Wouldn't we all want to be a General Manager for a day? It sounds pretty awesome but I am sure that it would only take 24 hours for those of us who think we know it all to get fired. In my opinion, Mike Rizzo is one of the top GM's in baseball. He has brought us all the opportunity to watch an incredibly talented bunch of ballplayers on South Capitol Street every spring, summer and fall. Here's to hoping that our fall season lasts longer in 2015. I am confident that it will.
The winter meetings ended last week with very little noise about the Washington Nationals. Maybe that is a good thing. It isn't exciting but it is smart. We already have a team in Washington that tries to win every offseason on paper but struggles to produce when things matter. The Nationals have the nucleus of a team that is built to win for an extended period of time. Yes, that clock is ticking and we don't want to miss our window of opportunity like yet another Washington team has seemed to have done. It will be exciting to see that team play at Nats Park on 1/1/15!
As GM for a day for the Nationals, I would keep my focus on pitching. Let's lock up our top two starters from a year ago for the next 5 or 6 years. I don't think I would go to 7 years on any starting pitcher outside of maybe Kershaw. 6 years would be pushing it but it is probably going to take at least that to sign Zimmermann. Yes, I recognize that it will mean a commitment of roughly $220 million dollars in total to Zimmermann and Fister over that 5 or 6 year period.
These are the type of pitchers that all coaches want. Strike throwers with composure who stay relatively healthy. They can win in both the regular season and the playoffs. What changes in the playoffs? You better have composure in big games. Did anyone watch Bumgarner throw in the World Series? You couldn't tell if he had just given up a grand slam or struck out the side.
Listen everyone, baseball is all about pitching. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. Pitching keeps you in games and gives you the opportunity to win day in and day out. Combine good pitching with defense and speed and you have a winning formula. Just take a look at the KC Royals of 2014. They were built by front office architects who have local roots in Northern VA (Moore, Picollo, Goldberg).
As GM of the Washington Nationals for a day, I recognize that we only have roughly $140 million in payroll flexibility year in and year out. I expect that to change when the MASN dispute is cleared up in 2025. Thanks for nothing Mr. Angelos.
We can't sign everyone. The Nationals currently have the top starting pitching staff in baseball. They only committed roughly $26 million dollars to their 5 starters in 2014. That was truly a bargain and it is about to change.
BUILDING A CLUB FROM THE GROUND UP- How to spend $140 million
Where would you spend $140 million if you were a GM? Forget about specific names or existing players on the Nationals or any other club. We all know that being a GM is a fluid situation year in and year out. There are countless other factors that play into how decisions are made (agents, marketing, farm system...). This is why it is so much fun to be GM for a day. We don't have to worry about all of these other factors. Here is how I would spend $140 million dollars.
- Invest in pitching. Build your rotation with 3 studs and don't be afraid to go young with your 4 and 5. Many young starters are never given ample opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. I am not a believer in veteran innings eaters that come at a price of $8 - $12 million a year (EX: Haren, Jackson...). The total investment in the rotation would be $52 - $57 million with a heavy focus on the top 3 starters who will also put you in a great position to win in the playoffs.
- Invest in your 7th, 8th and 9th inning bullpen pitchers. Young power arms are the trend. Don't overspend on a veteran closer unless his last name is Rivera. The total investment in the bullpen would be roughly $17 - $19 million.
- Investment of position players must be made with a specific plan in mind.
* Defense is cheap. Speed is cheap. Young is cheap.
* Veterans are expensive. Power is expensive. Big names are expensive.
* Your power usually comes from the corners. Your defense and speed (not C) tend to be up the middle.
CATCHER- $3 - $4 million. We want defense here. Hitting is just icing. (exception- Yadi).
CORNER IF- $16 - $22 million (may be higher depending on corner OF)
MIDDLE IF- $8 - $10 million. We want defense and speed here. OBP
CENTER FIELD- $4 - $5 million. We want defense and speed here. OBP
CORNER OF- $18 - $24 million (may be lower depending on corner IF)
BENCH- $6 - $7 million (another place to give young guys opportunities- SEE Nats 2012)
Of your 4 corner position starters, one can be young and cheap. The other 3 can be power guys who hit in the middle of your line-up. That gives you roughly $38 - $42 million to spend on the 3 bats in the middle of your line-up.
In the middle IF, you could use players like a Steve Lombardozzi JR. I would take Lombo in a heartbeat as the everyday second baseman for the Nats in 2015. He would give the Nats above average defense at 2B. He may not get to 10 - 15 balls a season that Espinoza can get to and he may not have the same plus arm but the Nats get a lot more elsewhere.
- High baseball IQ.
- On Base % with a solid approach.
- Consistency and QAB's.
Obviously a big part of all of this is having a good mix of young players and veterans. Young players provide you with more payroll flexibility.
After going through this exercise of how to build a club on $140 million, I now have a greater appreciation of what Mike Rizzo has done for our hometown Nationals. Now tell the Blue Jays to stop calling because we don't want to lose the best GM in this town and one of the best in all of baseball.