The Washington Nationals
held a press conference today to distance themselves from former manager Manny Acta, calling the team's performance to date "unacceptable" and that the talent they have been working on for "three hard years" to accumulate has "underachieved."
GM Mike Rizzo spoke first, announcing that Jim Riggleman, veteran baseball manager and bench coach for the Nationals
, would assume the position of "interim" field manager. He also said that Pat Corrales, a long time lieutenant of Nationals' part-owner Stan Kasten, would take over as bench coach, a position from which he was fired at the end of last season. He was replaced by Riggleman.
Citing a need for a "different feel" and a new voice in the clubhouse, the team turns to Riggleman, who has managed for San Diego
, Chicago, and Seattle
. He took over as "interim" manager for the Mariners last year when they fired John MacLaren mid-way through the season.
Rizzo went out of his way to say that Acta had not "lost the team," but was careful to say that the team "underachieved" this season, especially the defense and relief pitching. He went so far as to say that perhaps "a different voice presenting the same material" might make a difference.
Kasten called the first half of the season a "great disappointment" and said that the organization would work toward "achieving stability" in the second half, noting the organization's strong disappointment in the instability.
Both executives lauded the strong young pitching staff as an area to build upon, but said that the fundamentals need "a lot of work." And though they are satisfied with the level of effort, they were not happy with the execution and consistency.
So at the 2009 all-star break, the Washington Nationals have an "acting" general manager and an "interim" field manager. They fired their manager in the middle of the night before the all-star break and scheduled the press conference at a time they knew the regular print media would be unavailable due to travel constrictions.
Yet, they announce their disappointment with the instability within the organization. From a press release, to the fans of the Washington Nationals:
"No one is more dissatisfied in the first half of the 2009 Washington Nationals season than we are. Like you, we had hoped that some of our younger players would have matured faster and that the addition of some of our new veterans would have significantly improved our record from a season ago. Our hope was that a solid club leadership would emerge on and off the field and that some intangible combinations would begin to click resulting in many winning streaks."
This organization has much deeper problems than the field manager. Kasten knows it. Rizzo knows it.
They can't catch the ball. The position players are not young (with the exception of the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman). The starting pitchers are young and still going through growing pains. The bullpen is full of players no one else in baseball wanted at the beginning of the season.
The young players that Jim Bowden lauded as building stones (Milledge, Dukes) have been shipped out, determined that their attitudes overcame their abilities. They failed to sign their No. 1 draft pick last season, and are in jeopardy of the same this year.
The minor league system, destroyed by Major League Baseball under their stewardship in Montreal and the first two years in D.C., is only marginally better than when ownership took over. Their efforts in international scouting are non-existent, due to the Smiley Gonzalez fiasco and resulting FBI investigation into money skimming.
And this doesn't begin to take into account the dysfunction in and around Nationals Park.
But the ownership group is now out of scapegoats. Gone are Jim Bowden, Manny Acta, Randy St. Claire, and Frank Robinson. It's all on Kasten now. The part owner/team president is the only one left to answer the questions.
Where to go now? There are two scenarios:
1) The team shows signs of life in the second half and the organization tries to further isolate themselves from Acta, lauding the change as a positive step toward the future.
2) There's no difference in the level of play on the field, and Kasten completely cleans house in the offseason.
Either way, the next two-and-a-half weeks Rizzo will be concentrating on trying to get other teams to give the Nats anything of value for the few sell-able parts the Nats have. Then, they have 17 days in August to sign Steven Strasburg.
It is only then, at midnight on Aug. 17, that Nats fans will know where the team stands in relation to the following statement in their letter to fans:
"When we bought the Washington Nationals in the middle of the 2006 season—just under three years ago—we committed to a patient, long term approach, building a strong farm system and core foundation that would deliver a perennial and consistent contender; to provide a second-to-none family entertainment value at Nationals Park; and to investment and involvement in the metropolitan Washington DC community. Today we remain steadfastly committed to each component of that mission. We are proud to represent the National Pastime in the Nation’s Capital, and we are proud to call the Capital area home.
"We know we have a way to go, but the end result will be all the richer for the early days we’ve spent together at Nationals Park. We are getting better. We want you to be with us as the pieces of the puzzle come together. Your support is powerful to the Nationals and baseball in Washington. Thank you for your continuing patience and your commitment to a shared dream."
It won't matter a hill of beans who is managing this team if they fail to sign Strasburg. No one else will need to indict them, as their actions will finally, and certainly, speak for themselves.
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