- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007

After losing three straight to the Atlanta Braves, the only team that stood between the Washington Nationals and the worst record in baseball was the Cincinnati Reds.

But from top to bottom, from the major leagues to the lowest rung in the farm system, no one had lost more games than the Nationals.

So while they might not wind up as a historically bad team, let’s not start organizing any parades.

As of Wednesday, among the 14 major league teams with losing records, the Washington Nationals organization had the worst combined record from the major leagues all the way down to the rookie league club in the Gulf Coast League.

The Nationals, Columbus, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown, Vermont and the Gulf Coast club had a combined record of 165-235. The Reds, the team with the worst major league record, actually had an overall organizational record of 206-200. The next worst organization record was the Kansas City Royals with a 184-226 mark.

The only Nationals farm club that had a winning record was the Vermont Lake Monsters of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League at 5-4.

It should be noted that these comparisons are based on domestic teams in the organization. One of the two Nationals” Dominican Summer League clubs is doing quite well with a 16-4 record, while the second team is 9-12.

Player development people certainly will say wins and losses in the minor leagues are not the same measure of success as they are in the majors. Decisions are not always made based on winning or losing but on the development of particular players. That might be true.

But they keep score in the minors, don’t they? They have standings and championships, right? There is no disclaimer on the tickets purchased for these games that indicates the team isn’t trying to win, is there?

Still, in the scheme of things, the records of minor league clubs don’t matter, Nationals team president Stan Kasten said.

“When you tell me what those standings are, it will be news to me because I don’t follow them,” Kasten said. “They are not meaningful to me. What is meaningful is how the players we have are developing. In our case, as soon as players perform, we start moving them up, as we did when we had the mass promotions at Hagerstown.

“It’s different for the fans and the media. It doesn’t make you wrong. But for me, standings are certainly secondary. If there is a team where standings do matter, it is the team in Washington.”

But if it were the other way around — if the Nationals were among the winningest organizations in baseball — we likely would be hearing about that success.

General manager Jim Bowden said before the season we should be watching what is going on in places like Hagerstown and Potomac — so this is what is going on. He likely was talking about the particular development of prospects like Chris Marrero and Justin Maxwell, and there is a lot to feel good about how those young players are progressing.

But the record of the organization from top to bottom might illustrate the lack of depth in the system and how far Kasten, Bowden and company have to go to get to where they want to be. They have touted an All-Star scouting team and front office, and they are going to need it to stock this system.

From most accounts, they took a step in the right direction with the recent draft as the Nationals received good marks from several pundits. We won’t know for years how successful they were, but based on the records of these farm clubs, we pretty much can be sure of one thing: If this was not a successful draft, from the high picks to the lower rounds, it will set back this organization — and it can’t afford any setbacks.

The Lerner/Kasten ownership and the Bowden front office are on the clock. That clock stopped this season, in no small part because of the dire expectations of a historically bad year at the major league level. Really, this team should be thankful for all the preseason predictions of a year that could have rivaled the 1962 New York Mets’ 120-loss season.

The Nationals are 32-46, and the buzz is pretty good for a team with that record. People feel good about this team because it hasn’t been woefully bad. The team is a likeable group that plays hard, and fans have left RFK Stadium most nights feeling they have gotten their money’s worth. New manager Manny Acta deserves a lot of credit for the professionalism on the field on most nights. Bowden did a great job of salvaging enough pitching in the organization to keep the team from falling apart and picked up two players, Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard, whom no one else wanted. Their value will come when they are traded for more prospects to help fill the minor league rosters.

But before anyone pins a rose on Kasten, Bowden and company, let’s remember: This is still a losing team and a losing organization. And that clock — stopped by an unusual set of circumstances in the new ownership’s first year in a lame-duck ballpark and by the expectation of being the biggest losers in baseball history — starts again when the new ballpark opens in 2008. Losing will be losing then, whether it is in Harrisburg or the District.

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