October 06, 2011
As the regular season winds down, 22 teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to detain their squads for the equivalent of a Saturday morning detention stay.
Okay, take your seats and quiet down, Washington Nationals. You know why you're here, and it's like I always say: Don't mess with the bull, young man -- you'll get the horns.
Yes, I'm looking at you, Bryce Harper.
Granted, there would have been many more of you sitting here in detention just a year ago. Two, three, years ago? Cripes, we would've had to use the entire cafeteria to fit all the stiffs pulled from the scrapheap in one room, but now you're making progress and so we need fewer chairs. What's that, smart ass? How can I complain? You kids finished 80-81? Oh, sure, progress! But I'm here to make sure you get your collective act together for 2012 and beyond.
I'm looking at you, Jayson Werth(notes). Think your $126 million deal gives you the right to lob stink bombs all over the place? Well, you stunk out the joint in your first season in Washington (.232/.330/.389, 58 RBI) and, for all your excuses, something tells me this is going to be a long seven years. Shape up or ship out. Well, actually, ship out really isn't an option because you're untradeable. At least you earned points with fans by lowering the price of beer in the District ($2.18 PBR Tallboys in July!) and your attempts to make Teddy win the Presidents Race. The good news is: It can't get any worse. Right?
Who's next? Danny Espinosa(notes)? I'm looking at you, rookie! A shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year before the All Star break you slumped your way through the rest of the season and were only helped by a strong finish. Yes, you played solid defense at second base, set a new franchise record for home runs by a rookie (21), and killed Phillies pitching, but your post All-Star break disappearing act with the bat needs to be corrected going forward.
Where's Ian Desmond(notes)? What's wrong with you, Desmond? In 2010, you were all bat, no glove at shortstop, making errors with such startling frequency that you earned the moniker "DE6mond" among some Nationals fans. This season you improved defensively, even proved you could field the position, yet couldn't hit a lick (well, until the last month of the season, anyway). Time to put the two together, Desi, or you're out of here.
Next? Bryce Harper. Harper, I understand that you have a target the size of Vegas on your back, but it's time to rein in those kiss-blowing, hot dogging antics, don't you think? Pull that crap in the big leagues, and you'll get yourself killed. Keep your mouth shut and keep hitting and playing hard (maybe not running into walls) and you'll be in the Show by July, never to return to a world where you'll be taunted with chicken sandwich giveaways when you strike out. By the way, sweet monster truck, kid.
Ryan Zimmerman(notes), you're next. That's right: Mr. Walk-off himself. Face of the Franchise. But that ill-advised headfirst slide in NY back in April? The resulting torn muscle in your abdomen eventually cost you more than two months of the season and nearly sunk the ship. Rehabbing with Charlie Sheen? No wonder it took you a while to relearn how to throw a baseball, but by the end of the season you were back to your typical Gold Glove, walk-off ways. You're in detention to drive home this simple point: No more headfirst slides.
Henry Rodriguez(notes)? Oh, there he is: Mr. MPH-Rod himself. You scare the hell out of me, not to mention opposing hitters. But mostly because nobody seems to know where the ball is going half the time. A little consistency to go along with the velocity, please?
Doug Slaten(notes). Our favorite part of your season, Slaten, was the 77 games you spent on the DL with left elbow ulnar neuritis. When you returned in September, you continued to do what you do best: allowing inherited runners to score, and putting men on base (2.14 WHIP. In just 16.1 IP, 26 hits!)? Please don't come back.
Partners in crime: First, an administrative announcement: Jim Riggleman has been expelled and will never be allowed to set foot on school grounds again. Nationals Park security has been instructed to shoot first, ask questions later if Riggleman comes around after that little stunt he pulled back in June, followed by his big night out at Caddies in Bethesda. In fact, I'm told he tried to apply for a job at the Dippin' Dots station in section 104 at Nats Park in July. He apparently showed up for his interview wearing a fake beard and a Jayson Werth jersey and had to be forcibly removed from the premises. Thanks to Riggleman, we're stuck with Davey Johnson for at least another year.
Now Davey, despite finishing in third place and winning 80 games, your offense was dreadful at times. How does hitting coach Rick Eckstein still have a job? Under Eck's watchful eye, your Nats finished 13th of 16 teams in batting in the NL with RISP (.229/.326/.365), and ended up as the 5th lowest scoring team in the NL, ranking 24 of 30 in all MLB. Eckstein's banjo players also led the majors in strikeouts (1323), good for ninth highest strikeout total all time. Just imagine if Adam Dunn(notes) was still around! Pathetic!
Now, injuries to Zimmerman and season ending shoulder surgery in June for avid deer hunter Adam LaRoche certainly didn't help the cause offensively, but something needs to change — and it starts with the guy teaching the offensive approach.
Something to build on: Listen, this detention lecture is really all about tough love. Like I said, earlier, you made some big strides this season, winning 11 more games than last year's model. Heck, your 80-wins were 21 wins better than the horror-show of 2009! Don't let it go to your heads. What's that, Desmond? You want a trophy for finishing third in the NL East? What do you think this is, youth soccer? Sit down. Here's to hoping this move up the standings is a permanent move out of the cellar and onto the penthouse. No more getting stuffed into lockers by the rest of the league for you, Nats. Instead, you'll be the ones giving swirlies in the toilets to pathetic wimps like the Mets for the next decade.
Think about it: With the triumphant return of Stephen Strasburg from Tommy John surgery, the emergence of Jordan Zimmermann as a legitimate No. 2 starter (if not co-ace) after his own recovery from TJ (maybe call Stras and Zimm the Tommy John Twins?) and Drew Storen(notes) at closer, the future is bright. Add young arms Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock to a potential rotation bolstered by a resurgent Wang (Chien-Ming Wang, that is), steady John Lannan(notes) and a 'finally figured it out' Ross Detwiler(notes), and there's the making of a really good rotation in 2012 for the first time since baseball returned to Washington. And that's saying nothing about Bryce Harper, or the arrival of "Take On Me singin'", helmet slappin', elbow smashin', home run robbin', oppo boppo baseball mashin' Michael Morse(notes). At this rate, they might need a new monument in Washington for Morse by the time he's done.
You're a resilient bunch. You survived your manager quitting, an earthquake delay, the worst first pitch in the history of ceremonial first pitches by John Wall, a money laundering probe involving a Puerto Rican drug kingpin and Livan Hernandez, and Nats rookies dressed as smurfs. Better days are ahead.
Shape up or ship out: Before you go, there's a lot of work to be done. And it starts with you, Mike Rizzo.
Rizzo? Rizzo! Are you dozing? Listen: how about assigning Davey Johnson to a nice, cushy front office job and finding a long term solution at manager now. Oh sure, Davey was dropped into a tough situation with the departure of Riggleman, but is another year of Daveyball really the best idea for this young team? Also on your to-do list: signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long term deal; finding a legitimate leadoff hitter — ideally one who can play CF; beefing up the starting rotation; strengthening the bench. You've got work to do, Rizzo.
Next spring, I want to see you all arrive to camp focused and in shape. And please, don't do anything stupid in the offseason. I'm looking at you, Bryce Harper.
Okay, Washington Nationals, detention is over. You're free to go. Enjoy the offseason.
Read more of Big League Stew's Detention Lecture series here