is a sad story out of Tampa. Elijah Dukes' father died soon after leaving prison. Cancer, undetected while he was incarcerated.

I liked what we saw of Dukes after his return from Syracuse, on the field and the way he carried himself. I think Jim Riggleman's approach was good for him. They got rid of the baby-sitter, started treating him like everyone else and expecting him to act like everyone else.

Here's hoping he handles his grief in a proper manner and keeps making forward progress.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fingers crossed for the Times

This has been another bad week - most of them are - for newspapers. USA Today made some cuts this week and several friends in sports lost their jobs. Later yesterday came the news that the Washington Times plans significant changes and a huge reduction in staff.

That reduction could well include THE ENTIRE SPORTS STAFF. I'd heard this rumor for ages and refused to believe it. Or perhaps didn't want to believe it. While the Times hasn't said anything official about its sports (or metro) sections, many people I know at the Times are convinced they will not be a part of this new product.

It sickens me.

I've always been a fan of the underdog paper, probably because I spent the first portion of my career working for one in The Richmond News Leader. Don't get me wrong. I love the Washington Post. I did as a kid and I still do, even though it is much less of a product than it was just a few short years ago. It's still among the best and the Post has done a better job figuring out the online stuff than most.

But I loved the old Daily News (broke the story about Ted Williams managing the Senators) and the Washington Star. And the Times, not just because it has been foolish enough to run stories by me now and then. Back in 1982, they came out of the gate hustling (at least in sports) and they haven't stopped.

In a story the Post published yesterday on its Web site, the writer mentioned "(Times) reporters who sometimes outhustled the competition." Well, the competition IS the Post and the writer is correct. The underdog sometimes won, more often than the Post would like. I know the feeling those Times guys got when they read "first reported in the Washington Times" in the Post. It's a great feeling. The Times' staff works hard and does a good job. If the paper does squelch sports, some very talented people will be out of work.

The Times handles the Nationals the way a baseball team has to be handled these days, with two reporters. It's no longer a one-platform job. You are writing for the Web and the print edition. It's a never-ending job. Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling do it very well.

Dave Sheinin makes mention of the Times' situation in a Nationals Journal update and notes that competition makes everyone better. He's correct there. There are enough Web sites and other outlets to give the Post some competition but nothing does it like another newspaper. Particularly a good newspaper like the Times.

I will be crushed if the Times eliminates its sports section.

People ask me all the time if I miss newspapers, if I regret leaving. I miss newspapers so much I want to cry - newspapers the way they used to be. We worked really hard and had a lot of fun doing it.

I don't miss what's going on now. The uncertainty, every single day. Is this the day they come for me? Is this the day they come for the guy at the next desk? Is this the day they come for my colleague and best friend of 30 years? As a manager, I worried about all that and if I would soon be asked to take my staff of 30 and make it 18. Or whether someone would just go ahead and do that for me and leave me to deal with the fallout.

A pal who got cut at USA Today went to lunch with a colleague. They talked about a joint project they were doing and went back to the office to work on it. An hour later, my pal got called into HR.

I wish I was loaded and could start my own venture. I did start my own venture ( for a cheap plug) but I'm not loaded and I can't keep it going without some help. There's enough journalistic talent on the loose in D.C. to put out an exceptional product. Sadly, there may be more soon.

Oh, and to at least get some Nats into this post, I hope they offer Scott Olsen arbitration. I still see enough upside there. I hope I get to read about his no-hitter in June in the Times.