Off-Season Awards – The Bad

We handed out some praise this afternoon, but now, we turn our attention to those moves that were somewhat less impressive. The criteria remains the same – we’re looking for transactions that significantly weakened a franchises ability to contend, or moves that simply just don’t appear to make much sense.

Now, for the presentations, let’s go to the podium.

Worst Free Agent SigningJayson Werth, Washington Nationals

There were some players who got eyebrow-raising deals this winter, but no one drew the audible “he got what?!?” gasps besides Werth. The first day of the winter meetings just consisted of a few hundred stunned group of people wandering the halls with looks of shock and confusion. $126 million for Jayson Werth. No one could believe it.

I like Jayson Werth as a player. He’s been a consistent +5 win guy for the last three years, and he makes the Nationals a better team than they were without him. Still, with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf and Bryce Harper in the minors, this is an organization whose focus should be squarely on the future, and while Werth’s deal may pay off for the next few years, it is hard to see this being anything besides a long term problem. By the time the rest of Washington’s roster is ready to contend, Werth will likely be a tough-to-trade albatross who isn’t producing enough to justify his salary. Perhaps, in another context, you could justify this deal based on a closing window to contend and the long term value of increasing the odds of winning it all in 2011. That’s not the Nationals context, though, and it’s just tough to come up with any kind of scenario where Werth returns $126 million in value to the team that actually signed him.

It’s possible that Werth ends up aging really well and that he’s still a valuable contributor to a contending Nationals team in a few years. I wouldn’t bet on that outcome, though, and I certainly wouldn’t bet $126 million on that outcome.

Worst Trade AcquisitionVernon Wells, Anaheim Angels

The problem with this mini-series is that this single move makes a few of these selections pretty boring. The Jays dumping Wells was an easy choice for the best move of the winter, so conversely, the Angels acquiring him is a pretty natural fit for the worst acquisition via trade. I don’t want to pile on Wells, and we’ve already written thousands of words about that deal, so let’s just leave it at this – there’s a chance that Wells could sustain his 2010 performance for the next four years, stay completely healthy, and show no effects of aging in his mid-30s. There’s also a chance Myspace makes a raging comeback and becomes the king of social media again. I’m not sure which one is more plausible.

Worst Move Overall – Acquiring Vernon Wells, Anaheim Angels

Sorry, Angels fans. This move is that bad.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

51 Responses to “Off-Season Awards – The Bad”

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  1. BJsWorld says:

    No need to apologize. We know it was a craptastic move. Now we can only hope and pray …

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  2. SC2GG says:

    If the Jayson Werth contract is looking pretty grim three years from now, the Nats could always trade him to the Angels for the last four years of his deal.

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  3. Chadam says:

    Dave, what trades finished second to the Wells deal in the best and worst trade of the offseason?

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    • David K says:

      My vote is for the Dbacks trading Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for two unproven relievers. Yes, Reynolds’ K rate is hideous, but over his career so far, he’s been a very good run producer. His defense is a bit erratic, but I feel he has pretty good range, and he’s not a slug on the bases either. Plus he was hampered by a leg injury for much of last year. What minimal gain the Dbacks may have in their bullpen was lost by replacing Reynolds with the Blum/Mora tandem at 3B. They will probably get less production from their 3B men than just about any other MLB team, plus neither guy is a particularly good fielder, and neither can run as well as Reynolds.

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  4. Sounds like acquiring Vernon Wells wins The Goo. Or loses it, I’m not sure.

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  5. Garrett says:

    In what universe are the Nationals not ready to contend in 2013? 2012 is much more realistic. How long will Stras’s rehab be? How many years will Harper spend in the minors?

    If their window is that far off, they should be dumping Zimmerman.

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    • Norm says:

      Zimmerman in 2014 will STILL be younger than Werth is today.

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      • Garrett says:

        I’m not really sure how that is a coherent rebuttal. More like a nonsensical factoid. He’s under contract through 2013. So if you view the window as 2014 and onward, then Zimmerman is off the roster or going to be getting a large deal or going to suck at baseball. Flipping him for assets in the future (prospect package) is the obvious decision. It appears that DC isn’t aware of exact time frame when the National expect to contend or the composition of the roster.

        Do I think the Werth deal is good? No. Do I think that its bad for the reasons Cameron mentions? No.

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      • For what reasons do you think it’s bad then?

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      • Garrett says:

        Same reasons why no rebuilding teams should be splurging on FA talent. Limited value of marginal win. Limited roster flexibility. Limits more efficient allocation of resources.

        Do you think the Nationals will contend without Zimmerman as a piece as Dave seems to imply? Do you think that 2012/2013 are rebuilding years?

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      • baty says:

        If the Nationals can’t reasonably contend by 2012-2013, the Werth deal might derail Zimmerman’s contract extension possibilities. If you’re the Nationals, you believe that this youth core is the future, and you should be saving space to prepare for extensions, arbitration cases, and complimentary free agent pieces when contention appears to be more probable.

        Flipping Zimmerman for assets might delay contention or even limit. While KC is in a great position, they still need a ton of high risk factors to simultaneously go right to even think about the playoffs. DC needs Zimmerman as the bridge. And while things can still work out “ok” in the long run with Werth, there’s no way the system will have worked as well as it could have been.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I think the Nationals see themselves as a potential 85 win team as early as 2012. Their goal is to develop the fan base with the payroll following suit. There’s no reason besides continued ineptitude that their market and new ballpark couldn’t help support a payroll around $120 million.

        Building a consistently .500 team accomplishes two things. First, more fans in the seat. Less obviously, more free agent interest. They won’t have to pay Jayson Werth rates to get players to sign with them if they’re seen as a potential playoff contender.

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    • Kyle says:

      what says that they can’t resign zimmermann, at a younger age than werth is now, when 2014 comes around? It is much more difficult to sign a top FA when a) he isnt part of your team now and B) was shipped off for Billy Bob who gives a fuck. Meanwhile he is gonna go nuts this year and just up his trade value if they want to keep dump him later. obviosly its not guarenteed but getting out now would be dumb

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    • Garrett says:

      I’m unsure how Zimmerman’s trade value is going up this year after another year of his current extension eroding, nor am I really sure that he will perform better than last year. (A radical stance that I don’t project him for 7+ WAR.)

      Zimmerman has already signed one extension. Its doubtful he’ll sign another cost friendly one to the team. Considering that he’ll be a free and clear free agent in 2014. Perhaps if they throw some big bucks at him or he goes Halladay-esque with the crazies. Either way, I don’t see how this is really a debatable point. A non-contending team with cost controlled talent who isn’t part of their window should be flipped for future assets. Zimmerman would return some top tier talent. What exactly is the argument? That he gives a 10% discount to the Natinals off a 1xx contract for signing Werth?

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      • RobBob says:

        You know, it doesn’t matter how well-reasoned your argument may be, once I see “Natinals” I know that I have no interest in what you have to say.

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  6. sweets says:

    The Angels end of the Vernon Wells trade was clearly the worst move of the offseason. It would be more interesting to see what ranked just behind that.

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    • chuckb says:

      There should have been a “worst trade — non-Vernon Wells” category or “worst non-Vernon Wells move overall” category.

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  7. Luke in MN says:

    Werth is 31 already so he’s old for a player getting a 7-year deal, but what is the argument that he won’t age well? He’s about as balanced a player as you can imagine. He’s the rare guy that can lose two tools and still have three to fall back on. He’s not the guy I’d want to put a huge contract on, but it would hardly shock me to see him earn the money chucking out 4 or 5 win seasons for a while, nor would I be too surprised if the Nats find a way to contention well before it’s over.

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    • John says:

      Yea, because it’s a guarantee that if you hit your prime late, you hit your decline late……

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Uh…not what I was saying at all.

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      • AJS says:

        Not a guarantee, but who’s to say there’s nothing to the theory.

        There certainly seems to be some evidence across many sports that players who enter the league early decline early (Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal). Why couldn’t the converse be true?

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  8. gdc says:

    Sorry Nats fans. You would have to make Werth a CF for the Angels to trade for him in 2015.

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  9. I’m guessing we’d be hard pressed to come up with a worse move in the last ten years. Signing A-Rod to his second huge contract? Maybe?

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    • theperfectgame says:

      Smaller scale in terms of money, but Oliver Perez cost the Mets $36M and has provided significantly less than nothing in terms of value. He’s been worth two wins BELOW replacement level on that contract, in addition to occupying a valuable roster spot and serving as a perpetual distraction.

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  10. Fergie348 says:

    I think I’d rather have Werth at $126/7 than Howard at $125/5. Methinks that although the Werth contract will pinch the Nats eventually, the contract extension that Howard got from the Phils will hurt more..

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    • Jesse says:

      I’d agree with this. Howard’s extension could easily become an albatross, RAJ is just hoping that they win 2-3 championships before that happens.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      +1000000 Fergie. Howard’s 125/5 doesn’t even start until 2012. And unlike the Nats bidding for Werth in the FA market, RAJ was under no timetable to make the Howard extension. This was by far the worst move of 2010.

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      • Jason B says:

        “This was by far the worst move of 2010.”

        (non-Wells division)


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      • Garrett says:

        A good bet would be if Howard ever equals the value of his contract in any year. It was a heinously bad contract. And you could probably defend the Wells move much better. A slightly above league average 1B that should be platooned for 125/5? 2 years from now? Why the fuck not?

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    • Someanalyst says:

      This is almost certainly correct: “the contract extension that Howard got from the Phils will hurt more”. But it is still easier to understand than the Werth deal because the Phils have an obvious and high probability window to win right now. That RAJ offered the extension so early in the game is puzzling though. I just don’t get it. Is there a reason I am missing?

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  11. joeIQ says:

    I think we need a best and worst contract extensions.

    For worst I think cargo. He’s got about 5K per BB and I don’t see him being even the 4th best hitter next year.

    Best, maybe Votto?

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  12. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    Obviously from my username, I am a Jays fan, and I’m glad that the Jays made this trade as it strengthens the team in the long-run. However, I’ve always liked Wells, his work ethic and – dare I say on a Sabermetrically-oriented board – his clubhouse presence. I see huge parallels between Wells and Andre Dawson and think that a lot of Wells injury and productivity problems have been from pounding the concrete-hard turf at the Skydome. (I still call it by it’s original name.) Now that he’ll be playing mostly on grass, I think we’ll see a resurgence in his health and productivity. This trade was a gamble by the Angels, but I think it could very well work out well.

    Myspace doesn’t stand a chance!

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    • sc2gg says:

      I’ve been a Jays fan forever too, and statistics show that this is the best thing to happen to the franchise since like 1995.

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    • Jason B says:

      “This trade was a gamble by the Angels, but I think it could very well work out well.”

      Under no conceivable scenario will the Halos get the on-field value out of that contract, compared to what they’re paying. Even with a magical resurgence in health and productivity (which is quite unlikely for a player at this stage of their career). You may wanna recrunch your numbers ;-)

      (And after all four years play out they somehow get a net positive value out of the deal and the world hasn’t ended because of that fact, I’ll ‘fess up that I misjudged the deal and your comment!)

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  13. Jonathan says:

    Soriano has to be the worst pitching contract this season. It won’t cripple the Yankees because they’re the Yankees but I would’ve liked to see that money invested elsewhere be it in the draft, Latin America or my local YMCA.

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  14. PG says:

    I think the article should have been “Off-season Awards – The Bad (other than the Vernon Wells deal).

    And I say that as a guy that as a Wells fan. I live not far away, and actually made a landscape delivery to his house in Lorne Park. He’s a super nice guy.

    But man….what a bad trade for the Angels.

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  15. Jim says:

    I would’ve liked to have seen more awards given out, such as:

    1.Worst Free Agent Signing–Pitcher
    (with 2. Worst Free Agent Signing–Hitter going to Werth and the Nationals.)

    3. Worst Contract Extension

    4. Worst Cumulative Offseason Moves for a Team
    (perhaps one for the AL and one for the NL.)

    with a funny monologue by Joe P. at the beginning and a tribute at the halfway point to those bad free agent contacts of yesteryear that we can memorialize.

    Maybe next year, eh? ;)

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  16. Four Horsemen says:

    This is the first intelligent column that Cameron has written in quite some time.

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  17. mockcarr says:

    The idea that a lousy team shouldn’t bother spending money on a losing club doesn’t make sense, that’s just extra profit for the owners. It really doesn’t make any difference if it’s going to one big free agent for the major league team as long as it’s not blocking a prospect, and they are still doing the things they need to like paying over slot to sign their picks on occasion, putting money into scouting and development, and being competitive in the international market. The Nats have been “overpaying” in the draft (considering they will get nothing from Strasburg until September this year) while improving the budget in the other areas. Their reputation still sucks after being tagged as cheap and run by an irrational guy like Bowden. The perception needed to be changed to be taken seriously, and even if it’s BS, the players still respect a team making the effort to spend money. If all it is are offers, then when you are ready to strike you still may not get the player you need/want. Predicting the free agent market is too difficult not to try to sign a good player like Werth who actually accepts your offer with the extra two years you may have to eat, unlike top players like Lee this year or Teixeira last year, who seemingly always go to a proven winner, offer some OTHER favored team a discount or otherwise are not as appropriate for your team’s needs. A winning club should be able to justify a 100+ million payroll where Werth’s salary can fit, or eating some money to trade him becomes possible. There will still be at bats for Harper, and the next best OF prospect whenever they’re ready. An extra 5-10 million paid in value to Werth in 2014 should not prevent the Nats keeping Zimmerman, Strasburg, and the eventual prospects who will need to be kept if the Lerners are willing to spend like the Phillies and Braves when they are contending. And why shouldn’t that be the goal? Granted the Mets are the slumbering payroll giant, but If they wait for luck on home grown players and lower-priced veteran retreads hitting in the same year, there still will be everyone in the division but the Marlins with higher priced talent and they will have to prove they’re almost as good at development as the Marlins for that to work.

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  18. RobBob says:

    Werth will be “overpaid” six/seven years down the road, that’s for sure. But he’ll also be vastly UNDERPAID for the next few years. (Actually, both those statements are technically incorrect — the money they pay him in 2018 is in large part simply delayed payments for this year’s work). If he averages 20-21M in value for 2011/2012/2013, and 10-14M for a couple of years after that, then already the contract is reasonable, since they’ve defrayed the cost for all that production until 2017/2018. This will leave a fair chunk of change in their short-term budget to sign a top-notch FA next year and to re-up Zimmerman. They could very well be competitive next year, but they had to pull the trigger on Werth THIS year to make that all work out.

    Understandably, this is all a bit of a rosy projection, but it’s quite possible that Werth could end up being worth every penny of that contract.

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  19. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Ok so Wells is WAAAAY overpaid, but he is not a total loser as he did slug over .500 last year and should come close to doing that again. Not many CFs sluf over .500 with credible other numbers. I won my fantasy league by getting him with my 20th pick/round and riding him all season. I finished with well over 90 points in a 5×5 10 team league.

    Wells is better than the credit you give him here. He improves the Angels offense. Sure they are paying him far more than he deserves, but he can still hit well.

    Now for Werth, the Nationals made really high bids to FAs for several years in a row in an effort to improve the team. Werth was just the first one to say yes. But now that he has, the team is in a better bargaining position with fans and other FAs who have worried that the NATs were to cheap to win. They have not been and are not to cheap to win. Its just when you suck you really have to overpay decent FAs to sign for you. The to cheap to win argument is now dead at least for a while… that has value to the owners of the team!

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      that is slug not sluf LOL

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    • rotofan says:

      You are minimizing the obvious. You picked Wells in the 20th round. Assuming a 10-team league that would mean close to 200 players were selected before Wells. The Angels are paying him like he is a top-10 player. I dare say that if you had picked Wells in the 1st round of each f the next four years — which is what the Angels have essentially done — you have stacked the odds against you winning your league again.

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