Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Nationals Are Big Fat Cheapskates

Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be falling all over myself impressed with the Nationals' reported offer of 8 years and $160 million for Mark Teixeira. Well, you know me. Everyone else zigs, I zag. Or something like that.

No, I'm talking about the one actual piece of real news today--the Nationals tossing aside Jesus Colome.

I understand that Colome is clearly not a huge loss. He was really the epitome of the mop-up man this year, logging a pitcher's leverage index (pLI) of 0.65, the third lowest in the NL (LI is a measure of the importance of the innings pitched, with average leverage equaling 1.00 and the typical closer around 1.7 t0 2.0).

But Colome is not a bum. Yeah, he's slow as molasses on the mound. But if he's the sixth or seventh man in your bullpen, you're doing ok.

Last season he finished with a 4.31 ERA, respectably close to the NL reliever average of 4.09. He was a touch lucky, with a BABIP of .275 and a fielding independent ERA was 4.50, but he's always been able to miss bats, striking out 6.97 per 9 in 2008 (career 6.94). Without a doubt he walks too many (4.94 per 9 in '08), but if he didn't he'd be a set-up man, not a mop-up guy.

And let's look at the Nationals bullpen: it's Joel Hanrahan, Saul Rivera, and... Bueller? Bueller??

OK if things work out maybe Mike Hinckley and Steve Shell fill two more spots. You're still short three arms in the typical seven-man bullpen. Garrett Mock could be another reliever, but he really deserves a shot at the rotation. Bergmann could be another, but we may need him to start too, especially if Redding and Perez aren't back and we really aren't in the market for any major-league SPs. Marco Estrada? Come now. And if Rivera finally breaks down and/or Hanrahan regresses, things could get real ugly real fast.

Like him or not, Colome would have been one of just three relievers going into the 2009 season with any kind of major league track record. If seven guys can beat him out in spring training, great. But there's no reason to just show him the door.

Except money. Colome earned $1.25 million this past season and was arbitration-eligible, meaning he was guaranteed a raise of probably another half mil or so. The major-league minimum is around $400k, so you can basically chalk this move up to Mark and Teddy tossing aside a perfectly useful relief arm for about a million bucks, which, in the economics of major league baseball is chicken feed.

I understand as well as anyone that middle relievers are incredibly erratic and rarely worth getting worked up over. Jesus Colome is no exception. And there's a reasonable chance that we'll find someone on the same scrap heap where we found Colome who will put up numbers similar to what Colome will do in '09. But are we going to find four or five more guys who will do as well as Colome in 2009? I wouldn't bet on it.

Bottom line, Colome is no savior, but if we really intend to dip 2-3 arms deep into our stock of replacement arms, we're playing with fire and setting ourselves up for another 100-loss debacle.

23 comments:

Brian said...

Seriously?

When you look up fungible RHRP in the dictionary it says see Colome, Jesus.

Criticism of that move is just looking for something to pick on.

Sean Hogan said...

I think the move is more to clear a second spot on the 40-man for the Rule V draft. If memory serves me correctly (not positive it does), Morlan is basically a younger, cheaper, possibly better version of Colome.

Steven said...

@Brian--Well of course I'm looking for things to complain about. I'm a grump like that.

But who are the 7 guys in your bullpen next year? I don't dispute your characterization of Colome's value. I called him "the epitome of the mop-up man" in the post.

But he's only fungible if we've got some replacement arms to funge with. I'm not sure we do.

You think they have 2-3 more down on the farm who can give them 60+ or more innings without immolating? If so, I'll feel better.

Brian said...

Tyler Clippard, Luis Atilano, Matt Avery, Preston Larrison, Ryan Wagner, Craig Stammen, Steve Schmoll, Andrew Kown, Bobby Brownlie, Zack Segovia, the list is honestly endless. Throw a bunch against the wall and I bet you one of them turns into a fungible RHRP

RH relief pitchers can be found rather easily. RH relief pitchers like Colome who are nothing more than mop-up guys are all over the place.

Look at this list of free agent relievers. And that doesn't even take into account the slew of non-tender RH relievers that will flood the market in a couple of weeks.

Steve Shoup said...

Steven: I agree with you on this one, whether he was replaceable or not is not the issue, he's a ML arm (albeit not a very good one) but for a bullpen that has lost Rauch, Cordero, and Ayala in the last year he was an arm of expierence. Also even if he won arbitration he could have been released during spring training and the Nats would only have to pay like 20% of his deal or something like that. It would have been one thing if like Cordero he would have gotten $5-6 million but $2 mil come on.

Steven said...

@Brian--We'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Maybe I'm not sure I know what you mean by 'fungible,' but I don't agree that the list of guys who can be counted on for 60-70 innings of mid-4s ERA relief pitching is endless.

Craig Stammen's ERA in AAA was over 7 last year. Same for Bobby Brownlie. Wagner can't be counted on until he actually starts throwing. Atilano's a guy who has exactly 6 innings above high A. I don't see any evidence that Tyler Clippard can succeed in the bigs in any capacity.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know, so it must just be that you think much less of Colome than I do. I just don't think the production he's given us can be replaced that easily. There's a big difference between 60-70 innings of mid-4s pitching and mid-7s. You can't even mop up if you can't get guys out.

Steven said...

I'll also say that if this was the 2006 Nationals bullpen anchored by Chief, Rauch, Majewski, Rivera, and at this stage we still thought Ayala would be there... well then I'd be more comfortable throwing that list against the wall to see who sticks in for the last spot in the pen. But I don't feel confident in anyone we have back there really other than Rivera. Even Hanrahan still seems like a disaster waiting to happen, and the rest is just a bunch of "throw it against the wall." Given that, I don't think we can afford to toss aside someone like Colome. Not over money.

John said...

The Willy Taveras rumors just. won't. die.
"A potential deal died late Tuesday over apparent concerns about Willy Taveras’ left leg stress fracture. However, a Natonals’ source said that the bigger issue was a medical issue with a pitcher Washington was to receive as part of the deal. That leaves the lingering possibility that something could get done Thursday following the Rule 5 draft." Troy Renck at the Denver Post.
At least it sounds like it wouldn't just be Taveras coming back to Washington. And he might have some value as a 5th outfielder, not that we don't have a slew of them already...Forget it. No matter how hard I try, I just can't talk myself into Willy Taveras.

Steven said...

I echo what Bottomfeeder Dave said about Willy Taveras. More evidence that our biggest problem is NOT payroll, but the inability to effectively evaluate players.

Will said...

Here's how I rationalize the Colome move...
The Nats have 38 men on their 40 man roster. The Rule 5 Draft happens on the last day of the meetings. The Front Office determined that a guy like Donald Veal or Eduardo Morlan, who could likely do everything Colome did (pitch in low-leverage, mop up innings), but with potential to be MUCH better than Colome. When assessing space on the 40 man roster, the FO decided Colome was the most expendable.

This also makes space for the Nats to sign a player (Tex?) in addition to a Rule 5er.

Regarding the Taveras rumors, I find them really concerning. Willingham, Pena, Milledge, Dukes, Kearns, Harris. Am I forgetting anyone? Where will all these guys play!? Unless one of these 6 OFers is part of the deal, what is the logic in acquiring a terrible hitting, average-to-poor fielding OF?
Explain why we are trading one of our thinnest area (starting pitching) for our deepest stregth (OF)? It doesn't make any sense.

Steven said...

If dropping Colome was about the rule 5 draft (and even Bowden said it was money), I would suggest there are guys with less value whom we should be dropping first. Mike O'Connor for one. Marco Estrada, Tyler Clippard. Hell, we're going to eat Wily Mo Pena's contract sooner or later, so we may as well do that now.

Even if you add Morlan and one of Brian's guys pans out, we're still light 1-2 arms.

Will said...

I agree. There were better players to drop off the 40 man roster. However, I'd hold onto Clippard. We're equally as weak with SPs as we are in RPs. And if these Redding rumors are true, we're going to need someone to eat Redding's innings.

Are you planning on writing a post about Teixeira? Because I think the offer is great. Not because of the "The Nats have no chance of signing Tex, but it feels good to be noticed!" attitude so many people are taking, but because the Lerners no longer have an excuse to claim to not have that extra money to sign those extra draftees (see: Aaron Crow and JP Ramirez). If we're willing to spend at least $20mil/year on Teixeira (which I think is very unlikely he'll sign), then that means the Nats have $20mil/year that can be used towards Strasburg & 9B or on other free agents in 2010.

Steven said...

I pretty much said what I think about Tex in my post responding to Boz's latest post calling for us to sign him.

http://firejimbowden.blogspot.com/2008/12/comp-and-circumstance.html

Personally, I would like to see them make the move just so that the Nationals fan base can get off this one-note "Lerners are cheap" stuff. The Lerners deserve to be criticized for some of their decisions, as I have, but so many people are so fixated on payroll = wins and are getting cynical about the whole process. So it would make my fan experience more fun if nothing else by changing the subject a little.

But bottom line I think there's no better than a 20% chance of an 8-year contract working out as a good idea. About a 30% chance of total disaster. Probably we get 2-3 years of elite play for shitty teams and then 6 years of wicked expensive mediocrity, a la the Fred McGriff career trajectory. Maybe he'll be a complimentary player on a contender some day. I don't see him ever being an elite player on a contender in DC. So that makes it hard for me to do backflips. I just really don't care that much about the difference between 100 losses and 90 losses. That's just me.

JayB said...

Steven,

Yet more examples of the intangibles stats do not tell you.....when Colome enters a game, TV's get turned off and stands empty.....both things cost money. Also those stats are just junk in this case because often teams are so far ahead when Colome pitches that they leave pitchers in to hit and take out starters for defensive replacements......sometimes it pays to take your head out of the stats and watch the game. Sometimes house cleaning makes sense, and I agree that part of that house cleaning should be Estrada, Casto, Montz, and Pena……let us hope.

Steven said...

Jay--maybe it's just the opposite. In 2007, Colome had an LI of 1.03--basically exactly average level of importance. And his ERA was 3.82. in 66 innings. Maybe he's one of these guys who struggles to focus in low-leverage situations.

The other thing is given how hard you are on Manny, why aren't you screaming bloody murder that Ayala was getting all the high leverage innings 5.77 ERA, while Jesus was mopping up with an ERA almost 2 runs lower?

JayB said...

Also are you really saying, in the same post and comments no less, that the Nats are too cheap to pay Colome and that will hurt the team for next year and saying spending money next year on Tex is not helping the team.....interesting logic.

JayB said...

I know the issue is your view that Tex only worth a few wins in your stat world, and I see Tex worth so much more than runs and defense....respect of media, moral, creditability with peers, fan support, tv rating, list goes on and on.....

JayB said...

Re Manny.....I think you know I already have pointed out countless times how poor a job Manny.....use of the bull pen is just one of them.....bottom line on Manny for me is that he does not manage games to win. He manages games in hopes of developing a player at in the ML instead of AA like they should or with Lo Duca and Lopez in hopes of increasing trade value....how has that worked for this team......It is past time for a manager who focus on the product on the field and winning games now.

Steven said...

@Jay--I never said Tex won't help us next year. I never said we shouldn't sign him. But a long-term deal has to be assessed based on the life of the contract, and if Tex's career trajectory is like Sexson's or Hrbek's, an 8-year deal will be a disaster. That would mean great production for another couple years and then total cratering.

traderkirk said...

Here's a question. What would you say if the Nats announced they had just signed Brandon Lyon for a 1 year @ $1.5 million?

Steven said...

I would say Brandon Lyon should fire his agent.

JayB said...

Steven,

The Nats must take that chance....they have to improve the product. It is some risk but if they did not do the 2007 - 2008 Fick, Logan, Lopez, Kearns nightmare then they would have more options, but now they must improve now......They choose to gamble not being so bad and lost big time……now they must pay the price for bad decisions the past two years.

gus said...

The Nats Tex offer is a ruse or at best a bone for Boras. Makes fans think we really would pay $20M to a player if its the right guy. More importantly, it created needed buzz for Tex in a tepid market or at least one where teams were playing coy/wait and see. I can only hope there was a "gentleman's agreement" during Boras, Teddy meeting which said, if you lay down offer for Tex, I'll help you land Strassburg next year. If that's the case, then the Tex offer is much more the postive PR buzz for Nats fans.