Nationals Baseball: What was up with that Werth deal?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What was up with that Werth deal?

I don't mean that in the "it was a terrible deal" sense.  Of course it was, but it's not the terribleness that I'm wondering about.  It's the sheer money and years put in.  It could have been for an actual great player who was young and I'd still be confused.  Why confused?  Because that was a win now move and the Nats don't seem to be that kind of team, even when they could possibly... you know... win now.

Last week we found out that the Nats WAY underbid (or more likely - reasonably bid and the Marlins overbid but that's semantics) for Mark Buehrle.  3 years for 39 mill, vs the 4 years 58 mill he got.  They underbid on years and dollars.  Roy Oswalt is still out there but he wants a 3 years deal.  Since he hasn't signed I'm assuming the Nats didn't offer him that 3rd year (or anything).  BJ Upton is available - though the Rays have to be blown away.  Since he's not a Nat now I'm assuming the Nats didn't blow anyone away.  The Nats are playing it the same way they've always played it, except that one time.  They are looking for fair deals, or maybe something slightly in their favor.  Are they smart?  Cautious? Cheap? Make your own judgement, but the one thing that remains - that Werth deal doesn't make any sense.

If they were playing to win sooner rather than later - then there is no reason not to overpay in a deal or a trade for a guy that'll help you win now.  If they brought in Werth to lure in other free agents, shouldn't they have lured in some other decent free agents by now? Even just to validate the original deal? But no, right now nothing has happened, which makes that Werth deal look like a crazy aberration, only explained by the fact the Nats actually thought he was worth what they paid.

What was that about? A monentary lapse in judgement?  A grasp for relevency in case the young players didn't pan out? Blackmail?


traderkirk said...

So what you are saying is: they should make more bad deals to justify the bad deal they already made.

Just because the Marlins are making a bunch of bad deals doesn't mean the Nats should join them.

The bad Werth deal was predicated on this notion that the Nats have to do SOMETHING. Something isn't always good as the Marlins will find out with the terrible Buehrle and Bell contracts.

Anonymous said...

I expect them to sign one more free agent this year. I hope to god its a centerfielder and not a pitcher.


Or they could be come Japan's team and sign both Darvish and Aoki. Merchandise sales would help with the posting cost.

Donald said...

I think that deal had its desired effect. It's just that they couldn't have predicted the Marlins going nuts this year. The Werth deal was about proving that the Nats are serious about contending and are willing to pay to get there. Otherwise, no legitimate fa would listen. And now, one year later I think the league does view the Nats as being serious about contending and being willing to pay. I don't think the intended message was that the Nats are serious and willing to vastly overpay.

Harper said...

trade kirk - "bad" deals are relative. Overpaying for a guy that gets you deep into the playoffs might just be worth it to a team.

I'm not saying that though - it was more pointing out that the Werth deal was not only terrible as a contract but made no sense in any other way given what the Nats appear to be looking to do. It could have very well been feeling of having to do SOMETHING but that's a very expensive something to have done. Could have been accomplished a lot cheaper than Werth last year...


We'll see. Crisp is the last resort. he'll fill the spot and make us all complain about how bad a hitter he is. Cespedes is the big gamble. Aoki... I don't know. He's 30 next year, figure he's got 2-3 years left. Doubt that's what's gonna sign him. You're then looking at a lot of $$$ in the OF for some weak players 3-4 years down the road.

Harper said...

Donald - So if the Nats went 80-81 without Werth the free agents that went elsewhere would have went elsewhere quicker?

Wally said...

Harper - I think that your premise is right. If they stop here, then the Werth deal just doesn't make any sense. But getting here was a combination of failed efforts, changed circumstances and perhaps a revised opinion.

Failed efforts: they've been trying to give away more money with no takers (De La Rosa, Greinke (technically a trade, but he vetoed it like a FA), Buehrle). Perhaps they are still going to try, but maybe not.

Changed circumstance: I think that they were a little surprised at some of the inhouse performances in 2011: Morse, Ramos, Espy, JZimm, Stras's return, even the budding promise of Peacock, Milone, Detwiler. They have had an awful lot go right, which is great, but one unintended consequence is that there aren't as many holes to fill with a high profile FA.

Revised opinion: Werth's performance in the first year has to be causing some doubts. The only hope for them to say that, on balance, the deal was worth it, was if Werth substantially outperforms in the early years, and instead, he probably only broke even on his actual salary, and underperformed on his AAV.

Harper said...

Wally - I'll buy the last one. Maybe Werth WAS part of a greater "win soon" plan and now the ownership is (reasonably) gun shy given how bad Werth performed last year.

The failed efforts makes some sense but they haven't ever repeated what they did with Werth. If they were hoping overpaying FA A, would help them not have to overpay FA B, I'm not sure they understand baseball.

The changed circumstances makes some sense too but as long as there is a spot to fill there's a spot to continue the "Werth plan"

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

I'm just not sure if it's fair to judge on hindsight. At the time, I think the league viewed the Nats owners as being cheap and the team being perennial losers. Rizzo was trying to lure FA's and getting turned down. I think they thought they had to make the big splash to change the perception or they'd be stuck. One year later, there aren't that many quality FA's to bid on, and the Marlins and Angels have come out of nowhere as irrational bidders. So things didn't work out quite as hoped. But I don't think that makes the deal irrational or inconsistent at the time.

Anonymous said...

They also offered Teixera crazy money.

Harper said...

Donald - I'm just not agreeing with you (well other than I'm doing this early - things could easily still change). How is it rational to make a big splash and assume next year, with limited FAs available that you could deal them nothing more than reasonable fair-value contracts? Those are the exceptions rather than the rules.It's only rational (although a terrible idea for this team right now) as part of a larger high spending win-now plan.

Anon - true but I'd argue that based on what we've seen then he woudl have been the Werth with no large contracts to follow.

Nat A said...

Just a hunch, but I think Rizzo may have convinced himself that if he landed Werth, Werth could convince Cliff Lee to come to Washington. Pitching was Rizzo's top priority last winter, and early on there were rumors that the Nats were interested in Lee. My recollection is that Rizzo said something at Werth's news conference about not being done yet and to expect more big signings by the Nats.

Of course, just a day or two after Werth's deal with the Nats, Lee signed with Philly, and Rizzo was ultimately unsuccessful in finding a pitcher (unless you count Gorzy). But I think he was hoping that Werth's signing would be the catalyst for at least one more big free agent deal.

The larger point is that it's tough to go after the top free agents and still pay a reasonable price, since the high bidder will almost always turn out to be the one who's overpaying - the so-called "winner's curse."

blovy8 said...

I think part of it could be overvaluing the guy some because of the Philly context. They saw a 5 WAR player who actually got a lot of his value from his ballpark and is really a 3.5 WAR player who had a tough time adjusting in his first year. It looks bad in isolation, but given the OF's available this offseason and the difficulty the Nats have developing them, can you blame them for the overpay? We'd be looking at more limited guys like Beltran or Cuddyer, and be even more desperate for the foreign options. I think it was balanced out a bit by Morse showing he can put together a full year. I doubt they felt as confident in the outfield last year, especially given the emphasis on defense. In other words, I don't know that there was some new "strategy" for attracting free agents.

Harper said...

Nat A - I'm totally willing to believe that. What I won't believe is that they signed Werth so they could do... this. What we see now.

This is more observational than anything. There's no real conclusion here. It's not like I want Rizzo to jump on a soap box and scream "Things changed on me! Now it's all screwed up!"

Harper said...

blovy8 - and there's the other view I'd believe. That he's worth the cost. Now saying that we can totally blame them. The Phillies offered 4 years - 60. The word on the street was Werth was looking for 6 years. So it's possible a 5 year... say 85 million deal might have landed him. Or six year, 84 million. It's almost certain that a 6 year - 100 million dollar deal would have done it. And that's a year and 26 million dollars less than what they gave him. They didn't just overpay, they crazily went 1-2 years and 3-5 million per more than what the market was playing out. One or the other will get it done, to do both, that's just wasteful.

blovy8 said...

I wonder if the other thing here is a supply issue. There are similar options at pitcher to Buehrle, at least you can spin it that way if you don't get him and put out a fair offer. The guy wasn't offended by it, and business goes on as usual. But eventually, a contender has to be willing to accept the bad end of these deals to get the guy they need. Almost every major market club that spends money on free agents will have guys who aren't worth their salary. Texas has been pretty smart, but you can argue that Michael Young was looking like a big overpay before last year. The Howard deal was also bad from day one for the Phillies. The Giants had a couple of big, utterly useless contracts and won the World Series. The Yankees can't get anyone to take Burnett for nothing. I'm pretty sure Werth is better than Rowand, Burnett, or Zito. Now, you don't start off thinking those guys are going to be THAT bad. Rizzo may be preparing the Lerners for the things it'll take to add to a good core of players and field a complete club. Maybe it's the opposite of conventional wisdom - if we start by using his valuation of Werth, might he also want him longer since the actual window where he expected to need that assurance in one OF spot to hopefully go with Harper, was actually further away, and not immediate, like say 2013-2016? This was without knowing how Strasburg and Zimmermann would respond in 2011, or a bunch of other if's. Given the way things were, I wonder how you could count on an all-star caliber outfielder considering this club for a fair price when so many clubs might be interested in 2013 or whenever. The team had a good draft, and is actually looking a little more secure, so all of the sudden 35 is old for a free agent.

Nattydread said...

Rizzo wanted to make a splash, and he succeeded. Overnight, the Nats went from perennial losers to the talk of the town (even if they were laughed at by many for the deal).

He also spent a lot of time talking about Werth's profile and the career longevity in his family history. Rizzo bought his own bill of goods, and I'm guessing so did the Lerners. All in all, he put his stamp on the team and completed the post-Bowden transition with the Werth deal.

Though the deal did improve Rizzo's profile and the Nats visibility, it didn't make him into Billy Beane, it didn't make DC any more desirable as a destination and it didn't make it any easier for Rizzo to negotiate and construct trades. My guess is that other GMs are a bit wary of the Nats now and free agents negotiate even harder.

Rizzo is super-reluctant to give up what he has in his hand in trades. He knows (and Johnson probably agrees) that what he has is rising in value much faster than what a forced trade might bring. So he stands pat.

Having said that, I won't be surprised if he does pull off a major deal before long. His style is not to deal through press leaks or planted stories.