Wednesday, November 12, 2008

30 Hours Later, why I Still Hate this Deal when Everyone Else Loves It

I've read a lot of comments on the trade, and it's clear, as I predicted Monday night, that most fans would be cheering this deal. And some of them made good points that caused me to re-consider my initial opposition. But after thinking and re-thinking, I'm still strongly against it. Not because I think we got fleeced--we didn't. We got solid value, arguably more talent, and it's because we leveraged a contract situation where the Marlins wanted to dump salary for whatever they could get.

So here's where I'm coming from. First, of course, there's a gap in how I evaluate Olsen versus where a bunch of other people are at. I just think he stinks and will be a clubhouse cancer. I hope I'm wrong. We'll see.

But it's clear from the comments that a lot of people would be happy with this deal even if it had been Willingham alone for Smolinski, Dean, and Bonifacio. If Willingham gives us 25 HR and a .270 BA for 2-3 years, as I would expect, that'll be worth it for most Nationals fans, it would seem. Even if let's say one of the guys we gave up (Smolinski's the most likely) becomes a solid starter himself. People want to see the Nationals get better now. For a lot of fans, the Nationals don't need to get great, they just want to eek towards respectability, and they want to see that improvement NOW.

If that's you, I can totally understand that. There's no right or wrong answer here. It's a value judgment. But you're going to disagree on my take on this deal, and not necessarily because of any difference in our player evaluations.

For me, I want to see the Nationals win the World Series, or at least contend. Nothing less particularly interests me. It's clear that's not happening in 2009, and probably not in 2010 even. So I'm not sweating those years. And I don't really care about the difference between 60 wins and 72 wins. Either way, you stop paying attention in June. And with the 60 wins at least you get a top draft pick.

To win a World Series, we need to assemble a roster of players who are all going to develop together and play well at the same time. Willingham may have a career year, hit 30 homers, and play in All-Star game this year. For me, it just doesn't matter all that much, because it'll be on a losing team. There's virtually no chance that Willingham at 30 years old will ever play for a contender in DC, because we're more than 3 years away, and he's most likely not even going to be a starter in MLB by then.

Smolinski, Dean, and Bonifacio may not pan out, but on the other hand, they might all be good enough to contribute to the First Great Nationals Team. It's not hard to imagine Smolinki being a solid .280 BA / 15 HR 2B by 2012. Certainly that's a high-end upside, but it could happen certainly. Bonifacio could be a gold glove 2B with 30 SBs and a .330 OBP in 2012 or sooner, which if he's your worst hitter, that's someone who can help a team contend. Dean could be a good fifth starter or bullpen arm for a contender. Those are all totally realistic upper-end projections.

So what are we doing? Are we working to build a contender, or using our assets to tread water around 70-75 wins? To me, with this move, it's patently obvious that the answer is the latter, not the former. Some people will say they want the team to do both--get better now and try to contend asap. And of course that'd be ideal. But I don't think it's realistic. There are trade-offs, and we just traded off the long-term for the short. And that's why I will never support this deal, period.


traderkirk said...

I would agree with your point especially if the Nats had given up anyone of long-term value.

But examine exactly what they gave up.

Smolinski was 4th at best in the MI pecking order among the U22 in the system . . . Smiley, Desmond and Espinosa are all ahead of him. So what was his upside with the organization? And oh by the way, how many functional knee ligaments does josh have at the moment. Answer: two. That's two short of optimal.

For Dean. TINSAAP. He might be good . . . he might go the way of Glenn Gibson. Remember him? Very good HS lefty in Vermont, traded for Elijah and then stunk to high heaven in low A for the Rays.

Even though Olsen was horible at times last season, in the end he finished with an ERA+ of 101 in 200 IP. That's league average. Your boy, Jon Garland threw 196 innings of ERA+ 91!!! And he's looking at $10m per! And he's 29 and not likely to improve.

24 year olds can and do improve, especially ones who K'd nearly a batter an inning at the big league level as a 22 year old. I'm not saying he will but the potential is there.

I do have to grant you the clubhouse cancer argument. He and Dukes gives the Nats two clubhouse cancer types and that's usually a recipe for disaster. Most teams can survive one bad personality but not two. OTOH, that's why a league average 24 year old lefty was available so cheap. Beggars can't be choosers.

Andrew said...

Yeah, but none of this is happening in a vacuum. Those voids can still be filled in any number of ways: other prospects in the system, drafting a college 2B or RP in the next 2-3 years, etc.

THAT SAID, I don't completely disagree. I understand the need to improve the on-field product now, but the next two years are throwaways regardless. Like you, I'd rather sit tight and take our lumps.

It'll definitely suck when Smolinski and Dean are closing out another title for the Fish in five years, though. Hopefully we'll have won ours the year before.

Cpt. Lance Murdock said...

I think you're letting recent rate stats and general jackassery color your perceptions.

Even factoring in his downturn and attitude problems, there is a substantially greater chance that Olsen will be a contributor on the First Great Nationals Team(*) than any of Bonafacio, Smolinski, or Dean. Adding up those three, and Olsen is I'd say at worst even with the field.

There could be a host of reasons why Olsen's velocity was down last year. It could be the precipice of injury, or it could be the effect of moving from Kranitz's instruction to Wiley's instruction.

(*)Copyright, Baseball Prospectus Writers' Group, 1998.

Steven said...

@Basil--that's a judgment call where we just differ. I don't think Olsen has any chance to be a part of the first great anything. But if you're right, then yes my overall assessment of the deal would be different.

Steven said...

@Basil--that's a judgment call where we just differ. I don't think Olsen has any chance to be a part of the first great anything. But if you're right, then yes my overall assessment of the deal would be different.

Fredrick said...

As a Marlins fan, FWIW, the '08 Olsen was a lot more mature than the '06-'07 variety. A lot of situations where he would've thrown a tantrum (e.g., back-to-back errors in the infield, giving up a critical homer, etc.) in '07 just didn't happen last season.

There was an ESPN article about his maturation, taking his craft more seriously, becoming the first teammate who'd help another one out after being such a hot head, etc. His comments on after being traded also shows a guy that has seemingly grown/is growing out of his hothead rep.

Steve Shoup said...

Steven I'd agree with you if we had given up any of our top prospects like a Burgess, Smoker or Smiley but I just don't see it that way. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with giving up second and third tier guys for above average major leaguers that we have control for 3 years. To me this is a much better option then signing Dunn (which knowing Bowden could still happen) and giving up the top pick in the second round. Yes Smolinski was a 2nd round pick but he wasn't what you'd call a "high-upside" pick. He projected to be solid but already had to move off SS and corner outfield. And as others had mentioned has some serious injury issues.

And yes Willingham and Olsen aren't going to fill the seats as Adam Dunn would but they will help to the Nats respectablity which isn't nothing. For the Nats to have any shot at any of the top FA's this year they would have to over pay in years and money and that is a bad use of resources. Next year if the Nats win 10-15 more games (no i'm not saying Willingham and Olsen are worth that much but hopefully a healthy Nats team plus them are) not only should it help with stadium attendance but also make the Nats a more attractive destination for Free Agents.

I don't believe respectabilty and building a WS team have to be divergent paths as long as one manages their resources itelligently. And here I think Bowden and the Nats did just that. Its not just the fans and media saying its a win for the Nats its baseball men like Keith Law and others also supporting this deal.

Steven said...

@Kirk and Steve--I hear what you're saying, and thank god we didn't give up any even higher rated prospects. But no prospect is a sure thing. The way you develop a core of talent is to get as many good young players as you can, because you're never sure who's going to pan out and who's not. That's especially true for pitchers. There's truth in the TINSAAP thing, but the lesson isn't that you should just sell off all your young pitchers for whatever you can get because pitching prospects never work out. In fact, the lesson is the opposite, that you really have to stockpile if you're going to get anything.

Back from 04-06, when Bowden was last in this mode, he shipped off a bunch of young guys, and some turned out to be Sueng Song. But some turned out to be Armando Galarraga or Billy Bray or Daryl Thompson. If there was a way to know for sure which is which, then being an GM would be easy. But if you're committed to developing a core of youth that will lead you to the promised land 3-4 years down the road, you have to stick to it, not lurch back and forth everytime Jim feels like he needs to make a splash.

Harper said...

I'm not sure why everyone is trying to reason with you. The site's name is "firejimbowden". This is where you go if you want the opinion of a guy who wants to see Bowden let go, not down the middle objective analysis.

no offense

John said...

According to Tim Brown over at YahooSports,"After witnessing Manny Ramirez’s impact on the Dodgers and their fans, the Washington Nationals and GM Jim Bowden are promising everyone they’re going to be players in the Manny bidding."
Another day, another crazy promise to go after a marquee free agent. Classic Bowden. It's funny and kind of sad at the same time.

Steven said...

@Harper--no offense taken--you don't have to like my blog. But I don't think that's a fair assessment of the site. I have my biases, and you have yours. This is a general Nationals blog, and the title is an attempt to be eye-grabbing, speak to the mood of the fanbase, and, yes, finger the guy I think is most responsible for the decline of the franchise.

But no one who reads this site with a fair mind would characterize it the way you do here. I give Jim lots of credit for the good things I think he's done--shoot, I've been the loudest and most consistent boosters of the Dukes acquisition. I gave mild support for the Rauch-for-Bonifacio trade. I applaud the Milledge deal, and the Ayala trade.

I don't believe this is a good move, and that's consistent with my long-stated belief that the team needs to keep using their assets to stockpile a core of youth that can get good together and peak around 2011-2012. This deal cuts against that, and so I don't like it. You've argued for more of a split-the-difference approach, and so it's not shocking that you supported this move (though initially you were with me).

And my assessment of Olsen is no secret--I blogged about him when he was with the Fish, so that's clearly nothing to do with some anti-Bowden bias.

I've presented my case based on facts. If you disagree with anything I've said, or if I get anything wrong, you should correct me. You may turn me around, and indeed I'd love nothing more than to be proven wrong and reap the enjoyment as a fan.

Steve Shoup said...

@John: Bowden has firmly comeout and said he has no interest in Manny (thank god). But the latest rumor from Ladson is the Nats have an interest in Carlos Gonzalez now from the Rockies, another one of Rizzo's boys. Maybe Bowden and Rizzo are having a competition of who can acquire more former players?

@Steven: Don't worry steven we all know you have one of the best Nats blogs.

Jim said...

I think by and large your most recent post rounds out the discussion. You have at least conceded that on paper, the Nats made out very well, and leveraged how the Marlins needed to dump salary. You also acknowledged that some fans may value adding true major league talent to the team for NEXT YEAR.

I am in that camp. I would rather enjoy a 72 win Nats team next year with a 15% chance of winning it all in 2011 or 2012 than another 60-win team with a %19 chance of winning it all in 2011-2.

Last year's AAAA team was just plain embarassing. Thank God my four-year-old thought it was cool to watch baseball with his old man, but too tender to know what horrible baseball we actually rooted for.

I just disagree with how much losing these three particular players will be a decrement to the critical mass of talent that is needed.

Also, another poster raised the excellent point that Bowden had to do something to demonstrate to a marquee free-agent that he would not be surrounded by complete crap of a team around him. There is value in that. Should Bowden land Dunn, who's to say that this trade would not have tipped his hand toward giving it a go in Washington?

Looking forward to something better than 59 wins next year!

Grover said...

Why don't you think that Willingham can be a part of a quality team in 2011 and beyond? I believe he's under contract until 2011 or 2012, and PECOTA projects him to go for 20+ HRs and a .365 OBP or thereabouts in 2011 and 2012. Sounds to me like a perfect 4th outfielder/pinch hitter on a contending team, especially when you factor in his position flexibility.

Granted, he's not a game-changer, but considering what we gave up I don't think it's a bad deal at all.