Monday, November 10, 2008

Nationals to Sign Teixeira? Perrotto Thinks So...

With the official free agent signing period beginning on Friday, Baseball Prospectus's John Perrotto posted his free agency preview yesterday (password required), and the Nationals, you will be shocked to learn, were one of the most prominently mentioned teams in the article.

Perrotto actually goes way out on a limb and predicts that the Nationals will sign Mark Teixeira, a Maryland native, for 10 years and $200 million. He also mentions the Nationals as major suitors for Adam Dunn and A.J. Burnett.

The cynical, Needhamian response would be to just dismiss it all with an eye-rolling comment like, "Anyone who thinks Uncle Teddy's going to open his wallet and give 10 years and $200 million is a fecking moron. Tex gets that kind of money from the Nationals right after pigs fly and Elijah Dukes donates his salary to a battered women's shelter."

And that's certainly a legitimate point of view, shared by Boz and many others. Until the Nationals go out and break the bank on a big-time free agent, they will be vulnerable to this kind of argument. Nevermind that the team has been right in passing on blockbuster free agents in the two off-seasons (Barry Zito, anyone?). Nevermind that the truly dumb cheapness has been in their refusal to re-sign their own young stars (Zimmerman) and failure to sign high-round draft picks (Crow, Sean Black)--neither of which would have had a dramatic impact on their 2009 major league payroll. There's a certain set that will always look at the lack of blockbuster free agents and nothing else and conclude that Lerners = cheap, ergo, Nationals stink.

But this article suggests that someone in the Nationals organization is at least sending smoke signals to the press that they are serious about pursuing one of these top-tier bats, which in itself is curious. From the start, Stan and the Lerners have preferred an unapologetic PR approach when it comes to the payroll--instead of faking interest, they come right out and say they're not going after these guys because it doesn't fit their plan. That plan, as you all know, is to develop a core of young, improving players via the draft and trades, and then only when that group of rising talent is close to contending do you sign big-time free agents to fill a couple gaps and put you in the playoffs.

So what's going on? One possibility is that Perrotto called Bowden, and that Jim gave him some hyperbolic, puffed up rap about what a big player in free agency the team will be. We know Jim will go off message and say patently fabricated things just to draw attention to himself. Of course, if this is what happened, it doesn't speak real well to Perrotto's reporting skills. He should know better than to take Jim's word for it on anything.

Another possible explanation is that the team has no more intention of inking a blockbuster deal now than they did two years ago, but has decided that it would be smart to give people the impression that they want to sign a big name but were rejected. So maybe they're out there throwing numbers just for show but when the rubber hits the road will drop out and let the Yankees or Cubs outbid them.

A third possibility is that the team actually thinks that the plan has in fact progressed to the point that they are now one or two blockbusters away from contending. This is what Ken Rosenthal of ESPN reported on Saturday. This is probably the scariest scenario, in that it would confirm beyond even my most cynical fears that our Bowden-led FO is totally incompetent when it comes to player evaluation and self-scouting. Under even the rosiest scenario, this team is nowhere near the playoffs.

Then a final possibility is that the team doesn't really think they're all that close, but that they're spooked by the abysmal attendance and TV/radio ratings and have decided to make a bigger play for attention by overpaying for a big name.

If that's the case, I'll be disappointed. The main downsides to a signing like this would be that you a) saddle yourself to a guy who most likely well play will for crappy teams but decline sharply and become an albatross as the rest of the team is finally getting good, b) block the young, talented players coming up through the system, c) lose a draft pick, and d) can't spend that money on other, better ways either now or down the line.

As I've said before, if there's one position on the team where it doesn't make sense for the team to do something rash, it's first base. First, it doesn't make sense to just give up on Nick Johnson. He's way too good of an offensive player to decide he's washed up at 30. Because of the extreme injury risk, I want the team to have a better plan B in place than Dmitri Young (that's why I think signing a guy like Dunn would make sense, because you can use him in the outfield or at first base, depending on Nick's health). Also, their number one prospect, Chris Marrero is a first-baseman. And there's no position where offensive players are more readily available than first base. It's not like we won't have other chances to sign a big bopper to play first if Nick and Marrero both wash out. So if you're going to break the bank, first base seems like a bad place to spend.

Honestly, if the team was going to go in this direction, of handing out huge long-term contracts to guys who will be albatrosses after age 37 or so, I would have rather they'd just paid Soriano. He had all the personality and charm to be someone you could root for even after he got old and started stinking up the joint.

Here's one upside I hadn't considered. If the team does hand out a $150-$200 million long-term deal for a guy like this, it will at least spare us (for a while) the boring, cynical, "the Lerners will never spend so what's the point" stuff that has come to dominate so much of the chatter in the Natmosphere. Maybe then instead of just looking at the payroll, people will have to think about whether the players on the field are any good, not just how much they make.


Steve Shoup said...

I disagree Steven I would much rather sign Teixeira then Dunn. I would argue that its better to have a GG caliber firstbaseman and move Marrero back to the outfield then have a poor fielding LF and 1B. Also to me Marrero shouldn't be a factor when considering whether or not to get a 1B. He's 2 or 3 years away at best and he hasn't exactly dominated the minors. Don't get me wrong he's showed alot of promise before the injury but lets not make this guy out to be Longoria or Wieters.

If the Nationals want to make a long term FA signing to help show their commitment to their fanbase and give the team a "Brand" then Teixeira is the way to go. Even if that means an annual salary over $20 million a year and a contract between 8-10 years. In either case of Dunn or Tex you would be giving up a draft pick as compensation so that doesn't really weigh in. Both play non premium positions and both are under 30. Both have played the majority of their games in hitters parks so thats pretty equal as well. their career numbers are also nearly identical Dunn .247/.381/.518, Tex is .290/.378/.541 making their Runs Created per Game 7.3 to 7.5. If you look inside their numbers you will see that Tex is the more valuable hitter.

He is a switch hitter so he gives the Nats an advantage of being effective against both righties and lefties. Also if you look further at their splits you will see that Tex is a better hitter when it matters. He starts off slow in April but is hot down the stretch. Dunn starts off hot in april but always puts up worse numbers in September. Tex is the better 2 out hitter and hitter with runners in scoring position. He also is far superior to Dunn in hitting in the 7-9 innings. Now I know that some will say this is cherry picking stats but we are talking over 6+ year careers so the sample size is pretty decent. Also I'm not saying Dunn is a bad hitter just that he seems to fall short of his career numbers when it matters most, whereas Tex either meets or exceeds them. I think that is a telling stat line.

On top of that you have the defensive factor which is heavily in Tex's favor. Dunn at best is considered league average defensively but is probably more accurately a bit below. Teixeira on the other hand is widely considered among the best defensive 1B in the league. According to the fielding bible between 2006-2008 Teixeira had a +22 rating meaning he made 22 plays more than an average 1b. Dunn on the other had a -56 rating for LF during the same time period. Which was 3rd worst among LF's where as Tex was tied for 6th overall among 1B. Now there aren't stats for Dunn at 1B so its hard to say if he would close the gap that significantly but it does seem that Tex is the better defender.

Steven said...

The main reason for signing Dunn would be that you could maybe get him for 2-3 years, not 10. Secondarily, there's the position flexibility.

Either way it would silence the bo-ring Lerners are cheap crowd for at least a couple days, so based on that alone I'm coming around to liking the idea of blowing a huge wad on a big signing. In fact, from that perspective, the bigger the contract the better. And better yet, a total bust! That way, all the "just spend 100 million and we'll surely win!" crowd might really clam up.

Dave Nichols said...

if you're gonna give out a 10-year contract, Tex is about as good a guy to hang that on as anyone.

he's 29, an excellent fielder, a switch-hitter, and a local guy. what's not to like?

but until a free agent of any magnitude is signed, count me in the group that this is simply Bowden puffing his chest and taking advantage of an unsuspecting journalist.

Steven said...

DAve--agreed. If you're going to give 10 years to someone, Tex isn't a bad choice, except for the 1B backlog with Nick and Marrero.

But regardless I wouldn't spend 10 years on someone for this team where it stands now, at least 3-4 years from contending.

Will said...

Steven, don't ignore the fact that Marrero was never a 1B until this year. He was drafted as a 3B, then played in LF most of his time in the minors. I'd hardly define him as a 1B, and it wouldn't be hard to change him back to a left-fielder.

Regarding Tex, if we could sign him to a 7 year deal, I would jump all over it. A 36 year old slugger in decline would be much easier to bear than a 39 year old slugger. However, I'd be wary of signing Teixeira to a ten year deal, that could be potentially as harmful as Gilbert Arenas' contract will be on the Wizards.

Either way, I'd take Teixeira and a 10 yr/$200 mil contract. The 2006 Nats were (relative to other Nats teams) an exciting team to watch. If Tex could be Soriano, I'd be happy, as that $200 mil invested in Tex shouldn't prevent us from developing our farm system. Also, I'd be more content knowing that I had a Peter Angelos-like owner, who, though misguided, was willing to shell out money, instead of a Kevin McClatchy (Pirates) or David Glass-like owner (Royals), who was just a cheap bastard of an owner.

Steven said...

My understanding is that Marrero was moved to 1B because he wasn't able to play 3B or OF.

In any case, for me it comes down to not wanting to do something now that helps us get from 60 wins to 70 wins that makes it harder to win a world series in 2015.

If you're sure that Tex is going to be an elite 1B until he's 36, then go with god. Personally, I don't see the point, except to make a splash.

Steve Shoup said...

Making a splash with Tex is not a bad option. Its the type of deal that will pay for itself (no not fully) but you will have fans in the seats increasing the in stadium revenue. Also you will have a ton of Tex merchandise sold. The Nats only have one marketable player right now its time to add another piece. You will bring in millions of new revenue even if the nats don't win one more game then this past year. Also you prove not just to fans but agents/players that the Nats are a team to be reckoned with. Look at the Tigers they overpaid in 04 for Pudge but it sent a signal that the Tigers were no longer losers in the the Central. In the following years they were able to add FA's like Ordonez, Rodgers, Todd Jones. Now I wouldn't completely follow in their footsteps i wouldn't look to make trades for the Sheffields and Renterias of the world but the point is they turned around their success with a bigname signing.

Steve Shoup said...

See to me I don't see Dunn even accepting a 2-3 year deal, I think he will get between 4 and 6 years (esp. from an AL team). I don't think it would be worth it to give up a draft pick for 2-3 years of a guy who will most likely be playing for bad teams.

As for Marerro, Steven I think your right they moved him out of the OF b/c of his defense but if its worth paying a guy like Dunn $15 million to be a defensive liablity then why not pay a rookie $500K. The overall point is Marrero may never have any impact at any posistion for the Nats he is a great prospect but he's far from a sure thing, injury or no injury. Even if he had sucess at AA or AAA we still can't say he's a 'sure thing', look at Daric Barton from the A's guy killed Milb pitching had a great Sept callup in 07 but couldn't hit his weight last year. Also I do agree with you that its tough to give up on Nick Johnson but I just don't see how we could resign him unless he went on a tear this year. So if we are going to lose him I don't mind the nats finding a replacement.

Wil Nieves said...

does this take away all chance of tex or dunn?