January 11, 2010

Could Have? Yes. Should Have?...

Now that the details of Aroldis Chapman's $30M deal with the Cincinnati Reds are beginning to firm up, (h/t to MLBTradeRumors) we can say with some confidence that it's a contract the Washington Nationals could have matched. It's a five year major league deal with a sixth year player option, but the money is spread out over ten years and Chapman's 2010 salary is only $1M. Chapman's service time clock will start immediately.

In a vacuum, a $30M major league contract is a big commitment to a still relatively untested amateur free agent. However, given the structure of the deal (average annual value of $3M) it's hardly a crippling financial burden, even for a smaller market club like the Reds. Given that, and the deplorable state of the Nats pitching pipeline behind Stephen Strasburg, should the Nats have shelled out $30M for a Chapman lottery ticket?


First, let's deal with the Strasburg comparisons. Stephen Strasburg is better than Aroldis Chapman. He is today and will be for the immediate future; there's no serious debate on this question. Chapman's value lies in projecting what he might do if and when he harnesses his considerable tools. The projections range from total bust through lights-out lefty closer all the way to staff ace, but they're just projections. So paying Chapman more (in total dollars) than Strasburg or anyone else on the team who didn't just win a Gold Glove could cause a perception problem both in the clubhouse and among the general public.

Still, $30M spread over ten years shouldn't hamstring a club like the Nationals, playing in a market like Washington, DC. There's a vast difference between bad contracts and crippling contracts. Nats fans are all too familiar with bad contracts (Guzman, Kearns, Young) but none of those contracts seriously impeded the team's ability to make other moves. Likewise if Chapman flames out or becomes a left-handed Fernando Rodney, Cincinnati's 10-year commitment would likely be seen as a bad deal, but not an albatross that would sink the franchise.

Perhaps more than any other team in baseball the Nats have the potential revenue and readily available roster space that could be combined in a creative deal like the Aroldis Chapman contract. Perhaps Mike Rizzo and the front office concluded that he just wasn't worth the joint financial and time commitment. Certainly the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, who could have easily matched the Reds dollar for dollar, took a pass. The Nats have a bad track record of being shortchanged by Cincinnati GMs. Here's hoping it didn't just happen again.


Positively Half St. said...

This will onky bother me if the Nats don't manage to land both a second baseman and an above-average veteran starting pitcher. The longer the free-agent market continues to crawl, the more likely I believe both signings become.

I think the Twins' failure to sign Jarrod Washburn points out what is happening right now. Teams are making offers, but they have 2009 prices in mind. Players have not com around to accepting such prices again this year. As Doug Davis said in other current blog posts, he is number 5 or 6 down the line among free agent starting pitchers. The Nats can afford to wait a little longer, then, knowing that someone like Davis will still be available if other teams lose their nerve and sign Washburn, Sheets, Piniero, etc. at inflate prices. Davis may not be great, and I haven't looked at his deeper stats, but his 4.14 ERA compares well to the staff in DC last year.

Nate said...

Davis would certainly help more this season, and I agree that the Nats need to add another starter, but Aroldis Chapman should never have been an either/or acquisition. Chapman is the guy you sign with an eye toward the future. Davis/Garland/Piniero are the guys you sign to get you from here to that future.