Good afternoon. I managed to let the Tuesday Talker List (our fledgling offseason tradition) slip from my mind yesterday, so I’m making up for it with a Wednesday edition. It doesn’t bode well for fledgling traditions when the creator of them can’t keep them.
Anyway, it might be a good thing for fodder’s sake that we waited a day, because yesterday, the Washington Post pulled together the owners of every major sports team in the city for a summit about their teams and the state of sports in the District. During the summit, Redskins owner Dan Snyder was asked about his biggest waste of money in his time running the team.
“I don’t have to answer that,” Snyder said. “You all know.”
If the answer to that question isn’t Albert Haynesworth, what am I missing?
My question, then, to you is this: What’s the worst money the Nationals have ever spent on a player? Tell me what you think the team’s worst investment has been since it came to Washington in 2005, and why, and I’ll come back with my thoughts this afternoon.
A hint: You might start by looking at this roster.
UPDATED AT 4:18: OK, now that you’ve gotten a chance to weigh in, here’s my pick:
You got to most of the obvious ones -- Dmitri Young, Paul Lo Duca, Daniel Cabrera, Cristian Guzman, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. All are solid choices, but to me, there’s one in that group that sticks out.
I’d first rule out Cabrera, simply because he wasn’t around long enough to do any serious damage. The $2.6 million guaranteed contract given to him was a heinous move by former GM Jim Bowden, but Cabrera was gone two months into the season, kicked to the curb because, as Mike Rizzo famously put it, “I got tired of watching him.” Lo Duca would also be bumped off my list, just because he was only here for four months. It was a waste of $5 million, yes, but it was only a waste for one season.
Lopez never actually signed a free agent contract or extension with the Nationals; he was kept around on arbitration awards, and he was gone before the end of the 2008 season, as well. And while the Nationals spent more money on Guzman than anyone on this list -- $32 million -- he did go to an All-Star Game in 2008 and was on the Final Man Vote in 2009. It didn’t make up for his atrocious start in Washington, but these are high stakes we’re talking about here.
In the end, there are only two that measure up to be considered for this high honor, in my mind -- two ex-Reds Bowden signed, and then gave inexplicably long contracts. Young’s two-year, $10 million deal made little sense, especially with Nick Johnson coming back, but he was at least coming off an All-Star season when he got the deal. He had an option for 2010, but it would have vested based on plate appearances, and he didn’t get nearly enough in 2008 and 2009 to trigger that. So he’s not my choice.
No, this honor can only belong to one man, a Bowden favorite given such a big contract after such little production, he has to be the choice. When the Nationals traded for Kearns in 2006, he hit .250 with eight homers and 36 RBI in 63 games. He had a .381 on-base percentage, and played solid defense, but did nothing to suggest he was on the verge of becoming a superstar. Nonetheless, Bowden paid him like one, giving him a three-year, $17.5 million deal in the spring of 2007 with a $10 million team option for 2010. Kearns responded with a pedestrian 2007 -- .266/.355/.411, 16 homers and 74 RBI -- before flopping in 2008 and 2009. Those two years, he combined for 10 homers and 49 RBI in 166 games, missing time with bone chips in his elbow and a fracture in his ankle. The Nationals, of course, declined his $10 million option for 2010, and he was reunited with Manny Acta in Cleveland.
Now, as some of you pointed out, the Nationals’ missteps haven’t been along the lines of a Mike Hampton-Barry Zito deal, a mistake so expensive it can hamstring a team for years. And at this point, they’re set up relatively well in terms of payroll flexibility for the future. But it’s interesting to look back and see where the team has been -- though, in the case of players like Kearns, maybe not so fun.