Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals

The Nationals are next in our Offseason In Review series.

Major League Signings

International Signings

Notable Minor League Signings


Trades and Claims

Notable Losses


After the 2009-10 offseason, I wrote that I'd have liked Nationals GM Mike Rizzo's offseason if we could eliminate the top two signings, the $21MM given to Jason Marquis and Ivan Rodriguez.  A year later, it's much harder to excuse the $142MM spent on Werth and LaRoche.

With any seven-year free agent contract, the team is really just paying for the first three seasons and hoping the player doesn't become a complete albatross in the final four.  The players can provide value at the tail end of these megadeals, but it's more of a bonus than an expectation.  I can see Werth remaining an elite player through his age 34 season, and as he hasn't missed significant time since '07 I can see him remaining healthy too.  Though Werth's seven-year term shocked the baseball world, I could justify the signing for a team on the cusp of contention. 


My beef with the Werth signing is the Nationals' timing.  They don't have the rotation to contend in 2011, and while the 2012 team should be better I'm not confident they'll be ready then either.  Assuming the team's top young players will really start to come together after the '12 season, why not make your huge free agent strike then?  The Nationals actually tried to make their free agent splash earlier, with big offers to Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter in past offseasons.  I don't have a problem with accelerating the timetable, for example if the Nationals signed Werth and went on to add Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.  But win-now moves have to come as a package deal for a team like the Nats. 

Did the Nationals "have to overpay" to get Werth and make the team more appealing for future free agents?  I agree with ESPN's Keith Law that the concept is nonsense.  Not because players rarely take discounts, but because they don't do so because they liked the team's crazy free agent expenditure.  Were players lured to the Rockies, Astros, Giants, and Cubs because those teams went overboard for Mike Hampton, Carlos LeeBarry Zito, and Alfonso Soriano?  Many bad teams have turned things around without the luxury of a signature, excessive free agent signing. 

The LaRoche contract pales in comparison to Werth's, but I still don't consider it money well spent.  The Nationals went well beyond LaRoche's previous contract, despite his 2010 decline in walk rate and increase in strikeout rate.  Similar to Marquis, these are not interesting players at ten-figure prices.   

Rizzo's other free agent signings were acceptable purchases for a rebuilding club, with a little bit of upside sprinkled in.

I expected the Nationals to bring in a credible starter for Willingham, but Rodriguez does have the potential to develop into a premium late-inning reliever.  The Morgan trade struck me as selling low, and if the center field alternatives are Ankiel and Hairston, why not give him a chance to rebuild value?  I understand the Gorzelanny trade, as the lefty can chew up big league innings and has mild upside.  However, Morris might have been able to help the Nationals' bullpen this year, and I'm not sure why a rebuilding team gave up on Burgess.

The Nationals would not agree that their window for contention is likely to open in 2013.  I respect that, but if the plan is to win now I expect the team to be aggressive in improving its pitching staff at the trade deadline and during the 2011-12 offseason after failing to do so this winter.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.

25 Responses to Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals Leave a Reply

  1. Jayson Werth got paid bank to be wearing a Walgreen’s uniform!

  2. TrueYankeeFanNYC 4 years ago

    Say what you want but the nationals did what they had to do. Werth, strasburg, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond. At worst the nationals fans should be excited about the future.

    • LUWahooNatFan 4 years ago

      Ramos, Flores, Norris, Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Lombardozzi, Brown, Harper, Storen, Kimball, Clippard, Detwiler, Zimmermann, Strasburg is a pretty solid core.

      I have a feeling the Nationals make a big splash next free agency and sign either Pujols or Fielder

    • Michael Brown 4 years ago

      Not if they think Desmond is a leadoff hitter….

  3. Washington — a market that hasn’t seen a contending team, much less a pennant-winner, in two-thirds of a century — is still perceived as a baseball graveyard. As a result, the Nationals have to spend twice as much to get half as far. What alternatives exist for a franchise whose fan base is so fatalistic and frustrated?

    • Slopeboy 4 years ago

      Winning will change that. If the Nats put an exciting and competitive product on the field the fans will come to the games. They have a mixture of names and players with some success, so if they can play decently now, their future looks bright.

      • BlueSkyLA 4 years ago

        One thing for sure, the Nationals aren’t your father’s Expos.

    • The alternatives that the Rays and Twins pursued. I don’t remember anything about those teams having to spend twice as much to get half as far.

      • WolandJR 4 years ago

        The Twins have a long history of competent management. That is an unfair comparison considering the Expos/Nats spent the better part of the last decade under the thumbs of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum (Minaya and Bowden).

        • GaryLe 4 years ago

          Money won’t save you from incompetent management. Better to just bite the bullet and get smart people in there and suffer through the losing rather than try to shortcut rebuilding by signing a bunch of expensive vets and end up losing anyways.

  4. Michael Brown 4 years ago

    I actually believe LaRoche’s decreased walk and increased K rate can be attributed to the way of the Diamondbacks. I think they are preached to being more aggressive. In certain cases this approach is exactly what a player needs. Case in point, Kelly Johnson.

  5. Farid Rushdi 4 years ago

    They got rid of Nyjer Morgan before he had a chance to rebuild his value because of the clubhouse problem he had become, especially after all of those gaffes late last year. It made perfect sense.

    Contracts–large ones–have no meaning unless they keep a club from spending additional resources. Not long after signing Werth the Nationals tried to sign Carlos Lee, Carlos Pena and offered Zach Greinke a bazillion dollars to accept a trade.

    If the team keeps on spending money, it doesn’t matter how much the contracts are for.

    The Nationals are on the cusp of becoming a contender and it’s just not that hard to see when you look at the stable of youngsters ready to make an impact. No, they are not there yet, but it won’t be all that long.

    LaRoche will be a net plus for the Nationals over Dunn. Dunn was horrible in the field and was one of the very worst clutch hitters in baseball. I can’t tell you how many of his homers changed a 4-0 loss into a 4-1 defeat. LaRoche can hit lefties (Dunn can’t), has a near Gold Glove in the field and drove in just three runs less than Dunn last year (103 to 100).

    The Nats are a much better team this year. Wait until September, when the kids mature and Strasburg is back before poking your finger at them. They’ll win 75-80 games and will be close to contention by 2012.

    No worries.

    • All contracts have meaning unless the team has infinite resources. If you’re saying there’s no chance the Werth signing ever limits the Nationals from doing something in the future, I disagree vehemently. If they win 75 games in 2011 I’ll be glad I poked my finger at them, because it will mean they wasted money. Also..RBIs?

      • Fifty_Five 4 years ago

        If they win 75 games in 2011 they will be right where they want. That would be a steady increase of wins in each of the past three years. They didnt sign Werth to win the East right away. They have seven years to turn into a contender and if they don’t do that, then it would be a waste.

        • BlueSkyLA 4 years ago

          I believe Tim’s point was that the Nats can’t seriously expect seven years of productivity from Werth, at least not at the level they are paying him to produce. I tend to agree.

      • vtadave 4 years ago

        Werth will be approaching sunk cost territory in four years, but I’d be hestitant to criticize the signing in a vacuum. Is the Werth signing going to limit the Nats from offering a huge contract to Albert Pujols if he hits the open market? Most signs point to “no”. Will it prevent them from signing Harper and Strasburg to huge deals in 3-4 years and filling holes in free agency? Who knows, but that is one rich owner.

      • I would have to disagree with this statement given the fact they have three to four years to take advantage of this signing, forgoing injury; more than a reasonable amount of time for Harper and Strasburg to become top 15 fantasy picks and be the type of hitting and pitching talented needed to win a ring. Obviously, counting on Ramos, Storen, Desmond, Espinosa, J. Zimmerman, M. Morse, T. Milone, E. Perez, amongst others to pan out comes with considerable risk but if even coming close to their potential can be had then Werth and one or two big signing/deals should put contention in the next two-three years within reasonable reach, no?

    • Dunn put up a 3.6 WAR last season. LaRoche’s highest total in a single season is 2.7, when he had a .915 OPS in 2006…..

      LaRoche is a likely downgrade overall. He’ll save some runs on defense, but it’s hard to imagine him being more valuable than Dunn was last year….

  6. I think it’s tough to take the Nats to task for not signing/trading for an elite pitcher. By all accounts, they went whole hog after Grienke, Garza, and Lee and got turned down by all three. As for the Werth signing, in a vacuum, yeah, it seems like overpaying. But considering the awful state of the franchise, I completely disagree that they didn’t have to overpay (though the length of the contract is excessive). Case in point: people are talking about the Nationals signing Pujols in the offseason with a straight face. Prior to the spendathon, the Nats don’t have that kind of a reputation. And, as others have pointed out, it’s not like the contract is going to handicap them. They could sign an elite first baseman, an honest ace, extend Zimmerman’s contract and still be at league average on payroll for the next three years.

  7. robgeisler 4 years ago

    So your entire point is that the Nats spent too much, or spent it too early in their contention window. Who cares what they spend? Its not my money, its not yours, its the Lerners. They could give a Billion to each man on the roster and I wouldn’t care. The point you should be making is related to talent only, not how much someone else makes or costs. Nobody bangs on the NYY for having a $200M payroll…just win baby! The fact that the Nats are trying to do what it takes to win has earned my respect. Why not just drop all the calculations about worth and look at talent, desire and opportunity?

    • Umm, most MLBTR readers care what they spend…that is what this site is mostly about. The idea is to evaluate the team’s moves. Based on your philosophy if they’d paid Werth twice as much we still shouldn’t criticize or even discuss it. I “banged” on each of the Yankees’ signings as I would any team. Not a good comparison; wins are worth more to teams close to contention. Also…desire? I think all 30 teams want to win, they just have different ways of going about it.

      • The Yankees have developed an insurmountable foundation of fans and influx of money by dealing with the bad contracts and enjoying the good ones. You think for one second A Roid is going to be worth 27M in any season remaining on his contract? That Burnett was remotely close to what they paid and was more or less just the beneficiary of being at the right place at the right time? Paying a setup man Soriano’s money makes any sense at all? It does not matter, they get good players and stack their lineup/rotation with every chance possible and that makes fans happy, along with money coming in as merchandise, tickets, and commercials are purchased; most of this capital is obtained through hype, not performance. Nevertheless, should everything bank correctly and pan out really well then Werth in the lineup two years from now will be nothing short of MASSIVE.

  8. jdbrk 4 years ago

    I care what they spend because I live in DC and if I want to see MLB I have to pay the ticket prices to support the salaries. And I want them to win because I’m a fan; does Beltran’s contract affect the Mets ability to compete or Soriano’s affect the Cubs? Those teams were thought to have nearly unlimited resources too. I agree with Tim- the “we had to overpay” argument is nonsense. Was Werth the only option for RF or LaRoche for 1B? No- they didn’t “have” to pay either guy. If Zman or Zmann or Strasburg or Harper or anyone else is talking contract with the Nats, then they sure as hell ought to expect to be overpaid too. Why wouldn’t they?

  9. Ryan Zimmerman noticed Werth’s contract, I’m sure. Don’t count on a big “hometown discount” when he hits free agency after 2013. Honestly, they might have been better off spending the Werth money on a shorter-term OF fix and extending Zimmerman early. Who would you rather have from 2014-2017, Zimmerman or Werth?

    • baseball33 4 years ago

      Maybe in a couple of years your looking at a 100+ million dollar team. Could anybody see that? It wouldn’t surprise me.

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