We commence with a dilemma: we know that the the functionality of our federal government is catastrophically inept, and we know that DC sports is also a long-standing trainwreck, but we don’t fully understand the connection between these two things. I am a trained social scientist and have rigorously applied my trade in attempting to wrestle this problem to the ground, but my findings have been painfully inconclusive. In attempting to locate the source of the hex, it would seem there are too many possibilities. There is simply too much bad karma spread over too many decades to pinpoint any single cause for this triage of misery – a Gordian knot of moral and tactical malfeasance yielding a problem with seemingly no solution. And yet we persevere, as we must. I cannot face this alone, so I have recruited my husband Timothy to aid me in my findings. In this space we will update the travails of Washington’s various sports related entities beginning with the absolute worst and counting down to the semi-acceptable. In doing this work, I believe we may one day find a solution, or at least a series of rational accommodations that will allow for something approximating a normal life. (Note: In the case of the absolutely wretched Washington football franchise, I have decided for the time being to continue to refer to them as the Redskins. For the record, I wish they would change the name. Within DC sports circles. this remains an unpleasant matter, as it should. While plenty of influential figures like Tony Kornheiser, Lindsay Czarniak and Dan Steinberg have advocated for a name change, others whom I really like, such as local radio/podcast personality Kevin Sheehan continue to passionately believe the name is not to be taken in offense. The reality is that regardless we appear to be stuck with the name for the time being. I am personally offended by the term “Daniel Snyder, Team Owner”, but that circumstance appears intransigent as well.
Misery Index For 4/14/19:
1. Washington Redskins
What Is Broken:
Well… where to begin. Owner Daniel Snyder is dumb, mean, and increasingly receding into a Howard Hughes-like state of cloistered lunacy. The team president and functional GM Bruce Allen is inconceivably worse – a source of league-wide ridicule who has presided over nearly a decade of miserable cap and roster management, mortifying scandals and botched attempts to strike a deal for a new stadium with the smug self-assurance of a dickish private school bully. Home games are routinely played in front of tens of thousands of empty seats and large swaths of opposing teams’ fans. The head coach Jay Gruden is an affable mediocrity who seems to understand that it is impossible for the organization to win and therefore is contentedly coaching out his contract, which was extended last year despite his having made the playoffs once in five seasons, with no post-season victories. Other than that, how’s the play Mrs. Lincoln?
Can It Be Fixed?
It’s not clear how. The team’s offseason highlights so far include signing former Giants safety Landon Collins to a gargantuan contract and trading a low round pick to the Broncos for Case Keenum. Neither of those moves are indefensible, but the notion that these additions will make the team a contender seems like a fanciful one. In the meantime, the Skins lost young talent through free agency at slot receiver with Jamison Crowder and edge rusher Preston Smith, apparently without solid plans to replace them. But we’ve gotten into the weeds here. Of course it can’t be fixed! This is a Prometheus-like mythological hell in which the punishments only become more acute over time. As long as Dan Snyder owns the team, eagles (and Eagles!) will feast hourly on our exposed innards. Now there’s a marketing slogan.
2. Washington Wizards
What Is Broken:
The Wizards finally moved on from seemingly-permanent GM Ernie Grunfeld following sixteen years of frequently Lynchian strangeness. It is rare that anyone is in any job for sixteen years anymore, and extremely peculiar in the case of Grunfeld, a likeable gent who presided over a long series of bad trades, poor drafts and ill advised cap management. We all know the greatest hits: choosing Jan Vesley over Kawhi Leonard, the Andray Blatche extension, the Gil Arenas extension, trading the #5 pick in the 2009 draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. If only the Mueller Report read like this! It’s fine. It’s like the end of an interminable marriage which has long ceased to meaningfully rankle. In any case, the Wiz finished their season Tuesday with a record of 32-50. They owe injured John Wall $170 million over the next four years and he may not play next year at all, and he may not ever be good again since the history of NBA players returning from Achilles injuries features a monkey’s paw-like procession of terrifying reincarnations. It’s pretty much just Bradley Beal and total apocalypse for the foreseeable future.
Can It Be Fixed?
Barring some kind of deus ex machina – say landing the first pick in the draft and Zion Williamson – it appears this will be a long rebuild. The Wall contract may well be the single worst in all of sports and there is no telling how the new regime will make sense of the accumulated detritus on hand. The roster is a puzzle – not enough players under contract and not enough cap space to maneuver significantly. If it were a poker hand, you’d fold it, charge out of the room, change your name and relocate. A local’s perspective: there is no real reason to watch the games, but sometimes we tune into NBC Sports Washington to watch the games anyway just to hear Steve Buckhantz on play by play. If the team does not bring back Steve Buckhantz,as has been rumored for months, we shudder to conjure what happens next. As stated earlier, the problem in Washington sports is as much karmic as strategic.
3. Washington Nationals
What Is Broken:
The bullpen has been better lately, but it still fails to spark joy. Outside of stalwart closer Sean Doolittle and long relief specialist Wander Suaro (sometimes), no other relievers appear remotely comfortable. Late inning pitching collapses have been a staple of Mike Rizzo’s otherwise deeply admirable tenure as GM, and it would be a shame to lose another season of Max Scherzer’s prime to an unwillingness to invest in reliable relief pitching. Having said that, the offense is humming along even as pure-nitro shortstop Trea Turner lingers on the DL with a broken finger, and the starting pitching firewall of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin has mainly held the enemy at bay. As of this writing, we are cautiously encouraged.
Can It Be Fixed?
If the Lerners want to invest the money, they can fix the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is available and would immediately provide a massive upgrade. His salary is an obstacle for an ownership group determined to stay under the luxury tax and he would require a number of weeks before he was ready for major league action, but if this team is serious about contending nothing would send a stronger message than signing one of baseball’s all-time best closers.
4. The Washington Capitals
It seems funny to have the Caps at the bottom of the anxiety matrix at this time of year, but that’s what winning a Stanley Cup will do for you following a millennia of devastating playoff collapses. They began their Cup defense this week with two hard-fought, arguably lucky home wins over a scrappy and dangerous Carolina Hurricanes team, but wins are wins and every last one counts in the chase for Lord Stanley. They’ve been plenty sloppy in spots, but with Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin on fire and Braden Holtby solid in the net, expectations for another deep playoff run feel entirely reasonable.
Can It Be Fixed?
You don’t really need to fix a 2-0 series advantage, but over the first couple games the Caps really haven’t been the better side skating at 5 on 5. Their special teams have been mainly excellent, and the energy is tremendous, but assuming they get by the Canes in the first round they’ll need to sharpen their skates for a looming matchup with either longtime antagonist Pittsburgh or a reunion with exiled coach Barry Trotz’s resurgent Islanders (karma concerns again!).
Anyway, that closes the book on our first joint session! Let us now return to our sundry committees and subcommittees and investigative panels and hearings and fundraisers and gather all the information possible, for whatever reason we do those things. We will update as to whether DC is still broken as needed, and soon.