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Offseason #ChinMusic: Max Scherzer vs. Clayton Kershaw, is Bryce Harper worth $500 million?, Dave Martinez contract details and more

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Nov. 11-Nov. 17)

 

 

1. Max Scherzer on Wednesday evening deservedly won National League Cy Young for a second consecutive season.  He outdid the other two finalists – fellow Nats Stephen Strasburg and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw – in bWAR, fWAR, RA9-WAR, Win Probability Added, K/9 and WHIP.  And so I was glad that Scherzer won this Cy Young in dominant fashion – 27 first-place votes to Kershaw’s three.  The Nats’ Gio Gonzalez came in sixth in the voting.

There are two layers to Scherzer winning a second straight NL Cy Young with the Nats.

The first is the reality that, so far, he is actually over-delivering on his seven-year, $210 million contract.  Yes, you read that right.  Scherzer has been an elite pitcher for the Nats in each of his three seasons with the team: 152 ERA+, 11.3 K/9, 20.6 bWAR.  He hasn’t been worse than a 6.2 bWAR pitcher in any of his three seasons with the Nats.  As nuts as it is to say that a guy whose contract has an AAV of $30 million is outperforming his deal, that is the case with Scherzer given today’s market, in which each WAR is worth around $8 million.  Now, will we still be saying this after years four-seven of the contract?  We’ll see.  But so far, so very good for the Nats with the Scherzer deal.

And It is not often that you can say that about a mega-money contract for a pitcher.  Ask Boston if it would like to get out of the David Price contract (seven years, $217 million).  Ask Arizona if it would like to get out of the Zack Greinke contract (six years, $206.5 million), even though he was better this past season.  Ask Seattle if it would like to get out of the Felix Hernandez contract (seven years, $175 million).  And don’t tell me about Scherzer’s postseasons.  Has he been great for the Nats in the playoffs?  No.  But in order to disappoint in postseasons you must make postseasons.  Scherzer arguably has done more than any Nat the last two seasons in getting the team to the playoffs.

The second layer to Scherzer winning a second straight NL Young with the Nats is that there now very much is a debate regarding Scherzer versus Kershaw.  Kershaw had been the hands-down best pitcher on the planet.  But he now has missed significant time the last two seasons due to a troublesome back.  Since the start of the 2016 season, Scherzer beats Kershaw in the three major versions of WAR for pitchers due to Kershaw’s missed time: bWAR (13.5 vs. 10.2), fWAR (11.6 vs. 11.1) and RA9-WAR (14.0 vs. 13.4).  Now, most of Kershaw’s rate stats (ERA+, ERA, WHIP, BB/9) are better, although Scherzer does best Kershaw in K/9 (11.6 vs. 10.4).  But the idea here is excellence versus durability.  Kershaw start-for-start is better than Scherzer.  But Scherzer has been available far more than Kershaw.  Scherzer has thrown 105 more innings than Kershaw over the last two seasons.  This is why those aforementioned Scherzer WARs are better than Kershaw’s.  Would you rather have an A+ for 162 innings or an A for 215 innings?

 

2. Super agent Scot Boras spoke with reporters at the General Managers Meetings in Orlando on Wednesday and said that conversations with the Nats regarding contract extensions for two of his many clients on the team, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, had yet to begin this offseason.  Boras on whether he expected to discuss a Harper extension this offseason: “That would be up to the Nationals.”  The Nats would be nuts not to talk long-term contract extension with Harper this offseason while they have negotiating exclusivity with him entering his final season of team control.  I fully expect the conversation to take place if it hasn’t already.

But the more interesting Harper-related item on Wednesday was this portion of a tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who is as plugged in as maybe any national reporter on the Nats: “The Nats ownership believe Harper in free agency would cost in excess of $500 million.”  This is new.  Nightengale in Dec. 2016 reported that Harper was “seeking at least a 10-year contract that will likely pay him a minimum of $400 million.”  So his price has shot up $100 million in a year.  I say all of the time regarding the Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha that “today’s overpay is tomorrow’s bargain.”  Boy may that be the case with Harper.

But should the Lerners be willing to pay that kind of money to Harper?  Should any ownership be willing to pay that kind of money to any player?  There has been this fear in D.C. for years that Harper is as good as gone after the 2018 season.  Maybe.  But if the price is $500 million, is that really so bad?

Harper, of course, is an outstanding player.  His 2015 season remains one of the greatest individual years in major-league history.  He has the third-best wRC+ in the majors over the last three seasons – 156 (only Mike Trout and Joey Votto have been better).  And Harper is entering just his age-25 season, meaning that he still has time to get better and should be good for years to come.

All of that said, I don’t know how the Nats fan doesn’t have major reservations giving Harper the money necessary to keep him with the team for the long term.  Consider the following:

  • Harper has had a hard time staying healthy.  The guy is a workout warrior, and some of his injuries have been a result of dumb luck.  But the bottom line is that he has played in more than 147 games just once over the last five seasons.  WAR is a cumulative stat.  Harper has had just two 5.0 bWAR years over his six seasons.  Trout, for comparison’s sake, has had a bWAR of no lower than 6.7 in each of the last six seasons.  Manny Machado has had a bWAR of no lower than 6.7 in three of the last five seasons.
  • So many of these mega-money long-term position-player contracts in MLB look so bad so quickly.  And while many of those deals were signed by guys older than Harper, take a look at what is going on with Giancarlo Stanton.  He just won National League MVP this week.  He is entering just his age-28 season.  And yet Miami can’t wait to trade away his contract that has 10 years and $295 million left.  In fact, the belief is that the Marlins will have to give up not just Stanton but also money in a trade.  And all of this is with, again, $295 million left on his deal.  What would be the ramifications of a $500 million contract?
  • The Nats would not be doomed without Harper.  They are currently loaded with outfield talent in Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin and top prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto.  Additionally, take a look at history.  Seattle lost Alex Rodriguez via free agency to Texas in Jan. 2001 and yet won 116 games in that 2001 season.  St. Louis lost Albert Pujols via free agency to the Angels in Dec. 2011 and yet made the playoffs in each of the next four seasons.
  • How much would a Harper megadeal hamstring the Nats payrolls moving forward?  Only the Lerners can answer this with certainty.  But Max Scherzer’s $210 million contract goes through 2021.  Stephen Strasburg’s $175 million contract goes through 2023.  Ryan Zimmerman’s $135 million contract goes through 2019 with a team option for 2020.  Plus you have a potential megadeal for Anthony Rendon to consider.  Plus you have a possible Trea Turner megadeal to consider, though we are a ways away from that.  You can’t pay everyone.  How much would a $500 million contract for Harper prevent the Nats from paying others, especially with this MASN dispute still going on?

 

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper watches his three-run home run off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jordan Lyles during the seventh inning of a baseball game Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Denver. Washington won 16-5. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

 

3. Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer’s first name – Cosmo – is revealed?  What did George Costanza say?  “I uh got the first name.”  Well, we on Monday got something nearly as elusive – the details of Dave Martinez’s contract as Nats manager.  And the details, to me, were a shocker even by Nats standards.  Per The Washington Post, he is making less than half of what Dusty Baker’s $2 million per year.  Martinez will make $2.8 million over the first three years of his contract, and his fourth-year option is worth $1.2 million.  Just amazing.  So much for the notion of the Lerners stepping up, paying up and landing Joe Girardi, who reportedly was making $4 million per year from the Yankees before they decided not to bring him back.

Is it an outrage that Martinez is making less than half of what Dusty made?  No.  If he’s fine with that, then why shouldn’t we be?  After all, it’s not like we’re going to need to take up a collection for a guy making $933,333 per year.  He’ll be just fine.  And, as I’ve said, there is a lot to like about Martinez.  He has a great shot at being an upgrade over Dusty.  If the Lerners were able to upgrade at manager and save more than $1 million per year, then more power to them.

But the salary still is a shocker.  I expected that Martinez, long considered a promising managerial candidate, would get at least $1.5 million per season.  Look, the man he served as bench coach for, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, reportedly is making $6 million per year.  That Martinez is making less than one-sixth of that is stunning.

I suppose that Martinez was wanting to finally get a managerial job after 10 seasons as Maddon’s bench coach.  And I suppose he took a discount because of the Ferrari of a roster that he is being given.  It also is worth noting that, according to The Washington Post, Martinez’s salary is in the range of what Boston is paying another first-time manager in Alex Cora.

 

4. Speaking of Dusty Baker, good for him for finishing fifth in the voting for National League Manager of the Year, which went to Arizona’s Torey Lovullo.  I personally would have voted for the man the Nats originally wanted and were set to officially hire as manager after the 2015 season, Colorado’s Bud Black.  But Dusty was more than deserving of consideration for an award that is all about the regular season and not the playoffs.

Dusty did a tremendous job this past regular season when you consider a) the Nats’ many injuries b) the Nats’ horrific bullpen until the arrivals of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler and c) the Nats’ terrible defense.  The Nats played large chunks of the season without Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin, Jayson Werth and Joe Ross.  The Nats had a horrendous bullpen for the first three and-a-half months of the season until the formation of The Law Firm.  And the Nats were just no. 24 out of 30 major-league teams with -37 Defensive Runs Saved.

Yes, Dusty butchered his lineups for much of the season, as I discussed a ton.  Yes, Dusty benefited from playing in the National League East, which is the worst division in major North American sports.  But Dusty still did a good job in getting this team to 97 wins.

 

5. Something that emerged on Tuesday on Day 2 of the General Managers Meetings in Orlando was that Orioles closer Zach Britton is back on the trade block.  Good.  Deal him.  The sooner that this team embraces its reality and starts rebuilding, the better.  The sooner that this team does as the last two World Series champions – the Cubs and Houston – did and engage in a total teardown – a complete purification – the better.

This past season’s two NLCS teams – the Dodgers and Cubs – are two of the teams that have spoken with the O’s according to MLB insider Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports.

If the O’s trade Britton – and that remains a big “if” – they almost certainly won’t get back what they would have gotten had they dealt him last season, let alone after the 2016 season as some wanted (though I did not).  Britton did not have a good 2017.  He had two 10-day disabled list stints due to a left forearm strain and then was shut down in September due to an ailing left knee.  His strikeout rate plummeted from 9.9 to 7.0 and his walk rate shot up from 2.4 to 4.3.  He had a 151 ERA+ off a surreal 803 ERA+ in 2016.  And he’s entering a contract season, during which he is expected to make $12.2 million per arbitration projections from MLB Trade Rumors.

The Britton situation is another item of evidence that the O’s made a huge mistake in not unloading prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.  First of all, they could have at least gotten some assets for guys who were expected to be free agents this offseason and were considered as good as gone in Welington Castillo and Seth Smith.  But guys like Britton, Manny Machado and Adam Jones – all set to be free agents after the 2018 season – were all worth more with a season-plus left on each of their contracts.

The O’s reportedly had a deal in place to send Britton to Houston prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, but the deal fell apart due to Oriole concerns regarding the medicals of two of the Astros’ prospects.  It’s possible that the O’s could get back even more from Britton with an in-season trade.  Maybe that’s the best way to play this given his down 2017.  But the point is that the O’s need to be infinitely more aggressive in getting out ahead of their situation.  And I don’t believe that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette being in contract seasons helps at all.  What motivation do they have to do what’s in the best interest of the long-term health of the franchise, to say nothing of the fact that the two don’t get along?

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