WE'RE GEORGE BAILEY AND BUD SELIG IS MR. POTTER ....
Tracy Ringolsby wrote on Saturday that the players and owners are very near a collective bargaining agreement that will, for the first time since 1970, cause no work stoppage. Though he says that "little" will change, one small detail will have a significant impact on the Nationals:
"The new deal won't have any major changes from the past, but there were be several subtle alterations that will have a long-term benefit. The two sides have agreed to eliminate draft choice compensation for teams losing free agents, and they will have a slotting system for bonus money paid to June draft choices."
A long term benefit? Now, let's think about that for just a moment. I don't think that anyone feels that free-agency is bad for baseball, as long as the team losing a player is protected by some mechanism that will insure it's continued long-term survival. I lived in Seattle when the Chicago White Sox signed pitcher Floyd Bannister. The M's were bad with Bannister, and they were going to be horrid without him. In that machination of free agency, the team that lost the free agent was granted a compensation player from a pool of unprotected players left unprotected by all of the other major league teams. The Mariners selected Danny Tartabull, who went on to have an extremely successfull career (though not with Seattle). More recently, the team losing a player received the first round draft-pick of the team that signed their player (plus a sandwich pick). Now, the teams losing the free-agent, often the team with one of the smallest payrolls and doing business in some of the smallest cities, will get nothing. Nada. Zip.
Enter Soriano. Last July 31st, Jim Bowden could have traded Soriano for minor leaguers (something he refused to do because of the lack of talent being offered) or kept him for the remainder of the season, either re-signing Soriano or taking the two draft picks in return. Either way, it was "fair." Now, the Nationals will have nothing to show for those three players traded to the Rangers last year. Oh sure, they can plunk down $15 million dollars --or more --for Soriano, but (from the Nationals' perspective), he's just not worth it. No longer can a team allow another franchise's greed to help them restock their farm system (it was just last off-season that Hector Carrasco inked a big contract with the Angels on the basis of just one good year. The Nats got the Angels first round draft pick and signed pitcher Colton Willems).
Without a doubt, this change was demanded by the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be able to ravage other team's rosters without having to give up anything in return. This latest version of free-agency helps only the rich, and can have a devastating effect on the "poor." How can this be considered a move that is in the "best interests" of baseball? It can't under any scenario that I can postulate. It seems that nothing that Bud and the boys does in the game's best interest. Every one of Selig's decisions makes the big-market teams richer and far more dominant over the Royals, Brewers, and yes -- even the Nationals.
So, what are the Nationals to do? They don't sign Soriano, that's for sure. I have this deep-seeded fear that he is going to return to his old ways, and is going to hit .265-33-88 while earning $15 million dollars next year. I'd much rather he screw up some other team's payroll .
There is a way, however. The Nationals can still let Soriano walk and still end up with warm bodies in his place. The Nationals should use those $15 million dollars and sign two free-agents, maybe three. Using last year's free-agent market as a guide, the Nationals could have signed Kevin Millwood (16-12 4,52), Eric Byrnes (.267-26-79 w/25 steals) and Ryan Freel (.271, 37 stolen bases) for what Soriano is going to eventually sign for. There are just as many players in this year's market who could help stabilize the Nationals until the kids in Hagerstown, and Potomac, and Harriburg mature and strengthen their games.
The Nationals have a solid every-day lineup for 2007, that is, assuming that Cristian Guzman returns to short and Felipe Lopez moves to second base. It's the starting pitching that scares me. John Patterson will man the top spot in the rotation, and Mike O'Connor or Beltran Perez will fill the five slot nicely. That leaves three spots open, and $15 million dollars available to entice free-agents to fill them. The Nationals can get certainly three ".500" type pitchers for $15 million, perhaps less. No, that's not going to get Washington into the playoffs, but, yes, they will be able to get get back to 81 wins, a position where the Nationals need to be heading over to the new stadium in 2008.
One of the reasons the Detroit Tigers are in the World Series this year is not because of who they signed, but rather, who they didn't. Following the 2000 season, the Tigers tried to re-sign outfielder Juan Gonzalez (obtained from the Rangers the previous year) to the kind of contract that Soriano is seeking today. Gonzalez turned them down flat, and after one good year with Cleveland the following year, "Juan Gone" has made no impact at the major league level. In 2005 -- what would have been the last year of his "mega-deal" -- Gonzalez had exactly one at-bat. One.
That $15 million dollars will go a long way to rebuild the Nationals starting staff. If Ryan Church is given the chance to play left field next season, his career stats suggest that he would give the Nats a .282-25-92 type season at a cost 1/300th that of Soriano. Is the additional $14.5 million worth 10-15 more home runs? I don't think so.
I think the Nationals have an excellent opportunity to once again become a .500 team if, if (if) that $15 million is spent on pitching while the vacancy in left field is filled "in house." Hey, if you don't like Church, Jose Guillen could produce as much offense, maybe more, for $12 million or so less.
The one thing the Nats cannot do, however, is re-sign Soriano. I'm not going to say he's another "Tee Set" (one year wonder), but I doubt he'll ever put together another season like 2006.
Remember your mantra, Jimbo: "Pitching - Pitching - Pitching."
UPDATE: Reports are now surfacing that the free-agent compensation plan won't be eliminated, but merely modified. The stories are not indicating exactly how this modification would take place. I'm guessing we won't have the whole story until a formal announcement is made.
This may surprise you, but MLB officials might actually be ready to make a change that's actually good for baseball (I know; it's hard to believe). One of the problems for small-market teams has been their unwillingness to draft high-profile players, players they would likely have difficulty signing. Because the team would lose that pick if the player wasn't signed, many teams draft the "most signable" player and not the best player available. Some are suggesting that a new progam might be in place soon that would allow a team to recoup that lost pick. If Chris Marrero (#16, 2006 amateur draft), for instance, had refused to sign in 2006, this plan would have given the Nationals the 16th pick in next year's draft. This would cut the legs out from under hot-shot players with big-time agents who would threaten to sit out the season, forcing that team to lose their pick. I think you'd find that many more players would sign under this plan.
Now, if they'd only allow teams to trade their picks before the draft ....
Time will tell ....
Thanks by the way on the nice comments about our same mindedness concerning the Senators. I watched them religously as a child, until the very last game, September 30, 1971--which I attended, in all it sadness.
Even today, I could probably tell you every single player that played for Washington from 1966 through 1971. I have all their baseball cards. Can even tell you what pose the players have on every single year's baseball card. I didn't know anyone that followed them as much as I did--until I started to read The Beltway Boys. Thanks for everything. If there is a way I could send you my email address, without posting it here, please let me know. Then, we can chat more. Take care.