Determining a pitcher's value

Determining a pitcher's value
December 20, 2011, 6:13 am
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Well, we now know who has won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish (the Texas Rangers) and how much it cost to win that right (51.7 million). That's the largest posting fee ever paid out to a Japanese club from a major-league franchise, narrowly besting the 51.1 million the Red Sox dished out five years ago to win negotiating rights with Daisuke Matsuzaka.

We'd known since Friday that the Nationals chose not to submit a formal bid for Darvish. It's probably safe to say now they were aware some other club was going to top the Dice-K posting fee, and in their minds Darvish simply wasn't worth it.

How much would the Nationals have been willing to pay to win the rights to Darvish? We'll never know, but suffice it to say the total sum had to be considerably below the Rangers' winning bid. Otherwise, they might have submitted it, thinking they at least had a chance to come away as the high bidder.

This is the debate that plays out every day in the front offices at 1500 South Capitol St., and it's become the story of the offseason so far: Trying to determine how much a given player -- in most cases this winter, a pitcher -- is worth.

Did the Nationals like Darvish and believe he could have helped their rotation? Yes. But not for 51.7 million, plus the contract he's eventually going to receive (and speculation last night about that put the number in C.J. Wilson territory: five years and 75 million).

Did the Nationals really like Mark Buehrle and desperately want to sign him as their No. 3 starter? You better believe it. But they didn't believe he was worth four years and more than 14 million per season. The Marlins did, so now the left-hander is wearing those gaudy new uniforms in Miami.

Would the Nationals love to acquire Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics? Absolutely. Who wouldn't want a 26-year-old lefty who over the last two seasons is 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and 368 strikeouts? But how much is Gonzalez worth to the Nationals? Enough to give up the three or four front-line prospects Oakland general manager Billy Beane wants in return for his young hurler? The Nationals didn't think so earlier this month at the Winter Meetings when they discussed a potential trade, and you have to wonder whether that feeling has changed at all in the two weeks since.

Determining a pitcher's value is perhaps the toughest challenge a GM faces on a regular basis. Everybody knows you can't win without pitching, but everybody also knows how risky it is to make long-term financial commitments to pitchers who more often than not break down over time.

What Mike Rizzo needs to decide now is whether there's an available pitcher out there he wants, and then how much he's willing to spend to acquire that pitcher (either in dollars or trade pieces). Along the way, he has to decide whether said pitcher (regardless of the cost) gives the Nationals a better chance to win both now and down the road than the guy he would be replacing in the rotation.

Is Roy Oswalt better than John Lannan or Ross Detwiler? Yes, in the short term. But is the aging right-hander a better option for the Nationals over the next two or three years than either of those young lefties, especially if he costs 14 million per season himself?

That's where it starts getting tricky. These aren't simple decisions being made by the front office. There are multiple layers to each dilemma and plenty of factors that must be taken into consideration.

And at the end of the day, it's up to Rizzo to decide which pitchers he believes are worth pursuing, and more importantly, how much each is worth.