Nationals Baseball: Even I just can't say things

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Even I just can't say things

So in the last few posts I've mentioned the fact that the Nats have rarely extended a market value deal to a pitcher into his free agency years. Only 3 times in the past 3 years have they arguably done it and for very small time frames (2 years, 2 years with a hard to reach 3rd year option, and 4 years on a bargain deal). This isn't meant as a judgment on philosophy. This approach could be good or bad, I haven't looked at it too much. This is just meant to give of an idea of their mindset as they head into a period of time when several key Nats pitchers (ZNN, Fister, Clippard, hey look at that Blevins too) are heading into the end of their arbitration years.

But is this really that odd? It feels odd. But let's see what we can suss out at least with a cursory glance.

I looked at the multi-year off-season pitching signings over the past 5 years (as best I could - I don't 100% trust ESPN's Hot Stove Tracker but it was the best tool available for something like this). The Nats have made 2 such signings with Soriano and Marquis. (Maya was in-season, we'll get to that in a minute)

The average number of signings was 3 ranging from 8 (the Angels) to 0 (Blue Jays, Braves, Indians).  The Nats would be tied for 20th place in number of signings.

What about average years given out in these signings? The average # of years skews low as one would expect as there will be a lot more 2 years signings than long term ones. For this set of information it was 2.6 years.  If ranked, the Nats average (of 2 years - they don't count options) would put them in a tie for 20th place again, though this time out of 27 teams (pulling those teams that made no signings).

So the Nats are on the low side if you look at years or number of contracts signed. BUT WAIT you say! What about Maya.  Surely some of these signings you are counting are international (yes, there are). Add Maya in and the Nats look pretty average! Well yes... and then no.

Yes if you add Maya in the Nats will look pretty average BUT once you start looking at the Mayas of the time frame you have to add in all the Mayas. All the international signings and free agent signings not done during the hot stove period must be counted. (For example Kyle Lohse falls out of the Hot Stove period). There aren't going to be many but there will be some. The Nats, as far as I remember, have that one. So they are likely to remain on the low end of all teams. You also have to account for all the extensions given to players already under contract for a team. Like the Blue Jays ate up a couple more of RA Dickey's FA years by extending him after a deal. That should count. The Nats don't have any of these, I don't think. They fall further down. Then you have to take into account all the trades made which include absorbing a guys FA years. Think of the Blue Jays trading for Mark Buerhle. (Hey no wonder why they didn't sign anyone during the FA period) Again - it's a multi-year commitment to a player's FA years. It should count. Again - I don't believe the Nats have one of those (Team option years don't count). Again further down.

To suss out exactly where the Nats would fall accounting for all of the above would take a lot more investigative work. Nothing necessarily hard, but time consuming. And I don't think it would change the point being made. The Nats already look fairly timid when it comes to mutli-year deals to pitchers. If we gather all the data I suspect they would appear even more so. I don't see how they couldn't.

But again this isn't a bad thing, and it isn't a good thing. It's a thing. There are basically two ways to end up in this group. You don't like to spend money (the Indians, Padres, Rays, and Mariners all were on the lower end) or you just have so much good young pitching you don't need to spend money (the Rays fit here too, the Braves).  I think the Nats kind of fall into both of these groups and a little from column A and a little from column B puts them where they are. And that's been fine up until this point.

But things are changing now. They don't necessarily have a lot of good young controlled pitching anymore. If AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito aren't awesome this year in the minors the Nats won't necessarily have cheap talent to fall back on. Without a lot of good young pitching, will they show that they are able to spend money on a staff, even if it means making long term deals? Maybe the question never will need to be answered but it's sitting out there like a fat fastball, waiting until the end of this season rolls along and 2015-2016 looks a little clearer.


cass said...

Does it mean anything that Rizzo said that he was focused on extending Zimmermann and Desmond rather than trying to sign Tanaka? If the team had no intention of extending a pitcher, he likely wouldn't have brought it up in the first place. Now, with this team, what they say and what they do are often two very different things, but it does seem like they're willing to do a deal but the sides couldn't agree on the money.

In other news, I'm really surprised there hasn't been more of an uproar over LaRoche's "Phil (Robertson) for President" shirt. Sure seems like he's endorsing Robertson's extremely racist beliefs. Disappointed that the team and league haven't put out any statements distancing themselves or looking into possible discipline. Do they really want their players promoting racism?

cass said...

And just to be clear how extreme Robertson's beliefs are:

On all non-Christian people being murderous:
"All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups."

On how good things were for blacks during the Jim Crow era:
"I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

Comparing gays to prostitutes and whose who engage in bestiality:
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. … Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right … We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus — whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?"

The controversy was big news. Adam LaRoche must have known about it. So to tweet out a picture of himself wearing a "Phil for President" shirt is basically an endorsement of these views. How is this not a scandal?

Harper said...

cass - it means something if they do it, that's how I see it. Saying it could be serious or could be a way to get people to not ask him about Tanaka.

I'm surprised at the lack of uproar but mainly because things usually get into uproar so easy. Who knows what he thinks he's saying wearing that shirt? We could ask him but isn't it easier and quieter just to let it pass? I think it's pretty certain that there are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. athletes (not saying LaRoche is one - just saying that there are) and I think the agreement is keep it off the field. He's doing that.

1st in W.A.R. said...

"You also have to account for all the extensions given to players already under contract for a team. Like the Blue Jays ate up a couple more of RA Dickey's FA years by extending him after a deal. That should count. The Nats don't have any of these, I don't think. They fall further down."


Harper said...

cass- to follow-up this is a show he's on that is in concert with the Duck Dynasty people that is tweeting out the pics. Are you suggesting MLB put out a press release saying "LaRoche is doing X. We don't approve"? because that's a slippery slope. Passive displays outside of the MLB environment have to be low on their things to address by nature.

Harper said...

1st in WAR - Gio's extension guarantted only one FA year. The way the 5 years break down is :

- bought out 2 years of arbitration (where they would have kept him anyway)
- guaranteed 1 year of FA
- included 2 team option years (meaning team has promised nothing - can cut him after 2016 if they want).

They almost certainly won't cut him because that 12 mill a year is a steal for his talent but they could. So it's fundamentally different than a commitment to pay up for multiple FA years.

cass said...

I figure if Rizzo didn't want to talk about Tanaka, he'd move the conversation to something he did want to talk about rather than a deal he doesn't think can be done. Seems odd he mentioned the Desmond and Zimmermann extensions only to not complete them. I guess cause usually this team never talks about what they're doing other than in vague "if we can come to an agreement, we'll do it" type of stuff.

And it seems Adam LaRoche, by using his official twitter, was speaking as a major league baseball player. I have no illusions about players harboring these views, but this seemed more like publicly supporting said viewpoints. I suppose it's not as direct as John Rocker's interview, but I certainly find it pretty shocking that anyone other than extreme fringe groups would defend or support Robertson.

Donald said...

Not sure how much of the past history indicates a philosophy versus just circumstances at the time. Are there examples of where the Nats were clearly faced with extending or losing a pitcher and they let him go? As for Znn, my guess is that he wants to test the FA market so any offer he makes now is going to be high. He may be looking for a premium to do a deal early while Rizzo may be looking for a discount for the same reason.

@cass -- While I'm not a fan of Robertson at all, I think LaRoche has a prior relationship with him. LaRoche traveled on the USO Tour with the Duck Dynasty brothers and the article at the time said he had a business relationship with them. So there's a decent chance he owned that tee shirt from way before this controversy started. Whether or not he tweeted that pic intentionally may be a different question, but I don't think he went out and bought that shirt specifically as a statement. If he's got a business relationship with them, he may be promoting their duck calls?

Anonymous said...

Bryan Lahair Available, seems like the perfect piece to the bench puzzle. Balfour is off the menu now that he signed with Rays.

Chinatown Express said...

1st in WAR (great name BTW): Gio's extension bought out his remaining arb years, plus one more guaranteed, plus a team option. If our definition here is "the team voluntarily assumed two or more FA years beyond the player's arbitration years," then Gio doesn't count.

Chinatown Express said...

1st in WAR (great name BTW): Gio's extension bought out his remaining arb years, plus one more guaranteed, plus a team option. If our definition here is "the team voluntarily assumed two or more FA years beyond the player's arbitration years," then Gio doesn't count.

Kirk Weaver said...

I was shocked when I looked at the list of top minor league prospects and only one Nats player made the list. A pitcher who had T.J. surgery.I thought the Nats had a stacked minor league system. Maybe they should trade Soriano and a few other players now so they can build their minors.

Sirc said...

I don't think we know what the Nats do with their own free agents. Name 3 that signed elsewhere who they should have matched and kept.

Alfonso Soriano? Not home grown, and that was stupid money.

Sean Burnett? Not home grown. Could have matched and kept, maybe should have (not in retrospect based on 2013 results, just based on a need/money decision).

Who else was any good and left for bigger dollars elsewhere?

Adam Dunn?

I'm just saying that we don't yet know what the Nats will do because there really is not a track record for free agents. Certainly not home grown talent like Desmond or JZimm. The one and only example is Ryan Zimmerman, who they extended twice.

There isn't historical data to lean on here. This is the first time it's come up since 2005.

Harper said...

cass- The run-up to the Zimm seemed more optimistic though maybe it's because we all knew he wanted to stay. Judge for yourself

I don't see an official twitter for laroche.

Donald - last year was pretty much the first time it really was an issue - Burnett, Gorzo, and Jackson all got mutli-year deals elsewhere. Jackson was an obvious never keep but they needed both a long man and lefties

Anon - if they can get a minor league deal - swoop in. otherwise... .230 in Japan? Yikes

KW - It's been an interesting farm system ride. They were terrible in 2009 and before (thanks Bowden) then quickly climbed to 10-15 range with some development and Strasburg & Bryce being drafted. Trades and very quick call-ups gutted the system though and it's back to at best mediocre.

The truth is Rizzo gambles with guys who may be stars or might get injured and be nothing. When it works out for brief period the Nats will have a couple guys at the top of everyone's list good enough to make their farm system look ok. When it doesn't the lack of depth shows and the system is mediocre. They don't build minors, more hunt for diamonds on the idea that one great player will help you more than 3-4 ok ones.

Sirc - Before Burnett and Gorzo and OF COURSE LANNAN I'd argue they should have kept Redding (the "young" pitching staff of 2009 wasn't good enough that he couldn't have eaten up some innings) maybe Laynce Nix (it worked out without him but he was a decent 4th OF and blessed by 2012's touch probably would have hit .290 with 12 homers for that team) but fair enough - they haven't exactly let anyone walk that we all weren't (mostly) agreed upon. This is new territory. So that we work with what we have. That being said I like ZNN to walk because in part a history of not signing any pitchers in general into their FA years, and I like Desmond to stay because they have done it with batters, including Zimm. Best guess based on the admittedly limited info.

Anonymous said...

Verducci points out that Tanaka may end up costing the Yanks $252.5M and quotes one exec as calling him "a Dan Haren type." I think the guy meant that as a compliment, but it's not in these parts!

The story mentions several teams trying to get in the bidding at $100-120M/6 years. The Nats *might* have been willing to get into those waters, but, like everyone else, wouldn't have gone as gonzo as the Yanks.

Anyway, good luck with the next Dan Haren!

Anonymous said...

Nats' farm system: there is a fair amount of talent among the pitchers, to the point that they felt comfortable dealing Ray and Krol. Roark and Jordan are not top-of-the-rotation guys but look to be MLB-ready. Giolito and Cole are the stars, perhaps. Still waiting on Solis and Purke.

The system is lacking much more in position players. Goodwin seems suspect in CF and is not progressing as quickly as hoped. Skole looks good but missed last season. Taylor is great in CF but still maturing at the plate. Souza has rebounded after some early career misadventures and appears close. Walters has power but no D. But that's about it. The top of the organization is very thin on quality position players.

That said, though, they've "graduated" Harper and Rendon in the last two years, along with bench guys Moore and Lombo.

blovy8 said...

I agree that Desmond is the deal that would more easily be done, and he'll doubtless come cheaper. His public statements and recent arbitration settlement indicate he's not necessarily going to expect Tulo or Andrus numbers.

The issue becomes, can a fair deal actually be made between Zim and the Nats? He's not going to get market rate yet. He's not particularly close to Kershaw in ability.

The Nats can bid just like anyone else if he doesn't sign, with the added benefit of the draft compensation they won't have to make. The experience of recent free agents with qualifying offers has to eventually sink in, and give them some leverage. Is he going to want to wait until March to get the extra few million in 2016? Will he stay healthy and still have the good results to parlay into a better deal than he'd get right now? Will there be competition from other free agents just as good? Another key is what Fister does this year. If he becomes the guy who can make a deal, and the farm system stays mediocre, it opens up the probability of trading Zimmermann at some point. What if Giolito is ready to pencil in as a starter in 2016, and they need offense?

John C. said...

It's not that the farm system rose to the middle of the pack under Rizzo before falling back due to trades; prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade the system was ranked #1 by Baseball America. The system has certainly taken a step back, but largely because it has built up the Nationals - which is the mission of the system. Only two of their starting eight were free agents (Werth, LaRoche); the rest were either from the Nats system (Zimmerman, Rendon, Desmond, Ramos, Harper) or were acquired by trading prospects (Span). Same story in the rotation, where three of the five are from the system (Strasburg, Zimmermann, and the winner of Detwiler, Roark or Jordan) and the other two were acquired by trading prospects (Gonzalez, Fister). That is a productive system no matter how you slice it.

Going forward the team has two high end arms (Giolito, Cole) and a lot of middle-of-the-rotation candidates. Not all will make it, of course. But there is no reason to think that the system won't be providing solid pitchers for years to come.

Sirc said...

A minor point, John C.:

Ramos wasn't a product of the Nats' system. He spent almost no time at all in the minors once the Nats acquired him. He wasn't acquired using Nats prospects, however, which still makes your point I think.

BenDen said...

@Harper -

Lawl at Laynce Nix batting .290

Only year he touched that was his career year in Cinci where I'm pretty sure he was juicin

Even with miraculous "touch" in 2012 (aka .360 BABIP, yes. .360!) he squeaked out just a .246 average, lotta K's brah. Bring that "touch" back down to normal levels and you get 2013 laynce nix.

Section 222 said...

John C. and Sirc, Ramos was acquired by trading Matt Capps, who *was* a FA signing. Good use of an expendable reliever, that's for sure.

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