Nationals Baseball: Toxic Amender

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Toxic Amender

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. 


JC said...

Rizzo gets to offer safe, low offers with lots of deferred money. If someone takes then we get a decent deal on a top FA. If they turn down the offers then the Lerners can claim that this is all about the MASN money. Win-win!

John Lushetsky said...
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Kenny B. said...

The idea that the Nats are toxic because they didn't overpay for free agents is a *classic* example of people looking for signal in the noise. There's no interesting narrative here. Personally, as long as we're making up narratives, I think we should start one where we suggest that big time players don't want to come to Washington because Papelbon literally called them and threatened to choke them if they came. The free agents are just trying to save their own necks! BADUM-TSH!

I'll show myself out...

Harper said...

I think the Papelbon thing is the key. Everyone saw that. Everyone said they HAD to get rid of Papelbon. But the realities of the situation (they had no faith in Storen and wanted to cut ties with him too, Papelbon makes a lot of money, Papelbon is good) made it hard. But outside people don't really take that all in. He choked him. He must be traded or even cut. The fact he's still here is BAD. That will inform every opinion about the team until proven otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like 98 win runaway with East type of thing.

So sorry to say unless the Nats rock it in 2016 there is going to be a lot of "Well you could see there'd be problems. They didn't even get rid of Papelbon!"

Anonymous said...

Haha Nats are a joke

Mick said...

Appreciate the cult classic Toxic Avenger reference. When does that get a reboot?

Positively Half St. said...

Thank you. This is an excellent summary of what we have been saying as a group, with the greatest volume probably at I admit I jump to read any time you post anything new, and this entry certainly didn't disappoint.


John C. said...

FWIW, even Heyward's offer from the Cubs was almost certainly more valuable than the Nats' offer. It's the opt-outs. When Fangraphs analyzed the deal, they pointed out that they had previously valued the opt out in the David Price contract as being worth $10-15M. Given that a player Heyward's age and position (position player rather than pitcher) FG felt the value of an opt out to Heyward would be considerably higher. So even before you get to the fact that Heyward has two opt outs in his deal, the higher AAV/shorter period/opt out is what makes his 8/$184M contract more valuable than the 10/$200M offer from the Nationals.

Froggy said...

Pretty objective summary of things, especially for a soulless automaton.

I think your point of the deferred moneies were the deciding factors (along with the players repective agent influence) in not taking the deals.

If anything it speaks to a perception of the state of the organizations cash flow red line, or alternatively to the 'why pay cash for things today when I can finance with bank credit'. Sound business practice.

Josh Higham said...

I think JC has it down. Lerners want any leverage they can come up with for the MASN dispute, so by offering deals with deferred money, they can drive up the prices on FAs on the demand side without actually committing money to those players. If the Nats win, it's proof of good management, because they couldn't get most of the players they wanted due to payroll constraints. If the Nats lose, it's because MASN revenues are too low and they can't offer competitive deals to top notch players. The strategy artificially eliminates the Lerners' accountability for any failure, and can have payroll implications for teams that do end up signing guys the Nats offer low present-value deals.

VI said... might be right about the Papelbon incident influencing perspective, but there was a significant undercurrent of support for him, some of it by prominent former teammates. Not a lot of love out there for the other guy. Unless Bryce begins to show he's decided to mature in areas other than baseball skills, the negatives surrounding the Nats will probably linger.

Mythra said...

Lerners get a 2 for 1 on the O'Day signing. They get to offer a lower, but driving the price up offer for an asset that the O's wanted, and still get to use the offer to stick mud in Angelos' other eye.

Agree with JC and others that this is smart financing until the MASN deal is done.

Agree with Harper's assessment on the FA signings. We added contact hitters at 2 spots in the lineup where we had none last year. (Span was non-factor due to injury at #1, and Ian/Danny was sub-.250 hole) Murphy and Revere/MAT addresses those 2 slots without praying that Span doesn't get hurt again. (2 surgeries in same season on same body part is no hope, but a prayer.) Bullpen is still a question until we see arms in action. Could improve a little, a lot, or not at all.

Papelbum is a no-win situation. Lose cash needed for deadline deals or FAs to trade away with no proven closer, or keep Storen and hope he doesn't let the wheels come off a 3rd time in his career. Fool us once, shame on Storen. Fool us three times, shame on Rizzo.

SM said...

All happy clubhouses are alike; each unhappy clubhouse is unhappy in its own way.

How many championship teams' clubhouses, beginning with John McGraw's Giants, have been without turmoil or controversy? You might be surprised at how few.

Alan Wiecking said...

Back to the Desi thing. No offers for he the kind of guy Rizzo would offer a 1 year "eat crow ('cause ain't nobody given you an offer), play well, get paid next year" contract? Any chance?


Ollie said...

@VI: Yes, I'm sure the guy who publicly choked the NL MVP, called out his former teammates' desire to win in the press, grabbed his crotch at fans, and had to be separated from a reporter who reported that he couldn't pitch in a game because he was too hung over is the one that guys around the league are backing. Right...

Ollie said...
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Ollie said...

I suspect if there's any toxicity in the clubhouse it comes from management throwing guys like Espinosa and Storen under the bus after years of talking up building from within, plus no extension for Desmond/demoting Roark after a couple great years for the next shiny thing. Unless you're a Boras client your job's not safe.

John C. said...

Ollie, they did offer Desmond a whopping big extension that he declined. It's hard to be made at the Nats for making an offer that Desmond is kicking himself for not accepting.

Natty dread said...

What puzzles me is sustained hatred out there for Bryce. He is intensely competitive, that I get. Guys who are intensely competitive and who know it often rub people the wrong way. But what has he 'done' to deserve all of the negativity from general fans? He seems to be a pretty down to earth guy. Why does America hate him?

Alex Freeman said...

Our biggest problem last year was the bullpen and Rizzo, I think, massively improved that aspect. Other than that, I think our offense will be just as good as last year (I expect a bit of a drop-off from Harper but also some combination of additional production from Zimmerman/Werth/Rendon should balance that). We lost Jordan Zimmermann which is huge but we still have a solid rotation. Overall, I think our situation going into this season is the same one we were in last year: solid team that could make a run at a WS with some luck, but also could miss the playoffs with some bad luck.

DezoPenguin said...

@Natty dread:

It's the hype, pure and simple.

Bryce hit the big leagues at an impossibly young age, with all the media saying that he was the best thing since sliced bread. Everything he does has been (and likely will be) viewed through the narrative of that initial filter. Fans of the other 29 teams are salivating over the opportunity to see Bryce fail specifically because they keep getting "Bryce! Bryce! Bryce!" yelled at them. Media see any slip by someone so thoroughly hyped as a potential "feet of clay" moment that they can make a story out of. (I take Jason Heyward as a personal example: he's an excellent outfielder, yes, but I got *so sick* of hearing the media tell us that he was the next Mike Trout, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays rolled into one that I relished every time he failed...of course, the fact that he played for the Braves, the arch-rival of my favorite team, helped that along as well.)

tl;dr "Hype Backlash"

Bryceroni said...

I must confess this is an idea that struck me more recently, so I can't really claim this as a strategy from the beginning of the off season. Maybe a lesson for the future.

Rizzo probably could have moved papelbum for just salrry relief. 11 mil for a year of a good reliever is not exorbitant, and probably ends up as a good value.

This move hurts the nats roster from a baseball perspective, but has 2 possible benefits: clearing money, and improving 'toxicity'/ countering media narratives.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the clubhouse, but ,11 mil in salary relief is useful.

Bjd1207 said...

@Dezo - Wasn't Heywards breakout a year before Trout?

@Bryceroni - The trouble there is you'd have to find a team willing to take him at that price too and there doesn't seem to be many teams willing. Most speculation has had him packaged with a prospect to make the deal more "palatable"

Jay said...

I think the MASN deal and the court reversal of the ruling are biting the Nats this offseason. Peter Gammons wrote a very good article about this on his blog Gammons daily. At this point, I hope the Nats are able to get out of their own contract with MASN and see the rights to Comcast. Selig tried to broker a deal for MASN to be sold to Comcast at one point but Angelos refused. Yet another reason to not like Angelos.

Anyway, I am hoping that best case scenario Baker makes a big difference and the Nats bounce back in a big way. Baker is a lot like Davey Johnson - he has won everywhere he has ever been. I do worry that a lot of that hope is hinging on guys staying healthy again. Zimmerman, Rendon, Werth, and Strasburg. If one of those guys gets hurt it's trouble. If two get hurt it's a lot of trouble. Last year they were all 4 hurt plus Span.

I'd still like to see them sign Clippard and give him the 8th again. I'd like to see them trade for one of the Rockies OF or Lucroy and adjust accordingly. Desmond was offered a very nice extension by the Nats - $108 million total value if I remember correctly. I think part of his problem last year was him worrying he blew it by not taking the extension. He doesn't look to get that now. Bryce is the guy people love to have on their team but hate on the other team. If he leaves as a free agent and signs with the Yankees - there are several articles about this on ESPN right now (slow baseball news time) - I would be very disappointed. I don't think the Lerners do anything until the MASN thing settles. It should only take another year or two. Good times.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Really good summation of how you can't just judge the offseason by who got added/subtracted. I know this is nothing new to the people here, we talk about it all the time. But good read anyway. And according to the projections he does, it looks good for the Nats.