Are the Nats Toxic?
Briefly, no but the baseball off-season has drifted into the post-holiday funk where you dig for news when none is presented to you and the fact the Nats have been in on so many free agents and have landed only one, well that's something to talk about. But let's do it intelligently. Let's look at the facts and come to a conclusion, not start with a conclusion and try to work the facts around it.
Are the Nats toxic? The Nats lost out on O'Day, Zobrist, Heyward, Leake, Upton and Cespedes. Phillips chose not to waive his no trade to come here. Doesn't that say something? While admitting each decision made sense, is there something running through all of these situations that causes FAs to flinch?
O'Day - Nats deal was posted at 3/25. O'Day really wanted the 4th year and the O's caved and gave him 4/31 (4 mill deferred).
Zobrist - Nats deal was at 4/60, as was Giants. Went with Cubs 4/56 claiming love of the weird wuss.
Heyward - Nats deal was presumably around 200 million. Cardinals also had a deal and were thought to have offered the most money. Years were not disclosed for either though. Went with Cubs 8/184 with opt out.
Leake - Nats deal wasn't disclosed and their interest seemed decidedly minimal. Would sign with Cardinals 5/80 presumed to be the best deal offered.
Upton - Nats interest was again tempered, only really coming out after Tigers deal disclosed. Nats apparently offered a shorter term deal for less money than the 6/132.75 Upton would get from the Tigers.
Cespedes - Nats offered 5/100 with an opt out after 2 but the money, if reports are to be believed, was to be paid out over 15 years, making the true value of the deal closer to 75-80 million. Signed with Mets for 3/75 and an opt out after 1.
Phillips - Wanted an extension to leave Cincinnati. Already being paid 27 million for next 2 years. Even reporters thought this was an unacceptable stipulation.
For the most part O'Day, Leake, Upton, and Cespedes, we see what we expect to see. The player takes the most money/best deal and runs with it. There isn't much more that needs to be read into this. If we look at pretty much every other FA signing this year, we see the same thing. This is standard and not telling of anything in particular.
The Phillips deal is also pretty clear. What he wanted was nonsense that no one backed and the deal fell apart. It wasn't about the Nats it was again about money, money he felt he left on the table to stay in Cincy that he now wanted back if he was to be traded. The Nats weren't going to pay for Cincy's deal and Cincy wasn't going to offer that money and lose the deal they got. Again read nothing into it.
So we're left with Heyward and Zobrist, the two guys who did take less. (Even if Heyward took more value per year it's still odd to leave 16 mill on the table so I think it's still relevant to look at him). Is the "toxicity" of the Nats the most logical reason for the rebuttal here? Easily you can see it's not. Heyward left even more on the table to snub the Cardinals and Zobrist left probably the same amount to snub the Giants. You can't extend the toxic argument to the Nats and not these clubs. Yet these are two beloved organizations reporters would chop off their own fingers first before even hinting that they may be toxic.
If it's not the enviroment what could it be? Zobrist claimed Maddon love. Heyward claimed the best chance at long term success. Both are probably partly true. However looking at two signings that did happen might be more telling. The Nats did land Max Scherzer last year but deferred half his contract until after it was over. The Nats did land Daniel Murphy but had to defer about 1/7th of the money over the course of 3 extra years. Given those were the last two big deals the Nats made and given the contract offered to Cespedes included even more deferred money, it's fair to believe the Zobrist and Heyward deals included large amounts of deferred money as well. This makes the "turned down more money" point that looking at these players hinged on moot. They likely went for contracts that offered more real value.
This is the thread that runs through all the Nats deals. They offered contracts that were less than these players got from other teams. The Nats looked at a loaded and slow-moving market and tried to snag some players at fair cost. This usually fails. Toxic has nothing to do with it.
I can't help but also comment on this column. Not to be rude but does this guy even know Span was terribly injured most of 2015? Zimm/Murphy/Werth is bleak? I mean, I can totally see the issues with it but even I, soulless automaton, knows there's a good chance one of the three guys will be good. (Plus I'd be more excited by any of these 3 than Revere.) And the offense was fine last year and lost a bad hitter in 2015, so... it'll be bad now?
The Nats went into the off-season with minor goals and major questions. The minor goals were to get rid of Storen, shore up the bench, and shore up the pen. They completed all three. The major questions were what would become of Papelbon, would they replace Desmond or wait for Turner, and would they get one more big bat. They did replace Desmond...after trading Escobar made it necessary. Effectively they are waiting for Turner. They are keeping Papelbon probably not by choice, but under the understanding that he is good and hard to replace. So what they really didn't address was getting one more big bat. A disappointment sure, but "nothing going right"? Hardly. (granted that's the copy editor and not him - the column is far less hot takey than the headline in it's final point).
I've said this before but this is what happens when national writers pop in to write about teams. It's hard to get a full picture when you are just stopping by and poking around. There's some value to what amounts to an outside opinion, but you should use what you know to inform what is being said. In this case the views in this column are just too negative. The Nats off-season is a little disappointing from their view. They thought they could make a FA splash without spending the big FA bucks. They were wrong. But they were pretty much able to accomplish every hard and fast goal they needed to. Now if it's more than a little disappointing to the fans, that's up to the fans.