In war and in peace

Published 9:15 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Washington Nationals are more pitiful and seem more temporary right now than the Expos’ final attempt in Montreal/Puerto Rico.

Starting with the basics, the Nats have 26 wins at the All-Star Break, about a week past the halfway point of the schedule.

Washington’s shiny new stadium is actually drawing remarkably well considering what’s on the field. The Nats are not last in the league in attendance, and anything other than last is overachieving, so way to go D.C. The Nats rank No. 24 in attendance (23,213) which equates to a 55.4 percent-filled park per game.

Then we can look at the top of the franchise. On Monday, interim general manager Mike Rizzo announced the firing of manager Manny Acta and the hiring of interim manager Jim Riggleman.

To restate the obvious, the Nationals now have an interim general manager and interim head coach.

Team president Stan Kasten, with spin which probably counts for bonus points in D.C., gave the state of his team, saying, “I’m very uncomfortable with that. I’ve strived my whole career valuing stability and consistency, and I want to get to that here. We’re not there yet. I think we’re working toward that.”

With how the Nats have been in Acta’s two-and-a-half seasons, there certainly is no rational reason to keep him. Jim Riggleman’s lifetime MLB record in nine seasons as a manager is 522-652, 130 games under .500. To be honest a couple steps below mediocrity would be outstanding for the Nats, but wow, talk about conservative, and at a time when there’s no such thing as a conservative in Washington.

If there was ever a time to take a chance and try to find, or simply luck into, the coaching version of Boston’s Theo Epstein, wouldn’t this be it?

Finally, on the rebuilding front, the Nationals are looking at going back-to-back. That’s not back-to-back home runs, that’s back-to-back years having their first round draft pick come and go unsigned.

Remember Stephen Strasburg? The once-in-a-lifetime pitcher with a 102-mph fastball who was going to skip the minor leagues and immediately take over the top spot in Washington’s starting rotation.

Strasburg and his agent, the affable Scott Boras, are not without blame. It takes two sides for a Major League holdout. Boras is letting everyone, and the Nationals, know to what degree his client is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher.

Strasburg is, “an extraordinary player receiving a substantial bonus far above other draft picks has happened before … Obviously Stephen falls into that class of players,” said Boras. Boras wants a contract “several times” greater than the largest contract ever given an MLB draft pick. The record is Mark Prior in 2001 and $10.5 million total.

For the sake of not seeing an MLB team play a quarter of its games in Washington, a quarter in Puerto Rico, a quarter in Montreal and a quarter in Charlotte, let’s hope Strasburg and Boras don’t hold the line at $30-40 million.