Monday, December 6, 2010

Reasonable Doubts In The Eye Of The Beholder

  • The trial of Jayson Werth:

If Jayson Werth stands at the podium during his introductory press conference as the new and expensive acquisition of the Washington Nationals and utters the famous words of every free agent----"this is where I always wanted to be"; if he says it with a straight face while still discussing the Washington Nationals, he should be arrested immediately and sentenced, Soviet style, without trial, recourse or appeal, to 7 years labor in a vast wasteland with no hope of survival; no future; nothing aside from baseline creature comforts to pass the days when he's not working in the hot sun.

But wait.

Werth just sentenced himself to 7 years in a baseball wasteland.

It's a gulag called the Washington Nationals.

At least he's going to get paid.

Am I going over the top here?

Possibly. But the Nationals are not good; they're not even mediocre; and for them to throw this amount of money at a good but not foundational player like Jayson Werth is indicative of desperation rather than a coherent plan.

Let's leave that aside for now. First, let's ask some fundamental questions regarding Werth's trial.

Is Scott Boras as proficient at being a defense attorney as he is extracting ridiculous amounts of money for his clients?

Was this a Jerky Boys phone gag in which they called Boras and said, "This is Mike Rizzo, sizzle chest!! Get me Boras!!! We want the WereWerth for $126 million!!!" and the phone call somehow became binding to the Nats?

Is Werth also going to pitch?

Did Werth look at the Nats current pitching staff and prospective acquisitions and think it was 2004?

Or is it simply a Washington-style Watergate conspiracy waiting for the whistle-blower to come forward and enlighten us as to the depths of the depravity?

I'm only partially kidding with all of this creative hilarity.

There are times when bad teams have to overpay to "get the player"; sometimes it makes sense. The Mets did this when they signed Carlos Beltran; but Jayson Werth is not Carlos Beltran. Beltran was 28 when he joined with the Mets; Werth is going to be 32. Big difference. And those Mets were better than these Nats.

The question that has to be asked is whether or not Werth is a player who would attract other players; if he's going to be the difference-maker an individual eating up that portion of the payroll has to be; and the answer to both is no.

To me, Josh Willingham is about as dangerous a hitter as Werth without the speed and defense, but the Nationals have been willing (unintended play on words) to move Willingham for a year. Their lack of appreciation for Willingham and this contract to Werth are different levels of inexplicable.

If he was going to pitch, I'd say okay; but he's not.

The Nationals pitching staff is stacked with journeyman, mediocre kids and oft-injured veterans. John Lannan is okay---useful for a good team at the mid-back of their rotation. Their other pitchers are studies in 5th starters or long relievers who they're sticking in the starting rotation and are hoping discover a pitching epiphany or a good spitball.

Supposedly interested in the likes of Brandon Webb and Carl Pavano, having whiffed on the Chien-Ming Wang flier in 2010 and again waiting for Stephen Strasburg (this time from Tommy John surgery rather than his boy-band style landing) and with Jason Marquis still present, that Nationals rotation would've won 96 games in 2004.

Problem is it's about to be 2011.

Precisely when are they expecting this Werth signing to pay dividends? In 2013? When Bryce Harper joins the lineup? Is that about when Strasburg will have returned and will have his innings-limits removed? The plan with Strasburg, presumably, was to have him incrementally increase his workload to become a 200-inning starter; a Cy Young contender; a linchpin. The injury has detonated that plan and he's going to be babied even worse than he was before----and he still got hurt!!!!

So what then? They're after Pavano? Good luck with that. I have to see what happens if Carl Pavano gets a similar contract as Ted Lilly's 3-year, $33 million deal. Will he head back to the beach and to a Washington-based modeling agency to pick out some arm candy? Or will he pitch?

Webb? I'm getting the Alex Fernandez--career over vibe as he struggles to come back from shoulder surgery.

What of their minor league system you ask?

I'm not about to sit here and pretend I know the ins-and-outs of the Nationals developmental operation, but there are certain bottom line facts that have to be looked at when determining whether there's any significant pitching on the way up----the ages of the pitchers in Single and Double A. Without having seen the pitchers they have at those levels and only examining their stats, there's not much there; then you get to the fact that they're almost----to a man----in their mid-20s, well, you're pretty much devoid of legit prospects. That's history, not a floating concept to prop a broad statement without fact.

If these pitchers were any good, they'd be either in the upper minors or in the big leagues. The Nationals, if they had any legit prospects behind what they've already shown, would have raised their competition level.

Raising the competition level doesn't necessarily mean bringing them to the big leagues. That might've done more harm than good in the financial and practical sense----you don't want them to experience shellshock by getting blasted in Philadelphia; nor do you want to start their arbitration clock ticking pitching for a team that's going to lose 90 games; but Triple A is a relatively accurate barometer of what you'll get from a young pitcher; the players in Triple A are professional hitters; while they're straddling the line of journeyman/unemployed, they're also interchangeable with the 24th and 25th player on a big league roster; many times their circumstances as a 4-A player or a useful big leaguer have more to do with luck and opportunity than actual skills.

The Nats have nothing down there. Statistically, this organization is barren of pitching in the system.

What can they expect from signing Jayson Werth?

Will they get a spike in ticket sales?

Renewed interest in free agents who might have been iffy about joining the Nats?

A leap from 69 wins to 75-79 in 2011, then 85-90 in 2012?

A level of player that will be an MVP candidate for at least the next 3-5 years?

Will they get something close to what they're giving?


Add in that Werth is the type of player for whom I'd be very concerned about complacency once he's paid; that he was embittered by his status as a top draft pick and long sojourn through the minors, traded, released, decried and relegated as a part-timer and, when he got his chance, never missed to opportunity to let the Dodgers, Orioles and Blue Jays know that they blew it with him; that he's been intent on proving a point in addition to getting paid and can't enjoy his success for what it is rather than a means to exact vengeance. Vengeance for which his former teams shrugged.

My criteria for a good/bad contract isn't what others deem to be "good" and "bad". My criteria has always been, "what does this do to the pay structure in terms of other players".

I couldn't care less what the players are paid as long as it doesn't affect other necessary acquisitions. If a "want" precludes a "need", then it's a bad move. If signing Werth to this monster contract won't stop the Nationals from importing the necessary pitching; if they're still able to fill their holes in spite of the Werth contract, then what's the difference? But the Nationals aren't the Yankees or Red Sox; they have a payroll limit; and if they're going to improve quickly enough for Werth to be part of that revival, they're going to have to spend to do it.

There's little out there to spend on and, after this, a finite amount of money to spend.

That, more than anything else, makes this a bad deal.

But not for Jayson Werth or Scott Boras.

I----the judge, jury and executioner----decree that the player and his agent are not guilty.

The Nationals? That's another matter.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'll be on with SportsFan Buzz on Wednesday talking about all this stuff that's currently going on.

It's a lot of stuff to get to. But I'm well worth the listen.


She-Fan said...

I'm looking forward to that press conference. Maybe instead of Werth trying to keep a straight face and saying, "This is where I always wanted to be," he'll say, "It's so exciting to be on the ground floor of a team that is building for the future." I mean, surely Boras will write him a script.

Jeff said...

Kudos for the Jerky Boys reference. Been a long, long time.

Man, think about how Zimmerman must feel with that measly $9 million a year. Wow.

Joe said...

The contract was simply stupid. But Werth should experience a few competitive teams during that contract. The problem is, he will get worse as they get better. They should be overpaying later for a player that can help them in contention now. But they are not in contention now, and they are overpaying for four years at the end, instead of maybe 1 or 2.

David said...

You forgot to mention Jordan Zimmermann, who is a top prospect pitcher who made his debut last season after TJ surgery. If he recovers to 90% of what he was before he is a solid #2 pitcher on any team in the pros. So don't act like the Nats have no good pitching prospects. Sammy Solis also looks ready to contribute right away, being a 4 year college pitcher. Our bullpen was #4 in the majors last season with a 3.33 ERA, thanks to Tyler Clippard and the top rookie Drew Storen. Stop hating and let the Nats get better in whatever way they want.