Thursday, December 28, 2006

Irrational Exuberance

I'm getting really tired of the pro- and anti-plan arguments, especially when many of those on the pro-plan side are willfully (or maybe it's just ignorance?) distorting the anti- side. OMG, as always, sums up the case really well (and I'd link it if his site wasn't down now! -- check it out later), pointing out that the difference between the two sides isn't nearly as great as some would make it out to be.

The basic arguments against it, as exemplified in the comments to that thread, boil down to 1) They're going to spend money in the minor leagues and 2) Have patience. 2 isn't an argument and 1 has been demonstrated to be mostly false.

Now here's a real argument against jumping into the free agent market. There are some valid points here and some rhetorical distortions, but it's an attempt to have an honest debate. You could probably tell that I'd align myself with comments like 2.

But again, the basic constraints that I've argued for time and time and time again is that if the Nats were to move into the free agent market (only for pitching, an identifiable need) it would have to be in a manner that wasn't blocking players or prospects (certainly not a problem) and would have to be in a manner that didn't harm the long-term prospects of the franchise (ie: no 7-year deals to Zito).

It's easy to haul out Gil Meche and say that all deals are bad. But Vicente Padilla's deal wasn't bad, and it wouldn't cripple the franchise. Miguel Batista's deal isn't outrageous, and three years wouldn't harm the franchise. Even dreck like Kip Wells (1/$4MM) is a step up over last year. Both Padilla and Batista are above average starting pitchers. Batista's roughly similar to what Esteban Loaiza did for us in '05, and Padilla's even better than that.

To be clear, I completely understand that those pitchers would not push us to a pennant, but I've never liked the "All or nothing" strategy. That's what leads to Marlinsesque fire sales (see, I can argue disingenuously too!). What it's about is me being selfish -- shocking, huh? I want to see a team that has a chance. It's far more preferable to watch a team lose 3-2 than 10-4. Sure, a loss is a loss, but if I'm sitting in the seats, there's hope for the former. Not for the latter. And that's all I'm asking.

Could the money be spent better? Perhaps. The upgrades to the new stadium are a nice step -- and demonstrate the ol' irony that you have to spend money to make money. But to reflexively say that it's all going to the minors is just wrong. Some, sure. All, nope. If the money IS being spent better, then what they're doing is fine. We're starting to see some evidence of that, which was completely missing before. But, as always, I'm a skeptic first.

24 Comments:

  • IMO, there are more sides to the story. I wasn't a huge fan of Bowden's M.O. last off-season, signing Ortiz and other various marginal talent/washed-up pitchers and "serviceable" utility men. Remember spring training and all of the hype around Ortiz? To me, I'd rather have combined those contracts for a decent starter and used AAA guys as back-ups. But now, they won't even spend money on those guys.

    Let's get real, guys like Ortiz and Armas will never get us to the playoffs (or above .500). On one hand, we don't need them. But on the other hand, what can guys like Chico REALLY do, and what happens when they've thrown 100 pitches through 4 innings? I'm worried about wearing out young arms. At least Ortiz would eat innings.

    Lastly, there is no way we should be comparing ourselves to the Marlins (or Tigers). The Marlins got TOP PROSPECTS in return for all of their traded players. We got, in many cases, damaged goods.

    By Blogger James, at 12/28/2006 10:01 AM  

  • Your point about the Ortiz/Armas signings is a good one. It probably would've been better to spend $7 million on Loaiza than the $8 million or so they spent on Armas, Astacio and Ortiz.

    That's the Orioles strategy where 3 $5 million players are a better choice than 1 $15 million superstar. That rarely works.

    I'll be interested to see who they identify this offseason. They clearly need a veteran arm. And although they've given indications that they weren't going to do any shopping, that was also pre-Vidro trade.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 10:05 AM  

  • That's the Orioles strategy where 3 $5 million players are a better choice than 1 $15 million superstar. That rarely works.

    It can work, if the average guys 1) fill needs and 2) can stay on the field producing at an average rate.

    The hilarious thing about the O's is that they have tended to sign average guys who 1) couldn't stay healthy and 2) played positions were average production at a cheap rate isn't terribly hard to find. (E.g., Segui and Cordova.) And the really hilarious part is that the O's spent not $5M, but $7M, on Segui---

    Back in 2001.

    For four seasons into the future.

    By Blogger Basil, at 12/28/2006 10:18 AM  

  • You hit it there. Just like with the $15 million guy, if the $5 million guy is a good signing, it's a good signing; you just won't get as many wins from the $5 million guy.

    Their new LOOGY (Walker?) is a perfect example of that. He's a serviceable reliever, but there's no way they're going to get $5 million of production out of him.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 10:23 AM  

  • What, we still haven't signed Mark Redman?

    By Blogger Sam, at 12/28/2006 10:41 AM  

  • Redman's not a bad choice. He is, after all, a former All-Star now, and to some people, that might mean something! ;-)

    By Blogger Basil, at 12/28/2006 10:44 AM  

  • And he WAS the Royals pitcher of the year!1!11

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 10:48 AM  

  • Chris-

    As a fan who really started follwing baseball in earnest just since the Nats have been in town, do you have a basis of reference for what makes a "good" owner?

    You've often pointed out how Angelos, understandably, isn't one. What about Steinbrenner who sinks most of his profits on payroll?

    Or what about what Turner and Kasten did with the Braves?

    Are there any past examples of rebuilding plans you've really admired?

    Seems like it's always about the $$ to me. I mean the Lerner's themselves said all their improvements are really investments for future return. (Notice Boz's latest lovefest somehow never mentioned the marble facade he so harped on before) We can only hope winning is as sound an investment. One need only to look over to FedEx field to know that it's not necessarily so.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/28/2006 10:52 AM  

  • That's a really good question.

    Step one is that you want an owner with a plan. We've got that. They know the direction they want to head and how to get there, and value the farm system. That's already better than 1/3 of the teams in the league.

    Step two is someone who's willing to invest in the product in the field and grow revenues. The stadium will help increase some of the revenues, but there's more to it. (look at how the Yankees, for example, have started marketing towards Japan for extra $$$). We've got that with MASN and there should certainly be other areas to pursue.

    I also think that a good owner (and there are very few that fit this definition) is someone who isn't as focused on yearly profits in a given year, if it can lead to winning, which in turn brings in more revenue down the road.

    The Yankees are an outlier because of their market size, for sure, but up until a few years ago, they had never drawn 3 million fans. Now, the last few years, they've been over 4 million because they're reinvesting in the team.

    That's not to say that the Nats are in that position. They're certainly not. And definitely not at this point.

    All I want from the Lerners is a plan, which we have, and a willingness to have a major-league payroll on par with our market size/share -- which would be roughly at what Philadelphia is doing. The jury is still out on that one.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 10:58 AM  

  • If you were the Nats GM for a week starting today, what starting pitcher(s) currently on the market would you legitimately think we had a shot at? For how much/how long would you expect them to agree to sign with us for?

    It's sort of a rhetorical question. you've mentioned before that Batista and Padilla were signings that you would have liked the Nats to have made. For them to sign in DC, I think it would have cost us significantly more than what they got since the extra dollars would have likely been needed to get them to come play on a losing team.

    The question then becomes how much more than what they got would it have cost us to sign them and would that premium have outweighed the likely value they would have provided? In my opinion, probably not.

    By Blogger JammingEcono, at 12/28/2006 11:41 AM  

  • I haven't been around DC the past two offseasons, but hasn't Bowden typically waited until January to sign overlooked players (especially pitchers) to pad out the 25 man roster? So if correct, shouldn't we expect the same to come with the next 50 days?

    By Blogger Michael, at 12/28/2006 11:42 AM  

  • Michael -- yes, traditionally teams would (and should) wait until after the arbitration offerings and non-tendering was done. Those dates have been pushed up this year so there's no barrier to signing most of these guys anymore. I still do expect the Nats to sign one or two of those pitchers left scraggling out, even as they've publicly stated that they weren't really interesting in those types of signings.

    JE -- Currently on the market? None, probably. The game's already 3/4 over. It's too late to catch up. But we could've been in the game in the first place.

    Sure, there's a chance that neither Padilla nor Batista would be interested, but who'd have thought that Jeff Suppan would leave the Cardinals to play for the Brewers? Lilly wasn't a bad signing. Gred Maddux (especially on a one-year deal!) is probably worth it. There are alternatives in most of these cases. Even Kip Wells at 1/$4 might've been worth a shot.

    I'll admit that there's a chance that none of them would've signed, but we never tried. We won't know what could've been.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 11:49 AM  

  • Good point, Michael. IIRC, Loaiza was signed on 1/14/05, and Ortiz was signed on 12/29/05. Astacio was signed sometime in February or March '06.

    There's still time to get Redman or Jamey Wright or Ryan Franklin. ;-)

    By Blogger Basil, at 12/28/2006 11:50 AM  

  • We need some pitching to be competitive, and The Nationals can do this without busting the bank, and still move the franchise forward. The Owners do have a plan, and they are sticking by it. Until they prove me wrong, I am giving them the chance. Patience is a vitue.

    By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 12/28/2006 11:53 AM  

  • Also--Bowden has publicly stated they did make offers to one or two free agent pitchers. We don't know what Washington offered, or to whom, or whether it was even close to the hot market rates of today--most likely not--but I am sure no one is just standing around doing nothing.

    By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 12/28/2006 11:57 AM  

  • Yep. I'm just too short-sighted, ruing how the CHEAPEST OWNERS in the sport are ruining our WORLD SERIES chance this year. ;)

    Patience is a virtue, but if my girlfriend is cheating on me, how much patience should I have? ;)

    We're both basically on the same side. We just have different definitions of what would "bust the bank."

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 11:57 AM  

  • They admitted making a below-market offer to Tomo Ohka. I'm not sure who the other player is -- usually the Agents will leak this sorta thing to the press.

    But it all does go back to the article in the Post a few weeks back where they expressed practically zero interest in free agent pitching. I've gotta think that that was an exaggeration and that they're really not going to go with 5 kids. We all think they at least need another Ramon Ortiz -- some vet who can get the crap pounded out of him for 180 innings without retarding his development!

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 12:01 PM  

  • I know I'll get killed for this by the season ticket holders, but Steve Trachsel is a decent option for that purpose. Admittedly, 2005 was an injury year and he wasn't particularly effective in an innings-eating sense last season, but he does have a track record of pitching quantity with acceptable quality, he's "only" 36, and his perceived value couldn't be any lower.

    By Blogger Basil, at 12/28/2006 12:07 PM  

  • Chris: I have said it before, we are on the same page, just saying it differenty. As, as Basil just commented--Trachsel would be a fine fill in pickup. If he does well, the Nats would profit on him coming and going.

    As far as your girlfriend? Pound the guy!! Some things are sacred.

    By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 12/28/2006 12:28 PM  

  • God help us if it IS Trachsel! ;)

    Remember when SportsCenter ran the clip of him between pitches with the shot clock? Ugh!

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 12/28/2006 12:30 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Sam, at 12/28/2006 12:34 PM  

  • It's a new business model -- bring in five Trachsels and watch concessions soar. "Sure, we cut off beer sales after the Seventh Inning Stretch, but that's not till 11:45 PM."

    By Blogger Sam, at 12/28/2006 12:42 PM  

  • Adding league average starting pitchers for any length of time just isn't going to do much for the franchise. Are you saying that the Lerners's could make up the $10m per on say a Suppan because the team would go from 70 to 75 wins because of him? Not likely.

    One of the coins at the National's disposal is . . . playing time. Rooting around in the bargin bin, one of the inducements that the Nat's can offer that other teams cannot is guaranteed playing time esp. for starting pitchers. For a pitcher coming off an injury or a bad season, this might be a more powerful inducement than an extra $500,000 this year. And with RFK such a pitcher's park and a decent defense (at least at the infield corner's) some bottom of the barell pitcher or two will bite. Just tell them the story of Esteban Loaiza!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/28/2006 1:42 PM  

  • The real crux is how we view the management, with hope or with suspicion.

    I think something we overlook is that baseball teams are generally profitable (even more so when you dig a little deeper). So this idea of a equilibrium of money that is available to spend is silly. We aren't talking about a closed hourglass where the sand has to be in one end or another. We are talking about two buckets where the management can choose to fill up or empty out buckets at will. If they choose simply to move sand from one to another - that's their peroggative, but I'm not going to just accept that as their ONLY option.

    By Blogger El Gran Color Naranja, at 12/28/2006 3:35 PM  

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