Washington Nationals Michael Morse celebrates a grand slam home run against the New York Mets in Washington

I went to Nationals Park and it was good

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I went to D.C. on Friday. The impetus for the trip: my friend, who does business development in the commercial real estate world, was gifted with the use of a luxury suite for the Nats-Mets game. She filled it up with clients and business contacts but, by golly, wouldn’t you know it, she had a couple of tickets left over for little old me.  Oh, providence.

It was my first trip to Nationals Park. Overall: it’s a good place. Not a top-top kind of place, but quite nice.  I think it probably needs a few more years to be lived in and experience the maturation of the Nats as a winning team and the Nats fan base as a whole before a fair assessment can be made, but it’s quite nice.  And even if it does skew a bit bland for now, that will change with time and history. And it’s way better to be a tad bland now than to manufacture all kinds of phony history and character when it hasn’t earned it. Random observations from a nice night of baseball:

    • It wasn’t just me and commercial real estate people in the box. Because my friend had a couple of extra tickets, I invited our friend D.J. Short and his fiance Christine, who live in the D.C. area, to join us. I’ve worked with D.J. for over three years and this was the first time I’d met him in person. The Internet is weird. D.J. and Christine are not, however. They’re pretty adorable actually. And D.J. is a pro: despite being a Mets fan and despite watching Johan Santana get let the hell up again, he didn’t curse the gods or kick anything. See: he even was a good enough sport to smile for a pic:

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  • It was a pretty good crowd for the Nats, I’m told. Not a sellout, but it was the sort of crowd you could expect for most winning teams on a Friday night. And it’s not like it was driven by some promotion or anything. The giveaway was Nats caps with a beer logo on it, so kids couldn’t get them. The Nats are winning and the people are starting to show up. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
  • The park has big wide concourses and, from what I could tell from my stroll, a lot of food options. People talk about the Shake Shack a lot — and the line was crazy — but even the normal ballpark food looked varied and of high quality. I didn’t get a good sampling of the beers, but I pregamed a bit in the bar above left field, and they had some microbrewish options and, oddly, Peroni on tap. Can’t say I’ve ever seen Peroni on tap at a ballpark.
  • The crowd was into the game, but you could tell that it’s still a growing and learning fan base. Almost every time a fly ball was hit, the “that could be a home run!” roar grew a bit until someone caught it in non-necessarily deep left, right or center field. On the plus side, though, the crowd did cheer loudly and naturally at key moments — like when Michael Morse came up in a bases loaded situation — without prompting from the scoreboard (though the scoreboard did prompt often, just after the cheering had already began).
  • About that Michael Morse bases-loaded situation: just as he came up to bat, the woman behind me — who is not really a big baseball fan — said “he’s going to hit a grand slam here, I just know it.” I, the baseball expert who has seen things in this game, said “well, I suppose it’s possible, but I think it far more likely that he’ll hit a single to the opposite field. Two runs will score.”  Of course Morse hit a grand slam. The lesson, as always, is that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
  • Bryce Harper hit a homer. My inner fanboy cheered a lot, bro.
  • No one cares about this but media people, but I was shocked at just how high up in the stratosphere the press box is.  It’s waaay higher there than it is at any other park I’ve been to.  If people ever think Nats broadcasters are missing anything, you can probably blame the fact that they’re so high up that they have to rely on video more than anyone else.
  • My friend and I drove to the game, but we walked by the Metro station near the ballpark on our way in and out.  It’s conveniently located and clearly, based on the development around the park, it’s intended that now and forever the best way to get to games is to take Metro. That said, after the game was over, the crowd trying to get into the station was insane. Backed up all the way up the escalator and way out onto the sidewalk and the surrounding streets. Someone who uses it tell me: does Metro not run more trains than usual after games? Because that looked like a nightmare.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  Like I said, nice place. Obviously I’d get a good impression of it based on the fact that I sat in the luxury box, but it seemed like a good place to see a game even if you’re a peasant –er, I mean, even if you sit in regular seats.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.