Thursday, August 01, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Wise, Reid, Storen and the Elephant in the Room

Over the last two days, Mike Wise and Jason Reid  have written dueling columns on the Drew Storen demotion, and what it says about the Nats and Storen. I'm less interested in what the treatment of Storen says about the Nationals and more interested in what these columns say about the Post's coverage of the Nationals and D.C. sports.

Wise's column is just puzzling. He runs down a litany of examples of what he calls poor treatment of individuals in the Nationals organization. Many of the examples he cites, though, were actually pretty smart baseball decisions (letting Riggleman walk in 2011, not wanting to give a 33-year-old Adam LaRoche a three-year contract, not wanting to extend Ian Desmond's contract before seeing more than one year of solid production.) He then absolves General Manager Mike Rizzo of any blame for any of these decisions--because he's "done what was taught to him from above, what's been done to him" and chalks the problems with the team this year to  bad chemistry resulting from the culture that the Lerner family has created. (The "culture" Wise talks about is never explicitly named or described, but it appears to this reader that he's saying they're cheap.)

If Wise believes, via reporting or other means, that this "culture of doing business" created by the owners is a problem for the Nationals, that's fine. But how does Mike Rizzo get none of the blame for it? He put the team together in the first place. Many of his offseason moves have backfired (Haren signing, Span trade, not having a lefty reliever in the bullpen, lack of starting pitching depth going into the season), and he hasn't done a very good job of fixing them during the season. And whatever one thinks of bringing in Rafael Soriano to take Storen's job, it certainly seems obvious now that it could have been handled better on a personal level. But he's blameless because the Nats refused to extend his contract?

(My view: Storen obviously deserved some of the blame for the Game 5 meltdown, but the organization and the media allowed him to essentially become the scapegoat: Davey Johnson's questionable managerial decisions, "ace" Gio Gonzalez' failure to make it past five innings after being giving a six-run lead and the lackluster performance of the rest of the bullpen that night all deserved much more attention than they received in the days after the game, and signing Soriano just exacerbated that. But once Storen knew his new role, it was on him to produce better than  he has, and at this point, sending him to the minors makes sense.)

As for Reid's column, I might argue with some of his smaller points, but, in general, it mostly makes sense. What struck me reading it, though, was that these two Post columnist have engaged in a much more extensive, detailed and robust debate on the merits of the demotion of Drew Storen than it ever did last year when the much bigger issue of the Stephen Strasburg shutdown was being debated by pretty much everyone except sports columnists at the Post. How does that happen? (Back in 2012, Reid didn't even question that decision, saying that anyone criticizing the Nationals was "misguided" because of a conversation he once had with Frank Jobe, while Wise essentially said the Nats had to shut down Strasburg because Scott Boras told them to do so, which seemed ridiculous at the time and even more so now.)

Here's the bottom line: Last week, Tom Boswell argued that the Nats were diminished in the eyes of some around the game because of their firing of Rick Eckstein. This week, Mike Wise is arguing that the Nats look bad to some around baseball because they're treating their employees poorly. But Wise, Boswell and Reid are all likely missing the main thing that baseball people are saying about the Nationals: With the best record in baseball last year, Nationals management shut down their best pitcher three weeks before the playoffs, bragging all the way about how they planned to have many more opportunities to win the World Series. And on August 1 of the following year, they're 11 games out of first place and kind of a mess. It's proof that nothing is guaranteed in sports. Sure, it's not the reason that the Nats are playing so poorly this year--but four months into the season, doesn't it at least deserve a discussion in the pages of the Post that approaches the one that's being held about Drew Storen?


3 Comments:

Blogger efowl4 said...

I hate that argument. The shutting down of SS had nothing to do with last years season. It was done on the sound rationale that they were looking out for his long term future. To say they could have gone farther last year if they had SS isn't a retort to why he was shut down. He was shut down to make sure he is healthy for the long haul. If SS got hurt this year or gets hurt next year than you can say the decision was misguided, but the overall performance of the team was not a factor in shutting him down.

8/1/13, 9:29 AM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

Efowl4--

My issue is more with the lack of any real debate about the issue in the pages of the Post--there were plenty of baseball people who understood the innings limit but didn't understand why the Nats were unwilling to figure out a way to extend Strasburg by stretching out his innnigs (skipping starts, break in middle of season). It's fine if people think that was a bad idea, but it was a legitimate source of debate everywhere but the D.C. media--where it was barely acknowledged.

8/1/13, 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article. Wise is a hack.

I hope Boswell addresses the issue, he is the baseball guy and has been for decades.

8/2/13, 10:02 AM  

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