Nationals Baseball: Thank You Nationals for disproving the "money bucket" theory

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thank You Nationals for disproving the "money bucket" theory

One of my (three? four? ninety million?) biggest gripes with members of the baseball online media (generally these are members of the sabermetric community, but not always) is the idea that teams can either :

(1) spend money to be better now, OR
(2) spend money to be better later.

Those are the choices and bad teams, like the Nationals were, are stupid to do (1) because they are only going to be slightly better and what's the difference between say 66 and 69 wins? They should always do (2) and flood the minors with money because that's where you can get more value and potentially create the base of a contender down the line.

Of course this theory is terribly, utterly, horribly flawed. It supposes that there is a set amount of funds that are to be spent on the baseball organization and every dollar spent on the major leagues is a dollar stolen from the minor leagues. This is what I like to call - the "money bucket" theory. There's only so many dollars that can fit in the bucket! You are paying Jason Marquis money! How dumb! You emptied the bucket! Now there's no money for the minor leagues!

Again - stupid, asinine, maybe irresponsible? It is all those things because baseball teams are expensive toys for rich men and they can spend money on the minor leagues AND the major leagues at the same time. This is in fact what the best teams in the league do and what every fan should be asking of their ownership. If you can't do this, or at least do this in some sort of cyclical fashion, then you shouldn't be owning a major league team. By saying that the Nats and other losing teams shouldn't bother spending money to get marginally better at the major league level, these media are implicitly validating every cheap-ass owner out there. "I'm just going for value!" In the end it's not about value. That's just a means to an end. It's about wins and getting them any way you can.

The Nats are going after those wins and proving these nay-sayers wrong. The Nats spent way too much money on Werth this off-season. They spent a ton on their draft picks this year. It can be done. It should be done. (well not that terrible of a contract to Werth but you get the point).


Donald said...

Totally agree. I only care how much the Lerner's spend once they stop spending it. It's the same concern people have that we shouldn't have paid Werth because then we might not be able to pay Zimmerman, Strasburg, etc. down the road. The Lerner's can afford to pay everyone and as long as they do, I could care less how much that ends up being.

There's a corollary to this, which is that once you spend the money you can't afford to leave it on the bench. So LaRoche will have play 1b ahead of Morse, presumably. In reality, you paid the money to win and you should put the best team on the field to make that happen, even if it means sitting a $10m a year guy for a $3m a year guy. You're still going to be out $13m a year in any case.

Anonymous said...

Nationals are building the team the way great teams in recent memory(Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies) by stocking the farm system and filling the outside needs with free agents.

Nationals have the richest owner in baseball, it's just a matter of putting people in the seats and giving the Lerners a reason to invest into the team.

Section 222 said...

Absolutely right. THE LERNERS ARE BILLIONAIRES. They can easily afford to spend now, spend later, and spend some more. The only question is whether they want to win championships. Nights like last nght suggset that they do, and that's a good ting.

Wally said...

I completely agree with your premise, although oddly, and perhaps unfairly to you, I hadn't felt like you did! In the past when you posted that we should trade Marquis, Nix, etc for whatever we could get, that felt to me like you were saying that since we weren't going to the playoffs, we should get rid of everyone that wasn't part of the future, even if (a) the return was garbage, and (b) they were contributing positively right now. I think my only reply back was to trade them for a prospect that you felt good about, not just dump them. Because there is some added value for 75 wins v. 72. Admittedly, not a tremendous amount, but something more than zero. Glad to see I misunderstood.

But I will quibble with one point. The Lerners shouldn't do this because they are rich and can afford it. I think that what a fan wants in an owner is someone who is looking to take their profit from increased franchise value, not current operating margin. So pour the money in, create a winning environment, attract more fans and merchandising and watch the value of your franchise increase substantially. They can monetize it when they sell, or perhaps through some additional debt that they can diatribute. Instead of trying to pinch pennies and pull out $20m a year in cash flow. It is also more tax efficient the first way.

Wally said...

Hey, I had one other, somewhat related thought.

It doesn't matter at all what you pay people (except for the Werth-like mega free agent contracts).

What matters is that you get your talent appraisal reasonably close. If they are right about Purke being healthy and a stud, it doesn't matter if they paid him $4.4m or $10m, they still did extremely well to get him in the organization. If they are wrong, it is all money thrown down the drain.

The mega contracts matter because you have to really understand where your payroll can go to. Even if Werth turns out to be a 5 WAR player, if you felt like you are only going to be an $80m/yr payroll team, you can't sign him because no one can make up 25% of a team's payroll.

QuietStormX said...

Look, The Washington Nationals are going about building an organization that was void by MLB. People don't understand that they have to build from the ground up. The moves and choices are a plan to stock the farms with above adverage players who add to the Big Club to get to the post season year after year and move up the NL East. So the Nationals are doing the Washington Nationals way. Taking what has been learned from the people working for the Nationals up and down the chain. And I'm liking it...

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Point well taken! Another canard, "Werth contract will make Lerners more reluctant to spend in FA market this off-seasno." Well, it depends on whos available and what Rizzo thinks NATS need. FAs like high priced draftees (not named Strasburg, Ackerly, and Harpers) are not a mortal lock to continue to produce.

I still think the NATS can win 79 and still believe Werth will "come around."

Harper said...

Donald - well LaRoche will play but Morse will play too (in the OF) but I get the point. That does happen but so does things like playing prospects too long because you invested time into them (see: Desmond, Ian)

Anon - WHEN the Nats start winning more than they lose the fans do have to come out, or else the Lerners could turn off the spigot. That does worry me. (Doesn't help that the Lerners were still in "cheap mode" when it came to building the stadium)

222 - There's something to be said about setting up a cycle where you can win and not need the highest payroll. But they should also realize when that isn't going to happen and be ready to spend to supplement.

Wally - well I wouldn't trade for garbage but I'd probably trade for less than you think. The trade question is a clear "now vs later" situation. You can keep a guy for now or trade him and get something for later. It's not like the fake "now vs later" $$$ debate. I see it as given the choice you do choose "later", but I also see it as these guys are FA you can get them back if you really want to.

agree with second paragraph though who's to say why they should do it as long as they do it? If they want to just throw money at the team to win (and do it right) fans have to be ok with that, right?

on talent evaluation - what spending does is afford you the luxury of making mistakes here. You want to be an 80 mill dollar team with Werth leading. He's terrible, so now you need to go after the best X to make up for it. You didn't want to be a 100 mill dollar team but you accept that you have to be if you want to win.

QSX - true - but the first few years it wasn't clear that that was the Nationals way. That's why 6 years out the team is praying to get to .500. They NOW have it together but they definitely weren't anything special there in the Bowden days.

Froggy said...

Let’s put the positive up front: I really like reading this blog, and learn something about sabermetrics, WAR, WHIP, and all the other statistic based minutiae that I never knew; and respect the inside baseball perspective you have, however I DO get fatigued with the constant whining (is that too harsh a word?) about how much money Werth, Marquis (ok, he's gone) make and how we should trade Nix, et al for someone who can help us 'next year'. Yes, I get it...the Lerner's paid Jayson Werth a ton of money. Yes, he is not having a great year. Yes, he is struggling at the plate. Yes, they spent a lot of money on him. Did I mention that they spent a lot of money on him? Have you mentioned how ‘stupid’ it was to sign him for this huge contract like a thousand times already? Yes, yes, yes. But so what? It isn't your money; it is the Lerner's money so enough already. All this incessant talk about the obvious is somewhat annoying. I agree with Donald, I will start to worry once they stop spending money and if you spend $10 mil on one guy and $3 mil on another and win with the cheaper talent, its still $13mil sunk cost regardless. You deal with it at the end of the season. Morse has earned 1B so LaRoche should sit regardless of his salary.

I like Nix. I think he is a beast at the plate and if nothing else, ‘looks’ like he will hit the cover off the ball. Something that I’m sure opposing pitchers notice as well. He’s fun to watch. Desi seems to be hitting a little better and somedays he looks like the best SS in the game, and others...well (point to Harper on this one). Ankiel is a streaky hitter but everyone in the league respects his arm. Morse is legit (talk about a Beast!) and his presence is giving the Zimminator better pitches to hit. Ramos is turning out to be a very good catcher with a great arm, and once he realizes he CAN hit for power, look out. Espinosa plays great defense and once he stops pressing, his bat will come back to the .275 range where he belongs. Jordan Zimmermann is one of the better pitchers in the game, and Lannan doesn’t give me anxiety attacks like he used to. Even though I like the song Eeeverybody Wang chung tonight, he needs to get a little meaner on the mound to convince me they should resign him for next year. And of course, Clip and Save own the 8th and 9th innings, and when Strausburg comes back next month, should be fun.

I really ‘believe’ they will do better than .500 and could even finish 3rd in the division. (yeah, I’m an optimist…) My point is, I like the Nats THIS year. So can we just give the money talk and how 'bad' they are a rest for say 50 games or so?

Harper said...

Froggy - One clarification I have never ever ever complained about Marquis salary. Guaranteed. Liked the deal from the start. Thought it was fair. No complaints.

On Nix te al - I think I talked about it the right amount. Not much talk pre-all star, alot after. It's what was going on. I still think they should have been dealt if they could bring back anything. I like a couple of these guys too but a couple (maaaaaybe) more wins in 2011 isn't worth giving up the chance for a couple more in 2012+ especially when you can just sign the good guys back. You can't just use the trading deadline to empty our your team's trash. This is all over now of course (I don't worry about waiver deals)

On Werth - I don't know. I do go back to it all the time but I think that deal was THAT terrible that you can talk about it and make snide comments about 4-eva. It wasn't just a bad deal it was historically terrible. It still boggles my mind. To me, it's like a guy hitting .400 (or .180) - I'd talk about it all the time even if they had maintained that pace since the beginning of the year.

on focusing on how "bad" the Nats are - Some readers agree with you but in my mind I'm going to write about what interests me. Am I just used to writing about the failings after the last 5 years of losing so I skew that way? Maybe. But I've looked back through my posts and i don't think they aren't overly negative. I think the disconnect comes from me coming from a place that's less of a fan and more of a souless automaton. To a die-hard it's a team on the obvious rise that's much better than teams they've had to watch in the past. To me, It's a below .500 team, there's probably more bad than good.

Donald said...

My concern about the Werth contract isn't the amount of money involved since it isn't my money. If the Lerner's have to eat PB&J sandwiches twice a week now to cover his salary, I'm not losing any sleep. My concern is that I'm not sure our big gaping need was to lock up an RF for 6 years with Harper in the wings.

Wally said...

Harper - I don't think your posts are too negative. I don't mean it as 'you have been negative but they deserve it', but actually that you haven't been negative too often. You haven't been pollyanna, but there are lots of places to go for that. And I say this as a fan myself.

You have prominently noted the positives around the emergence of Ramos, Espy and, after coming to yourmsenses, JZimm. Those are three hugely positive developments for us. You have also seemed to accept Morse's emergence as a full time player early on, earlier than me certainly, and all I can recall you saying is 'is he really Jose Bautista, or just Ryan Braun?'. I think that you are pretty balanced.

I have noticed people will occasionally make similar 'you are too negative' comments, and just wanted you to know
that not all your readers see it that way. And I give Froggy credit for saying how much he gets from your blog up front before the negative stuff.

Keep on truckin', bud.

Froggy said...

I totally see your points and perspective, and (once I remove my little kid emotion) I agree for the most part. And even though I think 'soulless automaton' might be a bit flagelative, I do respect your opinion and love the blog. Keeps me honest.

Hoo said...

RE: The emergence of Espinosa...I pretty much agree with this. However, there's been a development in the story. Desmond has outhit Espinosa since July in every fashion (slugging, OBP, BA, etc).

What happens if this trend continues for 6 weeks? Especially if Espinosa's descent to Dunn like levels of futility continue. I still think Danny will be a better hitter than Dez. But right now, the Dez to super utility is on hold till Espinosa makes some adjustments.

Only 2 things would make this year more awesome: No Zimm injuries and better Werth hitting. now Espinosa coming out of the slump would be there. But the nats have to like what's happening all around the organization as things are being sorted out quickly (Maya, no; Dett/Wang: we'll see. Znn=awesome)

JDBrew said...

I don't dislike the werth contract. As much as everyone has ragged on the contract and how bad he is there is some validity to his deal. One, nobody wants to play here. Nobody wants to be a National. It's like wanting to be a Pirate. Outside of the homegrown players free agents don't wanna sign here. The organization had to bring in a big name. They needed to. They needed to convince other free agents to sign here. So to get that free agent they had to pay him. A lot. They had to way overpay. So they did that. Keep in mind the Zack Grienke deal that got vetoed, Mark T spurning more money to go the Yankees. The HUGE lack of interest by any free agent. They had to sign someone. And it was gonna be Jason Werth or Adam Dunn. Who would you rather have right now? I know Werth is struggling, but at least he holds down right field pretty well, runs the bases well, and is a good leader. I think given the choice I'd choose Werth. Two, let's not give up on Werth. I still believe he can come around and be pretty productive. He's not gonna produce at the level of his contract. He won't, ever. But he can be productive. And I believe he will. Plus, I like Jason Werth. And finally, say what you want about stats but intangibles matter too, and since he has signed here this team has been different. they've been better. And it wasn't coaching, that never changed. Players are people, that when motivated and buy into a system, will produce better. Much better. Not saying that Werth made this team good. But he certainly helped. And maybe it's coincidence...maybe not. They're playing well, with a non-producing Jason Werth. Fine, I'll take that. If he does start to play well, then they'll be that much better. At least we don't have to worry about right field for a while. Maybe he'll never hit over .260 ever again. But I'd bet money that neither does Danny Espinosa, and everyone is singing his praises. ( I really like Espinosa, just making a point)

Harper said...

Donald - they had no corner OFs at all. Bryce looked like a RF but could end in left...or center... or first... or catcher eve (though I really doubt that). And we all think he'll be here next fall but who knows? They couldn't say for sure RF was going to be taken up.

Wally - Thanks.

Froggy - nope, not flagelative. I'm actually Bicentennial Man. OR did he have a soul? I'm not watching that movie to find out.

Hoo - What if? Well the key is it's not like Ian's been GOOD, it's that Danny's been that bad. you have to consider them separately and Desmond still reeks of someone not good enough for the majors. Bad end to last year, bad this year, mediocre minor league stats before 2009. They still need to see if someone else can take that 2nd MI position over everyday. Danny is a suck it up wait and see what happens in 2012.

JDB - leaving the Espinosa comparison alone, I like Werth too and I do think he'll be better. The problem wasn't the overpay for Werth, it was the fact they overpaid in years AND dollars. Most people think that 7 years OR 18 mill a year could have gotten it done. I think we'd hear a lot less complaining for a 7 year 105 million dollar deal or 5 year 95 million one.