Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Holy Cow Scherzer!

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Wow.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Wow. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Nats sign Max Scherzer to a 7yr/$210M deal.  Which, as noted in the rich comment thread on the previous post, occurred while I was away and could not properly analyze.

Well, so much for “payroll is topped out.”

Now it seems like the ownership narrative is going to be, “Mr. Lerner just turned 90 and didn’t buy this d*mn team so they could only just win the division a couple of times.”

Which, as a fan who is still scarred by the Jim Bowden years, when a $68M payroll was astronomical and our GM was shopping in the bargain basement/rejects line in the free agency trough, is pretty liberating.  I guess this is sort of what it feels like to be a Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers fan in some ways.

I have various thoughts, not having a chance to have read all the comments and all the analysis pieces out there.

  • Apparently the contract is actually structured as $15M a year for 14 years, as opposed to $30M a year for seven.  Man; that’s one heck of a pension plan Scherzer just got for himself.
  • I agree with those that believe this is an insurance move that makes the inevitable departure of Jordan Zimmermann a bit less of a loss.
  • Bummer for Tanner Roark if no subsequent moves are made; all he did was post a frigging 5 WAR season in 2014.
  • I like Scherzer now … but man i’m worried about what he’ll look like in 5 years.  There’s little to zero track record of long-term FA pitchers working out when signed to 9-figure deals.  Trust me; I’ve got a huge spreadsheet as proof that these things almost never work out.  So I think its fair to say that I am happy to have him (of course), but that i’m worried that this will bite the Nats going forward.
  • Yet another example of Mike Rizzo a) picking up a player he originally drafted, and b) doing a deal with the devil, er I mean Scott Boras.  At least the Nats aren’t on the hook for $30M/year clogging up their new “payroll ceiling,” whatever it is.
  • Given the track record for starters going from the AL to the NL … i wonder if we’re about to see a season that looks something like this: 18-5, 2.20 ERA and 280 Ks in 220 innings.  Scherzer’s already at 10.3 K/9 and now he gets to face the Pitcher, a weaker division in the NL East and no DHs.  Can he get to 300 Ks?

How would you lineup our rotation?  Probably Strasburg, Scherzer, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Fister.  You have to put the lefty in the middle of the rotation, right?

Is Roark wasted in middle relief?  Yeah he is.  But … now the team has its best 6th starter option in its bullpen ready to go, instead of calling up somebody from AAA.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Are we still going to see another move?  Maybe.  Not so much driven by payroll, but by function.  If the team is really fed up with negotiating with Zimmermann, then you move him for what  you can now.  And you’ve just replaced him like-for-like, for actually *less* money in 2015 than he was set to make (conveniently ignoring the $105M in “pension” payments Scherzer will be making for nearly a decade after he’s finished this contract).

Lets say the team does move Zimmermann; the 2015 rotation would be just as good as the 2014 rotation, but the team would presumably would have a couple more nearer-to-the-majors prospects received in return for Zimmermann.  Not the worst situation to find our selves in, given the FA losses the team faces after 2015 and 2016 (3/5ths of its 2014 rotation).  Scherzer bridges the gap and gives the team a solid guy for years to come as the next wave of starters makes its way to the majors (Cole, Giolito, Fedde, Lopez in perhaps that order).

Farewell Mr. Clippard

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Good luck in the Bay Area.  Photo unk.

T Good luck in the Bay Area. Photo unk.

Quick thoughts on the Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar deal that went down Wednesday night.

  • Bummed to see Clippard go.  I got a chance to play golf with him a few years back and he’s a real nice guy.  Nothing but a gentleman on the course, just a guy who liked playing golf in his spare time.  The thing that made me laugh the most from the game was his telling us that he rides his bike to the ball park every night … and then back home at midnight, through some rather sketchy streets around the stadium, all the way back to the townhouse he shared with Drew Storen on capitol hill.  If you’ve never been to Oakland’s stadium … well lets say I hope Clippard doesn’t try to ride his bike home at night from there.
  • Does Clippard get a shot at the closer role in Oakland?  Probably not; Sean Doolittle took over for the deposed Jim Johnson last year and did pretty well.  Very well actually: a 0.7 whip and a 1.71 FIP.  Not bad.
  • I tend to agree with the Mike Axisa CBSsports.com analysis posted here; Nats have some interesting flexibility now with Escobar.  He could be the 2B starter (making the transition from SS to 2B is an easy one for a quality infielder).  He could enable the team to move Ian Desmond and have Escobar be the starting shortstop until Trea Turner is ready (or proves himself not to be up to the task … Escobar is signed through 2016 with an easy 2017 option).

Is this a good trade for the Nationals?  Clippard was a vital and valuable part of the bullpen; is he replaceable?  Not easily.  The Nats have shed two of their three best relievers from last year with no real replacements (no, i’m not counting Heath Bell) other than internal promotions.  Perhaps this means we’ll see a couple of middle relief veteran signings now.  I think this also could mean Blake Treinen‘s being called into reliever duty instead of being in the Syracuse rotation.  Who pitches the 8th inning now?  Aaron Barrett?

Even given Clippard’s value, his escalating salary did mean he made more sense as a closer for another team.   Maybe that happens in Oakland regardless.  Or maybe Billy Beane keeps on dealing and moves Clippard again.  But the Nats plugged a hole for now and potentially for the next two years as well; a price that had to be paid for what they acquired.  And lets be honest; it is probably easier to find a good right handed reliever than it is to find a MLB-average offensive shortstop.

Escobar’s offensive numbers were a tick below MLB average last  year; an improvement over the presumed person he’s deposing in Danny Espinosa.  What’s more of an unknown is his defense; he was excellent in 2013, awful in 2014 in terms of range factors.  Since you don’t need nearly the range at 2nd, i’m guessing he’s going to be an excellent defender there by default.  So to this effect, he fits the Rizzo mold.  Good defender, decent offensive player.

The knock on Escobar, of course, is character.  It stems from an incident in 2009 while with Toronto when he put the words “Tu ere maricon” on his eyeblack.  As I noted in the comments section, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt here, believing that the media took one of many possible interpretations of this common latin insult (and hopefully not the one he meant) and ran with it … suddenly the message and the story that remains to this day is that he used an “anti-gay slur” and that Escobar is “homophobic.”  Or perhaps not: according to a wikipedia guide of Spanish profanity, the term maricon as used by Cubans in particular most likely means exactly what he’s accused of saying.  I dunno; what’s the statue of limitations for making a poor decision?

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2015 version)

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Aaron Boone's career achievement.  Photo via youtube.com screenshot.

Aaron Boone’s career achievement. Photo via youtube.com screenshot.

2nd version of this post: first one was done after the 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced and the voting results made public.

On 1/6/15, the BBWAA announced the results of the 2015 Hall of Fame class.  Sadly, we go another year without any player with Nationals ties going into the hall.

Here’s a review of every player who has Nationals ties who has appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, along with their voting results.  This post will let you answer the trivia question, “What former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom)

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boone, who signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ‘em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, thus far the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.  I’m sure this will change when Pudge hits the ballot in a couple years.

Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2014; Happy New Year!

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With little baseball news to report on this week, and clearly with us tired of arguing about Danny Espinosa :-), here’s a quick recap of the year in stories on this blog.  From each month, I’ve grabbed a couple of the more interesting or unique posts I did, with thoughts and follow-on.

(Here’s 2013’s review as well, to see how far we have or have not evolved…)

Jan 2014:

Feb 2014

  • The Phillies are purposely sabotaging college player eligibility; a shockingly petty story at the time; it has more or less faded after nothing much happened after the 2014 draft.
  • Ranking Baseball’s General Managers: it was hard to do then, and after this off-season’s GM shuffle its even harder to do now.  Looking back, I ranked Sabean #11; his team has only won 3 of the last 7 World Series.  I ranked Daniels 4th, Cherington 6th and both their teams finished in last place in 2014.  I had Wren 8th and he was fired before 2014 even ended.  Tough ranking to really do well.

Mar 2014

Apr 2014

  • Qualifying Offers; are they working?  Short answer: I don’t think so.  We’ll revisit this topic once the last two guys with Q.O.s sign this off-season (Shields and Scherzer).
  • Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper: Law posts in late April the same criticisms of Williams we had all year; bullpen management, lineup construction, handling of vets versus youngsters.  Your 2014 manager of the year!  Still incredibly bitter about the Zimmermann yanking in the NLDS (see below).

May 2014

  • TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics.  I eventually published a second post with a ton of TJ material for those interested in deep dives into the topic.
  • DC/MD/VA District High School Tournament Report; for some reason I really got into following the local high school baseball tournaments in 2014.  I definitely will do this again in 2015.  Even though these local baseball posts don’t get much commenting (nothing to really argue about I guess), I feel like there’s almost nobody else out there doing the same work.

June 2014

July 2014

Aug 2014; a job switch made the pickings and postings a bit light in Aug and Sept of 2014.

Sept 2014

  • Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams; I didn’t get enough time to do the typical playoff team analysis I do; i missed out on roster construction this year, one of my favorite posts to do.  We’ll hope for more time next year.

Oct 2014

  • Would you have pulled Zimmermann?  A classic second-guessing blog post, questioning a manager move that back fired.  I wish I had a time-stamped video of my reaction at the moment of the event so that people would know I wasn’t back-seat driving.  Still irked about this, still convinced this changed the course of the post-season.
  • World Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions (that you should laugh at); I finish off an abhorrent prediction season with an equally bad (and eventually wrong) WS prediction.
  • Nats Payroll Projections for 2015: where we hear the bad news … that we’re close to $150M on a team where $135M was “beyond the budget” for 2014…

Nov 2014

Dec 2014

I only posted 130 posts this year, down significantly from 2013 (237 posts).  But I feel like we have a ton more commentary now.  There were 75 comments on the Detwiler post earlier this month!  That’s great.  I’m glad we have a great place to discuss and argue about stuff.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading in 2014.

Written by Todd Boss

December 31st, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Nats turn Souza/Ott into Turner/Ross

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So long Souza.  Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

So long Souza. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Throwing up this post for comments that are leaking into the previous post.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a trade revolving around the 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers started circulating, and suddenly the Nats were involved.  When the dust settled:

  • Nats send Steven Souza and Travis Ott to Tampa
  • Tampa sends Wil Myers (and three others) to San Diego
  • San Diego sends Joe Ross and Trea Turner to Washington (as well as several other players to Tampa)

(Link to the full 11 players dealt here).

I can’t say it was much of a surprise of a trade, upon hearing that the Nats were shipping off new fan favorite Steven Souza.  Souza, at best, was slated to be the Nats 5th outfielder in 2015, thanks to the $5M still owed to 4th outfielder Nate McLouth.  And, the Nats longer term OF hole is in Center, not left or right, where Souza projects to eventually play for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In this regard, Michael Taylor is the more valuable prospect to hold on to, as he naturally slots into center once Denard Span leaves town.  Yes I know Souza *can* play center … consider who the GM is and what his defensive priorities have always been.

Who do the Nats get back?  How about two first rounders, two top 10 organizational talents in the San Diego system.  Turner is the catch; a college junior draftee who split time between short- and low-A this year and who BA ranks in their top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  They also get Joe Ross, a 21-yr old who ended up in AA (and who likely starts there again in 2015) with ok-to-decent numbers so far in his starting career.  (Note: since Turner was a 2014 rule4 draftee, he cannot “officially” be traded until a year has passed, so we’ll see him in June.  Lets hope he doesn’t break a leg in the meantime).

The team also gives up Ott, a sneaky prospect who excelled as a very young lefty starter in short-A this year, one of the younger guys in the league.  He’s a lottery ticket for Tampa, but he’s just the right kind of player for a team with the patience of the Rays.

Souza likely fits directly into the starting RF position just vacated by Myers, and Tampa nets a slew of prospects from both teams (as is their penchant).  In that respect, I think its a great move for Souza; he wasn’t going to play in DC save for injury, but he’ll get his shot there.

I like the deal for the Nats; I like the return, I like the planning ahead Rizzo is doing for middle infield depth, and he dealt from a position of strength (close-to-the-majors OF talent) without giving up a starting piece for next year.  I would have liked to have seen what Souza was capable of … but I also wouldn’t have moved any of our OF starters for him, so in that respect he was an asset looking to be cashed in.  Good move.

 

Written by Todd Boss

December 17th, 2014 at 10:01 pm

“Free Detwiler” campaign finally fulfilled

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This is maybe the last time i get to recycle this shot of Detwiler. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

This is maybe the last time i get to recycle this shot of Detwiler. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Got back from a meeting late thursday (aka the last day of these crazy 2014 Winter Meetings) and saw that one of the longer serving Nationals players in Ross Detwiler was reportedly traded to the Texas Rangers for two minor leaguers.  Not sure who broke the story but I got it from Mark Zuckerman.

The return, per this USA Today story, is INF Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos.

Others in the Nats blogosphere have done the research on these two; no need to rehash it here.   Short version: both guys played 2014 at high-A Myrtle Beach, where presumably the Potomac staff gave plenty of insight.  Bostik is a 2B and de los Santos is a reliever with big K/9 numbers.  By all reports Bostik is a fringe top 10 Rangers prospect and de los Santos is a sleeper.   Neither is a 40-man roster guy, leaving the Nats with a vacancy for the moment.

Honestly, I think this is a good move for both player and team.  I was somewhat worried the team would non-tender Detwiler rather than sign up for the $3-$3.5M he’d earn in arbitration.  I would be too; his role on the team as last-man-out-of-the-bullpen can pretty easily be filled by any one of a number of rubber-armed veterans available on veteran-min contracts of $750k-$850k, or more than happily by one of our spare 40-man starters slated to pitch in AAA in 2015.  Thanks to Jim Bowden‘s roster-moves in 2007, Detwiler blew through his options and service time far before he should have (per Zuckerman’s article, Bowden made a hand-shake deal to call up Detwiler in his draft year … a decision that has handcuffed the team with Detwiler for years.  Now his options status is someone else’s problem.

At the same time, I do think that Detwiler can be a serviceable starter in this league, as his 2012 season showed.  He just needed a shot, and that shot evaporated in this organization.  So he gets a chance in an org that really, really could use him.  He projects as being part of the 2015 opening day Texas rotation right now, behind Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch.  However Texas has two other good starters coming off serious injuries (Matt Harrison had spinal fusion surgery in June and Martin Perez had TJ in May), so Ross will have to work to keep his spot if these regulars come back healthy.  But that’s more opportunity than he was going to get in Washington.

Was this a good return?  Probably, considering that I thought he was a non-tender candidate.  Two high-A->AA prospects in positions of need works for me.

Such surprise non-tenders

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Detwiler gets another frustrating year with the Nats save a trade.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Detwiler gets another frustrating year with the Nats save a trade. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

So, the tender deadline came and went.  I didn’t post any pre-tender deadline analysis because I didn’t think there was any analysis to do.  In November I thought *maybe* the team would think about parting ways with Kevin Frandsen or maybe Ross Detwiler … but then went and re-signed Frandsen.  I left Detwiler out of my initial salary analysis but …. thinking about it, if you’re nearing $150M of total payroll, why do you want to cut loose one of your bullpen guys over a measly $3-$4M?

So I assumed we wouldn’t non-tender anyone.  And we didn’t.    I say “we” like i’m part of the team or something.

Anyway.  MLBtraderumors summarized the list of non-tenders yesterday and the list really surprises me.

First; why would a team *trade for* a guy and then non-tender him??   Toronto did this with no less than three recently acquired players, headlined by former uber-prospect Justin Smoak.  Per Dave Cameron‘s chat  yesterday, Toronto not only acquired Smoak recently but then had to pay a $200k buyout to non-tender him.  Just kind of an inexplicable set of transactions; they basically just lit $200k on fire for the privilege of having Smoak on their active roster for 5 weeks.  Did Smoak arrive in Toronto and immediately insult the GM’s mother or something?

Boston acquired Juan Francisco off waivers last month and non-tendered him this month; weird.  Some other interesting positional players are Gordon Beckham and Everth Cabrera; maybe the Nats have some more 2B options on the market now.

But some of the newly-minted FA arms are very intriguing to me:

  • Kris Medlen; all I can say here is, wow.  We’re talking about a guy who had a 256 ERA+ in 2012.  Yes I know he’s just had his 2nd TJ surgery, and yes I know he came back down to earth in 2013.  But man, he’s only 29, and he’s shown he can be a Greg Maddox-esque hurler in this league.  He made $5.8M last year so his guaranteed compensation would still be roughly $5M (you can’t cut a guy’s pay more than 20% in arbitration) … don’t you keep him even if he’s not a sure thing to start the season on your roster?
  • Brandon Beachy; kind of the same logic as Medlen, but with more caution.  Also finishing his 2nd TJ rehab but he’d be significantly cheaper (just $1.45M for 2014 in arbitrated salary).  Again; if you’re Atlanta, are you cutting bait just to save $1.5M??
  • Alexi Ogando: i’ve always liked this guy, had him in fantasy for years.  He’s injury prone, yes, but how much of that is because Texas kept changing its mind on how to use him?  Is he a middle reliever (2010)?  Is he a starter (2011)?  Is he a closer (2012)?  Is he an 8th inning guy (2013)?  Or is he washed up (2014)?  I’d sign him to a middle-reliever contract; he only made $2.6M last year.
  • Wade LeBlanc and Scott Snodgress; seem like low-risk gambles that someone might make on 4-A starters who could be decent.  I’ll bet a low-payroll pitchers park team like San Diego could turn these guys into 100 ERA+ pitchers.

Work the phones Mike Rizzo; maybe you can get these guys on minor/major contracts while they rehab.

Best contracts in the game right now

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Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now.  photo via si.com

Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via si.com

Inspired by Steve AdamsMLBTR chat on 11/18/14, I thought this was a fascinating topic.  What players have the best value contracts in the game right now?

For several years, the answer here was Evan Longoria, who signed a 6yr/$17.5M contract in 2008 and promptly put up three straight seasons north of 7.0 bWAR.  We’re into the option years on that original deal, which are still pretty affordable, and Longoria did get a 9-figure extension, so he’s not entirely in this discussion any longer.  Call him the “godfather” of ridiculously good value contracts.

Using the obvious websites (baseball-reference.com and Cots’ salary database now at BaseballProspectus.com), lets take a look at some candidates.  Note; I refer to a “valuation” of $6M per win above replacement as a way to “value” production.  There are some known limitations to equating salary to this figure, and there are others who estimate it even higher, but $6M per is still a decent estimate to use as a quick estimate of a player’s “monetary” production on the field.

Note: we are NOT including the litany of pre-arb players who are putting up huge seasons.  This is mostly trying to focus on those players who have signed for affordable contracts but who are delivering huge value.  Thus players like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber and Starling Marte are not included here.

Candidate contracts: I’ve arranged these in my opinion of the order of value:

  • Sal Perez: 5 years/$7M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options worth just a *combined* $14.75M.  This for a guy who has made the all-star team and won the catcher Gold Glove two years running.  Wow.
  • Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options of $12.5M and $13.5M.  This for a guy who led the AL this year in ERA+ and has received significant Cy Young votes 3 years running.  His bWAR in the last three seasons: 5.9, 6.9 and 6.6.  That’s crazy.
  • Jose Altuve: 4 years/$12.5M (2014-17), plus 2018-19 options at $6M and $6.5M.   Two-time all-star, led the AL in both hits and batting average in 2014.   Just put up a 6.6 bWAR season … and the Astros got it for just $1.25M in salary.
  • Jonathan Lucroy: 5 years/$11M (2012-16), plus 2017 option at $5.25M.  this late bloomer signed an incredibly affordable deal, then had a break out 2014 season where he posted a 6.7 bWAR, made the All-Star team, finished 4th in the MVP voting and should have won the gold glove as the best framing catcher in the game.   His total salary for the remaining three years of his contract is just $12.25M.
  • Madison Bumgarner.  Current contract: 5 years/$35M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options at $12M each.  Bumgarner was 4th in Cy Young voting this year with a 4 bWAR season but (as we all know) dominated the playoffs, single-handedly handing the Giants their 3rd World Series title in the last 5 seasons.  A 4-war season is worth at least $24M on the open market these days, but he earned just $3.75M this year.  His options can vest and increase with certain achievements, but even at their max $16M value he’s still a massive bargain.
  • Yasiel Puig: 7 years/$42M (2012-18).  Everyone thought the Dodgers were crazy to commit $42M to an unknown; now it looks like a massive bargain.  For $2M salaries the last two years he’s put up 4.9 and 5.4 bWAR seasons.
  • Julio Teheran: 6 years/$32.4M (2014-19).  This contract gets expensive later, but in 2014 he was paid just $800k to put up a 4.0 win season.  If Teheran continues to be the #2 pitcher he showed this year, the Braves have great value on their hands.
  • Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18).  Thanks to the crummy team he toils for, Quintana’s exploits have gone unnoticed.  But he’s now got a career 117 ERA+ and has reached 200 innings both of the last two seasons and is signed for a song going forward.  Its no wonder analysts scoff when his name is mentioned in trade talks.
  • Michael Brantley: 4 years/$25M (2014-17), plus 2018 option of $11M).  This is preliminary, but based on his 7 bWAR season in 2014 (for just a $1.5M salary), this could be a huge bargain.  Is he a flash in the 2014 pan or is he for real?  If he’s for real, the Indians have a fantastic value going forward.
  • Ben Zobrist: 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-15 options of $7 and $7.5M.  This was the poster child for years of affordable contracts (once Evan Longoria got his extension).  He’s averaged 4.75 bWAR over the past four seasons while playing six or seven different positions for the Rays.  Even in the final 2015 season at $7.5M, he’s projecting at 4 bWAR, still a significant under-value.  Keith Law calls  him “the best contract value” in MLB history; maybe he should be higher on this list.
  • Mike Trout: 6 years/$144.5M (2015-20).  No, a $33.25M salary in 2020 isn’t really a bargain, but the Angels are still getting the best player in baseball for $1M in 2014 and $5.25M in 2015.  Even if Trout declines to “just” a 6 bWAR player for the next 6 years … the Angels are still coming out ahead on the $6M/WAR evaluation technique.
  • John Lackey: 1yr/mlb minimum (2015).  He had a quirk in his previous contract that vested a MLB-minimum year thanks to an injury a couple years ago, so the Cardinals get the benefit of a veteran innings-eating 100 ERA+ starter at the league minimum.  Nothing to sneeze at, even if its just a one year contract.  On the open market you have to think he’s worth $8-$10M/season.
  • Steve Pearce: 1 year/$850k (2014).  This isn’t really a true candidate like the other players here, but Pearce’s story is worth noting.  He was DFA’d and *released* in April and re-signed a couple days later, but still posted a 6 bWAR season for Baltimore this year.  He’s arbitration eligible for 2015 but how far could his salary really rise after an 850k salary?
  • Jonathan Singleton: 5yrs/$10M plus 3 club options.  He may not profile as being worth this contract now … but if he lives up anywhere close to expectations, those later option years at $2-$2.5M are going to look pretty darn good.  No wonder the players union howled when he signed this deal.
  • Adam Jones: 4yrs/$62M is nothing to shake a stick at, even if his “gold glove” defense is rather suspect.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 3 years/$29M (2013-15), plus 2016 club option of $10M.  Yeah that’s a pretty good deal.
  • Jose Bautista: 5 years/$65M (2011-15), plus 2016 option of $14M.   $14M for a guy who probably would have gotten 33% more had he been a FA two years ago.

How about the same analysis for the Nats?  The clear best value players on the team are Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister delivered pretty good WAR/pay value.  Denard Span just gave us a 3.6 bWAR season for $6.5M in salary; a pretty good deal.  But none of these contracts really contend with the above list.

Did I miss anyone obvious?  Do you agree with my rankings above?

Rizzo the gambler; how have his injury-risk signings/picks done?

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Rendon was probably Rizzo's best injury gambit. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

Rendon was probably Rizzo’s best injury gambit. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

By now, we’ve grown accustomed to it.  Nats GM Mike Rizzo acquires yet another player with a questionable injury past, hoping to find a new market inefficiency and getting a better player in the long term than how the rest of the league valued the player in the short term.  This topic came up last week as the Nats seemingly severed ties with Matthew Purke and we immediately began talking about the wasted bonus money … three days later he re-signed a minor league deal, but he’s still an integral part of this discussion.

This post attempts to go through all of Rizzo’s injury-risk player acquisitions (draft, trade or FA), to see how he’s doing in terms of these high risk acquisitions.  I may have missed out on someone; please let me know if you think someone else merits discussion.  I’m sure there’s deep-draft picks worth discussing in prior drafts that our readers may remember; please pipe up in the comments section.  In each section they’re basically in reverse chronological order.

Draft

  • Erick Fedde, 1st round pick in 2014 (18th overall), RHP from UNLV, $2.5M bonus (over-slot, ~10th pick money).  I reviewed this pick after it happened and maintain the same stance I had in June; I thought Fedde was over paid and over drafted, but (in the Nats defense) the combination of the picks right before us (which included one Brandon Finnegan, who was on the Royals post-season roster) and right after us probably sealed Fedde’s selection.  Verdict: Obviously, it is far too early to tell how Fedde will turn out, so there is no judgement to pass here.  Fedde had the Tommy John surgery in Mid May, so he won’t even throw his first pro pitch until mid next season.
  • Lucas Giolito, 1st round pick in 2012 (16th overall), RHP from Harvard-Westlake HS (CA), $2.9M bonus (well over-slot, equivalent to 7th overall pick slot).  Giolito was rumored to be in the mix for 1-1 in 2012 before a “strain” in his pitching elbow caused him to miss most of his senior year.  This “strain” turned out to really be a “partial tear,” but the Nats saw value in getting a potential 1st overall talent mid-first round.  Giolito rehabbed, threw a few innings, then had TJ surgery on 8/31/12.  Since, Giolito’s rehab went perfectly, throwing 40 innings in 2013 and another 100 in 2014.  Despite his limited workload in 2014, he was named the Nats minor league pitcher of the year and has rocketed up prospect charts.  He currently is the unquestioned #1 Nats minor league prospect and should feature as a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.  Verdict: so far, so good.  They say there’s “no such thing as a pitching prospect,” so the wheels could still come off the bus, but Giolito is trending up and the gamble is looking like it will pay off.
  • Kevin Dicharry, 24th round pick in 2012, RHP from Texas.   Dicharry was good early in his college career but missed most of his college career with shoulder issues.  His pro debut was good enough: a 2.84 ERA in 25 GCL innings in 2012.  He started 2013 in Short-A, got hit hard in 3 outings, and was abruptly released to my surprise.  Verdict: failure … but it’s kind of hard to say that a 24th round pick was a failure for not panning out, even if he was perfectly healthy.
  • Robert Orlan, 30th round pick in 2012, RHP from UNC.  Orlan suffered an elbow injury late in the 2012 college season and was immediately placed on the 60-day DL by the team after they drafted him.  Baseball Prospectus does not have any injury/surgery history, so I do not know what, if any procedures he had done in 2012.  Orlan was decent for Auburn in 2013 but struggled in 2014 and couldn’t make the level jump to full-season ball.  He’s already been relegated to the bullpen and may not be long for the org.  Verdict: not looking good … but again, hard to really pass any harsh judgement on a 30th round pick.  The fact that he has even lasted two pro years makes him a success already.
  • Anthony Rendon, 1st round pick in 2011 (6th overall), 3B from Rice.  $6M bonus, well over-slot at the time.  Rendon’s dropping out of the top 2-3 picks was a huge draft-day shock; we’re talking about a college player of the year who scouts had penciled in as the 2011 1-1 pick for nearly two years.  But nagging ankle injuries in both his sophomore and junior year scared off the teams above Washington, who probably tripped over themselves running to the podium to take him.  We know the rest of the story now; by mid 2013 he was a starter, and he posted a 6.5 bWAR season in 2014.  Verdict: huge success so far.
  • Matthew Purke, 3rd round pick in 2011, LHP from TCU.  Given a $4.15M MLB contract.  The impetus for this post.  Purke was a 1st round pick out of high school, then went 16-0 in his freshman year of college, earning 2nd team all American honors.  Shoulder bursitis cost him a ton of starts his sophomore year, but the Nats gambled on him anyway.  A healthy Purke would have easily been a top 10 pick in 2011, so the Nats got a potential top 10 talent in the 3rd round.  Of course, we know how this story goes from here: Purke could never get going in 2012 and had to have shoulder surgery.  Then he throws 90 decent innings in 2013 … only to drop off a cliff in 2014 before having TJ surgery.  Now he’s out until at least June 2015.  But, as we’ve seen this week, at least he’s not on the 40-man roster any more.  But more time remains to be seen as to whether Rizzo’s $4M gamble can pay off in any capacity.  Verdict: check back at the end of 2015, but not looking great.
  • Sammy Solis, 2nd round pick in 2010.  A herniated disc in his back cost him the entire 2009 season, but he roared back with a solid 2010 to profile as the 2nd round pick he ended up being.
  • Nathan Karns, 12th round pick in 2009, RHP from Texas Tech.  Karns was hurt when he got drafted, and didn’t throw a pitch in 2009 or 2010.  He had to have shoulder surgery in June of 2010.  He finally made his pro debut in 2011, and by 2012 was the Nats minor league pitcher of the year after going 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA across low-A and high-A.  By mid 2013 he was making his MLB debut to provide cover for injured starters.   Karns was flipped to Tampa Bay in the Jose Lobaton deal (also bringing back two decent prospects in Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson) and spent most of 2014 in Durham (where he took a step back, posting a 9-9 record with a 5.08 ERA in 27 AAA starts).  Verdict: success for the team, given what he helped acquire, even if he’s struggling for Tampa Bay.  (Thanks to commenter JohnC for reminding me to fully list his trade bounty).

(post-posting thanks to NationalsProspect’s Luke Erickson, who provided the Orlan injury link and reminded me of Solis’ back injury during college).

Trade Acquisitions

  • Denard Span, acquired from Minnesota on 11/29/12 for Alex Meyer.  Span missed a huge chunk of the 2011 season after suffering a pretty bad concussion.  He missed a month in 2012 after injuring his shoulder diving for a ball.  So there was some legitimate injury concerns following Span around, though I don’t recall really discussing it at the time.  I didn’t necessarily like the trade when it happened, but that was more because I thought Bryce Harper could be our center fielder for the next decade.  Nonetheless, after struggling for stretches, Span inarguably was worth every cent of his exercised option for 2015, and though this wasn’t *that* big of an injury gamble, it has paid off.  Verdict: Success.
  • Ryan Mattheus was acquired on 7/31/09 from the Rockies for Joe Beimel, just two weeks after he underwent Tommy John surgery.   By mid 2011 he was an effective middle reliever for the team, and contributed a 1.3 bWAR season in 2012 as a good 6th/7th inning right hander.  In 2013 he broke his pitching hand in a fit of pique and basically never recovered; he lost his bullpen spot to Aaron Barrett in 2014 and, being out of options and not really having that great a season in AAA, was released last month.  Verdict: Success, considering what we gave up and considering that he may still be with the organization had he not punched a wall.  (Thanks to commenter Wally for reminding me of the Mattheus acquisition).

Free Agent Signings

  • Dan Haren, 1yr $13M for the 2013 season.  Haren had missed time in 2012 for a back issue, and had taken a huge uncharacteristic step backwards in performance from 2011.  It was enough so that some thought (including me) the Nats were going to get a bounce-back season and a return to his #2 starter form.  Uh, no.  Haren at one point in the 2013 season was the *worst* starter statistically in the league (the team was just 4-11 in his first 15 starts, and he had a 6.15 ERA when he was summarily sent to the D/L with a soft tissue injury that even Haren himself didn’t know he had).  He bounced back enough in the 2nd half to save his statistical season, but the damage was done.  Verdict: failure of a signing, but to be fair I don’t believe Haren’s issues in 2013 were lingering back issues.
  • Chien-Ming Wang.  Signed a combined 3  years of contracts worth $7M from 2010-2012.  He had shoulder surgery in July of 2009.  He missed the whole 2010 season, most of 2011 too.  But he showed *just* enough in the tail end of 2011 to earn a $4M deal for 2012, where he promptly got hammered.  To make matters worse, the guy whose rotation spot he took (Ross Detwiler) was usually the one coming in to relief him and pretty soon it was apparent the team had gone with the wrong horse.   In the end, Wang gave the team 94 innings and 6 wins for his 3 guaranteed contracts.  Verdict: well, a failure, but didn’t hurt the team as they raced to 98 wins in 2012.  Just cost money.
  • Brad Lidge: he missed most of 2011, his final season in Philadelphia, and the Nats took him on a 1yr/$1M flier.  After overcoming sports hernia surgery, Lidge gave up 12 hits and 11 walks in just 9 1/3 innings before being mercifully released, never to play again.  Verdict: failure, but a good gamble.
  • Christian Garcia was picked up as a MLFA in mid 2011 after the Yankees gave up on him following his third elbow surgery in 5 years.  He was un-hittable in our minor league system in 2012 (he gave up just 31 hits in 52 minor league innings that year), was called up and was effective enough to be added to the 2012 post-season roster.  Unfortunately, Garcia’s injury luck did him no favors: he lost all of 2013 to a partial flexor tear in his arm, and never made it back in 2014, eventually being released in June of 2014.  All that promise, just couldn’t stay  healthy.  Verdict: can’t possibly call a MLFA mid-season waiver claim a failure, no matter how little the team got out of him.  Another good gamble.

 

Conclusion: actually Rizzo looks pretty good here.  His draft pickups have mostly worked out; just Purke stands out as a possible loser.  His only real injury-risk trade acquisition worked out.  Haren and Wang were pretty high-visibility failures … but Lidge and Garcia were low-cost risks that had good upside if they worked out.

Did I miss anyone?

http://m.mlb.com/video/?content_id=7189149&topic_id=8080130

Rule 5 fallout: placeholder for arguing

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Welcome to the 40-man roster. Photo AP

Welcome to the 40-man roster. Photo AP

The 11/20/14 deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft has come and gone.  Jonathan Mayo at mlb.com posted an excellent overview of each team’s top 20 prospects under consideration for protection, which could also be a nice shopping list for some team looking to roll the dice.

Our Nats went and protected many more players than I thought hey would.  So maybe there’s not much room for us to argue about who should and shouldn’t have been protected.

Here’s who we protected: A.J. Cole, Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Matt Grace

And here’s notables who we did not protect: Matt Skole and maybe Drew Vettleson.

My reaction?  Slightly surprised they went with four players.  No arguments about the value of Difo, just wondering if he realistically could have stuck on a 25-man roster spot all year.  No arguments about the players they dumped to make room (Pedro Florimon and Ryan Mattheus); most of us questioned why they were even still on the roster given the lack of options and slim chances of making the Nats 25-man roster next spring.  Slightly surprised they decided to risk losing Skole, if only because of his proven capabilities.  Otherwise, for prospect hounds, this was a good day.

Post-posting update: MLB’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo each posted their thoughts on the best players left unavailable.  And Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper posted his list of top rule-5 eligible players.  Cooper mentions Skole in passing but not as a top 10 player.

Written by Todd Boss

November 21st, 2014 at 8:25 am