It's quaint to think back to the days of Jayson Werth. With whom? For how much? A made-up comparison would be something like Josh Hamilton to the Twins this offseason. The Nationals were going nowhere, and nothing about them spending money made sense. It's rare to find a consensus on the Internet, but there sure weren't a lot of people arguing on behalf of the deal.
That was two years ago. Eight hundred days ago, give or take. The Washington Nationals might now be the best baseball team on the planet. I'm not going to get into that argument here -- that's more of a February thing -- but no matter which team you pick, the Nationals should be in the discussion. And we're past the stage where we wonder why they're spending money on anyone. Now we're at the stage where we can justify them spending too much on anyone.
How do I justify them spending $28 million on two seasons of a reliever? Before I answer that, here's a list of pitchers who racked up a similar WAR over the last two seasons:
And that's using Baseball Reference's secret sauce. If you go by FanGraphs, Soriano is down there with Joaquin Benoit, Matt Lindstrom, and Burke Badenhop. At no point did you want your favorite team to sign any of those seven players for $14 million per season.
But I can justify the Nationals spending that much on a reliever because of this simple truth: They were all out of places to spend their money. Wilson Ramos is coming back to help Kurt Suzuki, Adam LaRoche was re-signed, the rest of the infield is young and locked up, and the Nats actually have more outfielders than they need, offering Mike Morse around in different trade packages.* The rotation is set, and there's even a long reliever in case things get dicey at the top. The other option -- other than signing a big-time relief pitcher -- was to overpay for a bench bat. If they don't trade Morse, they can have that too.
* Hint: Diamondbacks
The Nationals, then, are the winners here. They were good, and they got better. Every marginal improvement counts for a team expecting to make the playoffs. Considering the state of the lineup and rotation, there probably wasn't a single free agent remaining who could have improved the team more.
There are more winners, though. Soriano opted out of an already-lucrative contract, passing on a guaranteed $14 million. There was a chance he was going to get madsoned, especially considering that his agent, Scott Boras, was the one who allowed the real Ryan Madson to get madsoned in the first place. If that kind of misreading of the market happens once for Boras, it's a fluke. If it happened again, maybe it's enough to send relievers elsewhere when they're searching for representation. Instead, Boras did it again, securing milk-nose deal while everyone else was busy wondering if he had misread the market.
So Scott Boras is the winner here. I'm sure that fills you with warm fuzzies. And let's not forget Rafael Soriano, here. He's a winner, too. When you combine his two years with the Yankees with the two-year deal with the Nats, he'll have made right around what Robb Nen made over his 10-year career. It's good to be a reliever in 2013 -- much better than it was 10 years ago, even.
And here's where we get to the real winners with this deal. It's the Nationals for getting better, Soriano for getting richer, and Boras for getting even more respect. More than all of them, though, the winner here was crowned with the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. There isn't a perfect name for the group, so I'll start listing them: closers, setup guys, lefty specialists, utility outfielders, utility infielders, stars, non-stars, and semi-stars. Oh. Baseball players. Yeah, that's the term. Major League Baseball players won a long time ago, and this deal is just another piece of evidence.
In the old days, $28 million paid to a reliever was $28 million that wasn't going to a Dominican prospect or a high-school kid who slipped a few rounds because of a strong college commitment.
In the new days, $28 million paid to a reliever is $28 million not going into the owners' pockets. When a team has eight or more players worthy of starting and five pitchers who could fit in most rotations, that somewhere on a major-league roster just might be the bullpen.
Everyone wins! Money fight!
Wheeee! Well, everyone wins except for the legions of amateur players who won't see this money now. But those guys aren't even in the union, so whatever.
The owners wanted to keep bonuses down, but they can't help themselves when it comes to putting that money right back into the payroll. Advantage, baseball players. If you think $28 million for a closer is a ridiculous way to spend money, especially for a team that already had two closers, welcome to the future. Teams will find things that are a lot more ridiculous than this. Just wait.