Top-5: Worst current Nats contracts

Posted on February 19, 2014 by Justin Howard

Photo Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

In November, I took a page from the Grantland playbook and ranked the Washington Nationals by trade value. Now, ranking the Nationals worst contracts seems like a natural bookend.

Please keep in mind this is not a ranking of the Nationals' least valuable players. Most of the players on this list are pretty good. Being a good player is how you acquire a big contract in the first place. This is simply a ranking of the Nationals whose current contract situations provide the least amount of salary space and flexibility relative to their on-the-field contributions. It is important to note we are ranking the Nationals' contracts at this moment, meaning we are not ranking Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million deal. We are ranking the four years and $83 million he has left.

This is a hard list to compile. For the most part, the 2014 Nationals are comprised of pre-arbitration players like Bryce Harper and arbitration eligible players like Ian Desmond who don't yet have long-term contracts. This is a credit to Mike Rizzo, who has built the team the right way by not dedicating his limited salary space to aging, above market-price players.

Still, here is the Worst of the Best, as it were: the Top-5 worst Nationals contracts.

05. Matt Purke - 1 year, $1.04 million

You might be surprised to see Matt Purke on this list considering he is unlikely to be in a Nationals uniform in 2014. But that's why he's on the list. Purke will be the Nats' highest paid minor leaguer this year, the final year of the contract he received when the Nats gave him first-round money in 2011, even though he was a third-round pick. At the time, Purke was considered a Top-5 talent who fell in the draft because of injury and signability concerns. Three years later, Purke is lingering in Single-A and unable to crack Nationals Top-10 Prospects lists. Overpaying draft prospects was a good strategy for the Nationals back in 2011, since the potential payoff far outweighed the investment. But sometimes it doesn't work out. This is one of those times.

04. Adam LaRoche - 1 year, $14 million

The Nationals actually resigned LaRoche for under market value last offseason since he was tied to draft compensation and no other team wanted to surrender a first round pick to acquire a 33-year-old first baseman. But then LaRoche followed up his Silver Slugger/Gold Glove season with a relative dud, and now Ryan Zimmerman is being asked to buy a first baseman's mitt by new manager Matt Williams. LaRoche's splits versus left handers last season were not promising, giving birth to the possibility that the Nats now have a $14 million platoon player on their roster. Luckily for Rizzo, LaRoche's 2015 contract is a mutual option, meaning unless Adam rediscovers his 2012 self, the Nats can walk away soon, making LaRoche's 2014 salary a mild overpay rather than a bad contract.

Photo Credit: Howard Smith/USA Today

03. Ryan Zimmerman - 6 years, $100 million

Some people questioned whether Ryan Zimmerman's six-year, $100 million extension signed in 2012 was premature, considering the Nationals had two full years before their third baseman hit free agency. But after two relatively healthy and productive seasons, it's commonly agreed the Nats saved money by deciding to extend Zim early. An all-star caliber player like Zimmerman, still in his prime, could probably secure something like Shin-Soo Choo's seven-year, $130 million deal in a league full of exploding revenues. Still, there are problems here. Much of Zimmerman's value is tied to his reputation for stellar defense at third base. Now shoulder problems threaten to move him across the diamond. While Zimmerman was paid to be an elite third baseman, by the end of his contract he may only be an average first baseman. Zimmerman is owed money by the Nationals until 2020, at which time he'll be 35. He may stay healthy, but his track record suggests otherwise.

02. Jayson Werth - 4 Years, $83 million

There are some people in DC who still only refer to name Jayson Werth in the context of "Jayson Werth's huge contract." Lost in the obsession of Werth's contract is the fact that so far he's been worth it, especially last season when he far out performed his $16 million salary. But players do not get younger and Werth's salaries are definitely getting bigger. The truth is the Nationals in 2017 will owe $21 million to a 38-year-old whose defense has already started declining. Werth is still a huge part of the Nats lineup, but his best value is already behind him.

01. Rafael Soriano - 1 year, $21 million

Officially, Soriano was awarded a two year, $28 million contract last season. But there was so much deferred money, one can't even really pinpoint its actual value. According to Jonah Keri, Soriano is still owed $21 of that money with one year left on the contract. That's a lot for a 34-year-old with plummeting strikeout rates, even if the money is spread out over a very long period of time. The Nats should remind themselves there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract. The best hope is that Soriano comes back to form and has a great 2013... but not too good.  According to his contract, if he closes out 62 games this season, he's automatically owed $14 million for 2015.

next up:

The Nats should hook these guys up with minor league deals

February 18, 2014

What happens when you apply video game strategy to real life? This, I guess.

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