Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Was Cristian Guzman's original, four-year contract the worst move the Nats have ever made?
Those decisions, of course, were made before baseball ever returned to D.C. We certainly didn't realize at the time how they would impact the Nats, because the Nats didn't yet exist.
Which got me thinking: In the six seasons now since we have had baseball in the District, what one decision has hurt the franchise the most? What one move do you wish the Nats could take back?
I came up with the following list of candidates...
-- Trading Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis to the Angels for Jose Guillen (Nov. 2004): Guillen was the best player on the inaugural 2005 team, but he was a divisive clubhouse figure and after a strong first half to the '05 season, he was either terrible or injured through the remainder of his contract. Rivera and Izturis, meanwhile, became regulars for an Angels club that made the playoffs four times in five years.
-- Signing Cristian Guzman to a four-year, $16 million contract (Nov. 2004): Jim Bowden felt his team desperately needed a veteran shortstop, and Guzman was really the only one available. So the new Nats GM overpaid the former Twin and gave him more years than anyone else out there was willing to offer. Guzman proceed to hit .219 in 2005 and missed all of 2006 and most of 2007 with injuries before finally returning strong as an All-Star in 2008 ... and convincing Bowden to give him a two-year, $16 million extension.
-- Giving up on Marlon Byrd (July 2006): Byrd was picked up in 2005 from the Phillies in a trade for Endy Chavez and had a few shining moments for the Nats. Overall, though, the outfielder was inconsistent, so he was sent down to Class AAA in the summer of 2006 and allowed to walk as a free agent at season's end. Texas picked him up after that, and Byrd proceeded to resurrect his career. Over the last four years with the Rangers and the Cubs, he's hit .294 with an average of 13 homers, 70 RBI and 32 doubles. He made his first All-Star team this year with Chicago.
-- Retaining Jim Bowden as GM (July 2006): While MLB still owned the franchise, Bowden was strictly interim, renewed three separate times on six-month contracts. Many figured new owners would want to bring in their own GM, but upon taking complete control of the club in the summer of 2006, the Lerner family decided to retain Bowden and make him the permanent GM. He remained in that position until March 2009, when he resigned after the Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal became public.
-- Signing Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million (July 2006): Speaking of the player who claimed to be named "Smiley," his signing out of the Dominican Republic for what at the time was a franchise record for an international player still looms as a major mistake. Not only did Gonzalez turn out to be named Carlos Alvarez, be four years older than he claimed and not be nearly as good a player as anyone was led to believe, but the ensuing scandal derailed the Nationals' Latin American program. They're still trying to recover from it today.
-- Trading Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris and Daryl Thompson to the Reds for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner (July 2006): Man, what a busy month that turned out to be. This felt like a blockbuster trade at the time, though in hindsight, not one of those eight players proved to be anything special. Bray did pitch for the Reds in the NLDS this month, and Harris did become a semi-regular for the Rays and Twins, but Majewski's career fell apart, Clayton retired and Thompson never panned out. Kearns, Lopez and Wagner, meanwhile, were all busts in D.C. and none remains with the Nats.
-- Hiring Manny Acta as manager (Nov. 2006): The former Expos and Mets third base coach came highly touted, and he won over plenty of people in his first season as Nats skipper. But his team lost 102 games in 2008 and was on pace to lose 114 at the All-Star break in 2009 when he was fired. Would another manager have made a difference? We'll never know. But it never did work out for Manny in D.C.
-- Drafting Ross Detwiler over Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward (June 2007): Though they wouldn't admit it at the time, the Nats drafted Detwiler sixth overall as a fallback option after missing out on a couple of guys they really wanted but went earlier (Mike Moustakas, Josh Vitters and Matt Wieters). So they took what they believed to be the best pitcher in the class besides No. 1 pick David Price. In doing so, they passed over a couple of other guys who reached the majors this year and were significant contributors to playoff participants. Bumgarner, who will start Game 4 of the World Series, went 10th overall to the Giants. Heyward, who will finish either first or second for NL Rookie of the Year, went 14th overall to the Braves. Think the Nats wish they had either of those guys now?
-- Giving Dmitri Young a two-year, $10 million extension (July 2007): There were few more-inspiring stories in baseball in 2007 than Young's return from health and legal problems to become an All-Star, NL Comeback Player of the Year and a clubhouse leader for the Nationals. But when Bowden rewarded Dmitri with a two-year extension, heads were scratched everywhere. It wasn't so much that he didn't deserve to be brought back. It was the fact he was given a two-year contract when no one else in baseball would have made that offer for an aging first baseman with diabetes who was unlikely to duplicate his fantastic comeback season. Young wound up playing in only 50 games in 2008 and didn't play at all in 2009. Thus, he earned $200,000 for every game played under that contract extension.
-- Signing Paul Lo Duca for $5 million three days before he appeared in the Mitchell Report (Dec. 2007): After trading Brian Schneider to the Mets in the Lastings Milledge deal, Bowden needed a veteran catcher to work alongside Jesus Flores. So he signed Lo Duca and touted the 35-year-old as a leader who had never played for a losing team. Three days later, Lo Duca was among the players outed in the Mitchell Report for having bought HGH from Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, shattering his reputation. On the field, he was terrible, hitting .230 with a .281 slugging percentage in 43 games before getting unceremoniously released after Bowden was unable to trade him in July 2008.
-- Going into the 2009 season with no bullpen (Feb. 2009): I still remember Manny Acta being asked on one of the first days of spring training about the fallback plan in case Joel Hanrahan didn't work out as closer. There was no fallback plan, Acta said with a look that suggested he knew disaster awaited. Sure enough, Hanrahan couldn't handle the closer's role and had to be replaced in April. Unfortunately, the only relievers available to take over were Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez. That didn't exactly work out, and the Nats' season spiraled out of control before the calendar ever reached May.
-- Signing Jason Marquis to a two-year, $15 million contract (Dec. 2009): The Nats desperately needed a reliable, veteran starter who could be counted on to deliver 200 innings. Unfortunately, Marquis didn't prove to be that guy. He didn't look right in spring training, posted a 20.52 ERA in his first three starts, wound up on the DL with bone chips in his elbow and despite better results after returning, still wound up 2-9 with a 6.60 ERA. Worse, the Nats are stuck with the right-hander going into 2010. He may yet prove to be reliable and help this team in 2011, but it's hard to imagine he'll be worth that money in the end.
So there you have it, 12 decisions made by the Nationals over the last six years that didn't exactly pan out as hoped. Which one do you think was the worst, the one you wish they could take back and never have allowed to happen? Or do you have another one in mind?
Let me know what you think.