There was a private party for stadium workers last night at Nationals Park. Nobody knew that their bartender was going to be the President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo, and the newly retired bullpen ace of the 2019 season, Sean Doolittle, was going to pose for photos and sign autographs. They graced these employees with their presence. Or is that presents? We posted up some photos that were sent to us with the condition of anonymity — and then word spread and other employees were sending us videos, photos, and stories. These are the little things.
Usually, these are the types of stories you never hear about because positivity doesn’t get you the clicks like the negativity. You learn that in new journalism in the social media era. Journalism changed. Go viral! I just heard it last week on Apple TV’s The Morning Show. If you want negativity, you can dig it up easily. Stir up those old emotions — and pick at the scabs. The triggers are there to tie everything right back to the powder keg — the evil ownership group is what they will keep telling you is the root of all problems. No blame is assessed to the people who did not get their job done — no, the problem is the boss of their boss or the boss two or three levels above.
They did the same when Dusty Baker was not retained after the 2017 season. You were convinced that the move was motivated by saving money because Dave Martinez was taking the job for millions less than Baker. Never mentioned by them was that there were key players who did not want Baker back. It was just another PR nightmare for the team. All roads, they tell you, lead back to the Lerner ownership group and their greed. That is the underlying message even though they don’t say those exact words. Make everything about money, and start a movement to force them to sell the team. The words twisted and turned enough doesn’t need a genius to get you there. I read it enough yesterday in social media tweets that got so ridiculous that the Nats were compared to the lowly Oakland A’s.
Oh right, what is this all about? ICYMI, the Washington Post reported that VP of Player Development, De Jon Watson, will not return in his position next year because the Washington Post said this move and others were about budgetary savings, “a main driver of the decisions will be to slim the organization’s budget, according to two people familiar with the Lerner family’s plans“. Social media blew up. The pitchforks were out quickly, and the Lerner haters were demanding they sell, while calling them cheap, as the usual battle cry. It is the same tired narratives rehashed, and once again — the mechanism to get them this riled up was not difficult. The same stories that they have one foot out the door — even though Rizzo made it crystal clear that principal owner, Mark Lerner, has never been more focused. Even the Washington Times’ columnist, Thom Loverro, wrote last month that the Lerners don’t look like sellers. And we all know that Loverro is not a fan of the Lerners.
The irony is that some of the same people complaining that Watson and DiPuglia are gone were the same people saying they needed to be fired due to poor performance in player development under their leadership. Do you know people that complain just for the sake of complaining?
We put out lots of calls to sources and did not find one person who said these cuts were to save money as the primary goal. Not one. It could be a by-product, and certainly in the short-run. This was about “change” as Rizzo said when DiPuglia left. What was clear in the message was that the development system was not working as it should. Yes, sometimes employees aren’t retained because they weren’t doing a good job. Imagine that. So all moves aren’t made to save money?
One source said, “You realize that front office positions don’t pay a lot of money.” When you hear that Dave Martinez could be the highest paid manager today because of all of the former managers who were ahead of him like Terry Francona, Buck Showalter, and Joe Maddon, and are all gone now, it goes against the tired narrative that the Nats don’t pay their people. You see that some team managers are making under $800,000 a year, and some less than that. Players get paid. Nobody else does. That is sports. As one ex-player told me, “I took the Triple-A gig because it pays better than driving a UPS truck.” Are you sure about that? Stars get paid. Those same media writers used to say the Lerners do not pay their people. Well, they cannot say that anymore so they find other ways to paint them as cheap and greedy — and they never have to say those words — just lead the haters to the well.
But seriously, how much money would you save if you didn’t fill 15 spots in the front office at an average salary of $200,000? That is $3 million. That is less than 10 percent of what Stephen Strasburg made this year. And a $200,000 average is probably high since most scouts don’t even make $100,000.
You only save money if you don’t fill the positions -or- put in lesser expensive employees -or- re-assign. But it is pennies on the dollar. If the Lerners were so worried about cashflow, they could easily sell stadium naming rights, the lucrative jersey advertising sleeve patches, and sell more premium season ticket packages.
To the complainers, here is a suggestion: Let the paint dry and see where this goes before you lose your mind over such small things. But WaPo and others want you to believe there is a budget crunch and things are horrible — and of course this is ALL being done to sell the team. They mention that in their article too.
You want to worry about real issues? The rosy picture that Watson was just painting about the farm system was his sale’s job. The Nats farm did not improve as much as it should have, and the international player development was not good. Yes the farm got better because the Nats drafted well to add several top prospects to the system like the No. 2 overall pick, Dylan Crews. The farm got better based on new acquisitions through the draft and trade acquisitions, not players necessarily getting better under Watson’s leadership because the player development made them better. You could see some movers up like Daylen Lile, Jacob Young and Brady House. But there were not enough of those examples, and too many slid backwards.
We were assured by a source that Watson’s spot would be filled, just like we were about Johnny DiPuglia’s spot. He was the head of International Player Development. Things were so bad in the Nats international player development that closing up shop might have been the way to go as Wadlez joked. They have been in negative WAR for years when you look at Luis Garcia, Joan Adon, and Jose Ferrer. And the best of the remaining IFAs, Victor Robles, has a career WAR of 4.4, but that is lower than the Nats got from Michael A. Taylor (4.9). The Nats spend much more on international players because the team has to pay for the full cost of the Dominican Academy, and the entire international operation, we were told, is the single largest expenditure besides the team payroll and Nationals Park stadium costs for operating expenses.
How long could DiPuglia ride on the success of Wilmer Difo (lol) and Juan Soto? Yep, that Get Out Of Jail Free card ran out. But hey, when you want to write about how DiPuglia resigned, and not update the story per Rizzo’s own words on his radio show when he made it clear that it was a mutual decision for DiPuglia to resign, you have to be concerned with the message from the media. Still, the Washington Post never added that to any of their articles. Why not? Does it sound sexier to just say he resigned, as if he walked away 100 percent on his own decision?
There are teams firing managers that get less anger than not renewing the contract of a guy like Watson who you could not even I.D. in a police lineup. Come on, this is ridiculous that this was any more than a brief mention — BUT HERE WE ARE. Two prominent Nats fell off the team’s Top-100 as 2022 first round pick, Elijah Green, and Robert Hassell III are off the rankings. Jarlin Susana is out of the Top-200, and Jeremy De La Rosa, another promising IFA, has also tumbled down further than that. The top two IFA signings from 2021 and 2022, Armando Cruz and Cristhian Vaquero, have also seen their stock drop. Cruz’s fall is so bad that it got to the point that he is out of the team’s Top-25, and Vaquero has slipped to No. 9.
Of course we should be talking about the positives of replacing employees who were not getting it done and hope that Rizzo can replace them with better people. Certainly you start with Watson, and hope they can finally sign a superstar in player development — like maybe someone with a proven track record like Sig Mejdal who has done it with other organizations. People matter, and at some point the Nats have to get it right. DiPuglia was excellent when he was a boots on the ground scout, and more than earned his promotion to Rizzo’s Asst. GM. But not every person works out in a new role. People have told me that this organization hasn’t had a superstar in player development since Brent Strom came over as an Expos employee in 2005 and stayed until 2007 as the Nats’ minor league pitching coordinator. He eventually left, and it seemingly went under the radar at the time since you cannot find any articles on it … because I guess it wasn’t a cost savings move?