Friday, October 9, 2009

Non-Tender this Meat

Major league players with more than three but fewer than six years of service time are eligible for salary arbitration. The quick skinny is that arbitration-eligible guys generally get less than free agents, but a lot more than guys in their first three years. And you basically never take a pay cut in arb.

The Nationals have eight players who are arbitration-eligible: Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett, Logan Kensing, Wil Nieves, Mike MacDougal, Scott Olsen, Pete Orr, and Josh Willingham.

Other than Josh Willingham and Sean Burnett, they should non-tender all of them.

Guys like Bergmann and Kensing would all probably get around $750k to $1 million. If Rizzo really wants to bring back Kensing on a minor league deal, fine. But that's it. Bergmann could certainly provide $1 million in value, but not the way he's being used.
If no one else is interested, then they could bring him back for a little more than he's getting now.

But the team would probably be doing Bergmann a favor by making him a free agent. He could throw 100 scoreless innings to start the season, and he'd never get a shot at starting here. If he went to San Diego, he could be next year's Kevin Correia. Seattle's outfield defense would do him a world of good. Kansas City, Oakland, or Cleveland might be interested. No one's going to sign him to start on opening day 2010, but he should be in an organization that hasn't decided he can't ever start ever.

Tendering MacDougal a contract would be a disaster. He made $2.65 million in 2009 (paid by the White Sox) and has a $3.75 million club option with a $365k buyout for 2010. So he stands to make over $3 million next year in arbitration. He's not worth half that. Yeah, he saved a lot of games, but the guy can't find the strikezone with both hands. We're talking about a guy with 34 strikeouts and 38 unintentional walks in 54.1 innings. He's got a giant blinking light on his head that says "stay away." Over his last 12 appearances, he had a 9.28 ERA. That, my friends, is the real Mac. If they want to bring him back on a bargain-basement deal (ideally a minor league deal) as an "in case of emergency pull glass" option for the set-up man, fine. But that's it.

Tendering Scott Olsen a contract would be no better. He also stands to get around $3 million in arb, and chances are his days as a useful major league starter are over. His velocity this year was 88.0, basically the same as the 87.8 last year, and light years from the 90.9 he averaged in his one good season. Again, if you want to pay him the minimum or sign him to a minor league deal, fine. But that's all.

If someone wants to argue that Pete Orr should get $750k or more, feel free. Ditto Wil Nieves. These are totally fungible, not even replacement level guys. And they aren't even young. I'd be shocked if the team doesn't non-tender these guys.

Sean Burnett is actually a debatable case as well. I would go ahead and tender him a contract, mainly because the team's relief pitching is so dire. But really he's barely more than a LOOGY. He had a 3.12 ERA with a silly .201 BABIP. Once that regresses, his 4.37 walks per 9 will turn into a lot of runs. He can cut that number, but still he's not the kind of guy you really want to go to arb with unless you really have to. Sadly, the Nationals really have to.


Positively Half St. said...

This is certainly the value of your blog distilled to one entry. Since the loss of Capitol Punishment, I think you are the most likely to come right out and say these unpleasant truths about the team.

I can't say I disagree with you on any of it, especially when you suggested that Bergmann might be better off. I still have a have soft spot for him since the days he communicated with us on Nationals Journal.

I just don't understand the idea of giving Logan Kensing any kind of additional chance. He has been utterly awful for the Nats, last game notwithstanding.

Todd Boss said...

I'll arguments to non-tender most of these guys (even Olsen, who they may offer a contract because $3M is a useful gamble on a guy who at one point really was a decent starter (12-10, 4.04 era/1.30 whip as a 22-yr old for a bad Marlins team).

But I'll never understand some people's obsession with Bergmann. He's got a career 4.97 era. Only by virtue of a decent finish was he able to get his 2009 numbers below the 5.00 era level. In 22 starts in 2008 he had 9 quality starts and just as many lines like "3ip 10hits 6 runs."

You talk about "fungible skills?" I say that getting a right handed middle reliever who throws mid 90s and has a 5.00 era is pretty much the definition of the term.

Non-tender him, take a gamble and move on.

Steven said...

I'm for non-tendering Bergmann.

Anonymous said...

Burnett a LOOGY? He faced more righties than lefties this season and held them to a .176 BA (Lefties hit .186)He's the NL Leader for lefties preventing inherited runners from scoring. My gosh, do some research before making goofy statements.

Steven said...

"Barely more than a LOOGY" is not "a LOOGY." It's "better than a LOOGY, but not much."

Here's his career splits:

Against RHP: .277 / .369 / .437
Against LHP: .221 / .302 / .340

This year, he was very good against righties, but that was a) in a small 125-PA sample, and b) with a .188 BABIP against them. A lot of guys would look great if they could count on a .188 BABIP.

Also, with his injury history, his usage is limited. So even if his numbers were better than they are against righties, you'd be foolish not to try to match him up against lefties, considering that you're probably only going to be able to use him for 55-60 IP or so anyway.

Besides, how he's USED is different than what he is. Manny Acta used Ray King against righties for a while.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm, ok. Lets take one at a time. a LOOGY is defined as a Lefty One Out GuY. Barely a LOOGY -we can probably figure that out. But since you've got the stats there, how many of Sean's appearances as a reliever this season - 71 - were for 1 batter? How about 2008?

Lefty specialist? In both of his years as a reliever (2008 and 2009) he's faced 236 righties and 173 lefties. Again, not even close to being "barely" a LOOGY.

Injury history? After undergoing both Tommy John and labrum surgery in 2004, he made it back to the big leagues in 2008 and hasn't seen the DL since while making nearly 130 appearances. His injury this season - a ball back to the mound that went off his pitching hand. Hardly an injury that causes one to question the durability or health of his arm. "with his injury history, his usage is limited" Really?

Steven said...

On the LH:RH ratio, that's actually a pretty heavy skew towards lefty match-ups.

But again, it's really not a question of how he's been used as how he ought to be used.

I think you're more taking issue with the term "loogy" than my point. Every "loogy" isn't literally used only to get one out. They all pitch full innings or face a righty wrapped around 2 lefties with some regularity. Even the most extreme "loogy" guys--Shouse, Eichen, those types--still have to be able to get some righties out sometimes, or else they can't be in MLB.

Really it's about how you'd use him late in a close game. He's not a closer. If you used him with an eye on match-ups in the 7th inning of a one-run game in a pennant race, that would be solid. More than that, and you're probably asking for too much.

Pitching for the Nationals and Pirates, those situations don't exist, so lefty-specialists become set-up men or closers. And the bullpen is awful.

As for the injury history, you're saying he's had TJ and labrum surgery. Oh, is that all? You mean, he hasn't had his arm amputated and reattached? No gunshots to the head?

He was a top pick and a starter, got really bad injuries, and has worked his way back to a helpful role, but given his health, his innings have to be monitored. That's not my opinion, that's Burnett's history.

Basil said...

a LOOGY is defined as a Lefty One Out GuY. Barely a LOOGY -we can probably figure that out. But since you've got the stats there, how many of Sean's appearances as a reliever this season - 71 - were for 1 batter?

17 out of 71, 7 out of 33 as a Nat.

Not sure how that would compare to real-life LOOGYs, but it should be noted that the term LOOGY contains a description rather than a definition. It's hard to find LOOGYs who consistently face one batter at a time, because it's hard to manage a pitching staff that way.

For instance, TLR used what one might call two Hard-Core LOOGYs this season: Miller (70 G, 43.2 IP) and Reyes (75 G, 41 IP). These are pretty extreme G/IP ratios. Even so, Miller's one-batter outings were 27 in 70 G, and Reyes was at 23/75.

And it's hard to shield even Hard-Core LOOGYs from righties. Miller had 66 PA against RHB to 107 PA against LHB, while Reyes was 72 to 108. Perhaps the typical LOOGY is closer to a 1:1 ratio; I don't know.

At any rate, the Burnett discussion is entirely academic. There is no way in hell that he's not tendered a contract.

Section 222 said...

You make a compelling case here, but I'd be interested in your predictions on what the Nats will do. You said you'd be shocked if they offer arbitration to Nieves. I'm not so sure about that given the uncertainties at catcher. And I really fear that the one place where Rizzo will not take your advice will be MacDougal. That would be tragic, as you have convincingly argued. Not so much because of the money, but because it will assure that he will be the annointed closer next spring. And that worked out so well with Hanrahan.

Steven said...

the Burnett discussion is entirely academic. There is no way in hell that he's not tendered a contract.

Correct--and I don't think anyone's gonna argue that he should be non-tendered. My point was just that on a good team with a decent bullpen, this is the kind of guy that you would probably want to non-tender, because really his value is pretty replaceable.

The guys I'm most worried about are Olsen and MacDougal. Mac especially--that would be a replay of the old JimBo falling in love with his own dumpster finds, like Dmitri Young.

estuartj said...

What exactly are the rules for paying a player after arbitration is awarded?

I think the team will tender Olsen and take it to a hearing, which they will lose (intentionally low ball him), but then if he isn't "up to snuff" in ST you can release him just like Shawn Hill and only be responsible for 20% or whatever of his salary.

Much better bet than just cutting a player loose.

Anonymous said...

OK - lets review. When shown that there is really no basis for calling Burnett "barely more than a LOOGY", you simply changed the definition of LOOGY (which is funny cuz there's no real ambiguity there) So what we now have is gradations of LOOGY. Tony Fossas - Classic LOOGY. Sean Burnett - "barely more than a LOOGY". Lets just call it a "Steve LOOGY" which means "a lefty reliever who faces more righties than lefties."

Sean Burnett is a "Steve LOOGY" would be the accurate statement.

As for limited usage because of his injury history - he didn't have any of those maladies you so cleverly stated - he had arm surgery FIVE YEARS AGO! So, again to be acccurate you're statement should be "Burnett's injury history of arm surgery 5 years ago at age 22, limits his usage in the future."

When you make general statements that are baseless, you lose credibility. Stick with your stats.

Howie69 said...

First time, long time, Steven. (I've always wanted to say that, like all those goofy talk radio callers!).

I completely reject your analysis on Sean Burnett, but as the saying goes, we can agree to disagree.

You make the statement ..."but given his health, his innings have to be monitored. That's not my opinion, that's Burnett's history." That is most definitely an opinion! Nobody in Nats' management nor any of the medical personnel are saying that Burnett's innings have to be monitored. You, and you alone, made that assertion.

Based on the way Burnett performed this season, he clearly is 100% healthy and totally recovered from his TJ and labrum issues of the recent past.

I'm convinced Sean will be a key component of a much improved, we all hope, Nats' team. I feel Sean can be a very reliable 8th inning setup man in our pen, which almost has to be better than this year's decrepit version.

Like I said, we'll agree to disagree on the value of Burnett going forward.

P.S. -- Keep up the great work, Steven. Your blog is clearly the best one on our Nationals.

Dave Nichols said...

anonymous, what is your deal?

if you want to talk about credibility a) sign your name to your comments, and b) figure out the difference between your and you're.

Steven said...

I don't know what to tell you guys. A pitcher has a TJ and a torn labrum, and you don't think his usage should be monitored at all?

Sheesh. Stay out of the training room, ok?

Anonymous said...

Wow - you got me Dave. Great comebacks. Jeesh. Nice picture by the way. (So if I put up a goofy picture and called myself Bill, would I have credibility like you?)

Steven said...

estuartj--yeah, basically what you said is right. Except ususally they never go to the hearing--the player negotiates a deal with the team. Arb hearings aren't fun because the team has to stand there and argue why you actually suck too mcuh to get what you're asking. There have been incidents of players being really burned up about it and carrying it into the season.

In Olsen's case, there's not really much point in low-balling if you're going to tender a contract. Guys rarely take pay cuts in arb, so a low-ball would just mean offering him the same as what he's getting now or a tiny bit more. Which is way more than he'd get on the free market. So you non-tender him and negotiate a better deal, even if you think he's worth keeping. Personally, I don't see the point in wasting more time with Olsen.

Rich said...

Wouldn't it be better to try and trade these players instead of non-tendering them?

Anonymous said...

Dave- improper use of "your" and "you're," ellipses (...), and other punctuation are telltale signs that anonymous is JayB. There are also the patented nitpicking rants and personal attacks when he disagrees with something that Steven writes.

Jay-It's fine to disagree and hold a different opinion, but you can do so without attacking the author (see: Howie69).

JayB said...


Nope not me.....maybe someone else does not agree with that possible?

estuartj said...

Steve, my thought regarding Olsen is this; If you non-tender him you know longer have exclusive rights and he can easily sign elsewhere and IF he rebounds and becomes the next John Smoltz (he won't of course) you get zippy.

By tendering him a contract and NOT negotiating a deal AND losing arbitration you maintain team control, but if he fails to rebound you release him and only pay a fraction of his salary. Basically you pay him 20% (or whatever) to bet on a return to form.

One note is that under the CBA you can NOT release a player in this scenario for salary reasons. What the definition, trigger and consequence of that is unclear, but I think the Shawn Hill episode last year is very instructive on how this would work.

I say this only to preface my own comments when Olsen IS tendered this fall and everyone goes bat shit over how dumb it is.

estuartj said...

No longer not know longer, I need more coffee!

Steven said...

Thanks for the reminder on the Hill scenario. I felt like I was forgetting something about that situation, and that sound right.

Section 222 said...

Steven, I'm assuming you get notified of comments so posting this here. I'm wondering what you think of Section309's comment (reprinted below) at NJ about the upcoming decision on Olson. Have you changed any of your views on which players to non-tender?

"You talking about Olson? Your scenario can't happen. Well, it could, I suppose, but why would Olsen sign a contract that would pay him less than what he'd get in arbitration? He won't. If nothing else, his agent won't let him. And the whole point about non-tendering Olsen is that some cheapos around here don't want to spend $1M or so more than they think he's worth, so they suggest that he'll be non-tendered. Wrong. If they non-tender him, it would be because they think he can't pitch any more, which based on the medical reports doesn't seem to be the case. So they'll go to arbitration with him, and if perchance he really is washed up there's plenty of time to find that out during spring training and Patterson him to save paying 75% of the arbitration money. That's a gamble they'll take, because if they non-tender him some other team will pick him up before you know it. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and right now Olsen is a bird in the hand for the Nats."

Steven said...

section 309 is wrong--players get non-tendered and re-sign with the same team all the time. Especially lousy pitchers like Olsen who's unlikely to catch on as a starter anywhere else.

He also doesn't know how to spell Olsen's name.