Nationals Baseball: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Boundless optimism

What's different about this season can be boiled down to the first question in Ladson's mailbag this week:
Since Stephen Strasburg will be under an innings limit in 2012, why not have him start in mid-May of this year so he can pitch into the postseason?
-- Paul D., Warrenton, Va.
Follow-up: In the World Series do you bat Bryce Harper 5th where he has been hitting all season, or do you move him down a couple spots so he doesn't feel too much pressure to produce? I'll hang up and listen.

Silly question, sure, but one that couldn't have been asked by any sane person in any season prior to this one.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Next year may really be next year, are the Lerners ready?

You know that I don't think the Nats should have signed Prince Fielder. Or more accurately, they shouldn't have matched or beaten that contract that he got in order to bring him to Washington. The only way you commit to a contract that has that much potential wasted money on the back end is if you are sure the player can make a playoff difference NOW.  For the Tigers, Prince can.  The Nats, though, have too much variability in their expected performance to feel sure that they are just one player and one season away. Another year will help whittle down the problem areas further (one hopes) so they can go into next off-season with laser focus and get the pieces they really need (assuming it all hasn't come down like a house of cards.  Unlikely but still not outside the realm of possibility.   I give it... 15% chance?  Something like that.  So before you say I'm being negative that's an 85% chance they are still on the playoff track come 2013.)

One of the things the Nats could use next year is one more arm to make the rotation one of the best in baseball. (especially since the free agent bats are going to be slim pickings) Next offseason looks like a fantastic one for free agent pitching.  Cain, Greinke, Hamels are all currently slated to be free agents. These are potential top of the order starters who will be under 30 in 2013. But if they do get into free agency they are going to be pricey.   It starts with 5 for 85 (Weaver's extension) and goes up from there (for Cain and Hamels at least, we have to see how Greinke does this season for him to be up there).  If anyone gets signed (Grienke was talking extension, Cain seems to be the Giants priority over Lincecum...) the price for the remaining guy gets that much higher.

The Nats have show real reluctance in paying the market price for free agent pitching.  While rumors had the Nats going well over 20 million for Prince at a reasonable contract length, the Nats essentially lowballed Mark Buehrle.  Rizzo seems to have a sense that competitive teams don't have to overpay for free agents even though that is disproven every off-season.  Based on all this can you really see the Nats giving out the Sabathia like deal that they'll need to, to get a Hamels or Cain?

By not ridiculously overpaying for Prince the Nats have set the fanbase up to expect them to ridiculously overpay for a young arm next offseason. Of course that's right now. Maybe the rotation will bust out and Detwiler will become a stud while Purke and Meyer cruise through the minors, leaving the Nats with no need for that last arm.  Maybe. But if this doesn't happen and if there is any faltering with the Strasburg, ZNN, Gio triumvirate the Nats fans will expect that type of big move.  I still don't trust that they will make it.

Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern.  The Werth deal sets the precedent but does not by itself create a new normal. The Lerners need to come through with that next big deal to make me believe they are willing to pay, and coming in second with big money doesn't count. Continually offering just enough to NOT get the deal done does not make one a big spender, it makes them as effectively cheap as the guy that doesn't even bother to put out deals.  No, they have to actually pull the trigger. Will they? We'll may find out in 11 months or so.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lidge signs

Via Ladson. A fine signing for cheap (I'm pretty much a sucker for any one year cheap deal for someone that used to be good).  Big questions are whether he can stay healthy and what of last season was a fluke and what was real.   If we think his historical stats make more sense this is what I think

He can still make them swing and miss (K/9 rate 10.71 last year - 11.57 career), but is no longer has good enough control (BB/9 6.05 - 5.14).   GB rate screams fluke  (57.4% GB last year - 40.7% career) but it  could be a function of pitch selection (slider percentage way up, fastball way down last year).  Of course that means either he stays in one-pitch territory with a pitch he can't place, or he goes back to mixing in pitches that will get hammered.  The former sounds more likely and more appealing.

A decent enough reliever to have in the pen that can maybe give you the K, when you can afford a walk.  Then again - isn't that what Henry Rodriguez is around for?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What this tells us

Not signing Prince is disappointing but it does clear up a couple things that were cloudier just a week ago:

The Lerners are not going to use their vast fortune and position in a wealthy, powerful city to make the Nats the Yankees/Red Sox of the National League. If you had dreams of the Nats being in the Top 5 in payroll every year while making the playoffs with regularity you can probably forget it.  Now fans must hope for the "big payroll for a few years at the end of a rebuilding cycle" type of team.  That looks like where the team is headed, but I do get the feeling Rizzo will need to keep pushing the Lerners through this. 

The Nationals are not going to challenge for a National League East title in 2012. They had more go right for them (lights out bullpen, no major injuries to the Opening Day rotation, LaRoche's injury leading to Morse's career year, Ramos and Espinosa performing well, rookie pitchers doing great at year's end, a decent-season from Laynce Nix) then go wrong (Zimm injury, no Strasburg, Werth's collapse), and they were still lucky to win 80 games.  The likely reversal of those three wrongs are big corrections, but some of those rights are likely to reverse as well, and the Nats need to pick up another 7 wins to feel good about WC chances, let alone a division title. That's too much to ask.  Wild Card challengers, sure.  Division champs, unlikely.

Bryce Harper needs to have immediate impact if the Nats are going to contend* over the next few years.   The Nats offense was not good last year. A full year of Zimm and a rebounding Werth will help, but we'll see a lot more of declining Werth in the years to come, not to mention Morse should come back to earth.  While I like Ramos and Espinosa, neither are game changers, and right now every other position mentioned is a big black hole. The Nats need at least one more big bat. FA is slim next year and any CF they want isn't going to have a big lineup impact outside a BJ Upton hitting like people think BJ Upton should hit, not how BJ Upton actually does hit.  People love Rendon but as always I want to see him in the minors before I decide he's gonna make it. So right now the Nats have one star potential bat and that's Bryce.  He should be good, but good is not good enough.  He needs to be great and he needs to be great soon.

*serious WS contension

Also we learned something new

Davey Johnsons said this :
"When I was [managing the New York Mets], they never signed one free agent, so I'm used to playing without going out in the free-agent market," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.

Pshaw I said.  Then I checked it out. It's pretty much true. They signed Rafael Santana just around when Davey got there then basically no other offensive starter.  They did sign some decent pieces, like Ed Lynch, Doug Sisk, Rusty Staub, but very few and no big names. Now, of course Davey makes it sound like they didn't get big names at all.  That is misleading.  They didn't sign anyone big, but they did trade for them quite often.  Keith Hernandez (season before Davey), Gary Carter, Kevin McReynolds, Bob Ojeda, David Cone...  So true, but missing the point. Davey's used to not going in the FA market, but he is used to getting infusions of talent from other organizations.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hey I tweeted

Warning. Can't promise this will be as soulessly focused on baseball as the blog is though.!/harpergordek


Because he's like a Port-a-John for not coming to DC!  And it's Haiti's capital! Sort of. Wait... I think

Anyway to Detroit is the strong rumors.

9 years 214 million is CRAZY. No fault to the Nats on passing on that price if it's true.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Maybe they are just warming up with the signings

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)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

And so we enter... endgame

Yu's been signed. Not only is this great for baseball and Texas headline writers, it means Scott Boras can stop holding "maybe the Rangers will sign him" over Prince's head... well maybe not.  For a quick rundown of where we stand right now, the suitors appear to be narrowed down to the Rangers, Cubs, and Nats.  Despite what you have heard you can't discount either of these other two teams.

The Rangers just signed Yu and don't necessarily NEED Fielder. They scored the 3rd most runs in the AL last year and don't expect to have major roster changes.  However, a big chunk of that came from the over 30 crowd and early speculation has them letting both Josh Hamilton (after 2012) and Ian Kinsler (after 2013) walk. They could use the bat. They have the money. And they were/are THIS close.  They may see the window as closing, as opposed to the Nats who see it as opening.  That's a pretty good impetus.

The Cubs are looking at a rough season.  That's nothing new, of course, but what's worse, the Cubs don't have anyone who the fans can rally behind and could be in for a big power drop next season.  They already were 10th in the league in homers, Aramis Ramirez is gone and they are likely to let Carlos Pena walk (which also opens up first base). Given the age of Aramis Ramirez (34) and Alfonso Soriano (36) and the fact that their young star is a slappy hitter and you can see a 100 homer season on the horizon.  Fielder provides automatic 40 homer power, fills a gap at first, and provides a personality to draw in the fans and sell jerseys. You know the Cubs have the money to do it.  The question is whether the new management, headed by Theo Epstein, see Fielder as someone that can still be a cog with the team after they finish their rebuild.

The Nats aren't bidding against themselves.  The competition is out there.  However, it's looking more and more that with the questions these teams have that the 8 year megadeal won't happen. Can the Nats pull off 6 years, 120 million? Or will Boras try to play a dangerous waiting game with a short term deal, with the hopes over a bigger pay day down the road?* If he does, does that play into the Rangers hands given their new position as playoff regulars?

Time to earn the paycheck, Rizzo. 

*Seriously - Boras has a big issue if Prince wants to play first right now, The Angels are good until 2021, Red Sox are good until 2018, Phillies 2017, Yankees 2016.   There's some shifting the Sox or Angels can do but you wouldn't move Pujols or AGonz for Prince. Other usual big spenders, the White Sox, Mets, Cubs, aren't in any position to make a big move this year. The Giants are concerned with their upcoming free agent pitchers.  The Twins are concerned with their payroll, I'm sure.  The best best may be a 4 year deal.  Perhaps after 2015  Prince would agree to play DH.  At that point the Tigers may have an opening (but Cabrera hits the FA market), the Yankees might be willing to eat the last year of Teixeira's deal, and maybe the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Mets, or someone else would need Prince as that last piece.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HAT eating

Last spring I casually mentioned that I thought there was no way Tyler Clippard would be as good in 2011 as 2010.   In fact, I said  "If Clippard is as good this year I'll eat my hat. And by HAT I mean a Ham, Avacado, and Tomato sandwich"

2010 : 3.07 ERA, 41 walks in 91 innings
2011 : 1.83 ERA, 26 walks in 88 innings

Hmmm.  Now I can dig into the fancy stats and pull out the one or two ways he didn't surpass 2010, and I could try to bring up that that big decrease in ERA was due to a completely unsustainable LOB%, but even after all that I'd be just wasting everyone's time.  He certainly was at least a little better than 2010, if not alot, so point Clippard.  

Just so you know I'm not a liar, here is the sandwich.

The lesson learned was that I should have given in on this bet in August, rather than hold out for a September crash, so I could have used ripe tomatoes.  Next time I'll pick an edible item more fall related.  Like a Ham, Apple, and Turnip salad or something.  Beacuse Clippard surely isn't going to be as good next year.  I mean come on!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

You don't have to go too far to find parallels to the Nats situation. Most teams aren't in the Yankees / Sox (more Yankees than Sox though, am I right?   Stupid Red Sox!) position of having a playoff position feel guaranteed at year's start. They have a good idea that they could compete for a playoff/division spot but one or two more players would certainly help.  Since nearly ever team has a couple guys in AA and AAA doing well, the question is forever in baseball: do you go for it with a big signing, or do you see if your own young guys can rise to the occasion.  Last year we saw things fail both ways.

For those that don't want the Nats to commit to a long term deal for Fielder, there's the Chicago White Sox. Despite being one of the more successful regular-season teams of the past 15 years, the White Sox have more often than not been also-rans finishing around .500 and out of the playoffs. 2010 was no different, with good but not great pitching and fair hitting leading to a 88 win season and nothing more. So the White Sox made a bold move, signing Adam Dunn (you may remember him) to help bolster the offense and put the Sox over the top.  Instead they crashed.  Their young 2nd baseman regressed, their young hitting prospect did not do well in his first time up, their OF with possibly questionably good offensive numbers the year before cratered, and most recognizably their big signing of a big guy with a big swing came crashing down as he has possibly the worst season in the league.  Can anyone see this happening to the Nats?

For those that want the Nats to sign Prince, there's the San Francisco Giants.  A team who's success was predicated on the awesomeness of their young pitching had seen 2010 be "that year" where everything went right for them and they came home with a WS title.  However, there was a big problem with the team as a mediocre at best offense seemed to be keeping the team from becoming the dominant force that the pitching would suggest it could be. They really needed another bat.  However money concerns kept them from moving forward.  They had made a couple of bad deals in the recent past that tied up money in fading veterans, and were very concerned about signing their young guys a few years down the road. So they went with what they had hoping that it would be enough.  Unfortunately their best offensive player got injured and missed most of the season, the guying who played first base the season before with the oddly good year regressed, no young batter developed to be anything special, and their veteran signings ended up doing nothing.  Despite the great pitching again by the young staff, they couldn't compensate for a terrible offense.  Can anyone see this happening to the Nats?

There's not much of a point other than success and failure for most teams on that 85-92 win edge rises and falls with injuries and unexpected performances, good and bad.  If you think signing Prince will guarantee the Nats a spot in the playoffs, it won't.  He's not that good.  If you think not signing Prince will help the Nats start a multi-year title run down the road, it almost certainly won't.  There are too many things that have to go right for the Nats for this to happen.

Now if you think signing Prince AND signing or trading for someone else will virtually guarantee the Nats that spot and continuing this level of spending will ensure the Nats a multi-year title run down the road then you are probably right.  Unfortunately, you don't own the Nats and some people didn't buy this team thinking it would cost them the gold toilet fixtures on their second yacht. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

So what'd I miss...

Hmmm nothing. It's quiet out there.  Too quiet.   No really. We've kind of exhausted all the Prince angles and need something else to talk about.

I see a lot of nonsense in Boz's Q&A this week so maybe that'll do, pig.
  • Forget about Fielder, there's apparently not enough room at the inn already with LaRoche AND Morse being such great first base options! Can we play two guys at first?
  • Boz thinks he can figure out who can afford to spend money by looking at payroll, then guess at where the Nats might fit in. Just so you know, if a team can afford to spend $100 million it does not mean they do it.  This is nonsense.  An informed look by Forbes magazine, which I trust slightly more than a Boswell pulling stuff out of his ass, had the Nats with a cool 35+ million left to spend.  That's with an uninterested fanbase.  100 mill, and it's inflation equivalent going foward, should be at the very least what the Nats average over any rebuild - win - wind down time frame.
  • Boz brings up the 1998 Yankees in explaining why the Nats may not need Fielder.  The 1998 Yankees?  Why does Boz always have to compare TO THE EZXTREMEZZZ!!!!  The Yankees didn't have HR hitters true but they had great hitters. They didn't win because they got good players and rode out their consistency.  They won because Williams and Jeter were great hitters at positions where great hitters are rare, and Posada an up and comer they could count on at another hard to fill position. That let them carry a guy like Martinez who, ok was simply good (but good for a 1B in this era was pretty impressive and unlike a lot of them he was a very good fielder) and guys like Brosius and Strawberry who they could gamble on having a career or bounceback years (which they did respectively). Oh yeah - they also had O'Neill, who was, if not great, very very good during this time frame, Knoblauch, a good hitter at the 4th of 4 positions that are hard to get good hitters for, the best pitching in baseball, and the 2nd highest payroll in the game.

Congrats to Barry Larkin, who should have been the first National in the Hall Of Fame, especially after his last run at glory in 2005 helped the Nats squeak into the playoffs during their inaugural season. Never forget what Guzman stole from you!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Dancing with Myself : Signing Fielder

I realized that I haven't actually said the Nats should or shouldn't sign Fielder. I guess part of that is because it depends a lot on the terms of the contract.  If Prince walks into the Nats front office and says "I'll play for 4 years, 60 million", you make sure the ink is dry before he sobers up.   If Boras is meeting with the Nats and says "The Pujols deal is a good starting point", you reply "Well, I'm sorry we couldn't work this out", put your arm around his back and lead him to the exit. Then right before he crosses the threshold, you slam his head into the door frame and stand over his prone and bleeding body screaming "You think you can cheat me, punk?! You think you can cheat me?!"

Figuring though that Werth got 7/126, I'm going to say that Fielder (being the better and younger player) will get more. Let's go ahead and assume that 8 years, 160 million gets it done.  Now, based on those numbers, would I do it if I were the Nats? Let's argue it out with myself.

8 years, huh? 

What about it?

Just a long time to have anyone signed.  He'll be what... 35 at the end of the deal?

So what?  He's a great player.

Even great players age.  That 35 season is probably gonna be rough.  You know how many guys that age or older played 140 games last year and put up good offensive seasons? Not great, just good?

I don't know, 20? 

Six. Hell, through in age 34 and it's only eight.  Go from 32 on and it's only 11

Prince is a great hitter though - chances are better he'll be one of those 11 or 8 or 6 than just some random player.

Maybe you're right, but we haven't even factored in how bad his defense will be at that point. A third of those guys on the list are DHs for a reason. Or the fact that his body type tends to age worse than others.  Or...

FINE! That back end will probably be bad.  But you know what?  That's the cost of signing guys like this. Every deal is not going to bring you good value right to the very end.  He's 28 next year. Stop focusing on five or six years down the road.  Think about what he could do for this team now.
Which is?

He's gonna be 3-4 games better than LaRoche, and that's figuring in defense.  Even in the absolute worst case scenario (barring injury of course) you aren't going to move backward at all.  You take Prince's worst season of WAR in the past five years, you give it to Adam LaRoche and you're satisfied.  You take his 2nd worst and LaRoche is having the season of his life!

But couldn't the Nats have LaRoche AND whatever else they can get for that 20 million? Wouldn't that also be 3-4 games better and not saddle the Nats with a terrible contract down the road?  When they'll need money to sign Strasburg and Bryce etc etc?

Sure.  But where do you see them spending that money this offseason?  Who else is out there worth signing?


Do you see them signing Oswalt? 

... no.  But next year! Next year they could sign some one, like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton to finally solve their CF issues and a pitcher like Hamels or Cain or Grienke.  And it gives them this year to see if Bryce or Werth can play center, if Desmond can hang in the majors, or Espinosa for that matter.  If Rendon can make an immediate impact.  If any of those young starters are ready to break through. If Morse was a fluke, if..

Hey now.  Morse wasn't a fluke.  

Maybe not being good, but being THAT good definitely. Basically no one has ever struck out that much and hit that well.  Like NO ONE. In the history of the game.  It's been around for a long time you know.

Maybe he's different?  Damn it, stop depressing me. And back to your "next year" talk, I like your plan but that's a tall order. Are those guys even going to be available in the offseason?  And are they going to want to come to Washington?  It's not like other teams don't need these players.  The Nats can get Prince now.  He is available.  The big boys don't need first baseman.  He can help the Nats win now. 

Sure win now, but if they don't make the playoffs what good is it?

Argh.  I hate that argument.  Wins are wins.  I want more of them.  But for your sake yes they will make the playoffs.  The won 80 games last year, with Strasburg back, Zimmerman healthy, Werth bouncing back, a full season of ZNN, Gio here, they are bound to win a bunch more games, and that's without Fielder.  Factor him in and you have a division challenger and a wild card lock. 

Basically if everything goes right, huh? I'll give you they should be better, even with the inevitable bumps in the road.  But for an 78 win team (by runs scored/allowed) I figure without Price they are around 85 wins maybe.  The NL East is that tough.  With him... 88? 89?  That's fighting for a wild card, with a good shot at it, but not a lock. 

You know what?  That's good enough for me. Fans of this team sat through years of low payroll and crap teams.  As far as I'm concerned those 60 million dollar payrolls meant 40 million went into a bank to spend later. Now IS later. Now they can be in the playoff hunt and I want them to be and not because of a lucky fluke like Lannan and LaRoche both having their best seasons ever, while the bullpen is the best in the NL, and the Nats go 15-5 in one run games.  I want it to be because they are good enough to challenge for a spot regardless of luck. 

I just can't go along. I want them to be good but I want them to be good for a long time. 

They can spend money later you know. 

Yes, but I have no faith in that.  Hell, it's a lot of faith just to think they'll raise the payroll to 120 million or so when it's time. Forget about adding more to a 150+ payroll if the Nats are just missing where they need to be.  I say wait it out, see what they need next year and make those big moves on pitching and defense. Let Bryce pick up the offense, maybe Rendon too. 

I want to win now.  You want to year. 

I think it's a smarter plan to spread out that monetary commitment to guys that won't have to be buried in a piano box someday.

Uncalled for!   But the Nats are still going to have to pay. 

Oh no doubt. 

So even if we can't agree on signing Prince or not, we can agree that the Nats do need to up their payroll by 25 million (not including Zimmerman resigning) in the next two seasons. 

Yes.  It may even be that they have to spend more next year with my plan, just to outbid the big boys. The time might not be now, but it's soon.

At 8 years, 160 million, I think I fall in more with Mr. Red. I do. Sorry. I don't think signing Prince is a bad idea. I don't think the Nats should be allowed to pretend they're poor. It's just that I think they could go into next offseason with a ton of issues to deal with. A re-injury to Strsaburg or ZNN, and the failure of Desmond (both not crazy events) and the Nats could need a top flight SP AND a CF AND a MI.  Or Desmond could stabilize, Rendon could be great enough that they try to move him to first, and Bryce could be great and capable in center and all of a sudden they don't need really Fielder and can spend in a bunch of ways to really finish out this team.

This isn't a veteran team that needs that one last piece.  It's a team falling into place and I'd like to see where it falls for one more year before moving forward at full speed. Yes, it's worrying about the future rather than the present, but it's not spending in 2016 that I'm worried about, it's how to best form this team in 2013.  If I had any faith the Lerners would spend with abandon then yes, sign Fielder.  But I don't.  I think Rizzo will have to fight to get that payroll up to a decent level and if that's the case it's gonna be better to spread out that Fielder money to a couple positions.

Do I feel the same way if I'm a die-hard Nats fan, instead of a souless automaton? Probably not. Do I feel the same way at a shorter or more reasonable deal? I'm not sure. That may be enough to tip me toward signing Fielder. I know basically anything 3-5 years, the Nats would be stupid not to jump at regardless of the annual cost.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today, and also one Tuesday

The Nats don't have teh moneyz!!!!  Poor Tin Cup Ted!!!  If they sign Fielder they'll have to let Zimm walk!  It's like Sophie's choice except harder because neither of those kids could hit a curveball!

Zuckerman put out two recent articles that attempt to put things in perspective but don't exactly hit at the right points.

The first one notes that if the Nats were to sign Fielder AND re-up Zimmerman they'd likely be paying 3 guys 20+ million from 2014-2017 (Werth being the 3rd).  That's a lot of money and he points out that only three teams; the Yankees, the Phillies, and the Angels are currently in line to do that (and in the Angels case it's only currently for one year far down the road).  Ok a few things here:

First - man that Werth contract is TERRIBLE.  Just soooo bad. Like unforgivable.  I'm sorry that I keep harping on it but ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh. I changed my mind.  I'm not sorry.   It's that bad it deserves to be talked about over and over.

Second, if you are speculating about the Nats, it's only fair to speculate about other teams.  The Red Sox, with Crawford and Gonzalez making a ton for the forseeable future, are almost certain to get on this list.  The Tigers are one big signing away from joining the 3x20Mill Club and they could use one of those nice pitchers up for FA next year. The Dodgers, if they re-up Billingsly and sign anyone else big, would be in the same boat.  I'm sure another team could pop up between now and 2016 and join the club.  Let's say three teams do fall into this group before the Phillies fall out.   That would mean there would be 6 teams with this kind of financial commitment.  That may not seem like a lot but there are only 30 teams.  Fully 20% of the teams in major league baseball would be spending money in this manner.  Twenty percent is not an elite club. Nobody is holding up signs on Wall Street saying "We're the 80%".

Third, 20 million is just an arbitrary number.  Is it that different if the Nats are paying 20 mill and 21 mill to Zimm and Werth and the Rangers are paying 16 million a piece to Michael Young and Adrian Beltre? Payroll is what matters. The total spent on the entire team.  For example, the Yankees have 12 players scheduled to make 5 million or more next year.  The Phillies and Angels both have 8.  The Nationals?   Three. Zuckerman though has that covered in his second piece. What he's saying is that the payrolls will go up without any signings due to escalating contracts and arbitration eligibility.  What he doesn't even hint at is that without those signings the speculated payroll for 2015 would only have been the 12th highest payroll last year.  Basically if the Nats don't sign anyone they'll be spending like the average team... in four years... maybe.  I'm not trying to count for the usual inflation that happens.   If they sign Zimmerman and Fielder that's another say... 45 million.   Ok, that would have been 4th last year.  Definite big boy territory but isn't that what they want to be?

The Nats can afford Fielder. Bringing him in would be a gutsy bold move that would signal the Nats are ready to compete now, and it may very well signify a shift that the Nats are ready to become a different type of team. The type that spends to get into the playoffs year after year.  That's ultimately what we're finding out this offseason (and next, I won't fully turn on the teams management unless they fail to spend money next offseason as well.   Maybe they have a dominant pitching plan.). Do they want to consistently make the playoffs or do they want to spend just enough to have a chance to get in and hope luck takes them the rest of the way during that postseason, because who knows when they'll be back?  Hey, it works for the Cardinals.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Prince of the next few free agent 1B hot stoves

While some are fully on board the "sign Prince" bandwagon, others are wondering why the Nats would do such a thing. They have a decent first-baseman in Adam LaRoche (assuming he's healthy), and they have a back-up plan everyone loves in moving Mike Morse to the position. Why bother with Prince?

The possible answer lies in not in what Prince is, but what the other guys available are. In the next two seasons the pickings at 1B will be slim. Next year the "prize" is probably Mike Napoli, but he appears to be in line for a contract extension. After that... a position switched 37 year old Lance Berkman? James Loney? Ty Wigginton? No long term answers here.

Before 2014, there are a couple names that might sound good but who knows who'll test the waters by then.  Joey Votto looks to be the big fish.  But if he re-signs (or you fail to get him) then what? A 37 year old Paul Konerko? A possibly concussed out of baseball Justin Morneau?  A Kendrys Morales who hasn't played in so long because of injury baseball-reference lists him as having a "final game"? 

No, if the Nats don't get Fielder, there is next to no chance they can get an impact first baseman through free agency. Trade is always a possibility but also very hard to rely on. So that becomes plan B to Bryce coming up and moving Morse. If you're looking to go on a successful run of playoff appearances you don't want your "Plan A" to be bringing up a rookie and forcing a guy exiting his prime with less than two full seasons of success in the majors to switch to a position he barely played the year before (assuming LaRoche plays out his contract). Of course, maybe Morse will repeat 2011, and maybe Bryce will tear up the minors and the majors next year.  It's not the best bet, but it's certainly not a bad one.  Thing is, good teams don't bet like that. Good teams bet that the guy they just signed that's awesome doesn't break his leg in a freak vegetartian food truck rodeo accident.