To leave comments and view archives, go to this blog’s home site at http://distinguishedsenators.blogspot.com
"The bull . . . flowed together to the ズ to this day." That
was the reaction of the inscrutable, poorly-translated Japanese media to
the news that Tomo "Landlord" Ohka was dealt to the Brewers in exchange for
second baseman Junior Spivey, while the Nats also claimed pitcher Ryan Drese
off waivers from Texas. The bull did indeed flow, and author Joseph
Santoliquito is right to express doubt as to its end.
The trade is a pain to analyze, since there are all kinds of hypotheticals
and differing projections and that kind of nonsense to take into
consideration. I like the Endy Chavez/Marlon Byrd trade a lot better: it was
obvious from the moment I heard about it that Jim Bowden had just done to
the Phillies the equivalent of the thing where you have your friend get on
all fours right behind some dude's legs and then push, and I've heard no one
but Phillies fans say anything different.
It boils down to this: we gave up a solid starter having a rough year.
Milwaukee gave up a second baseman with one really good season under his
belt and that's about it. It's more complicated than that, of course. Ohka
hasn't been right all year. After walking 1.5 dudes per 9 innings in 2002
and 1.6 and 1.7 the next two years, his
BB rate shot up to 4.9 this year. His strikeouts have declined in the
same time frame: from 5.1 per 9 in '02 and '03 to 3.6 in 2005 and 2.4 this
year. However, he was hurt for most of 2004 after taking a line drive off
his forearm. He had a rough start to this season, but seemed to be coming
around before his infamous three inning, Frank-baiting turn against the
Marlins, and his ERA was the best among a very capable group of Nats
Ohka's been having a rough year, but Junior Spivey's been having a rough
career. He didn't make the majors until he was 26, but had a really nifty
All Star season in 2002: 865 OPS, 120 OPS+, 34 doubles, 16 homers. Since
then, however, anything you say about Spivey can be preceded with the phrase
"limited by injuries." Limited by injuries, he's played only 165 games over
the last two years. Limited by injuries, his OPS+ was only 88 in 2003.
Limited by injuries, he struck out 95 times in 106 games. Limited by
injuries, he's stolen only 9 bases in two years. Etc, etc. With Jose Vidro
out until the All Star break and no one in the middle infield hitting, we
needed a stopgap. We don't need Spivey for long, so maybe the injuries won't
matter. He'll certainly be an offensive improvement, doubly so if Guzman
gets to catch some pine every now and then in favor of Jamey Carroll.
I don't think we got enough for Ohka. Good starting pitchers are worth more
than middling second baseman. The argument in favor of the move is that Ohka
is no longer a good starting pitcher. It's possible that his new,
problematic strikeout and walk tendencies are permanent, his sub-4 ERA is an
illusion, and that he'll turn into 2005-vintage Zach Day in Milwaukee. I
doubt it, though. His crappy stats in 2004 came in only 84 innings and were
surrounded by injuries. His even crappier 2005 is the product of only 54
innings, and it's also worth pointing out that he's had a solidly
above-average ERA both years. It's far more likely that Ohka will regain his
2002-2003 form than that Spivey, who's hitting only 234/316/370 this year,
becomes an all star once again. A trade like this would have made a lot more
sense when the Nats had starting pitching depth. But Jon Rauch got hurt,
Zach Day got everyone mad at him and then got hurt, and Claudio Vargas was
so bad they fired him. We're relying on Ryan Drese, a reclamation project
with a 5.36 ERA and 200 IP only once. Drese could certainly become a
servicable starter. But the idea that he could replace Ohka is at least
Mere performance, though, was the
not the sole reason for the trade. On June 4 in a start against Florida,
Ohka famously "showed up" Frank Robinson. After watching Ohka walk three in
three innings and fall behind another hitter, Frank came out of the dugout
to get him. Ohka turned his back on the manager, and Frank snatched the ball
from his hand as though he were trying to prove to his kung-fu
master that he had completed his training. I'm willing to defend Ohka in
this incident. Frank yanked Ohka in the middle of an at-bat, something he's
fond of doing and something that's unnecessarily humiliating for the
pitcher. Yes, Ohka shouldn't have turned his back. But can't he be forgiven
a slip-up in such a frustrating situation? I'd rather see a player enraged
at his failure than cool with it. Similarly, I understand Frank's burst of
anger in yanking the ball away from the pitcher. What I don't understand or
condone is Frank's actions afterwards, as he continued
to bitch about Ohka to the press.
"When I come to the mound,
you're gone," Robinson said. "You're not going to talk me out of it. Give me
the ball, leave the mound."
"He has this thing that goes back for years that I don't have confidence
in him," Robinson said. "He just thinks I have something against him
personally, I guess."
Robinson said he addressed the issue of
respecting a manager in Spring Training, and doesn't want an incident to
alter relationships with the rest of his players.
"It just sets a
bad precedent," Robinson said. "The chemistry should be sky high right now
on this ballclub -- and it is. But one person can damage that chemistry to a
point where it hurts the team."
I've got no problem with
the fine had to pay, and I know it's important to maintain discipline in the
clubhouse. But why get the press involved? Why denigrate one of your own
players in public? It's not an isolated incident, either. Frank's been less
than reticent when pitchers displease him, and Jim Bowden isn't afraid to
take a smirking shot at someone on his way out (On Endy: "When
Chavez learned he was being sent down, he told Bowden, 'Trade
me.' 'Other clubs view you the same way we do,' Bowden said he told
Chavez, meaning he wasn't worth much in a trade." On Ohka: "We certainly
don’t want any player who has a problem playing for a first place club. I’m
sure he’ll be happy in Milwaukee."). It appears that our team is in the
hands of some less than classy people.
And that brings me to my
final point (I promise). When Inning-Endy was sent down, I
compared to him an assassinated emperor: "now that he's gone, people are
lining up to sing the praises of his successor and assure everyone that they
always hated that last guy." It's even more pronounced this time. Suddenly
everyone hates Tomo: he had what's coming to him, the disrespectful jackass.
Ron Darling's performance before Friday's game was shameful. He gleefully
recounted the back-turning incident before exclaiming, "You're outta here!"
Look, we don't know the whole story, but we can gather from Frank's comments
that there's been tension between him and Ohka for some time. Why do we
assume that Ohka is the jerk here? Is it because Frank's the manager, as
though that makes him infallible? Is it because Ohka's said next to nothing
while Frank has mouthed off repeatedly? Is it resentment that Tomo's baneful
influence on team chemistry kept us to only eight games over .500? If you're
quick to condemn Ohka for not getting along with his manager but ready to
absolve Jose Guillen of any act of violence against his, you may want to
consider whether your judgments are based on the personalities involved or
on the letters on their caps.