2012 Contract Issues: Washington Nationals

The Nationals are next in our 2012 Contract Issues series.  Here's what the team faces after the 2011 season:

Eligible For Free Agency (11)

Contract Options (0)

Arbitration Eligible (7)

A few others, such as Craig Stammen and Roger Bernadina, could reach the requisite amount of service time if they're called up.  Zimmermann's shortened 2010 and '11 seasons will limit his career numbers and his arbitration payday, but he could still reach $2MM.  Lannan and Gorzelanny could be in the $4MM range.  Overall I could see the team's arbitration eligibles getting about $16MM total, but that's just a rough April estimate.

2012 Payroll Obligation

The Nationals' 2012 payroll obligation, according to Cot's, is $44.596MM.  My arbitration estimate puts them around $61MM, $7MM short of this year's payroll.  Still, I expect the team to have the flexibility to add starting pitching, relief help, and outfielders as needed during the 2011-12 offseason.


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15 Comments on "2012 Contract Issues: Washington Nationals"


cmock
4 years 4 months ago

I like what this team is doing and really believe they are on the rise. The Werth contract was a an overpay, but they did get a good player and its a start for bringing in other good players. They have shown they are willing to spend money on both the draft and in free agency which is a good start for any organization.

Redbirds16
4 years 4 months ago

I don’t criticize the Werth contract as much as many others. Yes, it was an above-market-price acquisition, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought something for its intangibles, even though I know I can find the same thing cheaper a few blocks away. And it’s not like Jayson Werth caliber players are as common as anything I buy… If I bought a cup of coffee (say Starbucks) at the place around my corner but I know Caribou Coffee is across the street and to me it’s the same product (because to me it really is, sorry coffee aficionados), how long do I kick myself (or let other people criticize me) for paying 5% more than I could have for the same level of production? Not a single second.

I was listening to the Nats broadcast yesterday and they made a very good point about “if that’s what it took to get him here, then by all means pay the man. And he’s been worth it”. They then proceeded to highlight several intangibles he brings to the team (at least 5) that they believe are at least part responsible for the Nats playing so well of late (baserunning, fielding, attitude, quotes from other players saying how he’s helped them play better, etc…). I found it convincing.

Could the Nats have paid less? Maybe. But they didn’t. They got their man and they’re playing better baseball as a result. Good on ’em.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

that’s a clear argument to justify overpaying in dollars, but not so clear as a justification for overpaying in years

4 years 4 months ago

Sure, it is. Because none of those reasons are ever going to change as he gets older. Sure, he’s going to get slower on the basepaths, but he’s still going to be smart about it, no matter how old he gets.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

what? no. his total value in light the intangibles is only so high because of his “tangibles”. he doesn’t get signed to the deal if he’s got great intangibles but is a 3 WAR player instead of 5

increasing the dollar amount you pay because that combination is so great makes some sense. but increasing the number of years over which you pay a 31 year old that increased dollar amount doesn’t make sense because the likelihood of the value of the total package being so high decreases every year (a significant amount each year as the player ages)

in short, the dude is going to get older and less productive no matter how good his intangibles are. because intangibles do not lessen the risk of a decline in the “tangibles” department, overpaying in years rather than dollars does not make sense

Redbirds16
4 years 4 months ago

I think ballplayers consider years just as much as they consider total dollars, if not moreso. Adam LaRoche was known to be seeking job security this offseason and wouldn’t play for a one year deal (even if it came to a higher annual salary). Derek Jeter’s contract discussions were also hung up on the years of his contract, not entirely the salary offered. I think Jeter knew he wouldn’t be getting paid as well as he was on his last contract, but he wanted the prestige of being a Yankee (specifically their starting SS) for the next five years. In many cases like these, it’s the years that are the sticking points on many contracts.

I certainly think the Nats overpayed (I won’t venture a guess as to by how much), but a critique of overpaying in years vs. overpaying in dollars seems a bit obscure.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

obscure? i don’t get it.

your original comment touched on the value of intangibles and on that basis drew an analogy between paying 5% extra for a daily-life commodity and paying a percentage above market-level for jayson werth. but that analogy is only about dollars, so it is fundamentally limited. you weren’t talking about signing a 7-year contract at that +5% price with a local coffee retailer whose product you know for certain will degrade significantly over time

and that’s all i’m pointing out. by the logic you introduced, the nationals would have a case for paying the extra salary (or more) they did, but not a case for guaranteeing the length they did

obviously it’s beneficial for the player to receive more years, but it’s not beneficial for the buyer in this case — even when you account for intangibles. and the buyer’s perspective is the one you took

Redbirds16
4 years 4 months ago

“you weren’t talking about signing a 7-year contract at that +5% price with a local coffee retailer whose product you know for certain will degrade significantly over time”

Obviously, I am comparing apples and oranges, but there are situations every day where I ‘overpay’ for some good or service. That was the point, not much more. Maybe a more adequate comparison would be a car (degradation over time), but that’s still a stretch.

“obviously it’s beneficial for the player to receive more years, but it’s not beneficial for the buyer in this case”

Well, yes. obviously it’s better for the buyer to limit the years, but as I pointed out with Jeter and LaRoche, years are oftentimes very important to ballplayers, sometimes the years are more important than the AAV $ amount. You see this most often with younger players giving up higher arb salaries and FA years in exchange for job security, but I think there’s evidence in older ballplayers as well.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

sure, but everyone knows werth loves his contract. the noteworthy idea you had introduced was that, given a certain line of thinking (enter +5% analogy), it may have been justifiable for the nationals to sign werth to the deal they did. but the line of thinking you pointed to is only about dollars, does not apply to years, and therefore doesn’t cover the whole story

i don’t know what is contentious here. i agree with you that overpaying in dollars can make sense and i think your example to support that idea was good. but it doesn’t really cut it as a justification of the werth deal. the nationals overpaid in years and in dollars, so the introduction of an analogy that covers only half of that equation can’t be expected to satisfy someone questioning the wisdom of the signing

maybe you don’t care about justifying it in that respect; you certainly aren’t required to. or maybe you think he wouldn’t have signed unless he got 7 years. but even if that’s the case, the massive opportunity cost has to be accounted for here

so if you do actually think the deal was something better than bad, i’d be interested to hear why that is

Redbirds16
4 years 4 months ago

I’ll reserve judgement on the overall deal until it’s close to over. I’m not brash enough to judge a deal after three weeks.

I don’t think Werth would have signed with the Nats if they didn’t overpay in both years and dollars. Although here I must repeat that separating the two seems a bit obscure, as players sign contracts for both years and dollars and as I’ve stated previously, sometimes one is more important than the other. So a contract must be considered in its entirety, not split into parts. And as Cliff Lee and Kerry Wood showed, there are other reasons to consider as well.

I think if Werth would have been offered a six year deal from a contender vs. a six year deal and a few more dollars from the Nats, he takes the contender. The 7 year deal was necessary, from my viewpoint. I mean, it’s the same as Holliday’s scenario with the Cards two years ago. If he doesn’t find a deal he likes, he takes a one year deal for the highest AAV he can find and hits the market the next year. Sometimes clubs have to ‘overpay’ in order to get the guy they want when they want him.

This might be deviating a bit from the topic, but imagine if Holliday had waited a season, he might have topped Crawford’s contract. In retrospect, the Cards probably got him at $40 million less than what he would have signed this past offseason. Does it mean any of the contracts (Werth, Crawford, Holliday, etc…) are ‘something better than bad’ no, but it’s the way the market works.

The Nats went out and got their man. They paid what they had to to get him in their uniform. Good on ’em.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

“I’ll reserve judgement on the overall deal until it’s close to over. I’m not brash enough to judge a deal after three weeks. ”

would you reserve judgment on the decision to pinch-hit albert pujols for ryan theriot until the at-bat was over? no. judging decisions based only on their ultimate outcomes is foolish. very good decisions can turn out badly and very bad decisions can turn out okay. but they’re still good and bad decisions respectively

in my previous comment i suggested that you might think they needed to offer 7 years in order to sign him. but i also said that if you did think that, you’d need to account for the massive opportunity cost. but you didn’t

you don’t have to, obviously, but it’s the only way to make sense of the decision. simply restating that werth is really good right now and restating your premise that if they didn’t offer 7 years another team would have signed him instead does not advance our understanding of whether or not it was a good choice. it’s just sending you in a circle

Redbirds16
4 years 4 months ago

Yes, actually, I’d judge the situation after the AB, not right after the guy’s name was announced. Aubry Huff’s deal last year looked pretty ho-hum when it was signed, but turned out to be one of the best signings of the offseason. Penny’s signing last year for the Cards looked great, until the guy quit halfway through the season. (really, who takes 4 months to come back from an oblique strain? Kyle Lohse had to have pretty invasive surgery and he came back faster…).

You mention opportunity cost again, and I’m sorry I didn’t address that in a more direct way, but it should be quite obvious. You’re not comparing the value of two cups of coffee in a world where there’s a cup of coffee on every street corner and the opportunity cost of acquiring that cup of coffee is large relative to the value derived (although obviously the difference in price is small in nominal terms).

In professional sports, winning teams need elite performances to win on the largest stage, so they have to be willing to pay great differences in salary (in nominal terms) for talent that is statistically has a relatively small difference in value. What you describe as a massive opportunity cost, I’d describe as the price of winning, and that’s the objective no? Yes, teams like the Marlins, Rays, and to some extent the Giants have won by being shrewd and calculating and, more often than not, lucky. But these teams also go through spells where they simply don’t win. The teams that consistently win manage to pay for the talent they need to compete, year in and year out.

The Nats need that kind of dedication to talent to sell their product in DC (which opens a whole new can of worms) and to just put a winning product on the field. I won’t say whether or not Jayson Werth was a good contract or not, but the opportunity cost of signing him long term and getting two prospects for Willingham vs. Keeping Josh Willingham and signing other player(s) is… something for the Nats ownership to decide, not me.

Hindsight is 20/20. I’ll wait for that to come around.

LUWahooNatFan
4 years 4 months ago

By next year the Nationals could have a rotation of Strasburg-Zimmermann-Detwiler-Lannan-?…. Relief core is relatively young and could be filled from within in Balestar-Burnett-Clippard-Storen-Kimball-Rodriguez-Slaten?

In terms of the lineup: C-Ramos, 1B-LaRoche? Marrero? I’d like to see the Nationals go after Pujols or Fielder, 2B-Espinosa, SS-Desmond, 3B-Zimmerman, LF-Morse? Bernadina? Nix?, CF-?, It’d be nice to see the Nationals trade for someone like Upton or Bourn who would add some serious speed to the outfield, RF- Werth

Nationals have the payroll to add some big free agents this off-season but who is going to be available in the SP, RP, or OF department?

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I think Werth is a better player than he’s given credit for, and I see their logic in trying to do what it takes to bring him in to the fold. The thing that bugs me about his deal is that they should have frontloaded it. They have a low payroll right now, so why not shell out like 25-26 mil for him each of the next two years to cut the annual value of it in the future? Sure that’s way too much money for Werth, but if you’re gonna do it…why not do it now? Then in a few years you’ll have extra money to hand to both Zimmermans when they command raises, Strasburg and presumably Harper after that, plus another big free agent or two in between

I get why the Phillies backloaded Lee’s deal, but the Nationals should have frontloaded Werth’s I think. Same with the Rangers and Adrian Beltre’s new deal

4 years 4 months ago

Not to split hairs, but it is Zimmerman and Zimmermann. I think we all knew what you meant though.

And to answer your question about front-loading the contract, the team makes more money on a contract that is back-loaded (yes, even when the player declines). The fact that the team is holding onto the money–and making interest on the money–and the fact that the team is paying less while attendance levels are lower are the two key reasons.
-wtk