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Lee, Norris, Peacock and Wang

Oct 13, 2010, 2:00 PM EDT

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Derek Norris homered and drew two walks in his Arizona Fall League debut.

Some Wednesday morning thoughts as you try not to think about the fact former Expos GM Omar Minaya once traded Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to the Indians for Bartolo Colon…

If you're still harboring any pie-in-the-sky hopes that the Nationals might somehow pony up the money to acquire Lee this winter, can we just quash those pipe dreams already? Sorry, but it ain't happening. After two brilliant performances in the ALDS (and the prospect of more to come in the ALCS) Lee's asking price keeps getting higher and higher. Reasoned speculation already has the left-hander getting a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $115 million.

Yeah, that's $23 million a year. For a pitcher. The Nats aren't doing that.

It's fair to question, though, whether any team should be paying out that kind of money for a pitcher. As fantastic as Lee has been, is he really worth $115 million? Is any pitcher?

History suggests the answer is no. Have you ever looked at the list of the biggest contracts ever given to pitchers? Check it out…

$100 MILLION-PLUS PITCHING CONTRACTS
1. CC Sabathia, Yankees (7 years, $161 million)
2. Johan Santana, Mets (6 years, $137.5 million)

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  1. JaneB - Oct 13, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    Every inning Lee pitched last night, I thought, "Add another million to his deal, where ever it ends up being." Thanks for this reality check on what these big contract pitchers are doing now. AFter taking his team to the playoffs, he'd be nuts to come play for us, whatever we paid. Maybe after we become a contenda…In terms of Wang (and recovering pitchers, in general)…what do people look for, to gauge how well they are recovering? If it were a science, I know people would be talking about it. But it can't be a total gamble, either…I assume velocity of the fastball must be one indicator, and how fast they return to locating the ball they way they used to. What should we be watching for (in Nats Jack's situation) or listening for (the rest of us) in terms of how he's performing, to indicate whether we have a viable pitcher here, or not?

  2. DC Brewer - Oct 13, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    How hard did Wang throw the ball before he got hurt? Was he throwing 95-97 or more like 90-93?

  3. Steve M. - Oct 13, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    Mark Zuckerman said…Unfortunately, the safer route to building a championship-caliber rotation is to develop several young arms out of your own system, hope a couple of them blossom into Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, David Price, Francisco Liriano, Matt Cain or Phil Hughes, then bolster the back end of the rotation with moderately priced free agents. Then, once you're actually in the thick of a pennant race and need that final piece to carry you over the top, trade for Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt and use them as hired guns to get you to the postseason. Mark, you nailed it again. Unless you are the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox who can afford to add a #1 starter with a huge payload while accepting the burden of uncertainty then it is a risk they can take.The mid-market teams like the Giants could have used their Zito money on some batters as they have produced some great starters of their own in farm which is why they are in the hunt in the NLCS. Lincecum has looked great and can't wait to see a Halladay/Lincecum matchup.The Rangers are an interesting analysis as their trade for Cliff Lee certainly was the difference maker to get them to the ALCS. Now we will see what happens since they just spent Lee last night and lose him for certainly Games 1 and Games 2 of the ALCS where the Yankees are fresh. It will be the depth of the Rangers pitching which will be tested.

  4. SpashCity - Oct 13, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    JaneB – I hear baseball people on TV talk about pitchers throwing "free and easy" when coming back from injury. I assume this means that they are throwing normal velocity without straining. Having a "loose" feeling in the arm, not feeling "tight", etc., are all probably good signs. A lot of it is what Wang says about how he is feeling, but I assume the Nats pitching coaches can see this "free and easy" motion and can tell if he is straining to try to get a few more miles per hour on the fastball. You are right that it is not an exact science, and apparently this specific injury to Wang makes his recovery process that much more uncertain. Wang's first outing he threw one inning. Now he has thrown two innings in this most outing. If he can go three or four innings next time and everything is still looking good, I think the Nats should feel good about bringing him back.

  5. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Mark,As I watch Cliff Lee last night, my thought was, the Nats have no one of his caliber. Strasburg, maybe! I'd trade the whole team for Lee and start all over.

  6. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    There is a great story in the October 11th issue of the New Yorker on Marvin Miller and the tremendous impact he has had on the business of baseball.Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame?

  7. Bowdenball - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Cliff Lee's also going to be 32 years old next season. Pretty sure the guys who got those deals were mostly in their late 20s at the time. I'm glad to hear you think the Nats will stay far, far away from this bidding war.Mark, how do you think Norris might fit into the Nats' future given the presence of Wilson Ramos? Keep them both? Trade bait, perhaps as part of a package for a Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez type? Move one to 1B?

  8. JD - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Mark, You are exactly right; the Nats won't get Lee and they shouldn't. Develop the organization; outspend other teams in finding talent; when your talent level is close to competitive then spend on proven stars to take it over the top.

  9. joemktg - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    Nice article in today's NYT about Cliff Lee and the Yankees (including a CC connection). Cliff Lee will be in pinstripes because of what he does in the post-season.Yanks revenue mix can support a Cliff Lee signing, and of course, the Nats cannot. So it's not only the safer route by building a pitching staff from within, but it's the ONLY route. No YES Network-like arrangement, no Cliff Lee. Sidebar: when does that MASN arrangement end? Anyone?Glad to see Norris' picking up where he left off. And guessing that Pea's changeup is working well.Yanks in 5, Giants in 7.And yes: Marvin Miller should be in the HOF. See http://thanksmarvin.com/.

  10. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    "Unfortunately, the safer route to building a championship-caliber rotation is to develop several young arms out of your own system, hope a couple of them blossom into Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, David Price, Francisco Liriano, Matt Cain or Phil Hughes, then bolster the back end of the rotation with moderately priced free agents. Then, once you're actually in the thick of a pennant race and need that final piece to carry you over the top, trade for Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt and use them as hired guns to get you to the postseason."This is a joke right? You really expect the Nationals to develop Top 10 pitchers throughout the rotation and go from there? Well, keep waiting because that type of thing rarely happens and while you wait for the pitching to 'develop' the rest of the team rots away. You're a bright baseball guy… but that paragraph was out there, to say the least."How hard did Wang throw the ball before he got hurt? Was he throwing 95-97 or more like 90-93?"Wang was 92-93 pre-injury. It's great to see that he's only a few MPH off what he once was, and, that he's actually improving in velocity from his last time out when he was 87-88.

  11. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    Yep can't pay Cliff Lee that money for those years at age 32. Maybe a 3 year contract … but not 6 or 7. Looks like its Shields, Garza, or Grienke. Maybe.

  12. Doc - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    Great analysis MarkMeister!Thanks for referencing the Lee, Phillips, and Seizemore for Bartolo Colon Expos' trade. I've ofter thought about it. I'm not sure what Omar Minaya's value as a GM is, but it surely isn't in the area of scouting talent. Anyone of those players, playing for the Nats would have significantly improved the team W-L record. All three, well we would have been a contending club in the recent past.

  13. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Today's Zuckerman column was guest-written by Stan Kasten. Now that he's out of work, the guy's got to make a buck somehow.Tomorrow's column topic: You don't care about payroll.

  14. Wally - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    I dunno, I think that I am changing my views on the whole team building philosophy thing. Building successful organizations in professional sports is a super competitive environment, and often the best organizations are the one that find value in areas of the market that are underappreciated, not just going with prevailing wisdom. So with everyone going over to the 'prospects are super valuable' philosophy, are established free agents the new value area? The marlins, Rangers – their farm systems got huge boosts from trading off established stars for a slew of packages. Anybody think those kind of trades are still out there? Even the trades for Lee were considered underwhelming from what the teams expected prospect-wise. Halladay wasn't traded during the previous season's trade deadline for the same reason. If we keep a 'running with a herd' mentality, won't we inevitably trend towards the average instead of above average?I think that I would give Lee 5/$115m. He has had several seasons as a top 2-3 pitcher in all of baseball, proven post season success, no arm trouble to speak of (granted, some back trouble), throws with an easy motion and as more of a control type with average to slightly above average velo, doesn't have the kind of skill set that should deteriorate quickly. He has averaged about 7 WAR for each of the last three years, which is roughly $30m in annual value, according to FanGraphs. So there is no reason to think that he still won't be effective at 37, at least as good as Andy Pettitte is now, and even if he won't be worth $23m in that last year or two, there is every reason to think that he will have over earned in the early years, balancing out the contract. Plus, our payroll profiles well for a contract like this, because unless you are expecting a slew of high priced free agents over the next few years, our payroll doesn't have any expected big salaries during this contract other than Zim (Strasburg will be in his final arb year during the last year of a 5 yr contract).So call me crazy, but yeah, I would do it. I am virtually certain, as Mark said, that the Nats won't do it, but I would. We probably should have gone after Oswalt, too.

  15. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    Anon @ 12:50, call yourself a DBag. Mark is exactly right. The Nats aren't getting Cliff Lee so he is right to make the point. The Phillies did it internally and having enough players in the pipeline to trade their own talent for Halladay and Oswalt.So you have the Yankees/Rangers and the Phillies/Giants left in the mix. All of these remaining teams have legit #1 pitchers and some have #2's and #3's that are as good as or better than many team's #1's. I still hope to see Strasburg as that dominant #1 pitcher when he returns and Jordan Zimmermann as a legit #2 pitcher and it will have to be someone stepping up internally or from the outside to fill out the rest of the 2012 rotation here.

  16. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    @anon1:09 has it right. I see more and better players in the pipeline from the Orioles system than from the Nats for next year … but in 2012 hopefully, things will be different. Both organizations have their better prospects on the same team so it might make it easy to compare the two.And now with Harper joining the team on the Taxi squad along with a large part of the Nat's brain trust to help develop him … we'll have to see where this AFL takes them.

  17. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:16 PM

    And … as far as Stras and Zimm are concerned … think Barry Zito of the Giants. He definitely served to stabilize that rotation until Lincecum, Cain plus Sanchez and Baumgarner had matured enough. This is why the Nats, and Strasburg + Zimmermann need a guy like Lee. Oh most definitely. But not at seven years at age 32 … I'm not sure he would be as effective at age 39 as guys like Petite, The Big Unit, and juicer Clemens were.

  18. Steve M. - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Wally, if you went after Oswalt to give up prospects to get him for 2 months in 2010, 2011 and an option for 2012 you end up with a great pitcher that won't take you to the playoffs while you give up prospects.The time to get an Oswalt is when have a 50-40 record at the trade deadline and you need this guy to carry you through the playoffs and into the World Series then you get him for an additional year or 2 as a bonus.Personally, the Phillies with Halladay and Hamels are a darn good 1 and 2. I think Oswalt may be their #3 which gives them a stronger rotation IMHO then the Yankees.

  19. joemktg - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:30 PM

    Another note regarding Cliff Lee: even if the Nats make a run at him, and are the highest bidder, he's NOT coming here. He's been to the playoffs and WS, so why would he come here to wallow with a .500 ball club (.500 after he would get here)? Points to the importance of having an excellent hitting lineup that is strong defensively. Talent begets talent.

  20. SpashCity - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    Ladson reporting Harper will be on the AFL Taxi Squad. A lot of good quotes from Rizzo…http://therocket.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/10/nats_harper_going_to_arizona_f.html

  21. Wally - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Steve M – no doubt that is the prevailing wisdom, and it would be hard to criticize those kinds of decisions. As I said, I think that I am changing my own philosophy in this regard, though. If we think that Oswalt is going to be an upper tier pitcher during his remaining contract life, I would be fine paying him as such (ie trading for him), regardless of the status of the rest of team. I would get good players at appropriate or better value whenever I could, and pay up to market value for them. I wouldn't avoid getting good players (and paying them) just because I thought that I was a few years away, unless I had real financial issues like Tampa which led me to think in terms of short windows of opportunity (and I do not think the Nats do). Too much can happen, both ways. Some players will come out of nowhere, making you better more quickly than you thought, or conversely, your other players don't continue to develop the way you thought. Remember Arizona from a few years ago when they made the playoffs? They looked to be on the verge of a period of dominance, and then the bottom fell out. On the flip side, did you see the reds winning this year? I didn't. If I could pay below market value, even better. That comes from developing good prospects, but maybe it also comes from kelly Johnson, maybe Joel Piniero. The real death to an organization is either paying well above market value for a player, or getting your talent appraisal wrong (possibly the same thing said differently, when all is said and done). Zito's ace-like contract is horrible because he wasn't an ace when he signed it. On the other hand, if CC holds on like this, the Yanks will be very happy with that contract (and we would have to, I suspect). I think this, the lack of confidence in correctly appraising talent, is the real reason why 15 teams won't line up to offer 5/$115m to Lee, and almost every team prefers to pick from the scrap heap. To paraphrase Mark's question from above, if you knew Lee would go 7 WAR, 6 WAR, 5 WAR, 4 WAR, and 3WAR for the contract, would you give him the $115m, even if you weren't going to contend for the first two years?

  22. Harper_ROY_2012 - Oct 13, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    Mark, not that you can see from the stat sheet but any indication on how Norris caught last night??? That is the $100 million question, I think besides his BA no one doubts his ability to hit, the question is his fielding and whether he is a major league catcher or if a position change is in his future.On the Cliff Lee front, love him, probably one of the best right now, but let's face it he pitches best in the postseason and the Nats are not seeing the postseason anytime before 2013-ish so it would be a waste of time. Also, where do we get a Hamels, Lincecum, Hughes, Price, Cain or Liriano, we have none in our system and as far as drafting pitchers we have a pretty bad history over the last 5 years especially when most of the aforementioned are POWER pitchers and the Nats like to draft pitch to contact guys who lack a strong fastball(JZimm and SS notwithstanding). do we need to fire scouts, pitching coaches, front office personel to get the guys who are making their teams World Series contenders versus the guys who are making us one of the worst teams in the majors!???

  23. dale - Oct 13, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    Harper__Roy,Your post is a mass of contradictions. Scratch a little deeper and you will see that we are drafting power pitchers besides SS and Jzimm. Pitching takes a little time to develop, longer than hitters.If you have a budget of 75 million, then committing a full 20% of it on one pitcher for 5 years at 15 mil each is going to restrict your other options. So for the Nats–they have to get it right, there is no room for error.

  24. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 7:33 PM

    Anon @1:09The Phillies did it internally? Rotation of Doc, Oswalt, Hamels, and Blanton. Only Hamels is internal dum dum.

  25. Steve M. - Oct 13, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    I think he meant internally by they used their own prospects for trade bait.

  26. Anonymous - Oct 13, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    one of the nationals problems is they draft pitchers with bad mechanics/arm actions,thats why they get injured and are inconsistent,tom verducci,and don cooper(white sox pitching coach)said strasburg has the same arm action as mark prior and kerry wood, you see that arm action in storen,clippard,stammen,atilano,walker, and more on this team,we need new scouts and pitching coaches

  27. JD - Oct 13, 2010 at 8:17 PM

    Steve M. I get the same response every time I make this point. Someone tried to tell me that the Red Sox championship teams were all bought; never mind that they used Hanley Ramirez to get Becket; Carl Pavano and Tony Armas to get Pedro Martinez and on and on and on. When it comes to scouting and development there is no denying that the Nats did a poor job in selecting Willems, Smoker, McGeary in early rounds and the jury on Detwiler is still out; teams like the Nats can't afford to have so many misses in the draft. Having said that they did hire a whole new development team last off season and you can see that the approach is much different. We are now drafting high ceiling, hard throwing over slot pitchers and we are signing them so the future, not the immediate future looks much brighter.

  28. A DC Wonk - Oct 13, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    JD said: Having said that they did hire a whole new development team last off season and you can see that the approach is much different. We are now drafting high ceiling, hard throwing over slot pitchers and we are signingAmen. And we can thank Rizzo for that. Another thing they did was draft a few younger one's who would have been 2d rounders but dropped because they said they were going to college. So, they'd still be around in the 4th round, we drafted them, and payed 2d round money for them. That's why we paid so much over slot on two of them (can't remember which ones. was Solis of of them?)Again, this has a lot to do with Rizzo, who, if I remember right, has a whole lot of experience being a scout.

  29. JD - Oct 13, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    A DC WONK, No; Solis actually has a bit of a lower ceiling than the others but he is a college graduate which means he is fairly close to major league ready (I'd say about a year if he handles AA). A.J. Cole was considered a very tough sign because he was actually committed to a school; he was considered borderline 1sr rounder. I forget the other guy's name but was also a high schooler way over slot.

  30. Jeeves - Oct 14, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    And Dan Hudson would have been a solid number three, and a better pitcher than any in the organization this side of Stras, Zimm, and possibly Solis and Cole. The Nats failure to trade for this pitcher drives me up a wall because they will not get another chance. It reminds me of Minaya when he was trying to make a deal for Colon and failed miserably, and that after giving away Sizemore, Phillips, and Lee. Of course, he'd already given away Bay, and then failed to even get a draft pick for Guerrero.

  31. JamesFan - Oct 14, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    I don't think the Nats need to spend 5 minutes going after Lee. These 5 year, $100m contracts are madness and the team will suffer for years from a lack of cash. Trade up for promising young pitching. I frankly like deals like the Marquis deal. Ok, he was hurt, but he'll be solid for us next year.

  32. Anonymous - Oct 16, 2010 at 2:40 PM

    Mark Lerner has been chomping at the bit to add payroll, but others in the organization have kept the Nats fiscally responsible, sometimes dogmatically. Kasten was not anti-spending, but he's anti-spending as a shortcut, his belief being that they need to establish themselves as a contender with a deep system before patching holes in free agency. He's gone now, and Ted Lerner is being swayed that the team needs to show it's serious about competing on the field as well as with the checkbook. The belief that they can't win a bidding war with any team in baseball is completely unfounded. They are a franchise with the financial ability to instantly become a big payroll team, they just have tried to avoid being foolish. Make no mistake, though, if Mark Lerner has his way he fancies himself as a Steinbrenner, not what has been represented through the years of the Kasten-Lerner arranged marriage. Lee could very well go somewhere else, but it won't be for more money. Keep an eye on Crawford too, if Tampa can't find a way to keep him.

  33. BinM - Oct 16, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    Cliff Lee @$23M/year over 5 years? Not gonna happen in DC. That kind of a deal for a pitcher can hamstring a franchise outside of the major markets (see Zito-SF and Hampton-COL). Unless he re-signs with Texas, he'll most likely end up in pinstripes; Let's face it, he's the perfect replacement for Pettitte, and the Steinbrenners can swallow that kind of financial committment.

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