July 31, 2007

Drop Deadline

It's looking more and more like the trade deadline will come and go without any moves from the Nationals front office, and I'm getting more and more okay with that. With Belliard and Young under long-term contracts the team's most attractive trading chips are reliever Jon Rauch, closer Chad Cordero and outfielder Ryan Church. All are young (or young-ish) none are on the cusp of free agency, and only the Chief makes anything like big money.

The Nationals are not the San Francisco Giants. They don't have a pressing need to get younger for the sake of getting younger. Trading guys in their mid-to-late 20s for guys in their early 20s just because the latter are prospects is every bit as dumb as holding on to guys in their mid-to-late 30s just because they are established vets. (Hi Dmitri!) The whole point of the operation has to be to get better. Judging by the deadline deals completed so far, if your name isn't Mark Teixeira, you're not netting big league ready prospects in a trade. If the Nats aren't being offered prospects with higher ceilings than the guys we already have, then no move is the right move.

A Big, Fat Payday

I guess Trader Jim is under the impression that July 31st, in addition to being the non-waiver trade deadline, is the "sign all your hefty infielders to multi-year contract extensions" deadline. Apparently Trader Jim is also under the impression that the National League will be adopting the DH next season. But believe it or not, that's the end of the snarky cynicism for this post. The knee-jerk reaction will be to say that this is another Bonehead Bowden move, Cristian Guzman Redux. I just can't get behind that this time.

I don't hate this contract. I don't love it either; 1-yr/$4M or 2-yrs/$6M and I'd like it a whole lot more. Still, the longer I think about it, the less terrible it seems. And here are those thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Dmitri was a scrap heap find, but that's not the same thing as saying he was a scrap heap player. We got him at a discount because he had personal and professional issues, but the available evidence suggests he's worked through those. And if you can tie some of his physical decline to his previously untreated diabetes, then maybe this bounce back season isn't an isolated one year wonder.

  • Someone has to play first base for the rest of the season and (possibly) into next year. Look, I know this team ain't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean I want to see Robert Fick trotting out to the 3-spot every day. Nick Johnson appears determined to challenge John Patterson's record for longest rehab, and Dmitri's not exactly blocking a hot young 1B down on the farm. If Johnson is done, then someone has to replace him anyway. And for all the talk of diamonds in the rough finding someone to replace Nick's stats (which is essentially what Da Meat Hook has done) is not a proposition best left to free agency dumpster diving.

  • What were the alternatives? The trade market appears deader than a joint Fred Malek-Michael Vick kennel club. The Mark Teixeira deal (if finalized) made a splash, but tell me who the Twins got for Luis Castillo, or what Kyle Lohse netted the Reds. Next to nothing. If it was hard to get value for Alfonso Soriano, imagine how next to impossible it is to get anything for Dmitri Young. Yet in arbitration Young may well have commanded a one year contract above $5M. (As a point of reference Felipe Lopez's stinker of an '07 will probably still net him an arbitration award in the $5-6M range. Ain't baseball grand?)

  • It's not like the Nationals don't have the money. Bumping the payroll up by $4.5M a season over the next two years ought to be a drop in the bucket of salary increases. Of course, this one is conditional. If the team uses this signing as a dodge to avoid the free agent market then yes, it's torches and pitchforks time for our skinflint overlords. But I'll allow for the benefit of the doubt on this one.
I understand and respect all of Needham's concerns. But it's all speculative at this point. If Dmitri doesn't need to replace Nick, can't play a passable left field and the team ends up with a $5M pinch hitter then yes, terrible signing. But still not a crippling one. Even if Young's contract turns out to be a mistake it's not the kind of flexibility killing move that will haunt the franchise for a decade. (I'm looking at you, Todd Helton's contract.) At worst it's a waste of money that should have been spent elsewhere. And if that happens, ownership should pony up the replacement cash and hold Bowden and Kasten responsible. But that reckoning is over the horizon today. Instead, I present Nats Triple Play's first ever LOLDmitri:

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