LaRoche stays with the Nationals
It's been a busy month for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, who completed three major transactions over the past couple weeks. I have been pretty busy as well (see below), so permit me the opportunity to get caught up on recent Nats news.
After many weeks of drama, rumors, and negotiations with other teams, Adam LaRoche signed with Nationals for another two years -- not three years, as he had been seeking. The $24-million deal was reached two Wednesdays ago, seeming to indicate a win for the team owners. Nobody else was willing to give LaRoche a three-year contract, something of a surprise to me. See MLB.com. The Nationals front office had made a $13.3 million "qualifying offer" to free-agent LaRoche in November, so they would have received a draft pick compensation if he had signed with another team.
This is obviously good news for the Nationals as they prepare to defend their National League Eastern Division championship this year -- and hopefully go further in the playoffs! LaRoche led the team last year in home runs (33) and RBIs (100); see the Washington Nationals page. I have mixed feelings, however, since it made it almost impossible to keep another star player on the roster: Michael Morse. (See below.)
Soriano joins the Nationals
Perhaps even bigger news came last week, when relief pitcher Rafael Soriano signed a contract with the Nationals, worth $28 million for two years, with a third year option. Soriano (no relation to Alfonso Soriano, a former National) replaced Mariano Rivera for the Yankees last summer, and did well enough to get the Yankees to the American League Championship Series last October. On Thursday Soriano was introduced to the press at Nationals Park ceremonially donning a Nationals jersey, number 29. See Washington Post.
Dan Kolko (masnsports.com) agrees with others who say the Nats overpaid Soriano, and will also lose a draft pick because the Yankees made him [Soriano] a qualifying offer, but he still thinks it will still be a good bargain because of the arm power that he possesses. Having a dominant closer on the mound is what makes the difference between winning and losing big games, as the Nationals found out to their bitter dismay in NLDS Game 5 last October.
Speaking of which (!), Drew Storen just signed a one-year $2.5 million contract with the Nationals, thus avoiding arbitration. He will presumably become either a backup closer or the setup man in the Nats bullpen, a role which Tyler Clippard had before Storen had elbow surgery last spring, after which Clippard became the closer until late in the season. See MLB.com. The Nationals now have a formidable bullpen, but it remains to be seen whether they can each accept the shifting roles they will play. In the above-cited Washington Post article, Mike Rizzo was quoted as saying:
Drew Storen is a closer. ... He's going to be a closer. He's got closer stuff. He's got a closer mentality. And by no means the signing of Rafael Soriano was based on one inning and one game at the end of the season. This guy's a young closer that was thrust into the closer role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer.
Morse is traded by the Nationals
As an inevitable consequence of the Adam LaRoche deal, Michael "The Beast" Morse was traded to Seattle Mariners, from whence the Nationals had obtained him in a trade three years ago. This week's deal was part of a three-way trade in which the Oakland Athletics were also involved. In exchange, the Nats get right-hand pitchers A.J. Cole, who was with the Nationals until being traded in the Gio Gonzalez deal in December 2011, and Blake Treinen, as well "a player to be named later." See MLB.com. (What about left-handed pitchers? That's what the Nats really need.)
That was very sad news to me, but as Dan Kolko explains at masnsports.com, it just wouldn't be fair to keep Morse on the Nats roster. He would only have been a reserve player, wasting his formidable slugging power. The acquisition of Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins filled up the outfield, which was lacking in a fleet-footed guy who can chase down potential doubles. Bryce Harper hurt himself doing that a couple times last year, and the Nats can't afford to risk his precious limbs that way. We'll find out soon enough whether Span is of more value to the team than Morse has been.
Farewell, Michael Morse! We'll remember all you did for the Nats!
Bryce Harper on TV
Thanks to Facebook, I learned that Bryce Harper was going to be on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" last Tuesday night, and he had me grinning through the whole interview. He is not only quite a character (Mohawk hair style, Gonzo attitude, etc.), he's also amazingly well composed for someone who just turned 20. You can watch the complete show at abc.go.com; he follows Rob Lowe, about midway through the program.
Nobody joins Hall of Fame
The Baseball Writers of America chose Nobody for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week. Nobody has a career batting average of .381, with 2,420 RBIs and 799 home runs. Craig Biggio received the most number of votes (388), but failed to reach the required 75% level. He, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza, are suspected of having used performance-enhancing drugs at some point during their careers. For factual, non-ironic coverage, see MLB.com.
In a related story, bicyclist Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times altogether, admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs. (Those titles were stripped from him.) As recently as last month, he was vehemently denying doing any such thing. Weird sudden turnabout. See ESPN. How about you, Barry? The point being, the price of coming "clean" may be too high, given the legal liability from former sponsors, etc. That's why stonewalling is the most frequent response to P.E.D. accusations.
Dodger Stadium makeover
I had heard that the new owners of the Dodgers (Magic Johnson, et al.) were going to make some improvements to Dodger Stadium, but until recently I had no idea how just extensive the changes were. Believe it or not, they have torn out the first dozen or so rows of seats, along with the concrete structure. Are they planning to lower the playing field? That's the only reason I can figure why they would go to such drastic lengths. Capacity is expected to remain at exactly 56,000, as it has been ever since 1962. When asked about the rumored $100 million price tag for the projct, Dodgers president Stan Kasten, who said that figure is "as good as any to use." You can read all about it at MLB.com, and also watch a photo gallery. Hat tips to Bruce Orser and Mike Zurawski.
Memorial Coliseum update
And speaking of the L.A. Dodgers, the diagrams of L.A. Memorial Coliseum, their former temporary home, have been revised. Including the entry portals allowed me to get other details (such as the press box) more accurately than before. As usual, the profile is much improved. Note that I have added a new color (dark olive) for dirt that is outside of the baseball playing field. It helps to define more easily where the outfield fence is. There is also a new full-size version with center field at the top, a suggestion made by Steven Poppe. Contrary to what may be implied by the adjacent thumbnail image, however, I don't intend to do a football version with that "tilted" stadium orientation.
More Web site upgrades
The Memorial Coliseum page includes a new feature that will be incorporated into all stadium pages over the next few months: the number of rows in each deck of the grandstand, with appropriate color-coded backgrounds. It so happens that this particular stadium only has one deck, so instead of decks, I put the number of rows in each level (upper, middle, and lower), which are divided by the lateral aisles. Also, the fence height is now split into three separate columns. Here's what the data table on that page now looks like (slightly squeezed, omitting the last six columns), and below that is a taste of what is still to come.
|Outfield dimensions (feet)
|Behind home plate
|Seating rows (typical)
|Outfield dimensions (feet)
|Behind home plate
|Seating rows (typical)
|Built / Rebuilt
|Until / Demo-
NOTE: The above tables do not include the five "Clem Criteria" used to subjectively rank baseball stadiums from best to worst, or the average summary measure. Data are "subject to revision."
In addition, I have made great progress on a number of stadium diagrams that will be released soon, and am exploring options for enhancing user interactivity, via social media, etc. There will probably be some kind of integration with Facebook for purposes of commenting, recommending, etc. Finally, I have weeded out links to blogs that no longer exist, and will soon do likewise on the list of links to other baseball Web sites. I'll also be adding new advertisements to various baseball pages, including those whose sponsorships have lapsed. If you'd like to sponsor a page for the first time, renew an old sponsorhip, or just chip in a few bucks via PayPal, please see the Sponsor page.
Another baseball song
While browsing around Apple's Music Store recently, I stumbled upon a baseball-themed song that was new to me. It's "Come On Home to Baseball," by Ray Stevens, the humorous country musician famous for the 1970s hit songs "The Streak" and "Wildwood Flower" (youtube.com). So I added his baseball tune, released in 2006, to the song list on the Baseball in Culture page.