While we all wait for news on Prince Fielder, the Nats made a couple of "signings". I put that in quotes because really neither Gio Gonzalez or Mike Morse were going anywhere next year. Both were up for arbitration, the Nats offered Morse and weren't going to let Gio walk, so consider these signings a... formality of sorts.
As a player you are usually an incredible bargain while still under a minor league deal. Even a 4th OF or MI sub is worth more to a team than the couple hundred thousand you are pulling down. A good 22, 23 year old is highway robbery.
As a player you are also usually not worth the money you get in free agency. Maybe for a year or two, you produce enough to justify the large salary you are pulling down, but in most cases you are hitting free agency at 28 or 29 years old. This is the general time frame where most players begin a decline. You simply can't keep up the same numbers that were the basis for your contract.
In between these two contract times is the arbitration years where someone is going to try to figure out what is the fair market value for a player. It's kind of an extended game of contract chicken between players and owners. If a player believes he can stay healthy and keep performing well (or better), arbitration is the way to go. This favors the player eventually because when dealing with decent major league talent the salaries out there for comparison include a lot more overpaid veterans than underpaid young guys. Look at Lincecum. But most players favor a moderate payday in exchange for the security of a long term deal. A team may want to play the arbitration game with a player they don't feel secure about, either because of performance or injury risk, because it might mean a lower overall payday in the end, and allows them an annual flexibility long term deals do not. Then again, that same uncertainty means an inability to project payroll accurately even just a couple years down the road.
Oh so Mike and Gio. Both signed deals that are probably going to be under value for how they will perform. But in the end they get security and, let's face it, a lot of money anyway. Both contracts eat up all their arbitration years so the Nats now can write down in ink the money spent on these two guys. This helps when planning out what they can spend on those other long term deals (like Prince's). I'm rarely going to be against a two-year deal, and I really like Mike's. It seems likely that he will outperform this contract easily, but there are enough questions, with his lack of experience and his age, that a deal in the 4+ year range would be real suspect. To grab him for 2 years for about 5 million per? That's a nice move by Rizzo.
The Gio deal I like a little less, if only because they had so many arbitration years left and really could have squeezed a few million over the next two years that might be useful otherwise. It could be that they think Gio will shine in the NL, but given the Morse deal I really think this was about controlling future payroll potential. I think given Gio's wildness and the general tendency of pitchers to get injured that betting on him to NOT greatlly succeed would be the smarter move. Get a few years of real deals (probably average 4-6 million the next two arbs), then sign him to a 3 year deal in the high 20 millions if he's still healthy and pitching well. Still the deal isn't terrible by any means. He'll likely give the Nats more value than they are paying for over its life and there is a lot of flexibility at the end with all those options if the Nats are still close to winning. In the end that makes it a good deal for the Nats, just not a great one.
Now onto the important signing, John Lannan (and oh yeah - that fatty with the big bat, too)