Everyone from a local Washington Post columnist to the ESPN shouting heads to the local blogger dudes to the stat-heads to Jim Bowden himself say it's the dumbest effing thing they've ever heard.
That's the rare five-game sweep of disapproval. The argument goes like this: why on earth is a rebuilding team signing a 38-year-old back-up catcher? The Nationals need to go young! And they overpaid. Two years and $6 million is far too much for a washed up catcher.
I'm now in the heretofore unknown position of being the last remaining defender of a Nationals personnel move. Woah, lemme get my bearings.
OK, now I'm ready to respond. First, the Nationals need another catcher. No one disputes this. Jesus Flores, even if totally healthy, cannot be backed up by Jhonathan Solano. No way, no how. There's no one else remotely close to replacement level down there.
Wil Nieves is arbitration-eligible, meaning that his salary is due to jump closer to $1 million if you tender him a contract. So basically Nieves is a free agent.
Now, let's look at the options in free agency (the guys in italics are already signed elsewhere but were available at the end of the season):
You make the case who on this list is better than Pudge. Torrealba, I guess, but it sounds like he's headed back to Denver. Maybe Ramon Hernandez, though he's mostly washed up too. Bengie Molina's going to cost a draft pick, so that really doesn't make sense. Josh Bard anyone? Miguel Olivo? Jason Kendall? Brad Ausmus? Brian Schneider? Sure, Rodriguez isn't really much if at all better, but he certainly isn't worse.
Eliezer Alfonzo (31)
Brad Ausmus (41)
Paul Bako (38)
Rod Barajas (34)
Josh Bard (32)
Michael Barrett (33)
Henry Blanco (38)
Ramon Castro (34)
Chris Coste (37)
Toby Hall (34)
Ramon Hernandez (34)
Jason Kendall (36)
Jason LaRue (36)
Chad Moeller (35)
Bengie Molina (35) - Type A
Jose Molina (35)
Miguel Olivo (31)
Mike Redmond (39)
Ivan Rodriguez (38)
Brian Schneider (33)
Yorvit Torrealba (31)
Matt Treanor (34)
Javier Valentin (34)
Vance Wilson (37)
Gregg Zaun (39)
The outrage here is that the Nationals' player development system has been so terrible over the last 4-5 years that they don't have a replacement level guy to bring up as a back-up catcher. There's no Lou Marson or George Kottaras or Jason Jaramillo. I'm not talking about Matt Wieters or Buster Posey. Just a solid player who can give you replacement value for cheap. That's part of the player development department's job, and this team has failed to do that at the catcher position (not to mention first base, bullpen, outfield...).
Now, did the Nationals overpay? No question about it. They paid probably double what any other team would have spent. I believe that Rodriguez probably was getting offers around one-year deals for three million. But the Nationals do have to overpay to get free agents to come here. If they don't overpay, then they're going to be left with Gustavo Molina. And $3 million a year isn't that much money. The minimum wage is about half a million, so you're paying $2.5 million more than that, assuming he doesn't totally crater and get released at some point. Whatever. If $2.5 million extra in payroll stops this team from doing something that's really going to help, we're doomed anyway.
One could argue that Rodriguez is so washed up, that there really isn't much if any difference between him and Wil Nieves or Paul Bako or whoever else would be that last man standing. So it's not that costly, but it's still bad judgment. That's not a bad argument. But at least Pudge can field his position reasonably well. I don't think you can take that away from him yet.
You also can't totally discount the value of having a well-known future Hall of Famer on the roster. No, you don't want to go back to the days of Bob Short marketing Ted Williams managing an entire team of washed up has-beens like Denny McClain and Curt Flood. But I promise you that you will see lots of Rodriguez quotes in the paper and Rodriguez jerseys in the pro-shop selling better than anything other than Zimmerman, Dunn, and maybe Strasburg. Pudge is immediately one of their most recognizable players. So if the argument is that this is bad business, you have to factor in the additional revenue that will be generated by having at least one guy who casual fans have heard of.
If they had traded a C-level prospect or a rule 5 draft pick or signed Rodriguez as a type-A, costing them a draft pick, then I'd be against it. But this is just money. As it is, the Nationals payroll is only $60 million. There's no reason they couldn't add $30-40 million in payroll right now, and truth be told there isn't that much value out there to spend on anyway.
So is this a deal Nationals fans should be excited about? No. It's just a back-up catcher. But I certainly don't see why this is worth getting worked up over. I'd be much more upset about the Nationals' weak efforts in international free agency and they way they drafted for signability after Strasburg this year.