Wouldn't Ric Flair make a great sports commentator? Yes, of course he would.
These playoffs are some exciting stuff, all right. That's not what I'm excited about, though. I'm excited about DC baseball.
"Well of course you are, jackass. You're the one with the blog," you're probably saying. And sure, I guess that's true, but for months now my pure, childish glee has been buried beneath deadly-dull talk of relocation committees and city council votes and lawsuits and freaking middle of nowhere Northern Virginia. But soon, dear reader(s), soon we'll really have something to talk about. You know, a real, live baseball team, with players and announcers and management to whom we can attribute incompetence and/or malignity. Go read this article in the Times. We'll have a name and a general manager after the World Series (Astros in six, and good for them). Tony Tavares is about to hire a guy to get a radio deal. MLB is setting a land speed record in getting some ownership up in here, and we could be saluting our new overlords by the end of the year. I look forward to nothing more than having an actual team to talk about, and I finally feel like we're about to have one.
So today I will talk about our apparently probable general manager, Bob Watson. Watson, who scored the one millionth run in MLB history, has had two previous GM stints. He ran the Houston Astros from October 1993 to October 1995 and the Yankees from October 1995 until February 1998, when he was replaced by Brian Cashman, who could well wind up as his successor in Washington as well. Looking at his record, Watson tends to avoid big-name, high-dollar free agents and excels at picking up still-useful veterans.
With both teams, Watson inherited a club bound for glory with most of the most important bits already in place. The 1993 Astros already had Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Shane Reynolds, and Mike Hampton. The 1995 Yankees had their core in place, with Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte already with the Yanks (say what you will about their scrilla-spreading ways, but the Yankees' recent run has been powered far more than usual by homegrown players).
Watson's Astros tenure isn't all that interesting. There was one huge trade: on December 28, 1994, the Astros acquired Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Guiterrez, Pedro Martinez (no, not the one with the Jheri curl and the midget), Phil Plantier, and Craig Shipley from the Padres in exchange for the late Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Andujar Cedeno, Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams, and Sean Fesh (much thanks to Baseball Reference - now with 2004 stats!). Bell had some good years for the 'Stros (two 125 OPS+ seasons), but the Padres did better out of this deal. Caminiti won the 1996 MVP and slugged over .500 in each of his four years in San Diego, and Finley had three very good years and one not-so-good. There is one acquisition that presages his real knack for picking up useful veterans: in 1995, the Astros signed Dave Magadan, then 32 years old, to play third base for them. For the low, low cost of $360,000, Magadan put up a .428 on-base percentage and 127 OPS+. He was much worse than this the year before and the year after, but Watson didn't didn't hold onto him for the bad parts.
Moving on the Yankees, Watson pretty much kept the club on an even keel. They had most of the parts they'd need, having made the playoffs in 1995. Watson and Yanks had an excellent draft in 1996, selecting Eric Milton, Nick Johnson, and Zach Day. That none of these players are currently Yankees is a testament to George Steinbrenner's mindset. It is also worth pointing out that Joe Torre was hired as manager under Watson's watch.
The Yankees made two important trades before embarking on the reign of terror that still darkens the baseball landscape. In late 1995, they sent Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock to the Mariners for Jim Mecir, Jeff Nelson, and Tino Martinez. As you probably know, Martinez won four World Series at first base with New York, while Jeff Nelson was an effective reliever for five years with the Yanks. John Wetteland was acquired in April 1995 from the Expos for Fernando Seguignol, who wound up with only 178 career games. Wetteland supplied the Yanks with 81 saves in two years (including postseason) before giving way to Mariano Rivera.
Waton's free agent signings were mixed. David Cone must be considered a rousing success, however. Cone was acquired from Toronto in the middle of the '95 season for three guys you've probably never heard of. He subsequently resigned with New York in the offseason, and, with the exception of his last year with the club, was superb. In his five and a half good years, his ERA+ was between 120 and 176 (with 100 being league-average). Wade Boggs, resigned in 1995, was effective, as was Darryl Strawberry. On the other hand, Kenny Rogers had one good year and one bad year, but was flipped for Scott Brosius in 1997. Joe Girardi kept Jorge Posada on the bench longer than he should have been, and Hideki Irabu just sucked. Still does, for all I know.
Where Watson really shone was in picking up effective veterans to supplement his homegrown core. I already mentioned Strawberry, who put in five years of above-average offense (except 1997, when he played only 32 games) and never made more than a million dollars. Tim Raines, traded to New York for nothing (no offense to Blaise Kozeniewski) in 1996, supplied yet more above-average offense for three years. Chili Davis pitched in at DH for a couple years with two 115 OPS+ seasons. Watson got one year, 15 wins, and a 117 ERA+ out of Jack McDowell before letting him depart for free agency and ineffectiveness.
Given his track record, Watson would seem to be a good fit for Washington. Our next GM would be an interim GM; the most important task is to rebuild the farm system, but our MLB-appointed general manager probably won't be given time to do it (especially considering that local boy Brian Cashman is about a week away from suffering the wrath of Steinbrenner). Watson will be able to fill in the really obvious gaps in the team (third base, bullpen, etc.) without really mucking things up (say, trading Tomo Ohka and Maicer Izturis for Vinny Castilla because we need veteran presence or throwing a four-year contract at Juan Gonzalez). I'd like to see Pat Gillick given years to build the Senators up, but we could do much worse than Bob Watson in the short term.