Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for May, 2012

Would you have made this trade for Adam Jones?


Adam Jones is on fire in 2012 and seems set to sign a long-term extension. Photo unknown via

Interesting rumor that surfaced today: MASN’s Roch Kubatko tweeted that the Nats offered four players over the winter for centerfielder Adam Jones.  Those four players reportedly were John Lannan, Steve Lombardozzi, Drew Storen and an unnamed “center fielder.”  You’d have to guess the CF was lower-end, certainly not Eury Perez or Brian Goodwin (I’m not even sure we CAN trade Goodwin yet; there’s a set amount of time that has to pass before you can trade recently drafted guys).  The only other two starting CFs in the minors right now are Michael Taylor (our high-A center fielder) and AAA’s Corey Brown.   If I had to guess it would have been Brown, given his removal from the 40-man and his general struggles.

No time-frame was offered for this proposed trade; was it before or after the team swung the Gio Gonzalez deal?  If this was before, you wonder if we end up making the Gonzalez deal (probably; there’s no overlap in players and we’d have really needed another starter).  If this was after, perhaps it indicates how little the organization thought of Lannan even before the events of spring unfolded.

The articles make it seem that this would have been disastrous for the O’s: Lannan is stinking it up in AAA and Storen is hurt.  Its hard not to agree.  But I’d look at it another way; this would have been three 25-man roster guys plus a 4th OF (assuming it was Brown) who looks like he’s turning it around.  I think Lannan is a serviceable 5th starter in this league and just got caught in a numbers game out of spring, and that he’s better than he’s pitching in AAA.  At the time of this deal we wouldn’t have known that Lombardozzi would have this hot start; we only knew that he was young and seemed over-matched last September.

A concern in this story to me is the mention of Storen in the talks.  This is now the 2nd or 3rd time we’ve seen his name mentioned as being trade bait (one other that comes to mind was the proposed Zack Greinke trade.  At some point Storen is going to stop being the team player he clearly is now and become jaded, knowing that his front office is actively trying to get rid of him.

Nonetheless: Jones for that clutch of players seems like it is a steal for the Nats in hindsight.  If this deal had been swung, we’d certainly have a different look to the offense, but would be struggling with some serious depth holes right now (as if we aren’t already).


Has anyone ever signed a “good” $100M+ contract?

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Werth's wrist issue has not helped his cause with pundits who ridiculed his contract in the first place. Photo AP/Richard Lipinski via

One of the things that’s always irked me as a Nats fan is the continual presence of Jayson Werth‘s 7yr/$126M contract on the ever present lists of “Worst Contracts in Baseball.”  Or the fact that when Ryan Zimmerman signed his $100M extension, an anonymous front office member was quoted as saying that the Nats now had “two $100M contracts but no $100M players.”  (paraphrased from memory, can’t find the original quote).

Lets face it: professional baseball (and to an extent most Professional Sports) is a unique industry when it comes to paying for performance.  Most players perform in their peak professional years for pennies on the dollar (especially those in pre-arbitration years) as compared to their general “worth” on the Free Agent market.  Teams can lock up players for at least 6 years and sometimes 8-9 years (depending on the amount of time they spent in the minors) once they are signed.  In most cases players are first reaching free agency in their early 30s, whereas most would agree that a player’s peak performance age is probably in the 27-28 timeframe.  That means that by the time a star  is finally ready to cash in and sign that life-defining guaranteed contract …. they’re mostly on the downside of their career.  This means that teams are almost always paying for players’ decline years, and it almost always means that teams are generally regretting these huge contracts almost the moment they’re signed.

Teams that want to add through Free Agency thus are almost always paying ahead for past performance.  And usually this means that, especially by the end of a long FA contract, teams are vastly overpaying for the performance they’re getting on the field.

So I asked this question; has anyone ever signed a “good” $100M+ contract?  Good meaning, did the player perform up to the value of the contract the entire way through it?  A group of friends of mine argued about the same topic while drinking beer in the bleachers at Nationals Park last week; lets revisit the conversation.

According to Cot’s site (now at Baseball Prospectus), there have been 35 such contracts of $100,000,000 or more.  I’ve divided these contracts into three categories: those that are in the past or are sufficiently worked through in 2012 as to pass judgement, those that were signed starting with 2011 (so they only have a season and a quarter to judge), and those that started in 2012 or in the future.  Of these 35 contracts, they break down as follows:

  • Old enough to be Judge-able: 20
  • Started in 2011: 5
  • Started in 2012 or in the future: 10 (lots of big contracts handed out this past off season).

How would you judge these contracts?  Lets go by category: The rank is the rank of all time total value amongst all of these 35 contracts.

Category 1: Judgeable $100M contracts

Rank Player Amount (Years) Knee Jerk Opinion on value
1 Alex Rodriguez $275,000,000 (2008-17) Future Albatross: paying A-rod $28M at age 41
2 Alex Rodriguez $252,000,000 (2001-10) Great production for most of this contract
6 Derek Jeter $189,000,000 (2001-10) Hard to Argue Jeter wasn’t worth it…
8 Mark Teixeira $180,000,000 (2009-16) 2009 was great; a .242 hitter since.
9 CC Sabathia $161,000,000 (2009-15) Continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
10t Manny Ramirez $160,000,000 (2001-08) One of the greatest per-dollar value large contracts ever
14 Miguel Cabrera $152,300,000 (2008-15) Great value so far; perennial MVP candidate
16 Todd Helton $141,500,000 (2003-11) Early part of contract good; last few years meager.  A push
17 Johan Santana $137,500,000 (2008-13) Major injuries plaguing contract
18 Alfonso Soriano $136,000,000 (2007-14) Considered one of the worst contracts in baseball
20t Vernon Wells $126,000,000 (2008-14) Severely underperforming; one of most immovable contracts
20t Barry Zito $126,000,000 (2007-13) 5th starter stuff, bumped from rotation by career minor leaguer
25 Mike Hampton $121,000,000 (2001-08) Major disappointment, traded twice
26t Jason Giambi $120,000,000 (2002-08) Great early value in NY; injuries and lack of production late.  A push
26t Matt Holliday $120,000,000 (2010-16) Quietly earning this contract.
29 Carlos Beltran $119,000,000 (2005-11) Injuries plagued middle of contract; good value otherwise
30 Ken Griffey Jr. $116,500,000 (2000-08) Missed most of 3 seasons mid-contract, constantly hurt
32 Kevin Brown $105,000,000 (1999-2005) 72 Wins for $105M, missed parts of 4 seasons.
33t Carlos Lee $100,000,000 (2007-12) Decent performance if not spectacular; Too much $/year though
33t Albert Pujols $100,000,000 (2004-10) If anything, underpaid during this stretch.

Category 2: Too Early to really tell (signed/started in 2011) Contracts:

Rank Player Amount (Years) Early Reports Are..
7 Joe Mauer $184,000,000 (2011-18) Injuries early in contract; struggling so far in 2012.
12 Troy Tulowitzki $157,750,000 (2011-20) Hard to argue with production; injury prone though
15 Carl Crawford $142,000,000 (2011-17) Played relatively poorly in 1st yr, hurt 2nd.
20t Jayson Werth $126,000,000 (2011-17) Wide-spread opinion of major over-pay; out most of 2012
26t Cliff Lee $120,000,000 (2011-15) One of the best pitchers in baseball

Category 3: 2012 and Future Extensions

Rank Player Amount (Years) Industry Opinion seems to be…
3 Albert Pujols $240,000,000 (2012-21) Future Albatross?  Slow 2012 start, tons of money in late 30s
4 Joey Votto $225,000,000 (2014-23) Too much for too long?
5 Prince Fielder $214,000,000 (2012-20) Bad body won’t age well
10t Matt Kemp $160,000,000 (2012-19) Best player in baseball rocketed out of the gate in 2012.
13 Adrian Gonzalez $154,000,000 (2012-18) Red Sox issues in general dragging him down but was good in 1st season
19 Matt Cain $127,500,000 (2012-17) Lot of money to a pitcher with a career W/L record below .500
23 Ryan Howard $125,000,000 (2012-16) Achilles heel injury to start; $25m/ year for decline
24 CC Sabathia $122,000,000 (2012-16) Continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
31 Jose Reyes $106,000,000 (2012-17) Concerned about contract year boost in productivity?
33t Ryan Zimmerman $100,000,000 (2014-19) Great player if healthy … but seemingly never healthy


  • Of the 20 judge-able $100M contracts, 10 were unquestionably bad, 7 were good and the other 3 were arguable one way or the other (which, is still “bad” in that they weren’t huge successes).
  • 3 of the 5 2011 contracts are widely panned as of this moment.
  • Of the 10 nine figure contracts starting this year or later, at least 4 have been badly panned and really only Matt Kemp‘s contract looks like a winner from the onset.  Then again, judging a 6 year contract on 2 months of production is (goes without saying) the definition of a small sample size.

I’ve only identified 11 of these 35 contracts that were either “worth it” or which seem to be trending well.   So the answer to my blog question is definitely, “Yes, there have been a handful of 9-figure deals worth the money.”  However, 18 of these 35 contracts were either patently bad or are trending that way soon.  The other 7 that I’ve put somewhere in the middle may very well be considered losses; when you commit $100M as a franchise you expect near Hall of Fame productivity.

The lesson that I take away is this: a 6-9 year commitment for $18-$25M/year should be a guaranteed lock of productivity for your team, but as these contracts show it almost seems like a coin flip as to whether your franchise-defining contract will actually work out.  That’s scary stuff to consider as a GM and/or an owner.

Bonus Analysis: Team by Team: 18 of the 30 teams in baseball have rolled the dice on a 9 figure salary; how have they fared?

Team Ttl good bad indifferent
Boston 3 1 1 1
Chicago Cubs 1 1
Cincinnati 2 1 1
Colorado 3 1 1 1
Detroit 2 1 1
Houston 1 1
Los Angeles Angels 1 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 2 1 1
Miami 1 1
Minnesota 1 1
New York Mets 2 1 1
New York Yankees 6 3 2 1
Philadelphia 2 1 1
San Francisco 2 1 1
St. Louis 2 2
Texas 1 1
Toronto 1 1
Washington 2 2

Look how many teams have tried once or twice and failed every time.   And notice that sometimes even a “good” contract can still be crippling.  Alex Rodriguez earned every penny of his massive contract in Texas … but the owners capped payroll and couldn’t build a good team around him, so the contract was viewed as a massive anchor for the team.  He had to be traded so that the team could rebuild (and as it turned out, be sold to a more competent owner).

Back to our Nats: Washington has handed out two 9-figure deals and both (while still early) are being panned in the media.  Werth‘s wrist injury and Zimmerman‘s continual dings aren’t helping.  Lets just hope that the kids keep competing and driving us forward.


Written by Todd Boss

May 25th, 2012 at 8:43 am

30 for 30 is coming back

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ESPN and Grantland announced today the 2nd installment of the fantastic 30-for-30 series.

I thought the network made a huge mistake by not keeping the 30-for-30 brand name when it released a slew of follow-on productions after the initial run of 30 ended.  Instead they branded them as “ESPN Films presents…” stories and made it nearly impossible for the DVR-age of TV viewers to find them.  Most of us depend on setting a “Record Series” job keyed on the name … but then they presented the follow-on films just using their titles.  To make matters worse ESPN kept changing the air times and the order, didn’t keep a regular weekly schedule of releases, and as a result the viewer numbers were down for the follow on shows.  I still havn’t seen half of the 2nd set, which is unfortunate because there’s some great stories presented.

I did a review of the first batch of 30-for-30s and tried to post thoughts on some of the follow-on shows when I happened to catch them (reviews for the Bartman episode, Dotted-Line, and The Real Rocky) but ran out of gas on the reviews when it became too difficult to get them recorded.

Either way, can’t wait to see the next installments.

Written by Todd Boss

May 16th, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Posted in 30 for 30,Non-Baseball

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What are we going to do when Wang comes back?


In a word: I have no idea.

While the rest of Nats nation talks about the fallout of Jayson Werth‘s broken wrist (most of this post was written before last night’s debacle), I had been thinking about this topic: when Chien-Ming Wang exhausts his 30 day rehab assignment, what in the world is this team going to do with him?

If I’m correct about rehab assignment rules while on the 15-day DL, players have 30 days once they appear in a minor league game.  Wang’s first ML appearance was in Potomac on Apr 29th, and then he pitched 6 innings on Friday night in Hagerstown.  As has been reported in both local media and national, Wang’s 6 inning stint represented a big step forward in the pitcher’s ability to return to the majors.  Now, perhaps this isn’t a problem for another month or so, but both these reports seemed to indicate that Wang was “nearly ready” to return to the majors.  Problem is, the Nationals really don’t have anywhere to put him.

As everyone knows, the Nats currently have the best pitching staff in baseball by most statistical measures.  We’ve rocketed out to an 18-10 start, winning 8 of our 9 series so far, on the strength of starting pitching.  And there’s no logical starter that we should replace right now.  Strasburg just won NL pitcher of the month, Gonzalez is making all the “Nats paid too much” pundits eat their words thus far with a stellar start, Zimmermann is allowing a miniscule .992 WHIP right now (even after counting for May 6th inflation), and Detwiler is pitching better than any of them now to little fan fare, with a 3-1, 1.59 era, .988 whip and a staff-best 241 ERA+.  Arguably the “worst” of our starters is also our most expensive: Edwin Jackson.  Of course, the word “worst” is only understood in context: if it weren’t for one first inning meltdown on April 19th, Jackson’s ERA would be 2.34 instead of its current 3.69.

If you’re Davey Johnson, you don’t possibly dare disrupt the existing rotation do you?  I wouldn’t.  But, Wang needs to go somewhere.  Can you put him in the bullpen?  Doubtful; he’s a starter coming off a shoulder injury and probably needs to be on a set schedule of throwing.  I doubt he’s able to jump up and be ready to enter a high-leverage reliever situation with 8 pitches to get ready.  Do you send Detwiler to the pen?  He’s the least experienced of the 5 starters we have; the other 4 have long since established their spots.  Do you move Jackson to the bullpen?  That’d make for an awful expensive middle reliever.  Wang has no options (nor does Detwiler or Gorzelanny for that matter, logical choices to move up or down to make way), so they all have to find room on the active roster.  I don’t think Wang is trade-bait; who would give up anything other than a marginal prospect for him based on his injury past?

Honestly, I’m expecting some 15-day DL hijinks to ensue if/when the situation comes to loggerheads.

How long before Espinosa is benched?


Espinosa is still great in the field ... but struggling at the plate. Photo AP via

I’m not the only one tolling this bell right now.  Nats beat reporters Dave Nichols posted today on the same topic.  Despite being annointed the starting 2nd baseman, and for a while last year while Ian Desmond struggled serving as the shortstop in waiting, Danny Espinosa is really struggling to start off 2012.   He’s posting a 49 OPS+ right now, with a .188 batting average and (as Nichols points out), an alarming number of strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Steve Lombardozzi is more than ably filling in defensively at 3rd but is a natural 2nd baseman and is getting on base at a .383 clip.  He’s also batting nearly .300 (two 0-fers in Los Angeles dropped his BA below the .300 margin).  Sounds to me like a prototypical lead-off hitter, doesn’t it?

I’ve often used this mantra when complaining about Roger Bernadina‘s continued presence on the lineup: after more than 900 MLB plate appearances, isn’t it safe to say we know what his performance will be?  Well, Espinosa now has nearly as many PAs as Bernadina and seems regressing by the day.  His OPS+ is still decent for his career on account of his 21 homers last season.  But he’s only hit one so far this year and as a result the slugging component of his OPS and OPS+ has drug him down to below replacement level.

Most have noticed his severly bad switch-hitter splits from 2011; clear evidence that he may consider giving up switch hitting and just batting from the right-side.  Of course, its awful hard to do that after you’ve been switch hitting your entire life.

With our #3 and #4 hitters on the DL, and with the team ranked in the bottom 3 in MLB in most offensive categories right now … how long before the team makes a move and benches Espinosa in favor of Lombardozzi?  I like Espinosa; have always defended him.  And after watching Lombardozzi look absolutely lost at the plate last fall, I never thought i’d be saying this so quickly.  But he looks good, Espinosa does not, and the team needs to give itself the best chance to win and score runs.  They can’t win games 3-2 every night.

Written by Todd Boss

May 3rd, 2012 at 4:26 pm