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Was the 2010 signing of Jayson Werth for $126 million a great move or a disaster?
Truth be told, it's almost impossible to judge the merits of those transactions when they occur. Only after the passage of time do we learn whether the moves were savvy or suspect.
So with that in mind, let's take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the most significant offseason transactions the Nationals have made since arriving in town. With the advantage of hindsight, we can now select the best and worst moves from each winter...
BEST MOVE: Trading Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano
What was at the time perceived as a bold (and potentially foolish) deal by Jim Bowden proved to be one of the best the former general manager ever made. Soriano made a successful transition to the outfield (after a well-publicized hiccup in spring training) and wound up becoming only the fourth player in MLB history in the 40-40 club. Wilkerson and Sledge each saw their careers tailspin, while Galarraga went on to nearly pitch a perfect game for the Tigers before bouncing around the sport.
WORST MOVE: Selling Jamey Carroll to the Rockies for cash and signing Damian Jackson
Carroll was one of the most popular players on the inaugural Nationals (both among teammates and fans) and was a particular favorite of manager Frank Robinson. Bowden, though, didn't think he would ever amount to more than a utility infielder who couldn't play shortstop at the big-league level, so he shipped him to Colorado for $300,000 and signed veteran Damian Jackson for $700,000 to take his roster spot. Jackson was a disaster, a utilityman who lacked fundamental skills, was a clubhouse nuisance, was released in midseason after hitting .198 and never wore another major-league uniform. Carroll, meanwhile, hit .279 with a .357 on-base percentage over the next seven seasons and remains a quality big-league infielder to this day.
BEST MOVE: Letting Alfonso Soriano leave as a free agent
Sometimes the best moves are those you don't make. Though many fans wanted them to re-sign Soriano following his 40-40 season, the Nationals weren't going to come anywhere close to matching the Cubs' eight-year, $136 million offer. It's a good thing, too, because that contract would have hamstrung the organization for years, especially for a player whose skills have declined drastically since his one season in D.C. Bowden happily took two compensatory draft picks in exchange for losing Soriano. One of those picks turned into left-hander Josh Smoker, who has been plagued by injuries and has never reached Class AA. The other, though, turned into Jordan Zimmermann, a stalwart in the Nats' current rotation.
WORST MOVE: Signing Austin Kearns to a three-year extension
Kearns was part of the biggest trade of the Bowden Era, acquired from the Reds with Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner in exchange for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris and Daryl Hamilton. Not that any of those players given up amounted to much, but Bowden's biggest mistake was signing Kearns to a three-year, $17.5 million extension after watching the outfielder hit .250 with eight homers in 53 games following the trade. Three sub-par, injury-plagued seasons later, the Nationals finally were able to part ways with Kearns.
BEST MOVE: Traded Jonathan Albaladejo to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard
The Nationals' big deal at the 2007 Winter Meetings was the acquisition of troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes from Tampa Bay. Who knew this trade, which barely drew any attention, would prove far more significant for the franchise? Clippard, over time, blossomed into one of the best relievers in baseball. Albaladejo's only claim to fame is having an incredibly difficult name to pronounce.
WORST MOVE: Signed Paul LoDuca for $5 million
After packaging Brian Schneider with Ryan Church in a deal to acquire Lastings Milledge from the Mets, the Nationals needed a new catcher. Bowden wound up signing the man who would be replaced in New York by Schneider, giving LoDuca a $5 million contract. Two problems: 1) LoDuca was way past his prime and hit .230 in 46 games before he was released, 2) A couple of days after the signing, LoDuca was outed in the Mitchell Report for having purchased HGH from Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, further destroying his reputation.
BEST MOVE: Signed Adam Dunn for 2 years and $20 million
Bowden desperately wanted his old slugger from Cincinnati, and he finally got his man only two days before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. Dunn wound up costing far less than anyone expected, and he wound up producing right at his career norms, blasting 76 homers with 208 RBI over his two seasons in D.C. The Big Donkey was popular with teammates and fans, and though many were upset new GM Mike Rizzo didn't re-sign him when his contract was up, that proved the right decision in the end as well.
WORST MOVE: Signed Daniel Cabrera for $2.6 million
Dumped by the Orioles on December 12, 2008, Cabrera was scooped up by the Nationals only 17 days later, given a hefty salary by Bowden despite his erratic career and lack of interest from other clubs. And what did the Nationals end up getting for their investment? An 0-5 record, 5.85 ERA and this gem of a quote from Rizzo upon announcing Cabrera's release after only eight starts: "I was tired of watching him."
BEST MOVE: Signed Matt Capps for $3.5 million
The acquisition of Capps, a quality reliever who was unceremoniously cast aside by the Pirates, was one of Rizzo's shrewdest moves as GM. Not only because Capps turned into an All-Star closer for the Nationals, but because he was so good that the Twins were willing to give up catching prospect Wilson Ramos for him at the trade deadline. Talk about a win-win for the Nats.
WORST MOVE: Signed Jason Marquis for 2 years, $15 million
The Nationals desperately needed a reliable, veteran pitcher to anchor their rotation. Rizzo thought he got the right guy in Marquis, but it turned out the right-hander had bone chips in his elbow that required surgery and left him on the DL for almost four months. Marquis rebounded the following year and pitched well enough to draw trade interest from the Diamondbacks. The Nats wound up getting a decent prospect for him, infielder Zach Walters.
BEST MOVE: Signed Jayson Werth for seven years, $126 million
It's possible this won't be considered a great move by the time that mammoth contract runs out in 2017, but for now you have to applaud Rizzo for luring a player of Werth's prominence to Washington when this franchise was not an attractive destination for big-name free agents. Werth's debut season was awful, but he helped change the culture of Nationals baseball, and he was incredibly valuable to the club down the stretch and in the playoffs this season. The Nats can only hope he stays healthy and continues to make a difference for several more years.
WORST MOVE: Traded Josh Willingham to the Athletics for Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez
Rizzo's motivation for trading Willingham was understandable. He was injury-prone, a poor defensive outfielder and was due to become a free agent the following winter. But, at least to this point, the Nationals haven't gotten much return for The Hammer. Brown appears to be a classic "Class AAAA" player who thrives in the minors but isn't quite good enough to stick in the majors. Rodriguez, meanwhile, remains a colossal tease, a flamethrowing reliever who dominates just enough to make some think he can overcome his complete lack of command all other times. Willingham, meanwhile, has 68 homers and 208 RBI the last two seasons with the A's and Twins and just won his first career Silver Slugger Award.
BEST MOVE: Traded Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole to the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam
This wasn't necessary an overwhelmingly popular move when it went down last December. Four top prospects seemed an awfully steep price to acquire Gonzalez, who some were worried wouldn't pitch well outside of Oakland. Well, the lefty did just fine, leading the majors with 21 wins and becoming a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award. Norris and Milone did prove to be two key pieces to the Athletics' division championship, and Cole remains an elite pitching prospect. But the Nats aren't complaining about the high cost to acquire Gio anymore.
WORST MOVE: Signed Brad Lidge for $1 million
The Nats knew it was a gamble to sign the oft-injured reliever, but Rizzo viewed it as a low-risk, high-reward move. Lidge looked great in spring training, then was a disaster once the regular season began. He wound up on the DL, then was released after making only four appearances following his return in June.