Nationals Baseball: A failure of goals, not of actions

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A failure of goals, not of actions

With Garza going to the Cubs, it is very tempting to call the off-season a failure. Mike Rizzo set goals for the off-season and it seems impossible to envision a scenario where the Nats actually achieve those goals. Where is that "top of the rotation" starter going to come from now?

But I find it hard to be angry with Mike Rizzo for this failing. The fault was not in his actions. He made moves and offers that could have easily brought in the players he wanted. The fault was in his... let's say, overly optimistic point of view.

It's a point of view that I would have probably had. Imagine this. You are appointed GM. You have carte blanche to spend money and to do what you wish with a decent roster of young talent. You have an offseason where you know Cliff Lee is available. You don't think you can get him but you know you can put up a competitive offer. You see Brandon Webb is available. Sure he might be coming off of injury and his arm is still weak but he wasn't a guy that needed to K people to be successful. He was a groundball machine and you are building a team to field ground balls. You hear that Zack Grienke is probably going on the market. You've got a young reliever and one of two young MIs that can be dealt plus a couple of interesting young arms. If you fail to get all of those, well there's Jorge De La Rosa, who is your type of groundballer and who might be special outside of Colorado, and there's Javy Vazquez, who isn't your type of pitcher but he is the type that can put up that special type of year, and the Rays have to deal one of Shields or Garza, who could really benefit going from the AL East to the NL. Why wouldn't you think you could pick up someone who could be labeled "top of the rotation" in one way or another?

You are going to let Adam Dunn walk (you need someone to field those ground balls) but you have the money to go out and get Derek Lee or Carlos Pena. They aren't guarantees to match Adam Dunn's production over the next few years but as a bet to have their combinations of offense and defense help the team almost as much Adam would have next season? That's not a bad gamble. Why wouldn't you think you could have an offense no worse than last year with a better defense?

Of course, it one thing for me to think this, but really Rizzo shouldn't have. He should have known that there are 20 or so teams every year going after the same guys with the same resources. Maybe he could get one of these guys above but even two is a stretch. (And because really outside of Lee and Grienke, it's hard to call those other guys "top of the rotation")

It's not a fault to try to reach an impossible goal, but it is a fault to do it in public. It makes it look like you don't know what you can and cannot achieve. It also sets up fans for disappointment. But I can't be angry with this type of fault. He did everything he could to make it real. He put up fair and honest offers. It just wasn't to be. It almost couldn't be.


Matt said...

I see your point, but I think there's also a pretty good counter-argument.

How often do baseball players turn down more money? One deal in four? five? I have no stats/real idea, but it sure isn't a ton. The best info suggests the Nats made serious plays at Greinke, De la Rosa, and Vasquez. All of them turned down more money from the Nats to go elsewhere.

Now maybe some of these guys were more likely to turn down more money than the average baseball player (I'm looking at Greinke in particular), and maybe Rizzo should have known that. But still, the odds of missing on all 3 guys when you offer the most money should have been really, really low (if you believe the 1-in-5 statistic that I pulled out of my rear, 1/125, although if you believe that I also have some swampland - ahem - prime beachfront property to sell you).

I think this is an example of good decisions, bad results (I remember you had a really good post on this a month or two ago).

Wally said...

I dunno, not sure that I see it the same. His failure isn't that his goals were wrong, but maybe that he didn't adapt his plans quickly enough once things were not playing out how he thought. Isn't there some kind of military saying that all battle plans are good for the first 5 minutes, and after that it is all about reacting to what is happening? Doesn't seem like he did that.

He can't be faulted for wanting to improve the starting pitching, it is clearly the biggest weakness - but, I totally agree with you that there was never a reason to announce it like he did. But that market was much more robust than he expected it to be - the entire player salary market was more robust. It doesn't seem like he adjusted his valuation metrics or his strategy accordingly, with the obvious exception of Werth.

But even more so, the Nats have a lot of holes; if SPs are too pricey, go after other lineup improvements. CF, 2B, 1B, LF - I think that we could have better options there now than we do. At this stage, they need to add pieces wherever the value for cost ratio is positive. I am not a guy that thinks that you hold off on FAs until you are 'ready to win'. That is like trying to catch lighting in a bottle.

BUt to be clear, I also can't fault him for not getting a SP at the rpices they were going for. If it was just money, or prospects from replaceable positions, than do it, but JZimm should not have been in any deal, imo. We got lucky that Greinke turned us down, but I am a little concerned Rizz went that far.

Wally said...

There is still time to do something positive. Leaving trades out of it, since there is no way to know how that goes, Soriano could be an interesting pick up for them, making the bullpen a real source of strength. Also a way to keep him away from the White Sox, which would bump our pick for Dunn down to a 2d rounder.

I think that once we sign another Type A, we can't lose any more picks, so they could also add Balfour. Those guys usually have value in July, too, so it could be a way to use money to get some performance plus add to the farm. Not a bad fallback strategy.

Froggy said...

I think Matt is right, one must see things as they are and ask the obvious question as to why players would turn down more money from the Nats to go somewhere else. Could it be that despite being offered redonkulous amounts of money, players might want to be on a winning team?

As a three year Nats season ticket holder, I've been patient with the strategy of the team development. Things take time, and the team has had a couple tough breaks like losing Strausburg for the season. But, for the first time I'm beginning to question things. For one the constant 'justification' of letting Adam Dunn get away by blaming his defense.

Was the only solution left was to not sign him? Here is a guy who besides being hugely popular with Nats fans (you know, those folks who STILL come to watch a team that has lost 100 games three years in a row), averages 40 dingers and 100 RBI's a year for his career. Not to mention is probably responsible for 10 points of Zimmies BA because of batting either in front or behind him.

My question is, couldn't the 'organization' worked on Adam's defense during the off season? You can't coach 40 homers and 100 RBI's, but you can coach defense.

I still renewed my tickets (and upgraded like a fool) for next season, but can you imagine a line up with Espinoza, Werth, Zimmerman, Dunn, Desomond, Morse, etc?

I'm just saying...

Anonymous said...

There was actually a deal worked out for Grienke, so I think Rizzo tried to execute his plan, he just didn't have the money/prospects to pull it off. Does that say it was a dumb plan? I don't think so; the Nats could use a 1-2 starter but the problem is that most of the league could say the same thing. Should he have put his effort into another outfielder? After the Worth contract it would have been hard to pay an impact player the impact money needed to get them to Washington. They could have overpayed for a 4-5 starter, but they aren't lacking in candidates for those jobs. As for Dunn, I will miss him, but he isn't worth the long term investment that the Sox gave him.

blovy8 said...

I think at the least, fair offers were made, if they got more from the Cubs, that's the Cubs being desperate or the Nats not having the necessary prospects Tampa wanted. You can't make any of those pitchers want to play here. By going out there and overpaying for Werth early, at least Rizzo backed up his words that money would not be an issue. There's no percentage in saying to fans, I can't get anyone to play here even if I overpay - then you get a Pittsburgh situation, where you start paying too much for mediocrity. That's why you have wonder about LaRoche. At least he is probably worth 8 mil a year if he is average, but that doesn't mean it wasn't over market rate. The guy got what, 2.3 mil last year? I guess 25 homers is better than a Morse/LH 1B platoon would yield, and the money is there. You can't get upset since you can see Rizzo is trying to execute a plan, and settling for less would be even more depressing.

Dave Nichols said...

Shouldn't Nats fans, at this point, demand better than "I tried."

Werth's contract is going to cripple this team just as Harper ascends to the majors. LaRoche wasn't an "option", he was last man standing at the position. Abject failure in effort to land an impact starter. No platoon partner for Morgan.

You don't improve in the standings by trying, you improve by doing.

Donald said...

@Dave Nichols -- there's no spending cap in baseball. Werth's salary only cripples the Nats to the extent the Lerner's let it. If they want to spend $100m a year, then his salary has no impact whatsoever. That's kinda what I think about Laroche, or any other player than they may have to overpay for. It's not my money. As long as the Lerner's are willing to spend it, then more power to them. I just hope they keep it up.

Harper said...

Matt - not so serious on Vazquez, De La Rosa deal was the same from what I've heard, so only Greinke turned down the money and Greinke marches to his own beat as you note.

Wally - I get your point but I'm not sure what he could have done other than overpay for pitching (and figure that out really early). He did pay to improve the outfield, there wasn't much worthwhile in MI to go against Espinosa and Desmond. I guess he could have been way more aggressive on Pena but do we want that? I think we're getting down to it - should he have paid more for pitching when it the first couple guys went for a ton? As for what to do now - I don't like spending what it'll take to get Soriano on relief. I favor a bringing in 2 Garland like guys and flooding the rotation just to see what happens. Penny would have been great. Toss some money at Duchesher and Young.

Froggy - I've thought about how nice a 2-6 of Desmond, Zimm, Dunn, Werth, Willingham would have been. That's some nice hindsight there.

Anon - so are you happy with the Nats offseason? I'm not saying it wasn't a good one (I'll hold off on judging to the very end, right now... leaning toward eh)

mockcarr - The thing is I think you CAN get upset but only because Rizzo set himself up for such a reaction. What's been done so far in the offseason - its been at least arguably reasonable, but because he got everyone worked up, I think the general negative reaction I'm sensing from Nats fans is understandable

Dave - I think Rizzo agreed with you, but what can you do honestly? Severely overpay for talent that isn;t even at Werth level? I'm not trying to be facetious (sp). Other than adopting another scenario that involved going all in on offense from the start, I'm not sure what could have been done.

Donald - agree to a point. Rizzo should know how the Lerners want to spend in the future. Hoopefully he knows $ won't be an object in the future if they are good and the Werth contract is no team killer. If instead they pull the purse strings tight, he's screwed up big time.