Reading through the comments just now I thought, "Hey no one took me to task about my take on Jayson Werth's contract". Then I realized I never posted that. I started writing it but moved on to the post you see for yesterday. Mystery explained.
Anyway this wasn't going to be a post about Werth's contract but since I started down that road now I'll at least give you my talking points. Werth contract was a unnecessary overpay to start. I've gone over what we knew/were told about the market at the time pretty extensively several times (not necessarily in blog form). No I wasn't a GM in 2010 but everything says "foolish money throw". Think the Prince Fielder deal if you want an example you might buy into since it's not your team. Werth has made the contract move from "terrible" to "not terrible" by playing better than expected to this point. However, the fact that he's basically earned what he's been paid up to now does not make it a good deal yet like some are saying. The way long-term deals work to make it a good deal you want to be ahead when you start to hit the decline, not even. Right now you'd be expecting him to be in decline so Werth can make this contract a good deal by having another great year and a decent one after that. But that's just potential, not given. I'm bothered by this fact that there's this kind of weird equation going on with the contract. Since it was thought of as terrible and it's no longer terrible that some how it's good? No. The fact that the Nats are in a place where it might be good is great but it's still in "might be" land.
Anyway what got me thinking about contracts was Keri's piece on the worst contracts in baseball. (No, not Werth. I just said it wasn't terrible!) I find these kind of things fascinating.
It starts off with a double Swisher/Bourn thing where a executive says "Man, wouldn't it be great if the Indians could have that money for these guys to get a Andrew Miller and James Shields right now" Basically he's saying "Wouldn't it be better if Cleveland didn't gamble on veterans and lose two years ago so they could gamble on veterans now?" It's not the gamble that was the problem it was the losing. Shields and Miller are no better gambles (I'd argue worse). If Swisher and Bourn were ok now the team would look real good. This highlights how teams that don't commit to spending have to get these things right. This is the kind of spot I was afraid the Nats might find themselves after the whole "topped out" nonsense. They aren't here right now and I don't expect them to be, but it took the Scherzer signing to get me to believe it. This nether land where success can only be achieved through luck, or getting nearly every FA signing exactly right is not a fun place to be.
Only two of the worst deals are your "oh no long pitcher deals!" (Sabathia and Verlander). Let's look at ages in that first FA year for these two and the Nats trio we've been discussing.
Scherzer 30 (31 in July)
ZNN 29 (30 in May)
Sabathia 28 (29 in July)
Strasburg 28 (29 in July)
You may think this doesn't tell you much as both Verlander and Sabathia's contracts ended up here. But Sabathia's deal only ended up here because of the opt-out the Yankees put into it that turned what was a 7/161 deal into a 8 / 186 with 9 / 211 potential. Imagine if that contract was ending this year as it would have under a normal contract. The Yankees would have gotten 4 great years and a World Series out of it. Anything half-way decent this year and you'd have to feel good about the deal overall and it probably wouldn't be on this list. Meanwhile with a bad season this year Verlander could top it next year. Verlander broke down at 31, Sabathia at 31 going on 32. Pitchers are the equivalent of NFL running backs. You want as many years before they hit 33 at the most as possible. Say what you will about Scherzer's durability versus ZNN's TJ (neither were ridden as hard as Justin or CC) but I'm sticking with age above all.
You can see that Andrus is in there. That's why before the Trea Turner deal and we were all about deals for MI, I thought that was the only guy the Nats could get from TX. This is the guy they want to deal. Keri notes several times that you should be careful when buying out years and I understand that but I think there's a huge fundamental difference in buying out a guys' control years at 24 and buying out the last contract year at 31. The Andrus deal wasn't bad because of buying out years, it was bad because he couldn't hit, showed he couldn't hit and the Rangers didn't seem to care and extended him forever. I'd have no qualms about buying out control years for everyday players that have shown they are good in order to get deals that end around age 34. I think those are good gambles.
I think the Cubs have done it right with their Casto and Rizzo extensions. They pay them a good deal more than they have to but nothing payroll breaking until they are 29. Then they have options at higher values that might be bargains then depending on how they are playing and how the contracts have grown. It's a big potential loss for the Rizzo and Casto because they are becoming FAs at 30 or 31 instead of 27 or 29 but it's a lot of security. This isn't just a couple years of good money it's five plus. It won't happen with Bryce but this is what the Nats should try to do with Rendon. "Hey you are still an injury risk but we'll buy out all your arb years now and maybe a year of FA too, with an option year for us. How's that sound?"
The big takeaway I see is that injuries are often the contract breakers and, no duh, they tend to start to happen more after you get over 30 (some of us, I'm sure can attest to that). On these lists which contract wasn't made worse by injury? Upton, Ethier, Andrus, Jackson, Bourn, maybe Jimenez depending how much you think his ankle mattered. When you get into those years say 32 33 you can't say "if they stay healthy" you have to presume injury.
This gets back to Max again. The Nats were really in good shape with contract/age prior to his signing. Werth is old but still playing well (along the injury front - I'll note it would already been a no doubt good contract if he didn't get injured. They may have had a perfect talent evaluation of the guy and thought they really could win with that deal but with that starting age they couldn't beat injury) and only the newly acquired Yuney Escobar (33) and Ryan Zimmerman (34) were guaranteed money past age 30. Scherzer brings it all the way to 36. I'm just uncomfortable with it.
Still like I've said before - this isn't a deal for 7 years of good pitching. This is a deal for a Sabathia. Give the Nats 3-4 very good to great years. Get them over the hump and win a championship. If he can do that, it's all good.
Next week I'll do two of my favorite off season columns. The dream scenario (honestly I think we can think about win total records again) and the nightmare scneario (missing the playoffs, this teams too good to think about .500)