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Lefties priced themselves out of Nationals’ market

Dec 17, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners

Two more clubs signed free agent left-handers yesterday, and if you’re wondering why the Nationals couldn’t have landed one of these guys, you need only look at the bloated contracts said southpaws were given.

Boone Logan, owner of a 4.39 ERA in eight major-league seasons, got a 3-year, $16.5 million deal from the Rockies. Meanwhile, J.P. Howell, who sports a 4.10 ERA over his own eight big-league seasons, convinced the Dodgers to re-sign him for two years and $11.25 million.

Throw in contracts signed earlier this fall by Javier Lopez (3 years, $13 million) and Manny Parra (2 years, $5.5 million), and you quickly realize just how much the market has blown up for anybody who has the ability to throw a baseball with his left hand.

And you also understand why the Nationals wound up making a relatively minor trade for Jerry Blevins instead of diving headfirst into that pricey, free-agent pool.

It’s not that Mike Rizzo wasn’t allowed to spend that kind of money. The Nats general manager was free to add even more to a payroll that is expected to top $120 million and establish a new franchise record in 2014.

It’s that Rizzo didn’t believe any of those guys were worth the contracts they received.

Look, all of these lefties have value. And we saw last season how much the Nationals needed a quality left-hander in their bullpen. But would you really have felt comfortable guaranteeing three years to Lopez (who will be 39 when his new deal with San Francisco expires) or Logan (who over his four seasons with the Yankees pitched more than 42 innings only once)?

The Nationals certainly wouldn’t. Blevins may not be as prominent a reliever as the other lefties, but he’ll cost roughly $3.5 million over the next two years in D.C., and he was available in exchange for speedy-yet-raw minor leaguer Billy Burns.

“This was the best option we could find with the combination of talent, role, cost,” Rizzo said last week at the Winter Meetings. “This was our best option.”

Now that we know what the other options would have cost the Nationals, it’s hard to dispute the point.

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 17, 2013 at 7:25 AM

    Glad Rizzo didn’t jump into those types of contracts. The Nats already have one of the most expensive bullpens and I’d rather see Riz spend the cash on a 5th outfielder.

    • ArVAFan - Dec 17, 2013 at 7:36 AM

      Or a (better) backup catcher.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 17, 2013 at 7:44 AM

        Yes, a good backup catcher will cost up to $2 million.

      • Doc - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:22 AM

        Threepeat me on the C.

        Can’t believe that the GMzzo is not working behind the scenes on finding one.

        Onion is a baseball hero, but we will need someone to back up Ramoose!!!

    • nats128 - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:19 AM

      I have this feeling Rizzo gave Suzuki a fair offer and told him to try and beat it.

      • Jw - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        Fair offer for Zook would be two years at somewhere between Pudge money and McLouth money. His agent probably is telling him he still has a shot at a starting job somewhere. Once that option falls through, he’ll take Rizzo’s offer. Could be a while before that happens, though. Not much action in the catcher market yet.

  2. nats128 - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    The Nats have Cedeno and Blevins as there lefties in the bullpen and could add Detwiler and Solis. Purke is on the 40 man and could be an option later in the year as he is coming along.

  3. Steady Eddie - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    And it’s not only a matter of these guys being really poor value as a whole, as Mark demonstrates they are.

    Every guy gets paid like that without adequate justification in performance, even acknowledging the inflated state of the market, raises the bar in arbitration for the Nats players who have performed. That does two things, both of them bad.

    first, it starts to move the Nats towards a top of the market, free agent or extension hey category that is not really sustainable under the luxury tax situation, even apart from what the Lerners or anybody else can ostensibly afford.

    Worse, it starts to drive the players apart into a “me first” kind of team, which again is not the kind of squad that is going to be able to keep it scored together in the long run. High paid, celebrity teams like the Dodgers can have good seasons, but largely by churning new players in and out of the system, which is not the model the Nats have decided to follow. I think most of us are glad about that.

  4. Steady Eddie - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    Oy, that’s meant to be “keep it’s squad together”, not “keep it scored together”.

    • Candide - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:20 AM

      Actually, that’s meant to be, “keep its squad together,” not “keep it’s squad together.”

      See what I did their?

      Your welcome!

      • Steady Eddie - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:38 AM

        Thanks, but there are only so many auto’correct’ corrections I’m gonna clean up, especially while walking to the Metro in the morning….
        ;-o

      • alexva6 - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:40 AM

        funny

    • Doc - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:24 AM

      Dunno Steady, it’s a fine line between squad and scored! LOL

      • natsfan1a - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:50 AM

        Friends don’t let friends text while walking. You’re welcome. :-)

    • Candide - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:08 AM

      You can tell it’s still early in the day when Eddie’s typos get more comments than the substance of his original post..

      Addressing that: High paid, celebrity teams like the Dodgers can have good seasons, but largely by churning new players in and out of the system…

      Doesn’t it become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, though? A team built around a solid nucleus of good players gets to the playoffs five or six straight years, with a trip or two to the World Series; how long does it take before the “pretty good” players start to think of themselves as stars, and the “stars” start thinking of themselves as superstars, and the payroll starts to mount accordingly? Look at Mark’s story above. All you need is one team out of 30 to be willing to overpay to re-set the bar.

  5. Hiram Hover - Dec 17, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    One of the things I like about Rizzo is that he doesn’t tend to make the same mistake twice. And last off-season, he made 2 mistakes with the BP.

    First, he didn’t do anything, esp. in regard to the obvious weakness on the left side, for most of the winter. Then, he went out towards the end and spent too much money on Soriano.

    This off-season, he dealt with the BP early and economically when he nailed down Blevins.

    Everybody makes mistakes. At least Rizzo seems to learn from his. Well done.

    • nats128 - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      Same mistake twice? True, he’s made the same mistake 3 times in the case of Wang and Henry. I say that in hindsight of course.

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:59 AM

        I was to be honest thinking more about Rizzo’s acquisitions than a retention like Henry. I cringe to think Henry was around for 2013, but again, I see that as less cause than effect: Rizzo didn’t fix the BP last off-season, which meant there was room for King Backstop in the first place.

        As for CMW – I’m glad a deal like that is in the rear view, but if that’s what you’re going to point to as an acquisition that flopped, I think it speaks well of Rizzo’s overall record.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 17, 2013 at 2:51 PM

        I agree with you as its been the exception and not the rule like some teams. While it was unfolding with Henry it was frustrating.

  6. raleighnat - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Rizzo has had a wonderful offseason, and I am happy with Blevins given alternatives. He still needs to address the bench. Especially backup catcher.

  7. JamesFan - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    It looks like the other lefty relievers were overpriced, but we won’t know until the season plays out. I’m still a little concerned with the left side of the pen.

    An experienced backup catcher is a must.

    The Nats have all this starting pitching. They should not shortchange catching and the pen to back up the starters.

    • pdowdy83 - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:34 AM

      With the starting pitching the Nats have it should be pretty often that the bullpen is called into action for 2 or less innings a game next year. They already have 2 really good right handed options in Clippard and Stammen and Storen looked like he sorted things out by the end of the year. Soriano is a wild card but I have a feeling he won’t be closing as many games as people think due to his vesting option. The number of innings a lefty will pitch is limited due to the back end of the ‘pen being set. I think Blevins is just as solid as most of the free agent options and has handled similar innings for multiple years in Oakland now. The ‘pen looks good to me at this point.

      Now just go get Eric Chavez and a catcher like McKenry or Buck to catch 50 games next year.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:34 AM

        Oops. Didn’t mean for that to be a reply. Meant for it to be a new comment.

    • tcostant - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:46 AM

      Every year is the same think, lefty RP looks “overpriced”, but near the trade deadline they cost a lot more. I tell you if I was .500 team, I would sign a left or two each year and just trade them at the trade deadline for max value. It amazing what looks expensive now, is more than fair in July…

  8. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 17, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    pdowdy83 wrote: “Soriano is a wild card but I have a feeling he won’t be closing as many games as people think due to his vesting option.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    If Baseball-Reference is correct, Rafael Soriano’s contract vests with a combined 120 games ‘finished’ in 2013 and 2014.

    In 2013, he appeared in 68 games, but only finished 58 (the most in his career). Doing a quick check, that number was the third highest in the NL, behind Steve Cishek (62) and Craig Kimbrel (60), and just ahead of Aroldis Chapman (55) and Jonathan Papelbon (54).

    Part of the reason the Nats used their closer so often was the number of winning games in which they scored a (relatively) low number of runs. If you score more runs per game, you don’t create as many save situations.

    Assuming Mr. Soriano is pitching well all season, I don’t want the Nats holding him out of games to prevent his option from kicking in. Instead, I would prefer that the Nats not create quite as many save situations for him by taking four-run (or better) leads into the final inning.

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:08 AM

      Honestly, I don’t see the vesting option as much of a factor.

      62 is now Soriano’s magic # to trigger the option. Only one other NL closer, as Eugene points out, had that many last year. Soriano’s never hit it before in his career.

  9. NatsLady - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Steve McCatty was on MLB Hot Stove this morning. (It’ll be replayed starting at 11 a.m.). Very interesting.

    (1) Cat was trying hard not to speak out of school, but didn’t always succeed.
    (2) Davey interfered a lot with the pitchers (but of course he was great).
    (3) Stras is a challenge, “didn’t like to get pulled from games; didn’t like to stay in games” (but of course he’s a great kid).
    (4) Matt Williams will be giving him, basically, a free hand with the pitchers the “first time through.”

    Sounded like Stras might not be quite ready at Spring Training, they might have to “go slower” with him.

    The entire interview was quite illuminating. If it goes online, I’ll post a link.

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      Thanks, NL – very interesting.

      I wonder, tho: what was he referring to, about Stras not liking to stay in games?

      • NatsLady - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:16 AM

        It was in the context of pitchers needing to learn to pitch through jams in later innings.

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:20 AM

        Right – but were there games where Stras was looking to the dugout for someone to come and pull him? I can’t think of any games where there was an indication of such a thing at the time.

      • NatsLady - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:30 AM

        No, I don’t remember particularly (I do recall, I think it was Taylor Jordan with longing looks at the dugout, I think). I’m sure McCatty reads Stras’ body language better than I do, though.

        He was funny. He said, “Stras is quiet and doesn’t like the press.” Then he realized that might not sound too good, so he revised it to “Stras is quiet and reserved. Let’s just leave it at that. Stras is quiet.” He also reiterated that the shutdown was the right decision.

      • Steady Eddie - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:38 AM

        Agree that it’s an odd comment. I wonder if Cat was referring to the games earlier last season when Strasberg lost his cool at misplays behind him and he couldn’t maintain his concentration to get out of jams.

  10. Doc - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    Interesting quote about SS. Not quite the horse that he thinks he would like to be.

    There’s a guy trying to get in the HOF, that would pitch all you want, when you want, through-out his career, and rhymes with horse—Jack Morris by name.

  11. tcostant - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    “J.P. Howell, who sports a 4.10 ERA over his own eight big-league seasons, convinced the Dodgers to re-sign him for two years and $11.25 million.”

    Mark I expect better of you. Howell value is based on how he pitched the last few years. He is worth it and the Nats should have just given him a 2 year $7-8M dollar contract LAST YEAR.

  12. Section 222 - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Logan for three years makes no sense, but if Howell pitches like he did the last two years — a 2.48 ERA (ERA+ 149!) and a 1.122 WHIP in 122 appearances, it’s pretty hard to say he’s not worth $5.6 million a year. That’s certainly comparable to Clip (2 year stats – 3.07 ERA (127 ERA+) and 1.009 WHIP in 146 appearances, and we’ll probably pay him more over the next two years. Like tcostant, I wish we had signed Howell last year, and I was calling for him to be signed when Rizzo was claiming that Mattheus and Stammen were good enough vs. LH batters to go without.

    Then again, Blevin’s numbers the past few years are awfully good too — ERA 2.80, ERA+ 137, WHIP 1.069 in 130 games. If he can repeat that level of performance, I’ll be very happy with Rizzo’s decision.

  13. Joe Seamhead - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Interesting that the Braves have signed local boy Gavin Floyd who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Over his years with the White Sox he was pretty much about as average of a pitcher as there was in the AL. I wonder how the Barves will use him?

  14. Section 222 - Dec 17, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    I’m not worried about Gavin Floyd one bit. He’s apparently coming back from TJ surgery and won’t be available until June at least. I’m living in fear, however, that the Braves will trade for Price. The MLB Network guys said this morning said they have the kind of farm system that would make that possible. Any of our experts have a thought about that?

    Price, Medlen, Minor, Beachy, and Teheran would be a very formidable rotation.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 17, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      On Gavin Floyd, I thought this — from MLBTR — was interesting:

      “Despite pitching just 28 1/3 innings in 2013, Gavin Floyd inked a one-year deal with the Braves yesterday that is worth $4MM and could reach $8.5MM via incentives. That’s a fine payday for a mid-rotation arm coming off Tommy John surgery, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that Floyd could have been paid even more handsomely. According to Connolly, the Orioles offered Floyd a two-year deal that could have reached $20MM after incentives, but Floyd turned them down.”

      On David Price, I agree we (Nats fans) don’t want to see him in Atlanta, but I infer that the Braves big needs right now are not pitching, but concerns about their position-player depth-chart. If you include Dan Uggla — a stretch, I’d think — they’ve got decent enough starters pencilled in for every position, but it’s pretty shaky after that.

  15. jd - Dec 17, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    222,

    1) I disagree about Howell. No left handed specialist is worth this kind of money. The trick is to find the next Howell, the Braves did OK with Avilan. No? O’Flaherty is another story because he is more than a LOOGY.

    2) Price on the Braves is very scary indeed.

    • Section 222 - Dec 17, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      jd,

      Howell is not a “lefty specialist.” He’s topflight set up guy. He went more than an inning in 9 of his 67 appearances last year. He got two or more outs in the 7th inning or later in 37 of his appearances. His B-R WAR was 1.6 last year, .6 better than any of our relievers except for Clip (1.8). Yes, he has ridiculous splits against lefties, (164/.225/.227 with 36 Ks out of 110 ABs) but that’s not all he is. To me, $5 million a year is a very reasonable price for a reliever of that caliber.

  16. deelizzle - Dec 17, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Is O’Flaherty still an option?

    • deelizzle - Dec 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      If for nothing else, preventing the Braves from getting him?

  17. veejh - Dec 17, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Kind of a double edged sword here. Sign one of those big name guys and they do well, no one cares how much they cost. If they have an off year, it’s an entire year with the likes of Dan Haren. I’m not as upset at the Blevins signing now, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see how he pans out.

  18. David Proctor - Dec 17, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    The Braves don’t have what it takes to get Price. Here is what the Rays wanted from Cleveland for Price: Danny Salazar, Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor and another top prospect.

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/17/the-rays-demanded-the-world-from-cleveland-for-david-price/

    • jd - Dec 17, 2013 at 2:05 PM

      David,

      The other thing with Price, at least when it came to negotiations with Seattle is that he refused to discuss a long term deal, so he may just be a 1 year rental to whoever gets him. He’s not worth that kind of package for 1 year.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 17, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        That may — not sure, but that’s how I read the initial reports — have been a Seattle-specific refusal.

        Apart from that, though, isn’t he a two-year rental, as it were? I thought that was the main reason the Rays are shopping him now (i.e., they assume they’ll get a much better haul for two years of David Price than they will next off-season for just one year of him), but not desperate to move him.

        And don’t forget that as long as he’s on the roster for an entire season prior to his departure, the team (assuming they make a qualifying offer, which is a fair assumption) gets a first-round draft choice in return. So that’s adds another bit of value.

        Both of the above add up to my suspicion that the Rays won’t actually trade him until next July, at the deadline, or even next off-season. Unless, of course, some team is willing to give away its future for the sake of the present.

    • Section 222 - Dec 17, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      I was going to say you owed NL a drink for posting this link, but actually she owes you. 1:42 to 1:41.

  19. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 17, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Tampa could wait for July to make a deal and get more desperate suitors that aren’t in the fray now. I think Seattle is the place to trade with Zunino, Taijuan Walker and Hultzen. All controllable and low priced! Problem as mentioned is Price is not signing an extension there.

    • DaveB - Dec 17, 2013 at 4:36 PM

      They said (who knows if they will stick to it) that they were not willing to consider both Walker and Zunino. Also. Hultzen has a bad shoulder injury … definitely out this year … maybe for good. That’s part of why they have a need for Price now, but also gives them less flexibility on trade options.

  20. Section 222 - Dec 17, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    He might if offered Cano-like money…

  21. jd - Dec 17, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Sec 222,

    He may want to have the right to negotiate with anyone he wants instead of just one team.

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