Laying Down the (Keith) Law on Bowden

So they went ahead and did it, they singed Dmitri Young to an extension. It seems foolish to do this right now, the trade deadline hasn’t even ended, and yet they have given up on getting young talent for this veteran. What’s upsetting to me that they didn’t get ANYTHING for him, and they won’t be selling a guy who is clearly as hot as he is going to get.

Keith Law of ESPN.com, former Toronto Blue Jays scout and Baseball Prospectus writer has some very harsh words about the Young (and Belliard) signing. Basically, he says that this team shouldn’t be getting older it should be getting younger, that these players are worthless and that the Nats are overpaying. I figured rather than just giving you an assessment of what happened, I’d dissect his professional analysis of the situation and explain that it’s not as bad as he thinks, although it’s not that great, either. Here are some of my favorite quotes, along with summaries (by me):

“Young and Belliard were nice pickups, but both are in their 30s and both are having obvious peak seasons; Young’s on pace to set a career high in OBP and post his second-best slugging percentage. Bowden fell in love with these guys, and it’s going to burn his team.”

(they are never hitting this well again)

“Defense matters. Belliard is a below-average second baseman with a bad body. Young is a horrific defensive first baseman with a terrible body. The idea that the Nationals are going to put Young in left field next year if and when Nick Johnson is healthy enough to play first is an insult to the game of baseball. Their nice offensive numbers aside — and really, Belliard isn’t having that great of a season — their defense negates a lot of that offensive production.”

(they are not good at catching baseballs)

“Age matters. Those bad bodies on younger players wouldn’t be such a concern, but Young will turn 34 in October while Belliard will turn 33 right after Opening Day in 2008. Signing unathletic players to multi-year deals into their mid-30s is a terrible operating philosophy.”

(they may soon be dead)

He also talks about the other mistakes Bowden has made, including signing Guzman, Johnson, and Schneider to multi-year deals. I can’t argue with him that Bowden has yet to prove himself with this team, and has signed too many old players for too long of a time. But I really think Keith is being a bit harsh on the results of these deals.

What the Nats DID do

They got two players who can hit better than most of the rest of the team. At this point, the offense is atrocious, and nobody seems to be promising to live up to their potential. Sure Zimmerman is good and young and will hopefully get better, but counting on offense from Church, Lopez, and Kearns has SO FAR proven unwise. That will hopefully change, but who knows. Young and Belliard do improve the offense, and even though it may not be as much next year as it was in the past. In terms of defense, Law is correct, neither of these overweight 30+ year olds are great with the glove. I think his assessment of Young is pretty good, but Belliard isn’t quite that bad. Additionally, in terms of Belliard being the starting 2B, that’s probably only happening if people get hurt next season, like this year, so try not to panic too much. Belliard will probably start a few games a week and be a top player off the bench, which isn’t a bad role for him at all. Also, Law does not factor in at all what affect these players have on the Nationals clubhouse. While I cannot vouch for it, there is alot of talk that both players have been phenomenal in the clubhouse, working very well with the young players these team is filled with. And remember, these 2 players don’t make this team old, it just brings the average age up to around legal drinking age. Finally, I have a disagreement major disagreement with Law’s assessment. He falsely alludes to the fact that these players have tied Washington’s purse strings, as if this has decided what their 2008/9 starting lineup will be, and this isn’t necessarily true. It raises the payroll from the low $30 m range to the high $30 m range, and this team can really afford twice that. They aren’t going to come up short on free agent bids because of these signings, these players aren’t going to block young talent from being discovered, and they aren’t going to decompose out on the field, so in that regards, it’s really not as bad as Law claims.

What the Nats DIDN’T do

What they missed out on with these signings, and what Law doesn’t really talk about, is what hurts the most. Regardless of what level of talent the Nationals could have gotten in a trade, they could have gotten something, especially with how well Young is hitting. Anything would have been better if they had made a trade, because they most likely could have signed deals with both of these players in the offseason. Young might have been a bit more difficult to sign next season, as AL teams may have pictured him in a DH-type role, but it isn’t even that likely. So basically they passed on what may have been their best scenario, assuming you believe both of these players should stay, which is getting young talent and then getting these players next season. Also, since the Nats are going to have money, they certainly could have afforded to compete with other teams for at least one of these players in November, while stealing a minor leaguer in a trade right now. That is where the fans should really throw up their hands, that is where management truly screwed up, that is where the Nats missed out on doing something great for the team.

Finally Law says this:

“Someone in the upper management of the Nationals needs to wake up and take the steering wheel back from Bowden, whose contract is up after this year but isn’t hesitating to make commitments through 2009. This franchise needs to concentrate on getting younger, not older, and on staying flexible, not committing money to mediocre players who are having fluke years.”

That, I agree with a bit more. Not the flexibility or money part, as I mentioned, the combined salaries of Belliard and Young should matter little to this team. Hell, they could probably go out and sign 6 more guys at $5 m a year and still be in the black. But other than the Kearns/Lopez/Wagner trade (and maybe give him credit for allowing Belliard and Young to come to spring training?) Bowden has done little of note, and the Nationals have depending solely on their farm system for help. He hasn’t done enough to make the team younger and if he doesn’t do something soon, there is no reason to sign him any longer. They could go with a fresh face who has little experience but strong credentials or a more experienced former GM who has a track record of success, but Bowden really doesn’t fit in either of these categories. He has been uninspiring as a GM, and maybe they need some look towards someone new.

A final note

I’m really sick of hearing how injury-riddled Nick Johnson has been. In this article, Law acknowledges that the Johnson deal was so-so because he can hit but “he has a long history of injuries and couldn’t even finish the first season of his three-year deal without sustaining a major injury, one that has cost him the entire 2007 season to date.” That kind of throwaway line is irresponsible reporting at best. Everyone who looks at Nick and thinks “he’s hurt all the time, so missing ’07 isn’t surprising” has no clue what they are talking about. That collision with Kearns was NOT a fragile player tweaking his weak knee. That was a freak occurrence that nobody could have predicted. GMs may have predicted a risk of injury, but nobody predicted that kind of terrible collision. I remember, and there was no Aaron Rowand-type discussion about how Nick plays so hard so he may shatter his leg. I don’t buy it. He showed in ’05 and ’06 he can play 120+ games a year, and when he’s back, I am willing to bet that a hammy or a knee isn’t going to flare up and keep him out half a season.

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3 Responses to Laying Down the (Keith) Law on Bowden

  1. Dave says:

    Nick Johnson is never coming back.

  2. bdrube says:

    I disagree that Bowden has been unispiring as a GM. MLB left him virtually nothing to work with in 2005. The minor leagues were utterly bereft of talent and the active roster wasn’t much better.

    Bowden deserves credit for picking up many useful players off the scrap heap (Dmitri, Belliard, Bowie, Colome, Redding, Bacsik, Carrasco the first time), drafting well (Zimmerman, Lannon, Marrero) and snagging Flores from the Mets in Rule 5. Without a canny GM, the Nats would probably now be staring at a 3rd straight 100 loss season.

    Have all his moves worked? Of course not, but who among those he has shipped out of town would you really want back (other than maybe Brendan Harris, who the Reds whiffed on too)?

  3. cfliegel says:

    One thing I didn’t give Bowden credit for is the good drafts that the Nationals have had in the last few years, but that is because I don’t know how much credit should go to him and not others in the organization. But he certainly deserves some, and it should be noted that this team did have the worst farm system in baseball a year ago and now has some legitimate prospects.

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