Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals

Next up in our Offseason In Review series, the Nationals.

Major League Signings

  • Jason Marquis, SP: two years, $15MM.
  • Ivan Rodriguez, C: two years, $6MM.
  • Matt Capps, RP: one year, $3.5MM.  Arbitration-eligible after season.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, SP: one year, $2MM.  Arbitration-eligible after season.
  • Adam Kennedy, 2B: one year, $1.75MM.  Includes $2MM club option for 2011 with a $500K buyout.
  • Scott Olsen, SP: one year, $1MM.  Arbitration-eligible after season.
  • Tyler Walker, RP: one year, $650K.  Arbitration-eligible after season.
  • Total spend: $29.9MM.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Summary

I have similar feelings toward the Nationals' offseason as I did with the Orioles.  I understand $20-30MM spent on short-term free agent acquisitions won't set the franchises back in the rebuilding process much.  But if the goal is mainly veteran respectability, couldn't it have been done at half the price?

In particular I am not a fan of the $21MM the Nationals committed to Marquis and Pudge over the next two years.  They're mediocre players who don't figure to bring much back in trades or draft picks.  The Nats could've gotten similar mentoring from, say, Doug Davis and Yorvit Torrealba for one year and $6.5MM total.  Or even John Lannan and Jamie Burke.

On the other hand, the signings of Capps, Wang, and Kennedy are sensible.  The guarantees were minimal, and these players are more likely to have trade value.  Plus, the arbitration-eligibility of Capps and Wang for 2011 essentially serves as a club option.  One complaint with the signing of Walker: it led to the loss of Estrada.  Estrada may never pan out in the bigs, but why swap your #18 prospect for a year or two of Walker?

If we eliminated the top two from the Major League Signings ledger, I'd say GM Mike Rizzo had a solid offseason.  However, I'm not sure what the plan is here: the Nationals have Keith Law's #23-ranked farm system and should probably launch a full-blown rebuild, but they're adding relatively pricey free agents.


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36 Comments on "Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals"


Infield Fly
5 years 5 months ago

I’m not saying they will burn up the league, but with Strasburg looming, and a few decent signings this winter, I will really be interested to see how much the Nats improve their performance this year.

5 years 5 months ago

I hope the Nats are 3rd in their division this year. Believe it or not, it will give their fanbase a confidence boost. Hopefully their performance this year will add more ticket sales for them in 2011.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

I had the same reactions to these signings. The Marquis and Pudge moves look like symptoms of Royalsitis – the delusion that overpriced veterans will provide good value for money to a struggling team. Marquis gives you a league-average ERA at best, Pudge is a very expensive backup, and neither justifies his price tag for what he will bring to the Nats.

On the other hand, Capps is just the kind of high-upside player the Nats should be targeting.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

the difference between the way the royals do this and the way the nats did is contract length. the royals sign guys like jose guillen to 4 year deals. the nats sign them to 1-2 year deals, since they’re “stop-gap” players, not the kind of players you build around.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

I agree with your distinction between the Nats and Royals. Even if Marquis and Pudge turn out to be total busts, their signings are not franchise-crippling moves. But as Tim points out, there were better, cheaper stop-gap players available. Marquis and Pudge were just plain old wasteful signings.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

i’m fine with marquis, for sure. look, the nats need to overpay a little right now, not unlike where detroit was a few years ago. could they have gotten someone cheaper than marquis? sure. but “better and cheaper?” i dunno. if that guy is out there, he’s on a pretty short list. garland? he turned down more money from washington to play on the left coast. i’d love to have seen them sign sheets, but he’s an injury risk they may have wanted to avoid. and remember, he had to *want* to sign in washington. we don’t know for sure that others weren’t offered the same kind of deal and didn’t turn it down.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

Fair enough, but the Nats shouldn’t use the Tigers as a model for anything. The Tigers are a nightmarish example of the dangers of overspending on veteran talent.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

i’m sure tiger fans who got to see their team in a WS right after they overspent to get a few FAs as their prospects matured would disagree with that, at least at the time.

the problem they had is they continued to overpay after that. the initial run was necessary (when they signed pudge in his prime and a few other guys and ended up in the WS in 2006).

lasordaforpresident
5 years 5 months ago

If Marquis puts up league average era at best then its better than all but Lannan from the staff on last years Nats…he gives you six innings each time that nobody could last year (again Lannan excluded). Pudge is better than any of the catchers currently on their roster especially since Flores is hurt and not progressing

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

adding 1-2 yr contracts has almost no effect on rebuilding if they don’t block players that are ready for the majors. as far as i can see, they didn’t add anyone who blocked anyone who’s ready, so i don’t think this prevents them from “launching a full-blown rebuild” in any way.

this is why i’m fine with almost all of rizzo’s moves this offseason. it’s what they should have been doing the past 2-3 seasons. bringing in respectable veterans who can fill major league roster spots that shouldn’t be going to some of the players they’ve pulled off of the scrap heap the past few years. at least put a respectable team on the field while you rebuild, not back-to-back 100 loss teams.

as far as the dollars, this is not a team with a lot of payroll. they’re making a lot more than they’re spending. nothing wrong with using some of that money for veterans that will perform better than retreads or kids playing above their level.

if i had to quibble, i’d rather have seen him add one more veteran back-end rotation guy who could be in the slot livo’s in for now: seat-warmer for strasburg (and wang, if he comes back healthy).

emccormickva
5 years 5 months ago

Pudge was hired as a pitching coach. That’s it. Marquis was hired to bring some stability and give them a chance to maybe win 70 or 80 games until the rest of the rotation matures. He also brings experience for the young pitchers to feed on. Frankly, a “league-average” ERA is far better than the 5.1+ staff ERA from last season. As gwells said, it doesn’t block any of their rebuilding plans at all. It simply brings a little bit of stability and mentoring for the young kids and hopefully puts some butts in seats to aid in future payroll boosting.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the offseason for the Nats. Way better than Bowden’s past attempts (see 2008 jail-break outfield, etc.)

R_y_a_n
5 years 5 months ago

Pudge shouldn’t be given 6 million to be a pitching coach. That is why they hired an ACTUAL pitching coach. Sure, he could be a good mentor to the young pitchers, but he isn’t worth 2 years of 6 million.

Marquis is not raising the Nationals wins by that much, at all. He is a league average pitcher, at best. Committing 15 million to a guy for “stability” and league average innings is again, a bad move.

I thought the Nats offseason was pretty good though outside of those two deals.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

I bet these are all arguments that were made within the Nats FO to justify these signings because they superficially make sense. I just don’t agree with them.

A starter who gives you a league-average ERA and 180-200 innings is definitely valuable. But what does a typical Marquis season (12 wins, 4.50 ERA) really do for the Nats? He won’t turn them into a contender, and he’s not exactly Greg Maddux when it comes to educating a young staff. If they’re really concerned about filling up the innings, they should just use Livan Hernandez or some other retread for nothing.

I’m admittedly nitpicking about the Marquis signing, because Marquis is a useful player. (I think it’s much dumber that the Mets DIDN’T sign Marquis.) The Pudge signing is what’s truly stupid. The Nats must have thought Pudge would bring positive intangibles and fan interest to the team, because there’s no other way to explain why an aging catcher got a 2/$6 deal from the Nats coming off a 1/$1.5 contract and a .280 OBP. Putting aside R_y_a_n’s point that you hire a pitching coach to coach pitchers, I’d like to see any evidence that Pudge has any ability whatsoever to mentor pitchers, let alone ability that would justify the contract the Nats gave him.

The “butts in seats” argument just doesn’t convince me. What sort of fan thought process does the FO have in mind?

Casual Fan #1: Want to go see a game today?

Casual Fan #2: Nah, the team kind of sucks.

Casual Fan #1: But JASON MARQUIS is pitching today! And we might get to see PUDGE RODRIGUEZ get substituted in as a defensive replacement!

Casual Fan #2: Are field level seats available?!

toddboss
5 years 5 months ago

All these pundits who howled at the moves the Nats did this year just aren’t paying attention to what really is going on in Washington. We’re suffering after years of criminal management by MLB, and then by the subsequent disastrous tenure of Bowden as GM. He alone set this team back probably 3 years and is the primary blamee for last year’s 103-loss season.

For those that complain about Marquis or Pudge signings, or any other veteran signing, you have to look at the state of our farm system and ask whether those players are upgrades over those we would have played. And the answer in every case is yes. Marquis is an improvement over all the negative VORP starters we had last year. Pudge fills a void, can still play defense and has immesurable value as a future hall-of-fame catcher (plus our starting catcher probably isn’t going to be ready for months). Kennedy improves over Hernandez. Capps improves Hanrahan. Bruney improves over any of the retreads we had as the setup guy last year (most of whom are now on minor league contracts).

Bottom line; the team is better. It addressed every need it had in the off season through decent free agent signings. There are no killer contracts, no wasted dollars. If you want to gripe about $6M given to I-Rod, then first tell me how other teams wasting double that (Juan Pierre, Gary Matthews, Julio Lugo to name a few) get a relative pass.

The Nats played .440 ball with lesser players under Riggleman last year. That’s a 71 win team. And I have no doubth that’s what they’ll be this year.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

You are 100% right about the abject mismanagement by MLB and Bowden. I keep an eye on the Nats because I was an Expos fan, and the things that were done to that team both before and after the move to DC were outrageous.

I also agree that the team is better, and the good moves (especially biting the bullet and giving lots of money to Strasburg – an obvious move, but a terribly-run team might not have done it) outweigh the bad ones. But I think that NO team should get a pass for bad signings, and that includes flushing $6 million down the toilet to get Pudge for two years.

lasordaforpresident
5 years 5 months ago

I agree with toddboss, the Nats have improved their team from last year, and have made moves that will prevent them from losing 100 games AGAIN…are they playoff contenders…NO, but they are better than the Padres, Pirates, and possibly the Mets, and not being the butt end of every joke will help the fans and players.

The Nats would be thrilled with 12 wins and a 4.50 ERA from Marquis, so would the fans, he will never be confused with Greg Maddux but at least the youngens will be able to see how a vet handles his duties and doesnt eat himself out of the league (thats you Livan).

jza1218
5 years 5 months ago

No team with Marquis on the roster has ever missed the post-season. Pencil in the Nationals as the NL Wild Card winner. =P

wakefield4life
5 years 5 months ago

I definitely believe the Nats plan is to get fans in the seats first before they begin a rebuild. Get some recognizable names on the field, and when you get some seats filled, start acquiring bigger name FAs (or trades) until they make it to the postseason, and then they’ll start rebuilding. It probably won’t work, but if they continue what they were doing, 5+ years down the line management will probably seriously consider selling the team. They’re just trying to keep the Nats in washington for a bit. Plus, they probably thought rebuilding first was a more riskier option than what they’re doing now.

They should take a lesson from the Rays – they overstocked their minors to guarantee some of them pan out – and then split FA acq w/some minor restocking. They didn’t have the fanbase before, but it’s there now. And now they bring in some moderately recognizable names which fills in more seats.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

i don’t think tampa has a fanbase now. they were 23rd in attendance last year (they drew 60k more than washington who lost 25 more games than tampa). they were 26th the year before, when they made their WS run, 400k behind washington, who lost 37 more games that year.

and keep in mind that is with all of the added attendance they get from having all of those AL east draws (NYY/Boston) for 12 games (15% of their home dates).

wakefield4life
5 years 5 months ago

If the rays fanbase is lacking, it furthers the point that you need to win first to have a fanbase and not try to build a fanbase before winning. But even though your numbers are pretty numbers, they still have improved their fanbase. From 2001-2007 the Rays were 14th out of 14 in the league for attendance. When they made their run in 2008, they added apx 5,000s seat fillers per game, which bumped them up to 12th, and then last year they moved up to 11th out of 14 but adding another 1,000 seat fillers on avg (according to baseball-reference.com).

When you talk about draws from NYY/BOS fanbases, you have to assume that those fanbases did not significantly increase the total draw for a couple reasons. 1: Those fanbases existed before the increase in draws, and therefore must be assumed to not increase dramatically. 2: Travel restrictions and the economy have made it harder for teams to travel well. People today just don’t have the money to see a game in TB when they can see it in BOS or NY. If this is the case, the away draw should decrease, and the TB fans would have to make up a greater amount of seats filled, which would lead one to believe that the TB fanbase increased at a greater rate. Of course, the last point is speculation and if you want to get some numbers to support your supposition, I’ll do the same for my own.

Just because TB doesn’t have a large fanbase doesn’t mean it didn’t increase. And I’d also like to point out that attendance can not be indicative of fanbase. perhaps you should include TV and radio ratings before relying solely on attendance to make your point.

But then again, you did completely miss the point of the post if this was your response.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

the point i was making was that there isn’t a great fan base in tampa (poorly worded on my part). yes, it’s bigger than it was, and yes, winning will always increase a fan base. but even winning hasn’t given tampa a strong fan base. if you go to the world series and still can’t get out of the bottom of the league attendance figures, that’s just not a strong fan base.

as far as boston/nyy, i’m not saying they increased the draw in the last 2-3 years. i’m saying that those games are always bigger attendance games and being an AL east team (TAM/BAL/TOR) means you always get a bigger artificial boost from those teams’ national fan bases.

i’m not sure what you’re talking about when you talk about travel. i don’t think tampa gets a boost in attendance for Bos/NYY because so many people fly down from NY or Boston. i mean they have a national draw. and there are a lot of ex new yorkers and bostonians living in FL (moreso NY).

maybe you can call that speculation, and i haven’t sat down to back it up with numbers. but i’ve read articles that specifically talk about how much extra revenue bal/tam/tor make by hosting the yanks/sox. so it’s possible i’m wrong and it’s possible the writers of those articles are wrong. if we are, i’ll apologize. but i don’t think it’s idle speculation.

wakefield4life
5 years 5 months ago

“keep in mind that is with all of the added attendance they get from having all of those AL east draws (NYY/Boston) for 12 games (15% of their home dates)……i don’t think tampa gets a boost in attendance for Bos/NYY because so many people fly down from NY or Boston. i mean they have a national draw. and there are a lot of ex new yorkers and bostonians living in FL (moreso NY). ”

explain this because I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. If you’re saying that the national draw of BOS/NYY as far as tickets sales are concerned only consists of people living in FL (or I guess people watching on TV – but they don’t fill seats, so they’re not really part of your statement), and that the “boost” in ticket sales is not from traveling fans, then I think you’re argument falls apart. I’m not sure how to make out what you’re trying to say.

If TB gets 15% of draws from other teams that travel to TB, you can’t attribute that number to any gain or deficit with regards to fanbase because it’s not variable (insomuch as we can assume fans are fans of their team – a drastic number of people in FL aren’t going to become BOS fans because their howntown team is TB [They might b/c of the Ft. Myers draw, but that’s beside the point]). If you can’t attribute it as a gain or deficit, then it’s irrelevant.

“you always get a bigger artificial boost from those teams’ national fan bases.”

I agree, which is why it should be counted as irrelevant in regards to fanbase.

“the point i was making was that there isn’t a great fan base in tampa…yes, it’s bigger than it was, and yes, winning will always increase a fan base. but even winning hasn’t given tampa a strong fan base.”

But you don’t need a strong fanbase to build a team, just a good one. It’s a good starting fanbase for what TB is trying to accomplish, and WAS could take a cue from what TB has done, which was one of my original points. It doesn’t have to be strong, it just has to be there and have the ability to grow, and TBs fanbase has certainly shown that it can grow, at least by using your method of fanbase improvement in relation to attendance figures.

“i’ve read articles that specifically talk about how much extra revenue bal/tam/tor make by hosting the yanks/sox. so it’s possible i’m wrong and it’s possible the writers of those articles are wrong. if we are, i’ll apologize. but i don’t think it’s idle speculation.”
Ad populum fallacy. Prove it, or state that it’s your speculation. I’d like to couch my words with safe suppositions too, but that probably wouldn’t make for a good argument.

lasordaforpresident
5 years 5 months ago

Rays got a fan base the same season they got into playoffs, dont think they got a fan base first.

The Nationals just got a brand new stadium so them moving in 5+years away from Washington isnt going to happen

wakefield4life
5 years 5 months ago

“Rays got a fan base the same season they got into playoffs, dont think they got a fan base first.”

I didn’t say they did. I wrote:
“They didn’t have the fanbase before”

epicphalanx
5 years 5 months ago

Tim, you have to stop looking at the Nats through the lens of a small market, low payroll organization. Yes, the Lerners have a reputation as being stingy businessmen, but the large suburban market and new stadium revenue should allow the club to eventually approach a payroll into the nine figures. As others have mentioned, the club was mismanaged for years, first by MLB, and then by Jim Bowden and the naive owners who enabled him. The Nats know they can’t compete this year, but they can at least strive for respectability. The stats won’t say this, but maybe it is worth $3 AAV to have Pudge Rodriguez’s avatar behind the dish when the alternative looks like Wil Nieves. Any way you slice it, though, the moves the Nats made this offseason have made it much more likely that I’ll continue to make that four hour roundtrip drive to southeast this season. In the end, isn’t that what counts?

oleshu
5 years 5 months ago

The Nationals had a great offseason. As has already been noted, none of the moves block any of the (gulp) few Nats in the farm system worth anything and there are some real upside one-and-dones.

As for Marquis, I can tell you that the Nats underperformed the metrics for the team, in large part because the bullpen was horrendous. Certainly, part of the problem was a lack of MLB caliber arms in the bullpen. But the more glaring issue was the number of innings pitched by the Nats’ bullpen last year when compared to the league average. The Nats’ starters couldn’t get deep into the game, so the bullpen was always on short rest. So Marquis is a PHENOMENAL pick up for the team.

Moreover, to those of you asking why not have Livan fill the Marquis role for less money, the answer is simple. Sure, Livan could protect the bullpen, BUT THE NATS WOULD BE OUT OF THE GAME DUE TO THE NUMBER OF RUNS HE’D GIVE UP.

With Marquis and Lannan, there are two proven 180-200 innings pitchers. The Nats are well on their way to respectability.

alxn
5 years 5 months ago

This is how teams stay mediocre for a long time. They could have easily allocated their money to the draft and international market. What exactly are they trying to prove? Maybe they get a couple extra wins out of this, but what difference does it make if theyre still going to be in last?

lasordaforpresident
5 years 5 months ago

Are you saying they didnt allocate money in the draft (strasburg)? The Nats are trying hard to rebound from Bowden and are moving in the right direction, they have a strong offense and are improving their pitching, by adding a decent starter in Marquis, and adding strong arms to the pen (which is a vast improvement).

Seriously who would you rather have catching? Flores/Nieves/Pudge? For 3mil Pudge is who I’d rather have

alxn
5 years 5 months ago

Like I said, it doesn’t matter since they will finish in last place either war. They can always spend more in the draft.

wallyball
5 years 5 months ago

I think that the offseason moves are ok, not great. The Nats have been a joke the last few years, and the signings are an earnest attempt to avoid the laughingstock stigma and buy time with a mediocre team until the farm system can contribute significantly. I’m game. Each of the players is an incremental improvement over the players from last year, yet none are probably around when the Nats realistically have a chance to contend. The Pudge contract has gotten a lot of criticism, and objectively it is hard to describe why it is a good signing. But here is the thing – it was an intentional decision, not a reactionary one. Rizzo went after him early while there were still numerous other catchers out there. Their evaluators believed that he will contribute positively this year, and a two year deal was the price. Are they right? I certainly don’t know, but I’ll cut them some slack for now and see how it works out. And as several people have pointed out, the dollars should not affect any other organizational decision.

BUT … I admit to growing concerned about the organizational spending habits. This strategy only works if you get to a robust farm system. Their payroll, even with these signings, is still very marginal which should leave ample room for farm related signings. So I hugely applaud the Strasburg signing, but the rest of their draft was signability all the way (Trevor Holder in 3d round, for instance). Now we have Bryce Harper coming next year at $10m+ (whom I think that they will draft and sign), but is the rest of the draft signability again? Is it a good strategy to take only two (admittedly huge) upside kids over entire two drafts? I don’t know, it seems risky and I am not sure why economically it has to work out that way when your MLB payroll is so low.

And where are the international signings? I know they are in disarray from the Smiley fiasco, but there seem like a boatload of Cuban defectors available (no pun intended – ok, maybe) that are holding tryouts for all clubs. A good run at Chapman does not replace actually signing quality inventory.

So, in sum, I am fine with the Pudge signing, but not if it cost us Noel Arguelles.

JackPackage
5 years 5 months ago

I think the Marquis signing is fine, he’s getting paid about what he should be and its only a 2 year commitment to have a reliable…ish 180-200 veteran innings will be quite handy for a young rotation.
The Pudge signing is a head scratcher for sure, I think most people expected him to be searching high and low for a 1 year $1 mil contract. A lot of what I’ve heard about him is that he is a nightmare to pitch to as well. Hardly what you’d want when you have such a young rotation.

The Capps & Wang(Sounds like a law firm) signings are excellent… exactly the type of low risk lots of potential signings a team like Washington should make.

There are still a handful of other places that are a better idea to have a team than Washington though… but thats another story.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

fwiw (and it presumes the nats really believed flores had a good chance of not making it back for a while, if at all), here’s tom boswell’s take on pudge:

*Ivan Rodriguez can still catch and throw as well as almost anybody in the big leagues. Not Yadier Molina, but anybody else. The Nats, particularly general manager Mike Rizzo, figured out correctly that Jesus Flores is fragile for a catcher and that his whole career may be in jeopardy after labrum surgery.

Getting Rodriguez for two years for $6-million __an average major league salary__ will turn out to be one of the smartest low-priced free agent signing of the off-season. Paying $6-million for a backup would be nuts. But to get a 110-plus-game starter on a team that needs better defense, presence and a vet to handle young pitchers, it’s a steal.

Pudge’s bat is probably dead. Let it R.I.P. He’ll hit .250 with a few homers. Enjoy watching the last stage of the career of the greatest defensive catcher since Johnny Bench. His pitch calling is fine.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

“One of the smartest low-priced free agent signing[s] of the off-season” is a bold claim and I’m impressed you made it. I think it’s off the wall though.

I hope you’re right about Pudge still being a good defender, but CHONE and PECOTA peg him to be average. This is not surprising considering he will be 38.

You’re definitely right that his bat is dead, which doesn’t help your argument. But saying he’ll hit .250 with some pop is generous. He’s liable to give the Nats a sub-.300 OBP, like he’s done three times in the last five seasons. His bat might be less valuable than Wil Nieves’, which is really saying something.

Bottom line, if another catcher of Pudge’s age put up his 2008 numbers, he would not be signed for 2/$6. He would be lucky to get 1/$1.5 again. Pudge is getting another year and $4.5 million just because he is Ivan Rodriguez. That makes his signing kind of desperate, not smart.

gwells
5 years 5 months ago

***
“tom boswell’s take on pudge”
***

that was a quote from a tom boswell chat on the washington post, not an argument i was making.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2010/03/04/DI2010030403262.html.

RichMahogany
5 years 5 months ago

That should say “put up his 2009 numbers.”

R_y_a_n
5 years 5 months ago

It isn’t the fact he is average makes it a bad move. It’s the fact he is being payed to be above average, while he’ll be mediocre…at BEST. This is the same guy who through 550 innings with a 5.08 ERA as a Cub.