Nationals Arm Race

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

Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale

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Santana to miss 2013 and end his Mets career on a sour note. Photo via wikipedia/flickr user slgckgc

Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis.  In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort).  However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.

Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season.  This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).

In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter.  That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.

Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:

  • 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
  • 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
  • 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.

This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.

The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with.  But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy.  (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic).   I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.

  • Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
  • Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
  • Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later.  Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.

How does this affect the Nationals?  Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market).  Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own.  What do you do if you’re the Nats?  Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?

At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years :-)

9 Responses to 'Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale'

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  1. As you said “at least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years.” A lot can happen in that time span. Stras can stay healthy and win a couple of cy youngs or he could be reinjured and his value come down. He also could decide he likes being a National, switch agents and sign a contract earlier. At least we know we get to watch him for a handful of seasons in a curly W before all of that goes on.

    PDowdy

    2 Apr 13 at 10:35 am

  2. I agree with the overall premise, but re: Strasburg, is it really true that we won’t have to deal with this for a few years? It seems much more common that a homegrown star either reups several years from FA, or if he gets close, then he becomes a FA and goes to another team. That seems like a trend anyway, so the Nats may realistically be thinking that if he stays healthy all year, next offseason, or possibly the following one, is the time to extend him, or accept losing him in 2017. Plus, Boras may be changing his rep a little bit, as the Andrus deal may indicate.

    To me, Stras becomes a really hard extension guy. He’ll be expecting $200m, and would be justified in that expectation, but pitchers are so fragile, and he has already had TJ which makes the chances of another injury higher (I think that is what the stats show). It might be that they will let him go, maybe even trade him a year early to get something back (not if they are still WS contenders, probably) and try to keep Harper.

    Wally

    2 Apr 13 at 12:40 pm

  3. By the way, you know what is potentially even scarier to me when thinking about this stuff? Guys like Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez. Even Dontrelle Willis, to a degree. Guys that were aces and then …. just weren’t, without an injury to blame it on. How does that happen?

    Wally

    2 Apr 13 at 12:45 pm

  4. You are correct; more and more teams are locking up their stars before they even sniff free agency. That’s why i threw in the Boras comment; but now I stand corrected in seeing this Andrus deal….

    Which I can’t believe frankly. 8 years, 9 figures for Elvis Andrus?? Someone who I think they can more or less replace internally with Profar? I don’t get it. He’s a career 83 OPS+ hitter; is that the going rate for poor hitting shortstops? Desmond is markedly better at the plate, his equal in the field. So what is desmond now worth? 10years and $180million?? Crazy.

    I suspect in the end the team will be locked into other players (they’ll lock in their hitters and keep trying to develop/trade for pitchers) and will end up letting Strasburg walk and let another team (Los Angeles Dodgers make the most sense in terms of financial weight and proximity to home) bear that risk for 6-7 years.

    Todd Boss

    2 Apr 13 at 1:47 pm

  5. Agree totally. Lincecum’s transformation is amazing; i think he’s injured and has been hiding it. But he’s in a very, very tough spot right now. He was beyond horrible last year, has now lost 4-5 mph of his fastball, can’t finish his pitches, relies too much on breaking stuff. And he’s being paid like an ace. What does SF do?

    Todd Boss

    2 Apr 13 at 1:48 pm

  6. SF has to let Lincecum walk, unless he’ll sign a 1-2 yr deal at a paycut. And I totally agree that the Andrus deal seems like a big overpay. I can only think that teams feel like they are coming into big, big TV bucks.

    Speaking of which, what in the world can be the time frame for resolving the MASN deal? Do you know if the Nats get any money while it is being negotiated?

    Wally

    2 Apr 13 at 3:08 pm

  7. One of my biggest peeves from last season was all the condemnation that Nats received for the Strasburg shutdown while the Mets got a pass on that horrendously foolish decision to let Santana throw 134 pitches to complete that no-hitter coming off a major injury. Prior to the no hitter Santana’s ERA was 2.75. Afterwards it shot up to 8.27. The Mets as a team peaked at 31-23 two days after the no hitter and went 33-65 the rest of the way. You could make the argument that the decision to give Santana the shot a personal glory cost the Mets their season (which makes at least as much sense as arguing that the Strasburg shutdown cost the Nats the World Series).

    As for Stras’s contract situation, I would think he would have much more incentive to sign an extension prior to hitting FA than Harper given that any single pitch could be his last. Nevertheless, it certainly won’t be cheap. Speaking of which, how awesome does the Gio contract extension look right now? Assuming he remains effective, that contract has gone from “team friendly” to “team dream.”

    bdrube

    2 Apr 13 at 4:08 pm

  8. I’m predicting that Lincecum stuffles along to another mediocre season and is totally screwed in Free Agency. Ends up signing something like a 1 year $5M deal to try to regain value. And its a shame based on what he used to be.

    I’m guessing the Nats and MASN are operating on a “continuing resolution” that is paying them the same rates they were getting on the previous contract, while they argue things out. I was incredibly afraid of this TV deal when it was signed, and now it looks even worse. The Nats are entirely within their right to demand money payments an a par with other comparably sized cities (Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia) and demand 80-100M/year. Meanwhile Angelos knows he has the Nats and baseball over a barrel and won’t budge. I know the deal had to be made to get the team here … but this is something that has to be resolved equitably. I think Selig was right to try to find an outside owner and give Angelos his payoff .. but why would Angelos do that? He’s in a position to vastly profit from this unfair deal and there’s no logical reason for him to ever give in (see the Silna brothers in the NBA).

    My only hope is that Selig’s powers supercede those of the NBA’s commissioner, and Selig can basically invoke “best interests of the game” to make what he wants happen. And I’m sure at some point the Lerner’s are going to start making demands that Selig can’t deny. Just like eventually I hope Selig forces Loria to sell and forces the Giants (who really have no legitimate right to claim South Bay, considering that Oakland GAVE it to them initially as a good faith measure) to allow Oakland to move to San Jose. Hopefully, in my lifetime.

    Todd Boss

    2 Apr 13 at 4:37 pm

  9. Forget Santana, how about the hypocrisy about Jeff Samardzija’s shutdown going almost entirely unmentioned? The circumstances were similar but the Nats had an injury reason for the shutdown while the Cubs just wanted to limit his workload. Nobody said a peep about what the Cubs did while the damn Strasburg story was repeated ad-naseum (and still is, in some quarters).

    Lord, the Gonzalez contract is going to be a complete steal when all is said and done. My analysis shows that $1M/win on the FA market has been about average the last 10 years and that $1.2M/win is the new standard. Gonzalez signed for 5yrs/$42 initially; if he wins 20 this year (not a stretch really) he’ll have ALREADY earned the contract on a $/win basis in just two years. And the two option years are only at $12M each as well! Fantastic deal so far.

    Todd Boss

    2 Apr 13 at 4:42 pm

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