Each season, as the trading deadline approaches, the thirty-two teams that comprise Major League Baseball must all take a long, hard look at themselves and ask if they have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. If so, should they be looking for that extra piece to the puzzle which may push them over the edge and into a World Series berth? If not, should they declare the season a wash and start trading away players with cumbersome contracts and dwindling skills and hope to rebuild anew the following season by stockpiling prospects?
To aid the Washington Nationals, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was kind enough to answer the question for them and point them in the direction he thinks they should go. While the Nationals are probably ecstatic to be receiving advice from a sports writer, the quality of the advice and his overall baseball knowledge is up for debate.
On July 27, four days before the trade deadline, the Nationals will be at .500 and on the edges of the NL wild-card race.
Wait a minute, how do you know that? Thomas Boswell, are you a psychic? Can you also predict how many inane statements you are going to make in this article? Several, you say? Wonderful.
Cut out this prediction so you can send it to me baked in a crow pie. A team that went 30-49 after last July 5th, then was abysmal in spring training and started this season 13-27, is about to inspire talk of a winning year. RFK will bounce again soon.
Two other teams who were abysmal in spring training were the Boston Red Sox (9-20) and the Chicago White Sox (10-19).
And you want to know two teams who did really awesome in spring training? That's right, the Florida Marlins (19-9) and the Los Angeles Angels (20-11).
Now, let's take a quick look at their regular season records up to this point.
Boston Red Sox: 33-23
Chicago White Sox: 35-22
Florida Marlins: 20-36
Los Angeles Angels: 26-32
Next time you are trying to make an argument for how bad a team is, you might want to leave out the team's spring training record, since spring training rosters are not really indicative of regular season ones.
Last year, the Nats had an insanely difficult schedule, playing 104 games against winning teams. If an 81-81 record can be remarkable, theirs was.
Actually, Thomas, you may have a point here. The Nationals did outperform their Pythagenport record by four games, but I would not exactly call that remarkable, as teams do better than their Pythagenport record all the time. I would call it good, instead.
Last year's Nats were a perfect example with a season progression of 23-18, 1-7, 26-6, 9-24, 18-16 and 4-10. Where's the .500 team in that statistical mess?
Funny you should ask. Here's the answer to your rhetorical question. When you add all the wins together and all the losses together and they come out to be the same number, then voila, you have found your .500 team.
What's going to keep the Nats from playing 25-19 ball to get to .500? After all, by next week the Nats will have their best pitcher and best hitter of last season, John Patterson and Jose Guillen, back from the disabled list.
Actually, their best hitter from last season was Nick Johnson, who in 64 less plate appearances still posted a higher VORP than Jose Guillen (34.1 to 26.6). Johnson also posted a higher OPS+ (139 to 118), a higher MLVr (.258 to .140), and a higher RC/27 (6.69 to 5.46).
But John Patterson was their best pitcher and one out of two isn't that bad.
What if, after starting the year losing almost every one-run game, they simply evened the odds and won most of them for a while?
You mean like the reverse of what they did last year when they went an astounding 24-10 in one-run games before the All-Star Break, but only 6-21 after it, finishing the season with a record of 30-31 in one-run games? Yeah, it could happen.
What if, instead of watching walk-off homers in Atlanta and Cincinnati, they returned the sudden-death favors in RFK?
I don't know about that. Walk-off homers are improbable in their own right, but when coupled with the fact that while Turner Field is a neutral park and the Great American Ballpark is a slight pitcher's park, RFK Stadium is a severe pitcher's park, making the feat even more improbable for the Washington Nationals.
In a few weeks, the Nats may still be stuck in the doldrums, weak schedule or not. But if they rally, if they make their run at .500 or even above it, a crucial juncture will arrive for Washington's new team, its executives and its fans.
This is how hard: Say the words: "Trade 'em all. Get prospects. Lose 100 games in '07 and get better draft picks." It hurts, doesn't it? You don't even want to say it (and I don't want to type it).
Before you start suggesting that the Nationals trade away all their veterans for prospects, perhaps you should remember that the current GM (for a couple more weeks at least) of the Washington Nationals is drunk driving extraordinaire Jim Bowden. A closer look at Bowden's track record would show you that it might be prudent to save the "trade everyone away" talk until after he is fired, lest he follow your advice and conduct the trades now.
As the GM for the Cincinnati Reds GM, he was awful, and as the Nationals GM, Bowden has been no better. Throughout his tenures as GM, he has shown a marked disregard for the effects a home ball park has on a hitter's statistics, thrice trading for Colorado Rockies only to see their offensive production wane after they left the thin air of Coors Field. Bowden has also earned the nickname "Trader Jim" because he seemingly trades players because he has the ability to, which is another reason not to advocate him making more trades. True, he has made some good transactions, but even the worst GMs can get lucky now and again.
Last year was a prime example of why Bowden should not be allowed to conduct trades without a grown-up, or at least someone sober, around. Last year, with the Nationals slipping out of first place in the NL East after the All-Star Break, Bowden did everything he could to make sure they would play themselves out of contention by trading away starting pitcher Tomo Ohka (9.9 VORP in 54.0 innings) and signing pitcher Ryan Drese (-1.4 VORP in 59.7 innings). If that was not bad enough, Bowden traded away two other pitchers because obviously pitching is not necessary for a team trying to win a pennant.
Maybe it will be best for the Nationals to trade away veterans for prospects, but to do so with Bowden as the GM would be committing an egregious error.