The blame game in D.C. is alive and well! #Nats

They say Washington, D.C. inherently has a need to blame somebody or somebodies when the going gets tough. They call it “The Blame Game”. We see it all the time in politics, and in the workplace. We see it in marriages and personal relationships. We unfortunately see it too often with the beleaguered D.C. sports teams.

What is the basis for who you blame for having a first place team with a division lead of 8 ½ games? Most fans would be thanking the people they are blaming if they were in the same position as the Washington Nationals.  The Phillies are on a pace to lose 109 games, and they would love to trade places. Losing sucks to be quite honest. Sure, we complain after every loss as we play armchair mock-manager or put ourselves in the cleats of the batter or pitcher or fielder. We hang onto every single solitary pitch. That is what we do as fans.

The pitchforks are sharpened and the feeding frenzy has been in a tizzy for a while, and the easiest target to blame are the owners of the team be it Ted Lerner or Mark Lerner or anyone named Lerner. The Washington Post has their un-named sources, and they want you to believe there is discontent within the clubhouse. Mike Rizzo spoke to that yesterday claiming there is no validity to that.

“All the media hype about ownership not allowing us to do things, and this roster, this organization is constructed by me,” Mike Rizzo said yesterday. “Everything lays at my front door and we’re working on it. It’s a difficult thing to do is to improve yourself during the season, especially when you’re one of the lead dogs. When you’re leading, nobody wants to help you. Everybody wants to hurt you and take from you and that’s just the way this game is, and that’s what I love about it.”

Rizzo has a team with a cash payroll of $173 million but with approximately $8 million deferred for Max Scherzer and $7 million deferred for Stephen Strasburg, it is like a $188 million team in terms of real payroll on the field and with our calculations — only a few million from the salary cap tax threshold. If you believe Bryce Harper is underpaid and worth over $40 million then add another $27 million to that $188 million and this team is more like a $215 million team. We could crunch numbers from now until tomorrow to try to tell you this team is spending the money, and without a lucrative TV deal that the other teams have — we don’t know how they make ends meet even with deferring that near $15 million combined for Scherzer and Strasburg.

That Nationals payroll would actually only trail the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in regards to actual payroll on the field plus the disabled list. Both the Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers are ahead in total payroll spent because each team is paying off departed players. The Tigers are paying millions for Prince Fielder, Mark Lowe and Mike Pelfrey totaling almost $20 million this year, and the Red Sox are paying $2 million on Manny Ramirez and almost $22 million in minors deals for Allen Craig and Rusney Castillo as well as millions for players they cut or traded.

All teams in front of the Nationals in spending have those lucrative TV deals that the Nationals do not have. The team that snagged Greg Holland is below league average in spending at $132 million. The Rockies spent their money on Ian Desmond and Holland. The Rockies only have one player they pay above $11.75 million and that is Carlos Gonzalez at $20.4 million. The Nationals have 6 players above the $11.75 million mark.

Of course you want ownership to spend more money because it is not your money. It is easy to say the rumors are right and ownership blocked Greg Holland. But don’t rewrite history. Greg Holland was sitting high 80’s on his fastball in his November showcase. Most teams were so unimpressed that only 18 teams were represented at his showcase, and only a few of those teams bothered to make an offer for him of which the Nationals were reportedly one of those teams trying to work a deal. Also, it is very unlikely that Holland will remain this dominant throughout this season as his innings increase. The goal here is the post-season.

SB Nation ran this headline:

Greg Holland underwhelms in showcase

That’s okay, fans don’t care for the truth most of the time. You need someone to blame and hindsight in this case is very 20/20. Oh My Gosh Oh My Gosh they write, the Lerner’s are cheap. It’s the mantra along with writing they are the richest owners in the MLB. What an easy stereotype to throw on them to call them cheap. It has been used for years and it is demeaning and most of you don’t care because it makes you feel better because you need someone to blame.

The Nationals according to our sources were one of the last three teams in negotiations for Greg Holland. Of course the Nationals were “in” on him. Holland is represented by Scott Boras. The Nationals added exactly $19 million in payroll from the day they pulled out of the Holland negotiations and forward to early February. Those are the facts as the Nats added Stephen Drew, Joe Blanton and Matt Wieters. Say it again — $19 million. But the detractors said in mid-December that Rizzo was tapped out and couldn’t spend money unless there were huge deferrals. They say players won’t come to the Nationals. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Holland signed for only $6 million in 2017 so you can’t say it was about money unless you believe his vesting option for 2018 was an issue. Maybe it was just the fact that 29 other teams felt that $6 million was too rich for a pitcher who underwhelmed in his showcase.

Again, don’t let the facts get in the way of your need to blame. The Nationals also offered Kenley Jansen in December the most lucrative reliever deal in MLB history at $16 million a year with $1 million deferred per year on a 5 year deal which was his highest offer according to Jansen’s agent.

Who was Mike Rizzo going to get when Greg Holland came off the board? Did you want him to trade for David Robertson with the 3.47 ERA and the 1.364 WHIP the previous season? Really? You wanted that guy? Robertson walked over 1/2 a batter per game last year. He was just a big name with that All-Star pedigree from 6 years ago. Who knows how Robertson would pitch for a contender. He sure has low-stress pitching for the 28-win last place White Sox where he has only had 11 save opportunities this season while blowing one of those.

For those who also want to rewrite the history on Jonathan Papelbon, that guy on paper had only 2 blown saves last year until he was used like a piñata after pitching 3 straight days and 58 pitches on July 22nd, 23rd and July 24th combined. He had a 90.5% save percentage converting 19 of 21 save opportunities through that point in the season. Then he was rendered useless. Some would call it malpractice pitching him like that. Others would say good riddance that he was only a Washington National because ownership wouldn’t let Mike Rizzo spend money at the 2015 trade deadline. Again, more of the “cheap” mantra. Maybe Rizzo was tapped out on payroll that season, but Papelbon fit the need until he became the “poster child” for clubhouse dysfunction.

The issue was Papelbon’s durability, but he was also the mentor to the young guys in the bullpen. He was the glue that held it together until Melancon was acquired. You don’t have to like the man to appreciate that he was very effective with low 90’s velo and anything over 90% for a save % is elite in a large enough sample size. Nowhere did he complain. Never. But because of his personality and the Bryce Harper incident, fans had their minds made up about Papelbon from the start.

It is a frustration that the die-hard fans feel while hanging onto every pitch. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to find frustration with. The optimist says enjoy what you have which is best record in baseball since 2012. That’s 497 curly W’s since 2012. The pessimist says there is no World Series trophy to show for it. The optimist says the post-season is a crapshoot.

The Nationals are in first place by a wide margin and play the Mets in a four-game series. There is a good chance says the optimist that the Nationals will win that series given the pitching match-ups. We all know what could be fixed, but what we don’t know this time is how to fix it — and that is what makes us nervous. Last year, it was easy. We had a pick ’em from some very good names out there, and Mike Rizzo snagged Mark Melancon.

The issue now is there is no “quick” fix. There is no Andrew Miller available or even an Aroldis Chapman. There is no Mark Melancon circa 2016 as his 2017 version has a 3.12 ERA, a 1.269 WHIP and  a 23% blown save rate. Who do you get? Alex Colome, A.J. Ramos, Kelvin Herrera are the three best “known” names thrown around. Why don’t we add a few names you never heard of: Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias has a better save percentage than all of those others named in this piece not named Jansen or Chapman. There are lesser known names like Brandon Kintzler if the 1st place Twins become sellers, and Rizzo could always turn to his old friend Billy Beane and look at Santiago CasillaRyan Madson and Sean Doolittle. There is Iglesias who might be my choice and expensive in terms of what he would cost, but maybe Rizzo will go about it differently and not have to trade off his top prospects.

Again, there are plenty of names and others will emerge. In mid-June, it is not time for desperation. The more you ask for a fix, you have to be able to come up with a solution. What is your solution? There is no easy answer in 2017, but rest assured that Mike Rizzo has a plan, and this bullpen will be fixed by 4:00 pm on July 31st of 2017.


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