Nationals Arm Race

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

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Obligatory 2014 MLB Prediction piece

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Predicted Division Winners and why:

  • NL East: Washington.  I thought it was going to be a close race in 2014 until Atlanta lost 3/5ths of their rotation.  The rest of the division is awful; there could be a 20 game gap between 2nd and third place.
  • NL Central: St. Louis.  What they lost in offense via FA they’ve more than made up for in their off-season acquisitions, plus they replace Jake Westbrook‘s awful starts with Michael Wacha‘s potentially ace-level starts.  No reason they’re letting off the gas now.  The best organization in the game.
  • NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers.  Essentially the same team that ripped off a 42-8 streak last year, and they can only get better when injured super stars like Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsly come back from injury.  Can and will buy whatever they need to stay on top.
  • AL East: Tampa. Lots of people are trendy-picking Tampa … and I think Tampa’s improved for sure.  But Boston hasn’t exactly regressed, and they won the most games in the sport last year to go along with the WS crown.  Boston has replaced key veterans with uber-prospects, who could go either way.  Meanwhile Tampa is rolling out basically the same team that would have won any other division easily, they kept David Price, and they’re getting a full season out of ROY Wil Myers.   I see this race going down to the wire with Tampa winning it.
  • AL Central: Detroit hangs on for another year, despite some curious personnel moves this off-season.  It helps to have two of the best arms and the best hitter in the game.  But it’ll be much closer over Kansas City and Cleveland than they want, thanks to
  • AL West: OaklandTexas can’t go 48 hours without losing another player to injury.  The Angels have half a rotation and a bunch of overpaid underperforming sluggers on their team.  Seattle spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the off-season so they can lose 85 games again.  And Houston remains a laughing stock; they’ll be pressed to win 60 games again.  Oakland’s got as many SP injuries as Texas … but also has Billy Beane at the helm and he’s always ready to make a move.

Wild Cards

  • NL: Atlanta and Cincinnati: Atlanta may have lost a lot of their rotation … but Minor’s only out a month and the kids they’re throwing out there may be able to tread water.  Atlanta’ still has the same offense basically that bashed their way to 96 wins.  But it’ll be close.  Meanwhile I see both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh taking steps back.  The question will be who steps back furthest.  Cincinnati lost some offense but replace it with a potential 100-steals guy who’s a defensive whiz in center; it could be a net gain on both sides of the ball.  Meanwhile Pittsburgh mostly stood pat, letting their #2 pitcher walk away and replaced him with a guy who was flat out released last year by one of the worst teams in the game (Edinson Volquez).  Maybe he’s just a place holder for Jamison Taillon … but that’s still 2 months of potential 6.00 ERA/bullpen sapping performances coming their way.   The Pittsburgh fans have to be somewhat dismayed that their 90+ win team did basically nothing to maintain their competitiveness the following year.   There’s not another team close in the NL: Arizona was a .500 team but they seem like they’ll be at best a couple games better, but not enough to be in the discussion.  Does anyone think the Giants are winning 15 more games this year than last?   Perhaps Milwaukee could make some noise and get into the race; that’d be my dark horse.
  • AL: Boston and Kansas City: Tampa’s a great team and may very well switch places with the Red Sox as division champs, but for now we’re predicting that Boston has lost *just* enough to lose the division.  Meanwhile I think KC finally makes the leap.  They had last  year to improve; this year they gel and overtake Cleveland in the division.  They’re going to press Detroit (who always seems better than their record; how do they *only* win 93 games last year with the pitching and hitting they had?).

Its folly enough to do divisional predictions on day one of the season … even more so to predict who will finish with the best records and thus predict who gets the wild cards.  But i’ll give it a shot.  In the AL: Tampa, Detroit, Oakland in that order of victories, meaning Tampa gets the WC winner.  In the NL: Los Angeles, St. Louis and then Washington, meaning LA gets the wild card and StL would have home-field over the Nats.

Playoff Predictions:

  • NL play-in: Cincinnati has the better big-game pitcher and squeaks out one against Atlanta
  • AL play-in: Kansas City may have gotten there … but they’re not in the post-season for long as Boston bashes them to make the
  • NL Divisional Series: St. Louis outlasts Washington in a heart-breaking revisit to the 2012 NLCS.  Los Angeles pummels the ace-less Reds behind their own 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke.
  • AL Divisional Series: Tampa outlasts Boston in a 5-game tear-jerker, while Detroit beats out Oakland in a complete re-peat of 2013’s playoff series.
  • NLCS: Los Angeles  solves St. Louis’s pitching staff enough to win the Pennant.
  • ALCS: Tampa gets the better of Detroit’s aces.
  • World Series: NL over AL: Los Angeles’ spending pays off with a 6-game victory over Tampa.

 

My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

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Ladson’s Inbox 1/31/14

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Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform?  Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform? Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Nothing like a time-waster for the weekend; Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox plopped Friday afternoon 1/31/14.  Here’s how I’d have responded if someone had bothered to as me these questions :-)

Q: Even though the Nationals are confident with Denard Span in center field and they have strong center fielders in the Minors, is it possible that they might try to get Matt Kemp at the Trade Deadline or next offseason?

A: Matt Kemp‘s name has come up in this blog in the discussion spaces once before in an interesting “what-if” game.  The question as it was posed was this: “Would you, straight up and with no salary relief, trade Matt Kemp right now for Anthony Rendon?”  Think about it; Kemp is owed $127.5M over the next six seasons ($21-$21.5M per season).  He put up MVP numbers in 2011 (many thought he should have won instead of Ryan Braun, even more so after Braun’s positive PED tests) but has floundered with injury and sub-par performances (relative to his salary) for the past two years.  Meanwhile Rendon is getting paid a fraction of what Kemp’s salary is, is younger and has room to grow, but so far has been merely a league average player.  Its a good question: do you run the risk of a $20M boat anchor on your roster, taking up 1/7th of  your salary cap, or do you roll the dice that Kemp returns to his former glory and earns his pay?  Or do you bet on Rendon becoming a significant player cost contained and under team control for another 5 years?

For me, I think you stay away from Kemp.  That’s a ton of money with no guarantee that 2014 will be any different from 2013, and the Nats already have enough pending payroll problems without adding one more $20M player.

As for the question at hand, I see no inclination for Mike Rizzo to make such a move, now or ever.  He spent a lot of capital (our best starting pitching prospect at the time in Alex Meyer) to get Denard Span, he sought him out and coveted openly him for years, and now he has him.  Span’s not going anywhere.  As for next year, we’re in a wait and see.  One of our best prospects is a CF candidate in Brian Goodwin, but he took a step back in 2013.  If Goodwin steps back up in 2014 or doesn’t pan out, we can exercise Span’s 2015 option at $9M and wait for the next best CF prospect in our system (Michael Taylor) to grow.  If neither prospect pans out, we don’t have to worry about it for a few years.  But, at some point you hope this team can grow another prospect to replace an aging $9M free agent with a minimum salary guy.

Ladson basically says what I say, but in fewer words.

Q: The Nationals still have bullpen questions that were not addressed during the offseason. Do you think the Nats will sign another lefty for the bullpen? Or will they use Ross Detwilerin relief?

A: Do we have bullpen questions?  Where?  We got a lefty (Jerry Blevins) and we have another decent lefty option who pitched decently for us last year (Xavier Cedeno).  I’m quite pleased with the state of our back-end guys (Soriano and Clippard), our 7th and 8th inning options (Storen and Stammen), and our long-man options (Ohlendorf and Roark).   Remember; Clippard has great lefty splits, always has.  If our loogy doesn’t work out that well, we go back to using Clippard periodically as a match-up guy.  Or we call up Sammy Solis.  Hell, we could even try Matthew Purke as a bullpen option (he’s on the 40-man after all); scouts are souring on him ever being an effective starter, but his weird motion and shorter stints could help him feature as a bullpen guy.   I think you use Ross Detwiler as a starter until he proves otherwise; as mentioned in this space time and again, Detwiler was effective in 2012, started well in 2013 and got hurt; I have no doubt that if healthy he can start 2014 as he started 2013.  Ladson says similar things about our lefty options.

Q: How is Adam LaRoche‘s health going into Spring Training? He looked as if he lost a tremendous amount of weight last year.

A: Adam LaRoche looked healthy enough in all those shots that appeared of him killing things on the internet over the winter.  Seriously; who knows what the answer to this question is.  But we know he’s aware of the situation and should be taking steps to maintain his strength and weight in 2014.  It is a contract year after all, and he’s shown a proclivity towards having career years in contract years when he needs them to secure his next paycheck.  I can’t see  him “platooning” like a lot of bloggers seem to be calling for, but I can see him being told by management that he needs to maintain his production or he may be banished in phantom DL trips.  Ladson reports that LaRoche was taking an ADD medication, believes he has it figured out, and predicts a Gold Glove in 2014.  Random prediction but sounds good.

Q: Any chance Nationals could bring back Jesus Flores as a backup to Wilson Ramos?

A: Well, Jesus Flores is still out there as a MLFA.  What doesn’t speak well of him is the fact that he was released in May of last year by the Dodgers.  Clearly to me, he’s no longer a viable major league backup candidate.  I can still see the Nats giving a non-guaranteed contract to one of the few remaining veteran catchers to see if one of them sticks as Ramos’ backup, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of a competition between Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon sticking as the backup.  That being said, both these guys were awful in 2013 in the minors offensively and I don’t have a good explanation why.  Leon seems like the better bet; better history of batting,  younger.   Chris Snyder has had a rough couple years but is still relatively young and has had stretches of decency, if the team wants to go with a veteran backup instead of a rookie.   I dunno what’s going to happen.  On the bright side, Keith Law‘s just-released top 10 for the system (ESPN Insider only) includes one Pedro Severino, giving him relatively glowing grades for his defense.   He’s a couple years away (born in 1993) but if he succeeds in Potomac this year he could be a ready-made Ramos backup sooner than later.  Ladson says the team had a problem with the way Flores called games … hmm, never heard that before.  Ladson also predicts more signings before Feb 1.

Q: I sense a double standard: why give continued chances to Danny Espinosa but essentially shut out Drew Storen? Am I missing something? Similar struggles, but at least Drew fought his way back to the Majors.

A: I’m not sure what “chances” Danny Espinosa is getting at this point, nor am I sure what Storen has been “shut out” of.  The team bought Rafael Soriano, are paying him a ton of money, and he’s the closer as long as he’s here.  That’s that; both Storen and Clippard got pushed down a peg when he got acquired.  Meanwhile, I think its clear that Anthony Rendon is the starter, and Espinosa is playing for a backup role.  Maybe there were just too many quotes taken out of context from NatsFest.  Ladson re-iterates his believe that Espinosa will be traded.

 

2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

My 2012 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Mike Trout is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Will he add AL MVP as well? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

I’ve had a good string of predicting MLB’s major Post season awards in this space.  In 2010 I went 8 for 8.  In 2011 I again went 8-8 in predicting MLB’s awards, though I missed on predicting the unofficial Sporting News Executive and Comeback Player of the year.   I don’t have much confidence in going 8-for-8 this year though; the AL MVP seems way too close to predict, and I have no idea how the Cy Young awards will go.

[Editor Note: I write this in phases over the course of the season, and finalized it in early October.  After I wrote this piece some of the awards have already been announced; Sporting News announced Comeback Players of the Year last week.  I’ll put up another post talking about my guesses and which awards I got right and wrong in another article once all awards are announced in November.]

Here’s a sampling of major baseball writers’ and their predictions that I could find ahead of my publishing this article: Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Jonah Keri, and Jayson Stark.  Here’s the Fangraphs.com staff picks, heavily statistically weighted as you’d expect.  As you will see, even the national writers are all over the road with their predictions.  Here’s HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot‘s theoreticall ballot, with some contrarian picks.  Seamheads’ Andrew Martin has the typical sabre-slanted ballot.

Before reading on to my predictions on 2012’s winners, a statement to prevent arguments in the comments section.  These are my guesses as to who will WIN the awards, not necessarily who DESERVES them.  Invariably there’s a player who plays on a non-playoff or losing team but puts up fantastic numbers (Matt Kemp for the 2011 Dodgers, perhaps Mike Trout this year) who a number of loud pundits say “should” win the MVP.  Well, the fact of the matter is that the current voter base absolutely takes into account the circumstances behind a player’s production, and places more value on batters who are in a pennant race.  As do I.  The MVP isn’t the “Best Overall Batter Award,” which would end a lot of these arguments (since, the Cy Young essentially is exactly the “Best Overall Pitcher Award” and thus is easier to predict); its the “Most Valuable Player” award, and I agree with many who believe that a guy hitting .370 for a last place team isn’t nearly as “valuable” as the guy who hits .320 and leads a team deep into a playoff race.  It is what it is; if we want to change it perhaps the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, whose awards these are) needs to add a category or clarify their requirements.

Secondly, when considering the Cy Young, invariably there’s one pitcher who puts up comparable numbers to another, but one plays in a weaker division so the same Sabr-focused pundits make their holier-than-thou proclamations about how the voter base failed in their picks.  And their points are valid.  But this is a prediction piece, not an opinion piece, and the fact of the matter is that current voters are still mostly old-school and put value on things like “Wins” and “ERA,” stats that most Sabr-nerds think are useless in evaluating a pitcher.

So keeping those two points in mind, Here’s my predictions for 2012:

  • AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera.  Despite the massive amount of internet baseball material devoted to talking about how great a season Mike Trout has had (mostly looking at his WAR values historically), I still see the voter base placing emphasis on three major points:
    • Cabrera plays for a playoff team, Trout does not.   The fact that the Angels will finish with a better record than the Tigers, or that the Angels clearly played in a harder division?  Immaterial to the old-school voter base.
    • Cabrara won the Triple Crown.  And most Triple Crown winners throughout history also won the MVP.  The fact that the triple crown is based on 3 relatively flawed statistics?  Irrelevant to the narrative of the achievement itself.  It remains an incredibly difficult achievement to accomplish in modern baseball’s era of specialized hitters (Ichiro for batting, Adam Dunn for homers) to hit for both average and power in the way that Cabrera consistently does.  (Rob Neyer posted thoughts about this topic, quoting random people on the internet with various takes).
    • Cabrera had a monster finish, Trout did not.  Cabrera’s OPS in the run-in months was over 1.000 each of July, August and September.  Trout peaked in July but was merely above average in the closing months.   Your finish matters (as we’ll see in the NL Rookie of the Year race discussed later on).

    Opinions like USA Today’s Bob Nightengale‘s exemplify the bulk of the voter base right now.  A few years ago the writers were smart enough to award Felix Hernandez a Cy Young with nearly a .500 record by recognizing more of the advanced metrics in play, but the Cy Young’s definition is a lot more specific than that of the MVP.

    This is nothing against Trout; the Angels were 6-14 when he got called up and finished 89-73.  That’s an 83-59 record with him, a .584 winning percentage that equates to 95 wins, which would have won the AL West.  Trout was the undeniable MVP for me nearly all season.  You hate to say it, but when the Angels faltered so did Trout’s MVP candidacy.

    The rest of the ballot?  Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano get some typical “best player on best teams” votes.  I’d give Josh Reddick some top-5 votes too.

  • AL Cy Young: David Price, by virtue of his 20 wins and league leading ERA, will squeak out the win over last year’s winner Justin Verlander. The statistical crowd will point out that Verlander was just as dominant in 2012 as he was in 2011 (when he unanimously won), and that his significantly higher innings total and lead in Pitcher WAR should get him the award.   However, as with the AL MVP you have to take into account the voter base.   Price won 20 games, that he pitches in a tougher division, that he beat out Verlander for the ERA title.  Plus, and I hate to say it, but Price is the “sexy pick,” the guy who hasn’t won before.  Verlander is the known guy and sometimes you see voters being excited to vote for the new guy.  Its kind of like the Oscars; sometimes an actor wins for a performance that wasn’t the best as a way to “give it to the new guy.”  Certainly this contributed to Clayton Kershaw‘s victory in 2011 and we may see similar behaviors again.  There might even be an east coast voter bias in play.  Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Felix Hernandez all get some top-5 votes, possibly finishing in that order behind Price and Verlander.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, in what should be an unanimous vote. He could (if the MVP vote goes the way many thinks it should) become only the 3rd player ever to win both the MVP and the RoY in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki being the others).  In the conversation: Yu Darvish (who certainly did not have a BAD year, but drifted mid-season), Yoenis Cespedes (who would win it in most years), Matt Moore (my preseason guess; I’m still shocked he displayed virtually none of the dominance of the 2011 post-season during his 2012 season), Will Middlebrooks (who made Kevin Youklis expendible within just a couple of months of arrival), and amazingly Tommy Milone (who was nearly unhittable in his home stadium and continued his performance from the Nats in the end of 2011).  A couple other names in the conversation: Scott Diamond and Jarrod Parker.
  • AL Mgr: Buck Showalter should get this this award for taking a team that should be a .500 ballclub based on pythagorean record and put them in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  I also think he wins because of east coast bias, since certainly what Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s pulled off is nothing short of fantastic.  Robin Ventura may have gotten some votes had the White Sox held on, but may be the 3rd place finisher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: I almost hate to say it, but Billy Beane. The A’s were supposed to be awful this year, having traded away most of their starting rotation (as explained further in this Aug 2012 post here) and let most of their hitters walk.  Instead they acquire a couple of good pieces from Washington, sign the exciting Cespedes to go with a few bottom-barrel FAs, and overcame a 13-game deficit to win the powerhouse AL West.  A great story.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: It has to be Adam Dunn, right?  How do you go from the lowest qualifying average in history to career highs in homers and not get votes.  Jake Peavy may get some votes after two injury plagued seasons, but he was pretty decent last year and isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere like Ryan Vogelsong did last year.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP: Buster Posey‘s strong finish, combined with his team’s playoff run and his playing catcher gives him the nod over his competition here.  For much of the season I thought this award was Andrew McCutchen‘s to lose, but his fade and Pittsburg’s relative collapse from their division-leading mid-season costs him the MVP.  The rest of the ballot? Ryan Braun may be putting up MVP-esque numbers but the fall out from his off-season testing snafu will cost him votes (both in this race and for the rest of his career unfortunately). Johnny Molina getting some press too, for many of the same reasons as Posey.  Joey Votto probably lost too much time to be really considered, but remains arguably the best hitter in the league.
  • NL Cy Young:  R.A. Dickey was the mid-season choice, was challenged late but his 20th win combined with his fantastic ERA for a knuckleballer makes him the winner.  Amazingly, Dickey has pitched most of the season with a torn abdominal muscle, making his season accomplishments even more impressive.   Johnny Cueto makes a great case, leading the playoff-contending Reds, but he slightly sputtered down the stretch.  Clayton Kershaw quietly had a fantastic year, leading the league in ERA, but as we saw with David Price above, I think the voters like to vote for the new guy.  Kershaw got his Cy Young last year; this year is Dickey’s time.  Other names in the top-5 mix: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps even Jordan Zimmermann (who got some mid-season attention by virtue of his excellent July).  I have a hard time giving the award to a reliever, but the numbers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are putting in as the closers of Cincinnati and Atlanta respectively may be enough to at least appear in the top-5.  Lastly, the odd case of Kris Medlen; his WAR puts him in the top 10 despite only having 12 starts.  Is this enough to give him some votes?  Maybe some 5th place votes here and there.  But look out in 2013.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, who won his 2nd rookie of the month in September, finished incredibly strong and took advantage of late-season fades from his two biggest competitors to win this award.  The National media buzz on Harper/Trout was never greater than during the season’s last month, and while games in April count the same as in September, the lasting impression is made by he who finishes strongest.   Wade Miley has a great case but I think falls short.  Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier has had a great season and was beating Harper’s numbers across the board, but he sat once Scott Rolen came back and faded down the stretch.   Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki has had a nice season at age 30, coming over from Japan.  I don’t think guys like this (or Darvish, or Ichiro Suzuki for that matter) should qualify as “rookies” but rules are rules.  Anthony Rizzo, Wilin Rosario, Matt Carpenter, and Mike Fiers also put up good rookie numbers and may get some 5th place votes.
  • NL Mgr: Davey Johnson.  Nobody had the Nats winning nearly 100 games.  Had the Pirates not collapsed perhaps we’d be talking about Clint Hurdle. Don Mattingly had somewhat of a transitionary team playing great early, but the mid-season influx of high-priced talent, and their subsequent collapse costs him any support.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Mike Rizzo, pulling off the Gio Gonzalez trade, signing Jackson in a deal immediately lauded as a great move and quickly putting together a team that looks to be 15-20 games improved over 2011.  We thought they’d be in the mid-80s in wins; who thought they could be pressing for 100??
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey.  He went from a season-ending injury to an MVP season.  In other years Adam LaRoche may get some looks here, but not in the face of what Posey has been doing for San Francisco.  Lastly I had Johan Santana on a short list for this award until he was lost for the season in the aftermath of his 134 pitch no-hitter on June 1st.  At at point he was 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA.  He finished the season 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and was shut down on August 17th.  Are we sure that no-hitter was worth it?

Nats all-star review (2012 edition)

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Gonzalez gets a very deserving NL All-Star selection. Photo unknown via WP.com

(Note: i’m copying a large chunk of 2011’s version of this post to give a running history of the Nats all-stars later on below).

MLB announced the 2012 all-star rosters and the Nats, for the first time in their history in Washington, have 3 representatives.  Here’s a discussion:

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Craig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  I entered the season figuring that Desmond would be closer to a demotion than the all-star team, and his power from the short stop position has been a huge shot in the arm to our challenged offense.  LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen so his non-inclusion is not too surprising.  Stammen has been our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.  Lastly Mr. Harper; he wasn’t on the ballot so fared little shot of being included, but has been put on the “last man in” ballot, up against a series of established veterans and future hall of famers.  We’ll see if celebrity wins out.  Before his slump the last two weeks he was clearly among the best hitters in the league despite his age.

(Editors Note: Harper was subsequently added on 7/7/12 to replace the injured Giancarlo Stanton).

Coincidentally, I thought Matt Kemp‘s decision to go public with his snub of Harper for the home run derby was both short sighted and disappointing.  If I was Bud Selig, I’d take the opportunity to make this year’s derby the most watched mid-season baseball event ever by forcing the inclusion of both Harper and uber-rookie Mike Trout.  Ask yourself this: 1) do you bother to watch the home run derby now?  And 2) if Harper and Trout were in it, would you watch this year’s version?  For me, even as an avid baseball fan I don’t bother to watch the event and wasn’t planning on it this year … but with these two guys in, it’d be must-see TV.  I hate it when Baseball misses such an obvious chance to showcase players and take advantage of the prevailing storylines of the season; it seems to happen year after year.

For a trip down Memory lane, here’s the Nationals all stars by year and talk about their selection, whether they were deserving, and who got snubbed each year.

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick Johnson, John Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the only time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

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 cbssports.com

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

Conclusions

  • 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.

Opinions?

Written by Todd Boss

May 25th, 2012 at 8:43 am

Lannan option shocker

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Hope to see you back soon Mr Lannan. Photo Luis Alvarez/AP via www.timesunion.com

I was sort of curious why there was so much volume on my Nationals RSS feeds this morning; little did I know there was a relatively shocking piece of news to report and comment on; John Lannan has been optioned to AAA to start the 2012 season.

I’ll admit it: I had Lannan penciled in as the 5th starter as soon as Chien-Ming Wang went down with injury.  I didn’t give it a second thought.  When the Nats bought Edwin Jackson, they had 6 starters for 5 spots and my presumption was that Lannan was the default choice for the 5th starter once Wang proved not to be ready for the start of the season.  In the back of my mind I knew Lannan had an option … but never thought that he and his $5M salary would be dropped to Syracuse.

This action definitely sends some statements.  In no particular order:

1. Unlike past iterations of the team (notably the 2009 team and the bullpen construction decisions made at the end of spring training), this sends the message that roster spots are not entirely guaranteed by virtue of salary or options status.  We all knew Ross Detwiler had no options and was set to make the 25-man roster, but nobody thought he’d be beating out Lannan for the 5th starter spot.  Its hard to argue he didn’t earn it; his Spring Training ERA was half that of Lannan’s.

2. The team isn’t concerned about “wasting” salary: Lannan joins fellow multi-millionare Yuniesky Maya in Syracuse, meaning that the Syracuse rotation is set to earn a sizeable percentage per annum of the major league rotation (roughly $20M for the Nats starting 5 versus $7M and change in AAA).  In fact if it weren’t for Jackson’s $11M salary the two rotations would be roughly equal.  Amazing.

3. Was there a stated rotation competition still ongoing this late into Spring Training?  If so it certainly didn’t come out in the dozens of stories filed by the beat reporters from Viera.  Perhaps the real shock here is that nobody knew that Lannan’s job was in jeopardy.  Did Lannan?

4. Sending Lannan down isn’t the same thing as sending Bryce Harper down: I’ve seen some bloggers kvetching about the statement “we’re starting with our best 25″ when explaining the demotion while the team breaks camp with 3 non-roster invitees (Tracy, Carroll, Nady), at least one of which is set to get major reps in the outfield, and none of which are as good as Harper right now.  The simple matter is this; there’s “money” considerations and then there’s “MONEY” considerations.  Just keeping Harper in the minors a couple of weeks guarantees us one more year of his service prior to FA eligibility, and that’s hugely important.  No-one will argue the WAR-value add of 2 weeks of a 19yr old rookie versus 162 games of a 25-yr old emerging slugger.

I can buy some of the argument, by the way, that the Super-2 status concerns may be moot with Harper, considering that the team is in its best interests to buy out Harper’s arbitration years before he hits them.  Other forward-thinking teams (Tampa, Colorado, Los Angeles, Milwaukee) have certainly been doing this with their younger stars (Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Braun respectively for the above teams).  But, as far as I can tell none of the above players are advised by Scott Boras, who knows maximum value is obtained by waiting til the last minute, by playing all the angles, and by not giving “home town  discounts.”  So for me, there is still significant future value in keeping Harper in the minors until mid-to-late June.  The difference can be googled by the reader, as WP writers have done this analysis several times in the past and discovered that a superstar avoiding super-2 can mean $14-$18M in future salary.

5. Davey Johnson needs to get on the same page as his boss (aka, Mike Rizzo).  Johnson telling the press “John’s my guy,” as he reportedly did just last week, or Johnson prematurely announcing that Lannan had won the 5th starter spot and then revoking it is a serious breach of boss-employee trust.   No wonder Lannan “took the news hard;” how would you feel if you were blindsided by your employer a week after them telling you that you were doing a great job and that everything seemed fine?  In this respect, the team seemed to have done Lannan wrong.  I’ll caveat this by saying that none of us armchair pundits are in the clubhouse on a day to day basis, so none of us had any idea what conversations Johnson and Lannan may have had leading up to his demotion.

6. I will have to agree with others who think this sends a bad message to the rest of the team.  Lannan by all respects is the kind of player teams want.  He doesn’t make waves, he doesn’t get bad press.  He was our opening day starter twice in recent years, he was a great example of a middle-round player overcoming his draft position and potential to make the majors, and he frankly isn’t that bad a pitcher.  Does the team’s “treatment” of Lannan send the wrong message to its veterans?  If so, that’s a bad cloud to have hanging over a team with some serious money tied up with its veterans (namely Werth, Zimmerman and Gonzalez).  If these guys didn’t like the way the team handled this situation, the clubhouse could be lost fairly easily.

7. You would think this action kills what remaining trade value Lannan had; Rizzo had already spoken of how the trade market for him was “thin” to begin with.  Lannan is a tough asset to get equal value for; he doesn’t over power you, he has unimposing stats (career 101 ERA+, or exactly MLB average), and he doesn’t get a ton of Ks.  He is a durable lefty who can fit at the back of your rotation.  Is that worth $5M a year (and more next year when he hits arbitration again)?  Or, more importantly to the Nats, is that worth a starting position player?  Certainly the Angels aren’t giving up their promising CF Peter Bourjos (as an example) for Lannan straight up.  We’d have to sweeten the pot.  Except that at some point, the value of keeping a disgruntled Lannan in AAA as starter insurance will eventually be more important than whatever role player we could get in return.

The one precedent that gives me hope on the trade front is when the team somehow turned demoted and malcontented Lastings Milledge into Nyjer Morgan (yes I know there was two others involved, but in terms of like for like, Milledge essentially turned into Morgan).  Perhaps Detwiler will continue his late 2011 performance into April of 2012 and will remain our starter-in-waiting to cover for eventual injuries and what not.  This would give the team more confidence to shop the now-insurance policy Lannan and wait for the right deal.

All in all, just your ordinary Wednesday in Nats town.