Rich Tandler's Nationals blog.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

WATG? Vinny Castilla

The next in a series introducing you to your Washington Nationals.

Vinny Castilla’s Vitals

37-year-old third baseman, 6-1, 185. Bats and throws right. Career BA .280, OBP .324, HR 303 in his fifteenth season, salary $3.2 million.. Has also played for Atlanta , Colorado, Houston, Tampa Bay

Quick Take:

A veteran third baseman who, while past his prime, is still a productive player who will have streaks of excellent play.

Castilla Q&A

Did the Nationals get a good deal in signing Castilla?

Last year, at a salary of $2.1 million, called Castilla one of the five best free agent steals. Now, with a salary about $1 million higher, he could turn out to be a pretty good value for the Nats. Yes, his NL-leading 131 RBI’s in 2004 while playing for the Rockies were certainly ballpark-aided, but he still had 21 home runs and 51 RBI on the road last year. Washington would be very happy with similar production.

He’s been around for a while and seems to have bounced around some. What’s the story?

After enjoying some great seasons with the Rockies, hitting 40 or more home runs and batting in 113 or more runs each season from 1996-1998, Colorado traded him to Tampa Bay following the 1999 season. His production took a nosedive (one can think for a number of possible reasons for this, playing for the Devil Rays) and he hit just .221 with 14 walks and 41 strikeouts for the Devil Rays in 2000. He was released outright, with Tampa Bay still holding the bag for his $7.25 million contract, 24 games into 2001.

He finished up 2001 with Houston and then went to Atlanta, where he’d broken into the big leagues in 1991. After two years there, he returned to the site of his greatest glory in Denver. The Rockies showed no interest in resigning him, however, perhaps going with more of a youth movement.

What’s he like at the plate?

One would not be surprised to see his power numbers go down from 2004 (34 HR, .535 Slugging %) due to the change in ballparks and another year on the body. In fact his power numbers could decline precipitously this year and next. Of the players in baseball history who had similar career numbers through the age of 36, the only one who continued to have good pop in his bat from age 37 on was Andres Galarraga. The others, the likes of Fred Lynn, Ron Cey, and Joe Adcock, went down to homer totals of below 20 a year. Vinny might have more left in the tank than those three since conditioning has improved since they played, but expecting much over 20-25 homers is probably wishful thinking.

His patience at the plate, a bugaboo in the past, was a good news/bad news scenario last year. While a total of 51 walks is not very impressive, it’s as many has he had in the previous two seasons combined. On the other hand, his 113 strikeouts represented a career high.

I’m a little skeptical about the defensive abilities of a 37-year-old third baseman. Can he field the hot corner?

In the field, Castilla is a better than adequate third baseman. He committed just six errors in 2004 while putting up a range factor well above the league average (range factor is putouts plus assists; basically, this says that he gets to a lot of balls, so his low error total is not a result of his not getting his hands on many balls due to poor range).

So what’s the bottom line on this guy?

He’ll have the opportunity to develop as a leader on a team that is loaded with Latino players. As a semi-journeyman who is not unfamiliar with having to pull up roots and go and play in a new city, he could be very valuable in helping his teammates through such a transition. Even if he has decent production at the plate, it’s not hard to see him becoming a very popular player, the face of the Washington Nationals, for the next two seasons.

2005 Down and Up

Downside: .245 BA, 16 HR, 65 RBI
Upside: .275 BA, 29 HR, 100 RBI

To find Vinny Castilla’s career stats on, go to

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

WATG? Nick Johnson

If you’re like most Nats fans, you’ve been through the euphoria of the return of baseball to DC and looking forward to spring training next month. But as you ponder pitchers and catcher reporting, you look at the roster and wonder, “Who are these guys?” To help you answer that question, over the coming weeks the Capitol Dugout blog will run the WATG? series to give you the skinny on the players that make up your Washington Nationals.

Nick Johnson’s Vitals

26-year-old 6-3, 224 First Baseman, bats and throws left, career BA .255, OBP .372, HR 38 in his fourth season, salary $1.25 million. Has also played for NY Yankees.

Quick Take:

A large, lumbering first baseman who has yet to display the power or durability normally associated with such a player.

The Skinny

Nick Johnson probably is one of the few Nats you’ve actually seen play. He broke in with the Yankees and played in every postseason game of their 2003 run to the World Series. In an example of the circular nature of player movement in baseball, he was traded to the Expos prior to the ’04 season as part of the Javier Vasquez trade. Vazquez was traded in midseason for Esteban Loaiza, who just signed with the Nats as a free agent.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to say that Johnson lacks power as he has a career slugging percentage of .418, certainly respectable. But he hits home runs at a pace of 19 per 162 games and you want more power than that out of your first baseman.

The other issue to blame for his paltry career total of 38 homers is the injury bug. Last year he started the season on the injury list with a bad back and he ended it on the DL with a broken cheekbone. It took him until late last year, his fourth season, to accumulate 1,000 career at bats.

According to Scouts, Inc., “Johnson's calling card is his understanding of the strike zone,” but I fail to see where this notion comes from. For his career he has struck out (228) 40% more often than he has walked (165). That’s not very impressive given his home run number.

Still, Johnson has the possibility of becoming a valuable member of the Nats if (all together now) he can stay healthy. He’s a decent fielder with good range. His OBP makes him a good fit near the top of the order, perhaps in the #2 spot. At 26, he’s approaching what should be his prime and perhaps the Nats will benefit from such a development.

Or perhaps not. There has been talk of dealing Johnson for either prospects or a pitcher. Even if the is still wearing a Nats uniform when the season starts, he’ll likely be a topic of discussion as the July 31 trading deadline approaches (assuming, of course, that the Nationals aren’t in serious playoff contention).

2005 Down and Up

Downside: .255 BA, 16 HR, 40 RBI
Upside: .290 BA, 22 HR, 70 RBI

To find Nick Johnson’s career stats on, go to

Friday, January 21, 2005

RFK--Hitter or Pitcher?

A Washington Post article asks if RFK Stadium will be a pitcher's paradise or a hitter's dream:
What, then, to make of the Washington Nationals' temporary home, RFK Stadium, the UFO-like edifice on the outskirts of Capitol Hill that went 33 seasons without housing a baseball team? Will it be a pitcher's park? A hitter's park?
Reporter Barry Svrluga's analysis is not exactly in-depth; he bases his case that it will be neutral on the fact that it's symmetrical and from comments by some old Senators.
"It's neither (a hitter's or pitcher's park)," said former Washington Senators pitcher Jim Hannan. "It's fair."
And from the hitter's perspective:
"If you look at your multi-purpose stadiums, they're all kind of nondescript," said Frank Howard, the Senators' power-hitting outfielder from 1965 to 1971. "It's not like Fenway Park, with the left field wall. It's not like the Polo Grounds, with that deep center field. It's not like Yankee Stadium, with the graveyard out there. It was a dual-purpose stadium, and it was fair. I thought the ball didn't carry very well at night -- it was a better park to hit in during the day -- but that's about it."
OK, so about 70 of the Nats' 82 home games will be played at night, when the ball doesn't carry very well in the humid air that hangs in Washington on summer evenings. The air alone would seem to favor the pitching.

Then there are the stadium dimensions which, as mentioned, are symmetrical --336' down the lines, 369' to the power alleys and 410' to center. To Svrluga and Hannah this apparently guarantees pitcher-hitter neutrality:

Those dimensions don't particularly favor offense or defense. In the 10 seasons the Senators played at the stadium, they averaged almost an identical number of runs at home as on the road -- 3.61 to 3.63, respectively.

"It was fair to both pitchers and hitters," Hannan said. "It didn't favor right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters. You didn't have a short porch for one side."

I wouldn't put too much value in the home-road numbers the Senators II put up. The game has changed dramatically since then with more emphasis on the long ball. It remains to be seen how many long balls at RFK will become long outs. The distance of those symmetrical fences would seem to indicate that, compared to other NL ballparks, the fences at RFK are quite distant.

I got the dimensions of the 15 other NL ballaparks and, realizing that fence distance is but one factor in the hitter-or-pitcher park equation, compared the dimensions at RFK to those in the rest of the league. I'm not going to post all of the numbers here since most of the sites that this blog is syndicated to don't handle tables, but here are some comparisons:

Left Field--RFK, 336 Longest--Wrigley 355 Shortest--Minute Maid 315 Average--335

Left Power Alley--RFK, 380 Longest--Coors 390 Shortest Minute Maid 362 Average--376

Center*--RFK 410 Longest--Minute Maid 435 Shortest--Wrigley, Miller 400 Average--409

Right Power Alley--RFK 380 Longest--SBC 420 Shortest--Wrigley 368 Average--380

Right Field--RFK 336 Longest--Miller 355 Shortest--SBC 307 Average--333

*Center field distances may be slightly to left- or right-center in some ballparks; deepest distance was used for this purpose.

So, in terms of dimensions, RFK is a bit longer than the average NL park all the way around.

A very rough, crude overall measure of ballpark distance is to simply add up the five major measurements and compare that to the totals from the other parks. RFK's total distance is 1,842 (336+380+410+380+336). That's the fifth-longest in the NL. The longest is Coors Field at 1,877, certainly a warning that distance isn't everything. The shortest park by this measure is Citizens Bank in Philly at 1,798. The league average is 1,831.The longish dimensions and the heavy air will favor the pitchers.

On the other hand, foul territory will be on the small side--they're adding a couple of rows to seats reducing the distance from home plate to the backstop from about 60 feet to 53--and the 8' fence all the way around the outfield is not at all imposing.

On balance, it looks like it will favor the pitchers slightly but certainly. Not a bad idea when you look at the Nats' rotation.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Chicago Sun Times--Nats Still Interested in Sosa

According to report in the Chicago Sun-Times by Michael Kiley, Jim Bowden is still expressing interest in putting Sammy Sosa in a Nationals uniform this year. To be sure, Bowden is seeking a very heavy discount on Sosa's scheduled salary for 2005:

Word out of the Nationals' camp last month was that they would consider dealing for Sosa only if the Cubs paid his entire 2005 commitment: a $17 million salary and a $4.5 million buyout for 2006. But Bowden has altered that stance after the Cubs told him at the winter meetings that they wouldn't accept the entire financial burden and weren't interested in dumping Sosa at any cost.
Even if the Nats fail to land a future Hall of Famer for free, any deal will, of course, be all about the money.
If (Cubs GM Jim) Hendry and Bowden can find common ground, the key element will be how much Sosa is willing to accept for his 2006 salary. While Sosa's contract with the Cubs guarantees an $18million salary if he is traded, that figure can be negotiated. Agent Adam Katz is believed to have told clubs that Sosa would not play for less than $10 million in 2006.

If Sosa really doesn't want to return for another year under Cubs manager Dusty Baker, he can help broker his exit by lowering his financial demands. He would be more attractive to other clubs at $8million for 2006
I wouldn't be so quick to insist on a bargain basement price for Sosa. Despite all his flaws--past his prime, concerned with batting order position to the detriment of the team, steriod suspiscions, etc.--he still can sell seats. The magic of his home run battle with McGwire still lingers. It's not difficult to make a case that the presence of Sosa could sell an addition 50,000 seats at home game. That's just about 625 more per game. At an average of $20 a ticket, that's $10 million in additonal revenue right there.

Even if the dollars are right, there will be the question of what Washington will give up in compensation. The Cubs' asking price is not likely to be very high, a combination of a few prospects and suspects. Still, you have to be very careful about having an adverse impact on the team's future for a brief bump in ticket sales and a few more wins.

Of course, with the team still being in a state of receivership rather than one of ownership, a bold stroke such as bringing in Sosa isn't likely to happen. But the position of owner has yet to be filled.

The reality is that it's probably better that Sammy Sosa is someone else's potential headache and someone else's employee to pay. Still, it would add some pizzaz to a team that desperately lacks it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


You can contact Rich Tandler at

Bye, bye baby
Write if you think of it maybe
Know I love you
Go if it means that much to you

--Crosby, Stills and Nash

I’ll never forget the melancholy tones of this song coming over the TV with scenes of an empty RFK Stadium the day after the Washington Senators played their last game. I was a teenager and I thought it was the end of the world. I don’t think I cried, but for sure I was stunned that baseball would allow the team to move and confident that they would soon rectify their mistake.

I guess that in on the grand cosmic scale of time, 34 years qualifies as “soon”, but it seems like it’s been forever.

Baseball is back in DC. It’s officially official.

Mayor Anthony Williams signed the stadium financing bill into law today thus removing the final obstacle in the way of the Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals.

I should probably have been truly delighted at the news, but in fact it wasn’t even a relief. It’s difficult to get very emotional about common sense prevailing. If common sense had prevailed all along, the Senators never would have left, the Padres would have moved here, an expansion team would have been placed here, the Expos would have moved here 10 years ago.

But what happened happened. With baseball being gone for 34 years, we missed a lot, including the labor disputes, one of which cancelled the World Series. I suppose that not being attached to a particular team during that time period had its advantages. Still, it would have been nice to have experienced it and have the opportunity to figure it out for myself.

A Real Owner Can't Get Here a Second Too Soon

In another article on the site, a reporter answered a question from a reader who wanted to know why Jim Bowden didn't increase the team's offer to Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez. The answer was very telling and points out why the Nats can't get a real owner a second too soon:
The Nationals increased their offer to Perez. According to a source, they offered him a three-year deal worth $20 million. However, team president Tony Tavares said they are not going to overpay for a pitcher. Here's what he said last week about the free-agent market: 'One of the difficulties that we are faced with, honestly, is the marketplace, which is getting out of control. Since the marketplace is jumping up so much, [we don't want to be a] contributor to the problem. We have backed off on some players, who we thought were worth x but are signing deals for x-plus.'
Perez re-upped with the Dodgers for three years and $24 million. So, in the eyes of Tavares, $6.6 million a year is not overpaying but $8 million a year is. If the team's payroll is even as low as $50 million, that's a difference of less than three percent of the total.

You have to draw a line somewhere, says Tavares. Well, you do if you're run by committee and you're competing against your owners for players, you have to draw a line. Do you think that the Dodgers and the other teams that were interested in Perez were going to allow the Nationals to fairly compete for Perez' services? If you followed the Vlad Guerrero saga in Montreal, when everything possible was done to keep him from resigning with the Expos even though he wanted to stay, you know the answer to that one.

MLB's ownership of the Expos has been shameful. One small example: In September of 2003, they were in the heat of the race for the NL Wild Card spot. The travel-weary (this was the first year of Puerto Rico) team was gassed. A couple of September callups from the minors would have given them a little more depth and flexibility. To be sure, it wasn't as though Terrmel Sledge would have carried them into the playoffs, but perhaps the prospective AAA MVP would have given them a spark.

But, no, said MLB. They had spent their budget on the team and there wasn't a dime more. Let's see, a few major-league minimum salaries, and extra hotel room or two on the road, maybe $150K, maybe a little more. That's about five grand per "owner", not even chump change to these guys. But no was the final answer, for reasons financial and, one could easily deduce, otherwise, and the Expos faded down the stretch.

The Nationals need a real owner as soon as possible. A real owner would have the option to open up the checkbook and bump up the offer to a Perez. He would be able to act without going through a committee that has every reason to prevent him from improving his team. He would recognize, hopefully, that a team in need of a starting pitcher just might have to pay more than "market value" for a pitcher because that player is more valuable to his team that it is to the restof the "market".

Who's Up First?

You can contact Rich Tandler at

With spring training just over a month away, among the many unsettled issues for the Washington Nationals is who will occupy the leadoff spot in the batting order. There seem to be three leading candidates and all of them have their drawbacks.

Last year, the spot was occupied for most of the season by Brad Wilkerson. While he had an on-base average that was more than adequate for the spot (.374), there are a couple of major drawbacks to having him in the one spot. Although Wilkerson is not the prototypical lumbering type, he’s not exactly a speed demon. While he has 35 career steals, he’s been caught 25 times. On top of that, his power is wasted in the leadoff spot. Last year Wilkerson had 32 home runs and drove in 67 runs. Doing the math, that means that he drove in just 35 teammates all year. He’s a potential 100-RBI man if he’s lower in the order.

Wilkerson will do what he’s asked, but he’d rather bat lower in the order. From a recent article on the team’s Website: :

The batting order is also an issue for Wilkerson. The last two years, Wilkerson has been up and down in the lineup. Last year, his biggest success came from the leadoff spot. Wilkerson had a .382 on-base percentage when batting first, and his nine first-inning home runs led the Major Leagues.

But Robinson would like to move Wilkerson down in the lineup and give him a chance to drive in 100 runs. Wilkerson said that for the Nationals to be successful in '05, they must acquire a leadoff hitter to allow Wilkerson to move down in the order.

When asked if he thought Endy Chavez or Cristian Guzman could do the job at the top of the order, Wilkerson said, 'I hope so.

You can hope so, Brad, but we think not. Chavez did inch his OBP up over .300 for the first time in his career last year, but he still walked just 30 times in 132 games and struck out 40 times. Guzman, playing in the hitter-friendly Metrodome in the hitter-friendly AL, had a line that was remarkably similar with a .309 OBP, 30 BB, and 64 K's. That's what's known as a black hole at the top of the order.

Hey, wonder if Ricky Henderson would be interested?