Monday, May 8

Life After the Storm

First off, if you're looking for the Early Series post, it's here. This is a personal thing - a little bit of Nats love, if you will. Anyway.

The Nationals finally have an owner, and even MLB is admitting to it. The Lerner group was selected as the winning bidders on the team over the "token minority" cries of Marion Barry and a few others in DC politics (I forget the names).

As a Nationals (former Expos) fan, what does this mean? Honestly, I don't know yet. I've gotten so used to fandom without a direction that having one - at least theoretically - is kind of shocking. Granted, it's just as likely that he takes the team and guts it as it is that he jacks the payroll up and signs a few free agents. Let's look ahead to a possible Best-Case / Worst-Case Scenario.


The Mets got old, the Braves reverted to mid-80's form, and the Phillies never found pitching. This leaves the division wide-open, and the Nationals' new park (which opened on time) is better on hitters than RFK was. A retooled offense (led by Alfonso Soriano) and a rejuvenated pitching staff lead the Nationals to the first division crown (and over .500 record) this century.

Leadership is smart and saavy, as one of the first things that the Lerners did was fire Jim Bowden. Taking the approximate equivalent of a "Moneyball with money" approach allowed the Nats to both replenish their farm system and sign a series of solid, if unspectacular free agents. They give the Nationals a surprisingly deep lineup that - while it's not on the level of the early 2000's New York Yankees - is quietly dangerous. No major home run threats aside from Soriano (a holdover from the earlier era), but 25-HR types abound. Even Soriano found some plate discipline, and he even figured out how to be Rickey lite.


Jim Bowden is immediately signed to a 12-year extension. He responds by signing every pitching currently on the DL in the major leagues to 3-year guaranteed contracts. In addition, he forgets to sign a shortstop one season and the nats have to bring a guy up from rookie ball.

The new owners adopt an Orioles mindset. New free agent signings are made chiefly as "name" signings, even though their contribution to the team's success is minimal. Ryan Zimmerman is traded in 2008 for Jose Lima. The farm system is systematically gutted of anyone with talent, what little there was in the first place. As most of the money is tied up in the big leagues, the forces the nats to draft based on price, not talent.

Attendance suffers. 10 years from now, the Lerners sell the team back to MLB and buy the Marlins (after nuking the radio deal. They never got a TV deal in the first place). The new stadium collapses under its own weight on Opening Day.

What's likely? A combination of the two. I'm figuring a payroll increase, but just because we'll have money doesn't mean we'll spend it wisely. It's just as likely as the plan will be haphazardous as it will be clear. Even if Bowden's gone, there's no guarnatee that his replacement will be any better (Scott Layden -> Isiah Thomas, anyone?). Good drafting falls victim to injuries and unfulfilled expectations. Revenue streams might not be there.

We'll just have to see. I'd like to be optimistic, but I'm afraid of it - the Nats have killed me before. Who knows? Maybe this time my faith will be rewarded. Maybe this owner will give a damn about the team, about the city, about the fans. Hell, I'll just settle for caring about something beyond the bottom line.