Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Prepare To Eat Crow, or Contracts DO Matter, Part 4

Taking everything I've written about our fair-haired hero Alf Soriano, (Part 1, 2, 3) it's time to put it all into context.

One point I want to make is how to evaluate the success of the trade. There's a good chance that Brad Wilkerson is going to out-homer Soriano next year. Does that mean that Wilkerson will have had a better season? Not necessarily. Because the run environment is so much lower at RFK, Soriano can put up lesser raw numbers and still be just as valuable as Wilkerson.

The trade, of course, wasn't just Soriano for Wilkerson. There were two other players involved. While it would have been nice had Bowden not given them up, losing them really isn't a problem.

Terrmel Sledge is a fun player, but he's not young. Sledge will turn 29 next year, despite having only 435 major league at bats. He's capable of starting, and will probably put up some decent numbers for a cheap price, but he was, at best, fourth on the outfield depth chart here. Combine that with the injury he's coming off -- a hamstring that literally ripped off the bone, and which is similar to the one that derailed Ken Griffey, Jr. over the last few years -- and his future was less than certain.

As far as the pitching prospect given up, Nationals Farm Authority projected him as a fifth starter, at best. I understand that we all want a deep minor league system. But what does it matter to have depth if all it's producing is the 11th pitcher on a staff?

Over the last year, the Nats were involved in waiver transactions with Ryan Drese, Claudio Vargas, Travis Hughes, and Sunny Kim. All those players were freely available. If you can grab those players, who are all about the same caliber that Galaragga projects to, why worry about losing him now when acquiring another player?

To me, at least, the trade comes down to Brad Wilkerson for Alfonso Soriano. I've laid out the case why I believe, that despite the OBP difference, that the Nationals won't really be losing anything offensively.

But there's one important difference: their contracts.

Brad Wilkerson will be a free agent at the end of next year. The Nationals would have controlled him for two more arbitration years. He, essentially, had a two-year, $14 million contract (estimating $5 million and $9 million).

Soriano, on the other hand, is a free agent at the end of the year, and will probably file at a figure closer to $11 million, and the team will probably file at closer to $9 million. Either would be for one year.

With the Nationals struggling to get pitching help, that $4 million difference in this year's salary could be useful.

In that light, I view it similarly to the Preston Wilson trade. It's addressing a need the team really didn't have, and burning up some resources in the process. Sure, Soriano is going to be an improvement over last year's Brad Wilkerson. But so would this year's Brad Wilkerson. It boils down to whether the upgrade from Soriano to (a healthy) Wilkerson (an upgrade which some doubt) is worth the downgrade from one of the good starting pitchers left, like Jarrod Washburn to Brett Tomko.

I think I'd probably rather have the pitcher.

We'll have to see what other moves Bowden has in mind. If he does trade Jose Vidro, which would have the double bonus of freeing up second for Soriano and more money for a pitcher, then it's an excellent move.

I'm inclined to lean against the trade, but I'm open minded. Soriano, if nothing else, is a vastly more exciting player to watch. And he's also more marketable because of his perceived value. Off-the-field it's a definite winner. On the field? We'll see.

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