Nationals Baseball: Rizzo likes them short and young

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rizzo likes them short and young

We talked about this yesterday on twitter but for those on the blog I wanted to reiterate. It's been noted that Zimmermann is available in trade and the question is why.  By results Zimmermann has been the best pitcher on the Nats over the past few seasons.  He's younger (29 in May), healthy (hasn't missed a start since coming back from Tommy John and has thrown over 600IP the past 3 years), and is willing to re-sign. Of course the answer is pretty easy. He wants a fair market contract and that means he wants to get paid. The Nats have to weigh that type of contract carefully, especially considering they have other players who might be up for big paydays themselves (Fister and Ian after 2015, Stras, Storen, and Ramos after 2016),

But it could be more than that. It could be an organizational philosophy against signing ANY pitchers long-term.  Let's look at the long term contracts that have been signed under Mike Rizzo's tenure. These do not include option years because as far as I know there isn't a player option in there.

Zimm 09-13 5/45
Stras 09-12 4/15.1
Bryce 11-15 5/9.9
Burnett 11-12 2/3.95
Rendon 11-14 4/7.2
Purke 11-14 4/4.15
Stammen 13-14 2/2.25
ZNN 14-15 2/24
Desmond 14-15 2/17.5

These can be ignored. These aren't market deals. They are buying out arbitration years by definition they are undermarket.

What we're left with is 11 mutli-year market deals (10 made, Span's traded for). Out of the 11, eight are for batters. Instead of money and the exact years, I'll show the contract length and age at the end of the deal. 

Pudge 2yrs 39
Werth 7yrs 38
LaRoche 2yrs 32
Zimm 6yrs 34
Morse 2yrs 30
LaRoche 2yrs 34
Span 2 yrs 30
McLouth 2 yrs 33

Marquis 2yrs 32
Maya 4yrs 31
Soriano 2yrs 34

It's hard not to see a pattern here. Rizzo really doesn't like long term deals (who does?) or being locked into older players (again) but is willing to do so for offensive players on occasion. You kind of get the understanding why a Jeff Baker deal never happened. Two years for a guy that would be 34 at the end... that's not a deal Rizzo likes to make, certainly not for a non-starter.

For a pitcher it's even worse. Just 3 market deals and it's very questionable how much Rizzo himself wanted that Soriano deal.

This isn't necessarily a bad strategy. Just look at the Nats record. You are not tying yourself down to players giving the team great flexibility to adjust plans if not yearly than at least every other year. You are relying on players in their peak performance years, and years where they are still relatively low injury risks. It's a great plan, in fact, when you have a lot of young cheap talent to fill in the gaps.

The issue with the Nats is that young cheap talent is about to roll over into not young, far more expensive talent. Let's imagine the contract Zimmermann would get. Homer Bailey got 6/105 last year and that included a year of arbitration bought out. Consider that a starting point. Let's say... 6/120. 20 million a year. Zimmerman would be 36 by the end of it. That is a Werth/Zimm deal and nothing like any deal Rizzo has given to a pitcher in DC. Could it happen? Sure, but look at how the Nats allegedly approached him last year. Supposedly it was 5/85, buying out 2 arbitration years. That deal is undermarket, only paying for 3 FA years, and would have cut him loose after age 33. It's not at all the same as the deal he could get.

This is the beginning of the story of the Nats from now until the 2017 season starts. There doesn't seem to be enough young talent in the system to replace what could leave. No SS for Ian, no catcher for Wilson, no closer for Storen, not enough SP to cover ZNN, Fister, and Stras.  Are the Nats going to turn a new page and try to lock up this talent through say age 35, a decent stopping point for the most productive players? Or do they stick with they strategy they have now?

This is part of the reason I could see Strasburg and Ramos get the big deals this year not ZNN, Fister or Desmond. Ramos (27 next year) and Stras (26) could be signed to 5-6 year deals at close to market value (think Bailey's deal). You wouldn't have to kill yourself matching the market because you'd buy out a couple arbitration years and you'd be letting them go the the wind in their early 30s sticking to the current plan. But we'll see. I still think Desmond has a chance to be back based on Rizzo's patterns up until now and the dearth of decent SS replacements in house and out there. But ZNN and Fister (when's the last time you heard anything about Fister?) I think they are as good as gone.

*Where is Gio's deal? It only covered one FA year so it doesn't fit my definition. It was a classic well under market, slightly over arbitration deal.


Anonymous said...

Harper I agree about the organizational opposition to signing long deals for pitchers. I think the reason is this: Rizzo/the organization views its comparative advantage as identifying and developing young arms (I include rehabbing injured guys under the "developing" umbrella). If you view that as your strength, why would you sign older pitchers to long term deals? Cost is relevant here too. Is AJ Cole likely to be as good as Znn (I pick Cole here because they have similar prospect pedigree; Giolito is a much better prospect than Znn ever was)? No, that's not likely. But do you think the difference in performance between Znn and Cole over the next 6-7 years is going to be worth the difference in what they cost? Almost certainly not. Because it's not my money, I'd prefer to have both Znn and Cole than to choose.

Also, Harper, did you see this?

The esteemed Dave Cameron talking about how good your favorite whipping boy T-Mo is (Note: I agree with Harper on T-Mo's ability).

Bote Man said...

The Nats signed Andy LaRoche, too???

Kenny B. said...

I hate to let homegrown guys go, just because I'm a fan, but it's nice to at least see that Rizzo has a working theory about how to keep the team reasonably good without just paying out gobs of cash. If there's one thing football season has underscored for me, it's the importance of organizational competence and a coherent plan. Rizzo may not be the best GM in baseball, but I like that we can see that there's a structure to the way he works, and it has thus far created good outcomes and sense that the franchise is going somewhere.

I also can't really argue with the ability this far of the Nationals organization to spot good pitching and good rehab opportunities in the early stages. If that's where you feel your organization excels, it only makes sense to build your strategy around that. It's not super original or flashy, but so far it has worked pretty well.

We just have to be careful not to become the team that never gets anywhere, but churns out great pitchers who end up winning their rings in other cities.

Harper said...

Anon - you wouldn't which is why I see Stras (3 years younger) wrapped up and ZNN gone.

seen it - Nonsense. Strikes me as desperation when starting a column and needing to find an example to use

Bote - they signed LaRoche to two 2-yr deals. Basically let him walk and said "go ahead find a 3 year deal" Red Sox opted for Napoli (smart) Rangers opted for Mitch Moreland and then trading Kinsler for Fielder (dumb).

Harper said...

Kenny B - that's the threat. Team falls back to just good enough not to make it in. Offense likely will need P to support it in a year or two. Will Cole/Giolito/pen be ready?

Positively Half St. said...

Wait Don't dismiss the Fangraphs article! He is trying to convince someone to trade for Tyler Moore. Please, encourage the author.

Donald said...

I'm not sure that past actions by Rizzo necessarily indicate future performance. For a lot of his time, the Nats were clearly rebuilding and getting into long-term contracts with established players didn't make a lot of sense. He might handle things differently now. Not saying he will,just that he might.

My guess at the moment, is that Rizzo needs to determine a few things:
1) how good and how ready is Cole? If he thinks Cole steps in as a #2 or #3 in 2016, then he doesn't need to sign both Fister and Znn.
2) how ready is Giolitto? I think everyone thinks he will be good, but will that be in 2016, 2017, 2018? That might dictate whether or not you try to lock up Strasburg early.
3) how good is Roark? Is he a #5 guy or a #3 guy? If he's a #5, you probably need to keep Fister and Znn around next year. If he's a #3, maybe you can trade one of them now.
4) How much talent can you get back for Znn or Fister now? My guess is that he's not that interested in trading either, but if the rotation is Stras, Gio, Fister, Roark and Treinin next year, is that so bad if it gets you Starlin Castro (though you'd probably be throwing in some prospects too)?
5) How much do you value the compensation picks? If the Nats do nothing this year, they'll get 2 next year.
6) Do you view getting to and/or winning the WS to be primarily luck once you reach the playoffs? If yes, then constructing a team that's just good enough year in and year out is probably the smart call. And really, isn't recent experience really showing that?

Anonymous said...

Did you see Rosenthal about them if they trade Fister or Zimm they could be in the mkt for Scherzer? That is crazy right. If you're going to sign a contract long term - sign the younger (arguably better) guy to a contract that should be for less. I would much rather sign Zimmermann than Scherzer for even the same amount of money/years...but I bet you could get 2-3 mill off per avv. Ah - but you wouldn't get the player you traded Zimm for? Yea, well I don't care. I'd rather trade Zimmm and sign a cheap guy like Lirano to a cheap deal.

Harper said...

1/2 St - Oh was he talking about TYLER Moore? That guy is a stud. Nats would be crazy to trade him, Mr. Other Team GM who may be reading this blog's comment section.

Donald - I'm not sure they do either. Like I said - the plan made sense with all that cheap controlled talent. I don't disagree with anything you say. I will say that if we don't see a deal for ZNN, Fister, or Stras THAT says something.

Anon - it's not CRAZY (Scherzer probably has been better past 2 years) but I don't see why you do it. ZNN has 2 years on him and is more GB oriented fitting your team (the Nats OF D could be scary bad in 2 years). ZNN is obv better fit.

KW said...

I'm not sure why there isn't more trade talk about Strasburg. With two years of control for him, he's got considerably more trade value, plus he will be looking for a longer contract at a higher annual rate.

That said, you would be looking for a star (or two) in return for Stras, not a stopgap guy. That's the problem I have with the J-Zimm trade talk. We don't need second-tier prospects or a below-average 2B. If that's all we can get, then ride him to the end.

I still hold some hope that the Nats can re-sign Fister at a reasonable rate, for four or five years at $15-17M per.

Zimmerman11 said...

Rizzo likes 'em short, young, and related...

There have been a bunch of late round "favors" and "pedigree" picks with Rizzo... Cutter Dykstra, Brian Harper, etc.

“We really bear down on guys like that in the draft — ‘pedigree guys,’ we call them,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said of Lombardozzi, whom they took in the 19th round of the 2008 draft. “Growing up in the game, the exposure to professional baseball — they have a better feel for [the game]. It’s huge for us.

“That’s a philosophy we employ here. We like big power pitchers and athletic players up the middle. And then, pedigree is one of the things we look for, especially when you’re down in that [lower] area of the draft.”

Mark twain said...

Am I the only one who wants to trade Zimmermann. Trade him for Castro( our second base hole) and a few prospects. I believe Stras will have a great year and the others will be average to above average. With the braves giving up the season we need to get stronger for the postseason. In the postseason treinen won't pitch and Roark has luck so he won't be that much worse than zmann. The problem this postseason was hitting all our starting pitchers pitched well. So strengthen the lineup with Castro instead of cabrera.

Harper said...

KW - Just timing. ZNN/Fister more pressing issue. Also - you don't expect it until ZNN or Fister signs (else you give them a lot of leverage) Rumbles here and there but it can't be serious because difficult to move on it if pitching not planned out.

Z11 - Not how I would do it but really when you are that far down you might as well have some philosophy so you don't find yourself nitpicking to death two guys that likely won't make it past Potomac.

Samuel Clemens - Why would the Cubs do that? Here's the choice - trade Castro and get a year of ZNN and inside track on re-signing him OR don't trade Castro, make sure IF prospects are ready and deal him next year for same level of return (or don't deal him if they are not ready) AND have a shot of signing ZNN assuming he makes it to FA (good bet right now)

Unless the Cubs strongly think they can win in 2015, or that they'll lose chance on signing ZNN, not trading makes more sense.

KW said...

I would listen to Castro + _____ for J-Zim. Castro could play 2B in 2015 and be the heir apparent for SS, unless the Nats go on and move Desi too. Curiously, Castro's #1 comp on B-R is . . . Desmond.

My alternative to fill out the INF would be Headley, as the word is that he will take a shorter contract (3 yrs.) at an affordable rate ($9-10M per). That fits well with the Rizzo MO.

Mark twain said...

True Harper but the cubs don't have a history of great decisions. Also the cubs fans I know want lower ticket prices, Epstein gone, Rizzo a silver slugger, and a winning team. If Epstein feels pressure to win now he would do the deal. Do you see arrieta as a winning teams ace? Zmann yes Arrieta no. I say Rizzo should try and see what he can get with Castro.

Chinatown Express said...

Based on the headline, did anyone else assume this post was about Tony Renda?

Just me?

Ok then.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Your not getting much in terms of prospects on top of Castro. Not sure how he is valued around the league at the moment but based on one year left got Zim I can't see Zim having incredible value

John C. said...

Most Cubs fans want Epstein gone? I find that hard to believe, Mr. Clemens. That franchise has a LOT of primo young talent and just signed the "hot ticket" manager. I only know a couple of Cubs' fans, but they are actually feeling the faint stirring of hope!

Mark twain said...

John C you and I definitely know different cubs fans.

Clip I would do the deal Zmann for Castro no prospects at all. Although most nats fans would probably hate the deal.

Froggy said...

Trading JZNN is crazy talk.

Anonymous said...

If you're boston and you're trying to get a deal done for Hamels...and the agreed deal is something like xander (or Betts), Yeonis and a B+ level prospect. Don't you walk?

A) If I'm a GM. I'm looking at the SP 2015 FA Talent (Zimmermann, Cueto, Latos, Samardzija, Price, Fister) and saying a better deal is trading a one lesser player (for Zimm I would take Betts/Xander) for one of the six mentioned - take my QO draft pick when they walk and still sign one of the other guys in 2015..all for less than Hamels cost (96/4 yrs) without having to give up so much talent. You could then go out and trade Yeonis if you wanted for cap reasons or rotation needs.

So unless Philly is kicking in money, it would be a bad deal - which is why they could get a xander or betts - but they will never get a huge haul of players.

KW said...

If the Nats have any interest in Headley, it's now or never. He just went from wallflower to belle of the 3B ball in one day. Unfortunately, that development likely will also jack up his price, as the Yankees will now be in desperation mode.

All in all, I'm glad to see Panda and Hanley leaving the NL. It was curious move by the Bosox to sign both, particularly with their pitching needs. It almost seems like they signed Hanley just to keep him away from the Yankees.

Zimmerman11 said...

@KW... I'm surethe SAWX will now pull off a trade for a SP and/or sign Lester... they're the new evil empire!

Jay said...

Am I the only one that doesn't think everything Boston does is genius? Do people forget that Boston had lots of bad contracts before - Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford. Sandoval or Ramirez at third make sense. Both players with Ramirez in LF makes no sense to me. It smacks of building a fantasy baseball team. Plus, Ramirez is known as a locker room killer. Do you think the first time he has a bad night in LF he's not going to be a negative influence? It blocks some of their young players, and they still lack pitching.

KW said...

It's NOT genius. And yes, suddenly no one is talking about Hanley's locker-room rep, even as no one can figure out where he's going to play, even though he got the bigger contract.

Having lots of money doesn't make you smart, or guarantee success. Just ask Dan Snyder.

Speaking of the Bosox, I did give Middlebrooks a look as a potential target for the Nats, but he's gone from bad to awful in the last two years. They're not going to get much for him.