Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 10/28/11 edition


Here’s some of the more recent Nats-themed news items I’ve read this past few days, with some thoughts sprinkled in.

  • The team spent some time adjusting the delivery of 2011 draftee Alex Meyers in the instructional league.  I like seeing this; the scouting report on Meyers basically says a) he as a great arm, and b) he’s going to struggle to contain it.  If the team sees some adjustments that make his delivery more repeatable, perhaps Meyers goes from a reliever projection to a starter projection.
  • Been reading rumors and posts about how the Nats are going to go after Jose Reyes in the off-season.  Here’s the problems I see with going after someone like Reyes.  The team likes Ian Desmond and he has been improving … and he’s cost contained.  Reyes is going to cost, what, $15-18m/year?  Is it worth signing a big contract for someone when you’ve got a serviceable and improving prospect in place?  Here’s the other thing that really worries me about Reyes; his clear “contract year” production.  Check out his 2011 slash line versus his career: .337/.384/.493 versus career of .292/.341/.441.  That’s a clear jump of at least 40 points in each category.  He’s injury prone (missing at least a month’s worth of games in each of the past two years and most of the 2009 season) and his speed is declining (going from .4875 SB/game at his peak to just .30 sb/game this past season).  I know there’s no statistical “proof” of contract year production going across ALL contract year players … but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.  When a guy playing for his one big FA contract suddenly improves across the board, and, oh he happens to be playing for a franchise that is going nowhere but down … you can see how the incentives are to play well and get out.
  • Matt Purke‘s first AFL start?  Not good.  22 pitches, just 10 for strikes, sitting 89-91 on his fastball and getting hit hard (line: 1/3 IP, 7 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR).  Keith Law’s tweet said “Washington LHP Matt Purke 87-91 in first, nothing sharp, has given up five runs so far after seven batters.”  Now, its clear he’s got quite a bit of “rust” from not facing live pitching since May, so we won’t over-react TOO much.  But 87-91?  That’s not good.  His subsequent appearances have been rough as well.
  • My alma-mater James Madison University gets to host the CAA baseball championships for the first time in 25 years in 2012.  JMU baseball has always been solid and has made the 64-team field several times over the past two years (though almost always being stuck in a regional hosted by someone like UNC or UVA).  Their claim to fame is one CWS appearance in 1983 (though this article is clearly dated … it talks about how JMU is the only Virginia school ever to make the CWS).  They have a beautiful new baseball complex in Harrisonburg and my dad and I may just go see this tourney.
  • This isn’t Nats related, but this is an absolutely fantastic Sports Illustrated story about 50’s minor leaguer Jack Swift, the last minor leaguer to win 30 games in a season.  9-parts, great read, a reminder of what baseball used to mean in this country.
  • The Phillies (not surprisingly, in this opinion) declined their option on starter Roy Oswalt on 10/25.  On the same day they declined their option on deposed closer Brad Lidge as well.  Lidge’s option rejection was always going to occur; nobody wants to pay $12.5M for an unreliable closer when history shows that you can mostly throw just about anyone into that role and be successful.  Meanwhile team also has a closer-quality FA in Ryan Madson who they could re-sign at 1/3rd the price of Lidge.  Now, do I think the Nats should go after any of these guys?  Oswalt should be incentivised to return to the Phillies on a more reasonable 2 or 3 year deal commensurate with his advancing age and declining performance.  If things don’t work out?  I’d certainly be willing to give him a Jason Marquis type deal (albeit with more money…) and bring him on board as the Nats #3 starter.
  • Yu Darvish‘s name keeps coming up and the Nats continue to be associated with him.  Latest rumors come via Rizzo’s press conference this week, where he admitted that the Nats had some scouts in Japan watching Darvish this season.  So what?  Half the teams in the majors have scouts in asia now.  Mark Zuckerman‘s thursday post lends some sanity to the discussion.  I continue to agree with Zuckerman; for the amount of money and the amount of risk that comes with Darvish, the Nats should look elsewhere to spend dollars.  Perhaps not this off-season (where the starting pitching FA crop is relatively weak) but NEXT year when its pretty strong.
  • Talks continue with Chien-Ming Wang, but nothing is close, per Amanda Comak on thursday.  This is probably nothing new and just a one-off story from Rizzo’s press conference.  I’m glad the team is already talking to Wang though and hope they work it out.
  • From the department of the obvious: Davey Johnson will be retained as the manager for 2012.  As if there was ever any question.
  • Under considerably less fan-fare than the ongoing NBA talks, MLB and its players union are working on an extension to the existing labor agreement, which expires in December.  The main issue according to this scribe will be negotiating signing bonuses for its draftees.  I’m of the belief that the commissioner wants a slotting system simply because he’s a shill for the owners, and the owners know that a slotted system basically eliminates the ability of agents for amateurs to negotiate and gain leverage over their teams.  Its a restriction of free trade for these amateurs, most of whom will never make the majors and most of whom need the signing bonuses to live on while they earn pennies for their hours ($800 a month for lower level minor leaguers??) for the next few years as they rise in the systems.  One thing that I (the fan) do want to see is a far earlier signing deadline.  Enough of this BS where 1st rounders get drafted in June then don’t bother trying to negotiate until the 2nd week of August.  My solution?  Push the deadline up for anyone signed in the first 10 rounds to something almost immediately after the draft dates.  Keep the existing deadline for anyone signed AFTER the 10th round.  Why?  Because most of the people signed after the 10th round are either college seniors who have no leverage and will get miniscule signing bonuses anyway, college juniors who are ready to start playing pro ball and who want to sign quickly anyways and won’t be holding out forever, and fliers on HSers who may or may not want to go to college, but the extra time gives teams a chance to watch them play in the summer and negotiate.
  •’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Nats plan on going after CJ Wilson.  *sigh*.  Why do I think that’s going to be a mistake?  My feeling is that he’s a #3 (perhaps barely a #2) guy who’s going to get #1 money and will severely disappoint his new team.  Of course, there’s going to be so much demand for Wilson this off-season, the Nats may get scared off by high bids from big-money teams who are desperate for pitching.
  • Game 6 of the World Series may have been the best game i’ve ever witnessed.  Not “best played” necessarily (because of all the errors, and the mental errors by players on both sides), or even “best managed” (you can fault both managers for their bullpen and bench management during the game).  But in terms of pure excitement and suspense, it is hard to beat.

9 Responses to 'Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 10/28/11 edition'

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  1. I sort of disagree about Darvish, in that I think that it’s completely worth putting in a serious, substantial (but not stupid) posting bid for him. Just don’t adopt the “in it to win it” mentality; if someone is stupid and puts in $50-60 million for a posting fee, just take your check back and move on to Plan B, C or D. If not, start negotiating. It’s almost literally a no cost transaction.

    There are questions about every potential free agent. Sabathia (if he opts out) is overweight and his hips or knees may not be able to hold up; Wilson may be a mirage; Oswalt has a bad back, etc. We don’t know what Darvish will be, but we know that his ceiling is near the TOR. Before Dice-K got hurt he was a pretty solid #3 pitcher (better than that the first couple of years). Not only is Darvish a year younger than Dice-K was, he’s just better. He’s 5″ taller, throws harder (no gimmicky reports of a “gyro ball” here). In four years his worst ERA (1.88) is better than Dice-K’s best (2.30; otherwise Dice-K varied between 2.60 and 3.96). Darvish is more durable – he’s thrown 200+ innings three of four seasons, Dice-K did it twice in eight seasons, three years apart – and after his top season only threw 74 innings the next season. Darvish has struck out more, walked fewer and has a lower BAA. He’s not Strasburg II, and his numbers aren’t going to be THAT good in MLB – but he’s one hell of a prospect. Worth trying for, certainly – again, just don’t be stupid. If everyone sits around figuring that someone else is going to place a posting bid of $60 million, someone is going to get a relative bargain. I’m OK with that being the Nationals.

    John C.

    28 Oct 11 at 11:49 am

  2. Dice-K cost 51M to win. The guy last year who posted and was won by the A’s was a nobody and was still $21M. What is it going to cost to get Darvish, who is considered a better prospect than Matsuzaka? For all the himming and hawing about the $15M guaranteed to Strasburg before he ever threw a pro-pitch, imagine if the guaranteed outlay was MANY TIMES that. And we’re talking about the Nationals, a team that has kept its payroll constant in the mid $60M since the Lerner’s took over. If they get saddled with a boat anchor of a contract (ahem, Jayson Werth), is that going to prevent the team from signing more FAs to make up for the mistake? Because if the answer is no, then this team better start trying to emulate the Tampa Bay Rays sooner than later. I don’t want to root for a team that gets shut out of the FA market for 5 years when a mistake is made (Kansas City).

    Here’s the list of all Japan-born players who have played in the majors. Look at the pitchers, especially the starters. Where’s the super star in that list? Where’s the ace starter worth a 9-figure salary on that list? Most of the starters are either total failures (Igawa, Suzuki, Kawakami) or .500 pitchers (Nomo, Ohka, Ishii, Irabu). Dice-K is easily arguable as being the best guy there, and I’d say that he was a one-hit wonder, his 18-3 season being a fluke before the league adjusted to him (and yes he had some injuries to overcome) before he settled down into a high-pitch count, nibbling #4 starter with a high era and tendency to give up monstrous homers. To say nothing of the absolute debacle that Kei Igawa turned out to be ($46M in pay and they got exactly 13 starts out of him).

    Yes its a risk either way. But to me the history on Japanese pitchers coming here is a bad one. I don’t care what his era is in the Nippon league, or his IP or the fact that he’s taller than Dice K. For me, i’d still rather spend money on someone who has competed in a known setting, against a known quantity.

    Todd Boss

    28 Oct 11 at 12:13 pm

  3. I just did a quick review of the Japanese players you mentioned. Not one had an ERA below 3 in the NPB (and several were much higher). Darvish has a career ERA of 2.2 and has been under 2 since he turned 20. That is no guarantee that he will be successful in MLB, but it does point out that your comparisons are not legitimate. Just because Heath Shuler was a bust, didn’t mean that Peyton Manning would be just because he also came from TN. You need to look at the individual players and Darvish is clearly different than the others.


    28 Oct 11 at 3:27 pm

  4. His stats in an inferior league, with questionable talent are better than his predecessors. Fair enough. He may or may not be better than Dice-K when he gets here.

    My point is this. Are you willing to risk $100M or more to find out? I wouldn’t be. I’d look at the history of these players coming here and I’d say to my ownership “buyer beware.” I’d let the wealthy teams fight over him and spend tens of millions of dollars that would be better spent on guys we can scout day in and day out, against major league players, instead of trying to win the lottery in a place that so many teams have failed to win before.

    Todd Boss

    28 Oct 11 at 3:54 pm

  5. OK, so you’re clearly in the no camp regarding Darvish; we get that. I’d personally put him in the top-two possible FA-SP’s for this off-season, behind only Sabathia, and well ahead of Wilson. If the Nationals are serious about picking up another top-of-the-order arm, then I think Rizzo has to be in the game for Darvish.

    A one-time posting fee of between $35-40M might be required just for the right to negotate, with a salary of $10M+ AAV over 5 years. I’d rather see that kind of salary expenditure on a 26-yo arm than throwing $20M a year at Sabathia or $15M a year at Wilson. And a starting five of Zimmermann / Strasburg / Darvish / Lannan / Wang-Detwiler could be pretty sweet in 2012, considering the team still has Milone, Peacock, & others stacked in the minors.


    29 Oct 11 at 1:00 pm

  6. I think you’re low-balling what he’ll take. If Dice-K took $51M and Darvish is considered a better prospect. Then as you surmise, it’ll take a 5yr $50M contract to get him. And that’s assuming that he’s actually MLB ready. By most accounts, Japan is somewhere between a AA and a AAA level. Need I remind you that our own Yuniesky Maya looked pretty unhittable in the winter leagues (similar competition levels) but couldn’t barely get through 5 innings here.

    For $110M wouldn’t you rather get a guaranteed Ace starter, which WILL be available in the 2013 off-season? Look at the 2013 list. Outright FAs with no club options include Cain, Greinke, Hamels, Marcum, Lewis, Anibal Sanchez and Jonathan Sanchez to start. Every one of those guys is a legitimate #1 or #2 starter level guy. And then there’s a slew of guys with options that could be come available.

    Rizzo and the Nats have to be patient. Sabathia is going back to NY. Wilson isn’t worth the money. I think he needs to get out of the FA bidding frenzy for all three of these major guys and focus on possible trade candidates. James Shields is a great example, or target a team known to be rebuilding next year.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 11 at 3:45 pm

  7. Todd, I think you’re basically misunderstanding what the “pro-Darvish” camp is shooting for in the posting process. The idea is not to figure out the $$ value that would be enough to virtually guarantee being the high bidder. That’s more or less what led the Red Sox to bid $15 million over the next highest bid for Dice-K. If the Nats did that, I’d say they were nuts. There isn’t even a “we’re the Nats, we have to overpay” argument like there was in the Werth bid – they are blind bids, highest one wins.

    Instead, the idea is to put a $$ figure to how much the Nats think would be reasonable to pay. Submit a serious, substantial, but not stupid bid ($35+ million). If someone beats it, that’s utterly and completely OK – it’s a one off, not a negotiation, and there is literally no cost other than the preparation of the bid.

    While I think that James Shields would be a fine addition to the Nats rotation, I’d be against trading much for him unless the deal was contingent on an extension. Buying high for a one year rental when that year is when the competing window is just opening, and paying talent that would help keep that window open down the road, makes no sense to me.

    John C.

    29 Oct 11 at 5:32 pm

  8. I dunno if that’s what the “Pro-Darvish” camp is really saying. Read BinM’s comment; he thinks an 80-90M expenditure on Darvish is a good idea, and he thinks Darvish would be ready for our 2012 rotation. I don’t. I think 80-90M spent on Darvish is an incredibly bad, risky amount of money to pay. Rizzo himself admitted he hasn’t seen Darvish in person in 2 years, yet he was jetting all over the country to see the talent we drafted in the first few rounds and committing a fraction of this amount ($6M on Rendon, for example). And, there’s no guarantee he’s going to be that dominant in the majors. NPN is AAA-level baseball; there’s reasons that guys here who can’t get 40-man contracts get million dollar deals and go to Japan and hit 30 homers.

    Your scenario (submitting a legitimate bid that you think is worthwhile) is fine. But I’m against it as well. The Nats bid up Chapman too; were ready to give him $20M plus guaranteed. Now he’s looking like he may be damaged goods too, throwing in the low 90s, touching 98 in the AFL. Sca-ry. We might as well have lit on fire the money we gave to Maya; i’d be surprised if he makes 15 mlb starts in the next 3 years, for us or anyone else.

    My general point is this: i’m generally against the risk that comes with these unknown quantities, in the context of the guaranteed money it generally takes to get into the bidding game. There has NEVER been a Japanese player that has been anything more than a .500 starter in this league. That’s not to say that Darvish can’t be the guy who breaks that trend, but that’s the trend. To spend nearly 9-figures of payroll money in order to gamble that Darvish IS the guy who manages to be the real deal? I think that’s incredibly short-sighted and would indicate to me that this team is heading in a bad direction. If you’re going to spend payroll money, spend it on the known quantity. Spend it on Greinke or Hamels or Cain in next year’s FA market. Spend it on a “sign and trade” kind of deal for Shields (btw, completely agree with what you say about both Shields and Upton. I don’t want a one-year rental either. Demand a 72-hour negotiating window prior to consummating the trade and work on an extension).

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 11 at 5:46 pm

  9. […] Hopefully, never.  As I opined here, Reyes played well above career values in his contract year and seems sure to regress and […]

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